Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lean Left, KSET, Zagreb, Croatia; 6/1/2016

Photographer Bruno Vunderl
By Antonio Poscic

Terrie Hessels crumples a plastic cup over the neck of his guitar. Andy Moor gingerly scrapes the strings with his fingertips before grinding them with a brush, producing barely audible sparkles and squeaks. Ken Vandermark whispers and rustles through the mouthpiece, gently hissing and spurting half-formed phrases from his saxophone. Paal Nilssen-Love gnashes drumsticks against the rims of the snare and cymbals as he articulates abstract silhouettes of some undefined rhythm. This is how Lean Left tune themselves in and stretch out during the first minutes of their performance. They show us only rough glimpses of what’s to come.

Standing in the back of the stage, Vandermark is the first to attack. He leaves behind the initial contemplative and exploratory phase as he starts pushing out recognizable, bursting and fluid phrases. Nilssen-Love follows
suit, switches into a supple yet energetic style and ventures towards grooves and funky rhythms not far removed from disco. It’s then that the frontline guitar duo Hessels/Moor, from Dutch anarcho-punkers The Ex, go off. While Moor, the most reserved of the four musicians, starts strumming frantically and toying with mock-tremolos, Hessels appears to exist in his own time and space. As if in a fit of possession, he intentionally misconstructs tappings, knocks and grazes strings with a drumstick, swirls the guitar strap… “Eclectic” and “unconventional” are euphemisms when trying to describe Hessels’ playing which acknowledges no “right” and “allowed” ways or rules.

Still, while the first part of the concert is captivating in its own right, there’s something amiss. Unlike during my earlier encounters with the band, the foursome struggles to fully interact during the quieter and improvisationally nuanced passages and dialogs. It’s especially Vandermark, never hiding his fondness of emerging structures and cleverly ordered ideas, that appears a bit lost in the chaotic chemistry of the group. Meanwhile, Hessels continues to build through destruction, perpendicular to the endeavors of the other musicians, as he follows the flow instinctively rather than programmatically, and even veers the improvisational trends ever so often. In these attempts at establishing a protocol, possibly through an expression of frustration, the band finally frees itself and begins entertaining long-lasting, audaciously loud and eruptive moments. The two guitars create droning noises, Nilssen-Love’s drumming varies from the jaunty style reminiscent of Hamid Drake in DKV Trio to firm rock rhythms, whilst Vandermark digs into melodic segments infused with lyricism, simultaneously immersing himself and negating the pandemonium around him. They sound powerful and liberated.

A few days after this concert, Vandermark will recall quotes by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp and characterize himself as a musician whose main goal is to find solutions to problems of interactions and musical creativity in an improvised, spontaneous context. He’s both restricted and inspired by his principles, pushed to the outer edges of creativeness while trying to find meaning and composition in entropy. On the other hand, Terrie Hessels doesn’t solve problems because he doesn’t even acknowledge that there are any. Music for him is an empty canvas on which he scribbles with sounds in an expressionistic, unbidden manner, not afraid of spraying paint outside the canvas. The contrast between these two currents in Lean Left makes for a band of interesting aesthetics and dynamics, a band that’s in a constant state of conflict: tidy spontaneous compositions, jazz sensibilities, developing grooves, and elements of funk on one side and the irrepressible, uncompromising punk presence of The Ex on the other.

Lean Left’s performance reminded me once again that, like with most improvised music, they are really best experienced live. Even very good records such as Live at Area Sismica will ultimately fail to capture the tangible energy and unspoken synergy. It’s something that’s in the air while the audience cheers and whoops, as if confronted with rock stars. Suffice to say, even after three encores, we were still ready for more.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tyshawn Sorey – The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings, 2016) ****½

By Troy Dostert

Tyshawn Sorey needs no introduction to the readers of this blog, as he has for several years been firmly at the forefront of creative jazz and improvised music.  He is the antithesis of the showy, extroverted drummer, as for Sorey the stress is always on the beauty of the collective music made by his groups rather than the chops of the individual players.  This aspect of his craft, combined with his unique compositional style, distinguish him as an independent and fiercely visionary musical force on today’s scene.

This extraordinarily ambitious two-disc release will certainly add to Sorey’s growing legacy.  Comprised of six pieces, all but two over twenty minutes in length, it gives Sorey and his counterparts plenty of room to develop their expansive palette.  Sorey’s established trio partners Cory Smythe (piano) and Christopher Tordini (bass) are joined by a string section including Fung Chern Hwei (violin), Kyle Armbrust (viola), and Rubin Khodeli (cello).  I should say right off the bat that the musicianship here is impeccable: precise and expertly played by all, these are virtuosos at work.  Sorey’s choice of string players was excellent, because they each have the flexibility and range needed to embody his distinctive musical ethos.  And the recording quality is also first-rate, with all of the nuances and subtleties of each instrument coming through clearly and effectively.

As for the music itself, it definitively straddles the two worlds of improvisation and composition, making it almost impossible at points to discern the difference between the composed and improvised sections of the pieces.  Sorey has spoken before of his indebtedness to Lawrence “Butch” Morris, who honed the approach he termed “conduction,” wherein improvised sections of a work would be guided or cued by the leader (  One can hear Sorey’s reliance on that influence here, especially on the third track, “Movement III,” which is made up largely of short musical vignettes, often involving just a couple of the musicians, in what sound mostly like freely-improvised segments, without a clear theme or melodic structure.  But if one listens to the second track, “Movement II,” one is struck by the beauty and elegance of what sounds to be a thoroughly-composed piece, largely showcasing the gorgeous work of the string players.  These examples aside, most of the music is less easy to parse, and hence it is best enjoyed by simply taking it in.  (Although it would be fascinating to watch this music performed live, as I do think it would be quite illuminating to observe Sorey’s role in “directing” the performance.)

Especially with two full discs of music, it does demand patience and concentration on the part of the listener.  But the rewards for doing so are many, as there are stirring surprises to be found throughout.  For instance, the opening of the second disc, “Reverie,” is comprised chiefly of Sorey’s sparse work on gongs and cymbals for the first several minutes, before he is eventually joined by the strings and piano, coming in individually and collectively with long, drawn out notes.  The emphasis here is on sound and texture, and the overall effect is meditative and reverential—until about three-fourths of the way through the track when the strings launch into a vigorously jarring closing burst that is gripping and stunning in its power.  In “Movement III,” we are treated to a funky, rhythmically complex opening that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Steve Coleman or Steve Lehman record, before the strings are allowed their freedom to explore completely different ideas; and then it’s on to another improvisational segment after that one.  While some of these concepts take perhaps too long in their development (my endurance was admittedly tested a bit during some moments of “Reverie”), the overall bounty of musical figures and stylistic juxtapositions on these two discs is impressive, and there’s more than enough fascinating music to warrant repeated and close listenings, as new dimensions of the pieces emerge upon each hearing.  And for those who like a bit more conventional post-bop, yes, that’s here too: a really catchy seven-minute Middle-Eastern-influenced portion of “Movement IV,” where Sorey proves that yes, he can certainly generate a groove when it’s called for!

This is one of those rare releases where one can say with confidence that something new and exciting is taking place.  Sorey is fast becoming one of the most intriguing musicians and composers of his generation, and if this music is any indication, it signals the opportunity for more creative work to be done in bringing the worlds of classical and improvised music into closer contact.  Truly a recording to be celebrated.

Tyshawn Sorey, Julia Bullock, ICE - Josephine Baker: A Portrait (World Premiere, Ojai Music Festival, 2016)

Tyshawn Sorey*
By Lee Rice Epstein

Although this blog only occasionally dips into new music, I did want to share some thoughts about Tyshawn Sorey’s world premiere from this year’s Ojai Music Festival. The festival itself takes place every June in the rural town of Ojai, California, about 20 miles inland from Ventura. Alex Ross has written about the festival in The New Yorker and on his blog a few times, and it’s worth looking up those articles to get a sense of the artistic scope and intimacy of the performances. There have been a handful of intersections with quote-unquote jazz over the years, and in 2017 Vijay Iyer will be music director, and he’ll bring both his trio and sextet out for the festival, tweaking the format considerably. If anyone wants to meet up, my wife and I are already planning to attend.

Sorey’s discography is probably well-known to readers of this blog, but his chamber work has not yet been recorded, even though you can find plenty of videos online. Still, this was an exciting event for me, a chance to see a brand new Sorey composition that combined elements of chamber music, improvisation, spoken text (written by Claudia Rankine, author of the critically-acclaimed Citizen: An American Lyric), and rearrangements of songs notably performed by Baker:
  • “Bye Bye Blackbird”
  • “Sous Le Ciel D’Afrique” (“Under the African Sky”) 
  • “Madiana (Mélodie Antillaise)” (“Madiana (West Indian Melody)”)
  • “C’est Ça Le Vrai Bonheur” (“That’s It, True Happiness”)
  • “Si J’etais Blanche” (“If I Was White”)
  • “C’est Lui” (“It’s Him”)
  • “Terre Séche: Negro Spiritual” (“Dry Earth: Negro Spiritual)”
The performers included members of ICE, with Claire Chase on flute, Rebekah Heller on bassoon, Ryan Muncy on oboe, Jennifer Curtis on violin, and Daniel Lippel on guitar. Sorey switched between piano, percussion, and drums. Julia Bullock, at center stage on a raised platform, inhabited the role of Josephine Baker, reciting portions of Rankine’s text between each song, singing in both English and French, and, during one captivating interlude, dancing, in a duet with Sorey on drums.

Sorey, who hasn’t recorded much as a pianist, has a light, open approach to the instrument. Early on, he played ringing chords and sustained notes, typical of his compositions. Then, drawing out the tension in a later passage, he played the piano strings with a small mallet and did some light preparations, holding strings while he played single notes. Bullock was simply incredible. The piece, which premiered late Saturday night under heavy cloud cover, was absolutely stunning, in both conception and execution. Sorey, Bullock, and Rankine have created an incredibly powerful statement on art, race, gender, and sexuality. Typically, some parts of the festival are available to stream online, and I highly recommend seeking this out.

* Photo from:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Warped Dreamer - Lomahongva (Rat Records, 2016) *****

It is tempting to describe the Norwegian-Belgian supergroup Warped Dreamer as an extension of the Norwegian Supersilent legacy. Warped Dreamer also operates as a free-improvising unit, enabling its four musicians to rediscover and reinvent their sonic universes all the time. As Supersilent, Warped Dreamer refuses any attempt to lock it in any genre or style convention, but Warped Dreamer has already has an independent, highly unique sound stamp of its own.

From the Norwegian side the quartet feature trumpeter-vocalist Arve Henriksen, a founding member of Supersilent (when it was still an acoustic trio called Veslefrekk in the late nineties) and guitarist Stian Westerhus, who often performed with Supersilent. The Belgian side adds Jozef Dumoulin, a Fender Rhodes magician who transforms this vintage instrument into an infinite sound generator; and drummer Teun Verbruggen, who leads, among other outfits, The Bureau of Atomic Tourism, (BoAT) a sort of international jazz supergroup, featuring French guitarist Marc Ducret and American trumpeter Nate Wooley. All four adds electronics and live manipulations to their instrumental palette.

The tireless Verbruggen, who collaborates with Dumoulin in BoAT and recorded before with Henriksen (Black Swan, Rat, 2012) convened this quartet. The band name is borrowed from a composition of another Verbruggen experimental bands, Othin Spake (taken from Child Of Deception And Skill, RAT, 2008), that also featured Dumoulin. The title of the quartet debut album is a name in the Native-American Hopi language meaning ‘beautiful clouds arising’. An impressive, suggestive painting of renowned Belgian painter (and filmmaker) Michaël Borremans is used for the cover. Warped Dreamer debut album was recorded live during a short winter tour in Antwerp, Belgium, and released through Verbruggen independent label.

Already on the opening “Kenda” Warped Dreamer sketches a vast and colorful ocean of sounds - otherworldly, atmospheric noises, fractured-ceremonial pulse, distant-poetic trumpet, and deep-toned, resonating metallic guitar lines. Still, it all sounds organic, as if all four musicians navigate according to a mysterious, inner sonic compass, exploring shiny labyrinthine horizons and intense, terrifying storms. The joyful sense of exploring new sounds and texture, with the immediate need to charter new aural terrains is commanding. The following “Nahimana” is a minimalist, intricate sound poem that patiently structures a claustrophobic drama that may happen in some freezing landscapes. “Sahpooly” expands this claustrophobic vein, now from a more close angle, noisy and erratic, but suddenly dismantles the tension and shifts it into deep and clear ambient soundscapes. “Odahingum” goes even deeper, an almost silent texture that occasionally disturbed by otherworldly, manipulated and processed sounds, patiently suggesting an isolated, faraway, monochromatic scenery, pierced only by the emotional trumpet of Henriksen who drives the quartet into a gentle, optimist coda. The last “Tehya” builds again the tension, juggles with disparate, lost sounds from Warped Dreamer astronomic sonic puzzle, patiently structures its road-map. It is still a tense texture, even intense and furious, but rich and dense with foreign sounds, nuances and overlapping layers, until it consolidates and erupts with boundless energy.  

Waiting anxiously for Warped Dreamer next album.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sebastian Lexer & Steve Noble - Muddy Ditch

By Antonio Poscic

There’s an insatiable curiosity burrowing in the mind while listening to the freely improvised, deviously abstract outing of German pianist Sebastian Lexer and English drummer Steve Noble, Muddy Ditch. Robbed of the tangible, explanatory presence of a live performance, with all the small gestures and physical synergy lost to the medium, one needs to entertain what-ifs and conceive new contexts and narratives around this sparsely layered, idiosyncratic playing and interactions. In return, their music will bring enlightenment by means of sensory deprivation and by asking the listener to become an active participant in the unfolding soundscape.

Muddy Ditch documents two concerts that Lexer and Noble performed at London’s Cafe OTO in 2011 and 2014. From end to end of the two tracks, “Pool” and “Loess,” the duo’s basic language remains unchanged. Resorting to a dialect nourished by sequential superimposition and counteraction of alien, nigh impossible noises, they spawn incongruous yet mesmerizing musical patterns. To achieve this, Lexer closely amplifies his piano and feeds it through live processing and effects, creating feedbacks and mutating sounds beyond what should be acoustically possible. Contrary to appearances, it’s a reductionary process with the help of which Lexer tries to understand the instrument’s pieces while he subverts them, dissolves them into mere tones, and then builds new structures, augmented with electronic processing and abrasive resonances.

At other times and especially during the second tune “Loess,” he dives into rumbling, heady sections, as if punctuating thoughts and introducing creative conflict. But the rumbles are as abstract and diffuse as the improvisational conversations with Noble, quickly retreating and receding, avoiding any semblance of conventionality. Noble responds with measure, bouncing ideas and teasing his partner through dialogues. He approaches the drumset and various percussion instruments as a child might approach a glass bottle. As he explores, in amazement, the sounds that he’s able to produce, he tintinnabulates and crashes on the cymbals and rolls his sticks against the drum heads, mouthing tumultuous roars.

There’s not much difference in mastery between the two pieces presented here, with “Pool” being the more relaxed cut, anchored to lulling segments, while “Loess” is, conversely, nervous and spirited, with reduced space for the digitally enhanced phrases and with a preference towards analog verses. Throughout, both players seem concerned and intrigued by quaint textures and shapes of individual sounds, rather than burdened by trying to fit them into compositions. Thus Noble’s rubbing, sawing, and grating will come into contrast and clash stochastically with Lexer’s prolonged piano tones, drones, and ominously deep key blows to generate a sort of a faux electronic, deranged ambient scenery. On the rare occasions when the duo does subside into unpredictable call-and-response patterns—a snare scratch might or might not be answered with a hard stomp on the piano keys—it’s only to feel each other’s pulses, preparing for the next lunge into the esoteric and abstruse.

There’s communication and there are lone amplitudes, textures expanding and contracting, but there’s always and foremost flow—from piercing fortes to soft, gentle individual noises and silences—that makes Muddy Ditch a dynamic, engaging listen that doesn’t seem to stop to contemplate for too long even when diminished to whispers. No climaxes. No themes or motifs. Only raw artistry.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

LUME - Xabregas 10 (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Derek Stone

What do you get when you mix improvisation, noise, plunderphonics, big band theatricality, and the mad-dash orchestrations of “Looney Tunes” composer Carl Stalling? Some might say that you get a “disjointed mess,” which would probably be true in most cases. There are ways of making such a diverse heap of ingredients work, however, and the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble (LUME) has seemingly stumbled upon the recipe.

In 2010, LUME released their debut album. With its ever-shifting, fun-house approach to genres, it remains an astoundingly fresh and unique recording. With such indefatigable inventiveness, however, the question had to arise: how can LUME move forward? Being such a progressive-sounding group is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there are no expectations and no limitations, and you’re free to switch gears without any forewarnings or fare-thee-wells to the experiments you leave behind. On the other hand, there is often the crushing pressure for a progressive band to actually, well, progress - if you stick around in the same place for too long, you’re bound to get accused of creative stasis.

With Xabregas 10, LUME defy these accusations and soar over the heads of anyone waiting with land-locked eyes for them to crash or stall. They don’t do this by ramping up the insanity, however, or layering on more samples, or increasing the rate at which their manic melodies unfold themselves. In fact, they do the exact opposite - they dial it back. They lock into grooves. They open their arms to repetition. Don’t take this as a sign of slowing-down, though; LUME haven’t slowed down so much as become more focused, more deliberate, and more steady-handed in their approach.

The album opens strong with “Astromassa,” which owes as much to final-boss video-game music as it does to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat. That’s to say: it’s compositionally inventive and occasionally veers off into mad-cap melodicism, but is (at heart) a drama-filled rave-up. A lot of credit has to be given to LUME’s primary composer, Mário Barroso; while there is a sense of underlying mayhem that sometimes rears its head, the myriad instruments and electronic elements that occupy “Astromassa” are largely kept in-check, wrapping around each other in both precise lines and wild (but contained) zig-zags. “Sandblast” is similarly structured, but replaces the histrionics of the previous piece with something more eminently danceable. The bass-line that drives the composition is straight out of the James Brown playbook, and André Sousa Machado’s percussion is a pulsing ode to Afro-Cuban polyrhythms. Interspersed throughout all this funk are bursts of improvisation, with José Menezes (on tenor sax) and a trombone (although I don’t know whose) both taking wild, energetic solos.

“Polén” slows things down a bit, but it’s every bit as exciting as the pieces that came before. Once again, the rhythm section occupies a central role, Miguel Amado’s bass and Machado’s drums providing a solid back-bone for the swirling, heaving waves of sound that the other members of LUME produce. This composition is more indebted to developments of the slow and textural sort, avoiding the twists-and-turns of “Astromassa,” “Sandblast,” and, well, the vast majority of LUME’s previously-recorded output. That’s not a bad thing, though; it shows that they are well-equipped to handle a more restrained approach, and it shows that composer Barroso doesn’t shy away from stuff that might be outside of his comfort zone. At its conclusion, “Polén” gives way to a dense, chaotic wall-of-sound that eventually dissipates, leading to the final piece.

“LSW” begins with a vocal sample in Korean, one that marks the return of LUME to the manic, endlessly-allusive style of their debut recording. After that, there’s very little in the way of rest: there are snatches of familiar melodies, snippets of conversation from old television programs and movies, and explosive outbursts from the band itself, all wound together in a tight package that has the kinetic force of a hand grenade. After the halfway point, the composition dips again into the “wall-of-sound” technique that marked the end of “Polén,” but now it’s even thicker and more disorienting. By the time this wall is abruptly removed, the listener is left in an ecstatic daze - not just because of the pyrotechnics they have just heard, but because of the effect of the album as a whole. Xabregas 10 is a glorious mess, and one that I can highly recommend to anyone on the look-out for music that simultaneously batters the senses into the ground and sends them spiraling into space.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ron Stabinsky - Free For One (HotCup, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Ron Stabinsky, a pianist from Pennsylvania, has been working in recent years with jazz upstarts Mostly Other People Do the Killing, debuting on 2013's excellent Red Hot. Not only is he from the state that is band leader Moppa Elliot's source of inspiration, but his approach to playing contains the sly and subtle irreverence that has so successfully fueled the group over the years. He is heard solo on Free For One, where all of the musical ideas that make him a fit with the band are channeled into a more personal and expressive vein.

Beginning with 'After it's Over,' the eight improvised tracks all are of a piece, yet have their own logic and feel in a way that makes each one unique and part of an exciting collection of improvisations. Deliberate single note lines from both hands counter each other, their flow punctuated by bluesy passing tones and jolting chords. Not as violent or stabbing as say Cecil Taylor's approach can sometimes be, the feel though is hardly placid. On the second track, '31', the approach changes, not as sparse, but yet not dense, there is a great deal of motion and rhythmic ideas happening. The track 'Viral Infection' begins with an almost catchy melodic hook while bright and arresting chords pop out sporadically. By the time we're at end, 'Not Long Now Long Now' and 'Rapture', the attack on the keyboard has intensified and we are very much - and wonderfully so - in that aforementioned Taylor territory.

Throughout the album, the energy and pulse keeps the music flowing and the changing textures and volume of ideas keeps it engaging. Beautifully recorded and austere in its red and green package, Free For One is an excellent new addition to the solo piano oeuvre.


I had an idea to present the solo efforts from MOPDtK in a series with some clever title, but the title never quite came to me. Instead, here are links to the other recordings that could have been in this series so far:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mats Gustafsson and Friends - MG50: Peace & Fire (Trost, 2016) *****

 By Eyal Hareuveni

About two years ago the director of the Viennese acclaimed club Porgy & Bess, Christoph Huber, succeeded to convince Swedish sax titan Mats Gustafsson, now resident of the Austrian town Nickelsdorf, to change his plans for his 50th birthday. Gustafsson wanted to spend the day with his wife and three daughters eating his favorite dish - reindeer steak with black trumpet mushrooms, mashed potatoes and lingon berries. Huber had a better offer, a celebration, 3-day festival with friends and comrades from the States and all over Europe that will celebrates what Gustafsson stands for, Peace & Fire.

Peace, for taking Gustafsson multiple and multi-faceted projects and as standing firmly against the greedy, capitalist order of music business that sterilizes creativity and individuality; for suggesting a better alternative - one that shares, open-hearted, communicative and conscious. And Fire, referring to his fiery dedication, playing in an intense and passionate manner, as serious as his life (following his hero Joe McPhee's solo album title, HATology, 1996. McPhee borrowed the title from Valerie Wilmer book from 1977).

Andrew Choate, who wrote the illuminating liner notes, emphasizes that the keyword of this festival was “primal”. The insistent raw and primal force that pervades the music of Gustafsson, but also the sense of ancient, essential, communal activity. Gustafsson, in his notes, insists that it is all about sharing - the music, beliefs, ideas - “open communication and interaction in free collective group settings”, adding in his opening statement of the festival that “this is the music we need in these times and in future times”. But Choate has a point. As he concludes his notes: “Gustafsson’s music embodies that desperate guttural need to speak and communicate when we don’t even know what language is, and he creates a new language for us”.

The festival took place on October 26-28, 2014, and featured solo or duo performances dedicated to Gustafsson in the upper smaller hall of Porgy & Bess and larger outfits on the bigger stage, downstairs. The first three discs in this remarkable box-set document each the performances of every night at the larger space, while the fourth documents the one from the upper hall, all together more than four and half hours of music. This box also offers two booklets with insightful photos of Slovenian photographers Žiga Koritnik and Petra Cvelbar.

Disc 1: The first night began with a hyper rhythmic and muscular short free improvisation of Gustafsson and Austrian drummer Didi Kern, titled “Peace” and “Fire”. Both fed each other with surprising, eccentric ideas, pushing each other to the extremes. The Austrian duo RISC - electric bass and electronics player Billy Roisz and turntables master dieb13, followed with an abstract, almost ethereal drone-based soundscape dedicated to the “Birthday Boy”. Legendary Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, a seminal influence on young Gustafsson (check the trio Gush with Johansson, Tjo och Tjim, Dragon, 1990), followed with three short solo pieces, dadaistic in spirit, drumming on the first one on phone books with sticks, rubbing on the second soda lids on his drums heads and concluding with a song: “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was”.

Gustafsson closed the night with his Swedish Azz quintet, dedicated to an updated interpretations of Swedish Jazz classics, and featuring tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander, vibes player Kjell Nordeson, dieb13 on turntables and drummer Erik Carlsson. Swedish Azz played with a characteristic reverential disobedience, introducing to the classics pieces of Lars Gullin, Bo Nilsson and Jan Johansson excerpts from Albert Ayler’s first recording, since Swedish drummer Sune Spångberg played on it, and a riff taken from Quincy Jones piece, because he had a Swedish wife.

Disc 2: The trio Fake the Facts - Gustafsson on saxophones and electronics with local Austrians Martin Siewert on guitars and electronics (who also mixed and mastered this box-set) and dieb13 on turntables, augmented by drummers Martin Brandlmayr (of the Radian trio) and British master Paul Lytton opened the night with a stormy, yet methodical sonic searches, patiently gravitating into a cohesive, manic and intense.

The duo of Swedish vocal artist Sofia Jernberg and Austrian electronics player and vocalist Christof Kurzmann followed with a fascinating, extended and quite weird adaptations of Robert Wyatt’s “Alifib” and Joe McPhee’s “Song for Beggars” (the latter was released in a different, short arrangement as a single on Trost Jukebox Series #2, Trost, 2014). The minimal, abstract arrangements of these songs with the fragile delivery of the lyrics by both Jernberg and Kurzmann intensified the arresting spirit of this performance.

Gustafsson returned with an extended version of the Fire! Trio - with bass player Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin, augmented by vocalists Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin (the vocalists of the Fire! Orchestra), Hungarian bagpipes player Erwan Keravec and Catalan Agustí Fernández on the vintage Crumar organ. This odd outfit began with eccentric sonic searches before settling on slow and heavy riff. Things get much hotter, on the second piece, “Exit Part Two”, now the encore of the Fire! Orchestra performances, and on the final “Would I Whip” (taken from the Fire! fourth album (Without Noticing, Rune Grammofon, 2013), both based on thunderous, repetitive riffs, expanded by the wordless vocalizations of Jernberg and Wallentin, Fernández psychedelic organ flights and Keravec bagpipes sirens.

Disc 3: The new music ensemble Klangforum Wien with Gustafsson opened the third night with compositions by composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, featuring Gustafsson on flutephone and the the slide sax, exploring different sonorities of the saxes, and another one by Gustafsson himself. His piece, featuring also contrabass sax player Gerald Preinfalk, dived into deep-toned breaths, howls and blows, building its tension carefully.

As a present birthday Gustafsson reunited TR!O - himself, German cellist and trombone player Günter Christmann and drummer Paul Lovens (who released a self-titled album on FMP, 1995, re-released on 2005), but this time + 1, analog synthesizer pioneer Thomas Lehn. The two pieces were masterful free improvisations, focusing on different manifestations of sound, stressing restraint, imagination and great focus on detail.

The final set was, as expected, by The Thing, one of Gustafsson’s long-standing groups, this time augmented by close friend and collaborator, sax player Ken Vandermark. This quartet stormed with “punk rock free jazz at its finest, a fat sloppy drunk wet kiss that turns into everlasting love and the subtlest emotions you never knew existed at all”, as Choate described it. The Thing concluded with the inevitable, sing-along “Happy Birthday” (captured on a video clip below).

Disc 4: Percussionist Kjell Nordeson, a collaborator of Gustafsson since both were teenagers living in Umeå town in Northern Sweden, opened the festival with a vibes solo, literally sending good vibes for the festival. His second piece, “Summer with M.” was a variation on a piece that he and Gustafsson played 33 years ago, already stamped with a typical rhythmic intensity. Fellow Swedish tuba master Per-Åke Holmlander followed with the humorist and inventive weird sounding breaths and gurgles on “Fifty is just the beginning…”.

Agustí Fernández opened the second night with a brilliant, extended solo piano, “MatsMatMaM / MatsAtsTsT”. He played inside the piano, on his strings, on its wooden body, emitting a clever flow of eccentric hammering, resonating and rubbing sounds that were compared by Chaote to “lovers suctioned lips” and “phantom of a fretless bass”. Erwan Keravec intense bagpipes solo, with its continuous torrents of resonating overtones, filled the small room with guttural, primal and archaic energy.

Kurzmann and Vandermark, half of Made to Break quartet, opened the third night with a beautiful, suggestive soundscape, “Vienna Upstairs”. It is a cinematic piece that balances wisely Kurzmann hyper-realist, alien and urban sounds with Vandermark emotional sax and clarinet playing. Young Swedish sax player Anna Högberg. Member of the Fire! Orchestra, manages to distill Gustafsson's seminal influence on her and her generation in the less than 3-minute happy birthday blessing, “Ha den äran”. A passionate, original and inventive piece, fully committed to keep sharing the fire.

Gustafsson concludes his notes, after thanking all, with some words of wisdom that he has picked along the years. Somehow these words describe himself, his attitude and aesthetics better than any scholastic attempts to do so. Among these wise sayings are the following ones: "A bird can’t fly on one wing"(Joe McPhee); "One vinyl per day keeps the doctor away" (Olof Madsen, sound engineer and producer) and "Fight y(our) stupidity" (Lennart Nilsson, producer of Nya Perspektiv festival in Västerås, Sweden).

Swedish azz med wänner & Gilbert Holmström Sextett – Fåglarna (NotTwo, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

Mats Gustafsson’s and Per-Åke Holmlander’s Swedish azz was founded in order to celebrate the great Swedish jazz era of the 1950s and 60s. It’s a project which covers compositions of this period and integrates them into a contemporary context using live electronics and different structures without neglecting the original. This time they have chosen a piece by Gilbert Holmström, whose music is influenced by classic early American free jazz.

His composition “Fåglarna“ (“The Birds“) is inspired by Alfred Hitchcocks legendary movie from 1963 and especially by Oskar Sala’s disturbing soundscapes. Hitchcock was fascinated by Sala’s invention, the so-called mixtur trautonium (an early synthesizer), and wanted him to create neither a traditional soundtrack nor natural bird sounds - he wanted to have something artificial to increase the horror. Four years later Holmström realized a graphic score for his sextet without any electronics, just for acoustic instruments.

In “Fåglarna“ the piano arpeggios at the beginning symbolize the peaceful atmosphere in Bodega Bay, where the story in Hitchcock’s film takes place. This changes quickly when the reeds come in, their wild and free improvisations represent the sudden attacks of the birds. Especially Holmström’s crystalline saxophone imitates the fierce cries of the animals. At the end of the piece the tension has ebbed away, the arpeggios are back, yet some dissonant elements indicate subliminal danger.

The icing on the cake of the Swedish azz line-up are 79-year-old Holmström himself and 72-year-old trumpet legend Bengt Ernryd. Compared to the original, Swedish azz’s version is much gloomier. Kjell Nordeson’s vibraphone illustrates an insecure atmosphere, then Ernryd’s trumpet in combination with the other reeds increases the tension before the piece turns to a violent free jazz orgy, in which any order seems to have gone overboard. All instruments struggle with each other, there is absolute turmoil. It is interesting that in contrast to other Swedish azz pieces the electronics are hardly audible. All in all, Swedish azz have adopted the structure as well as the focus on the acoustic instrumentation of the original.

Both Swedish azz’s new version and the fact that they have made the original available again make this 12" a real treat.

Fåglarna is available on vinyl, it can be purchased from the label:!mw926/nrszy

You can listen to a different live version of “Fåglarna“ here (with a different Swedish azz line-up):

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fire! Orchestra - Rote Fabrik, Zürich, 6/8/2016

Days of Fire! (4)

Fire! Orchestra in Switzerland
by Martin Schray

Being on the road with Fire! Orchestra is completely different from touring with a duo, trio or a quartet. Usually the musicians sleep in hotels, they travel by train or plane (if they have to cover larger distances). But the Fire! Orchestra 2016 tour is an enterprise of about 25 people - 18 musicians, a sound engineer, a tour manager, a merchandise manager etc. In times when the cultural sector is forced to downsize, no organizer could actually afford them. That’s why the Fire! Orchestra circus travels by bus - like a huge rock band. In order to save hotel costs this means that the musicians sleep in bunks, they live together very closely. It can be claustrophobic and stressful but according to some musicians, it’s also fun.

After a long trip from Vienna the band arrived at Zurich’s Rote Fabrik (which means “red factory“). Located directly at Lake Zurich they could take a swim or enjoy the venue with its art spaces and the nice restaurant (although Swiss prices can be a real spoiler). The musicians were in a good mood, they were hanging out on the compound, smoking, getting ready for the gig.

After the release of their superb album Ritual the expectations were very high and on the internet there was the information that they would play the whole album. Then again, two sets were announced. What would the other set include? The Swiss organizer, who gave a short introduction, informed the audience that they would start with three duos before - after a short break - the whole band would play a longer set.

The first duo were Niklas Barnö (tp) and Martin Hederos (keyboards). Hederos delivered Pink- Floyd-like textures over which Barnö soloed, however, it was nothing more than some kind of warm-up. Even the musicians seemed to realize that the spark didn’t jump and stopped only after a few minutes. Then Mette Rasmussen and Anna Högberg hit the stage with their alto saxophones, and right from the start there was a different energy. Gurgling sounds lead to a fiery duel, they fueled each other, it was an energetic communication. This first set was closed by Nate Wooley (tp) and Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), another contrast to the two women before. The duo’s intensity lived from the very different sound colours of trumpet and tuba, which Wooley even increased by using higher registers most of the time. All in all a nice finger exercise that gets the audience excited for the real deal.

15 minutes later the orchestra members took their positions and immediately plunged into the riff of “Ritual 1“ - and left me puzzled. The brute, immediate energy and sheer power I expected was missing. On the other hand these formations can sound blurry and mushy, but here everything was very clear and transparent, you could distinguish the single instruments very well. The orchestra seemed to need this first piece to pick up speed until one could realize what this evening would be about - excellent solo parts in front of a well-oiled machine. The first highlight was delivered by Lotte Anker, who actually likes to play more abstract, but who knocked out a forceful and yet elegant solo which seemed to set the standards for the evening. The following solos by Mats Äleklint (tb) and Nate Wooley were excellent and especially Wooley seemed to be in a romantic mood. In general, it was the ballads that were more convincing that night (in contrast to the studio recording), so Wooley’s decision to leave his (exciting) sound excursions aside was just perfect.

The other remarkable aspect of the concert was the fact that the set was beautifully structured. Like on the album the pieces were linked by solo passages for which the orchestra fell completely silent - this structure first highlighted the keyboards, then the shredding noise of two guitars, then the two drummers in a reminiscence to drum solos in rock shows and finally the two singers in a very intimate duet. At the end of the set the power that seemed to be missing at the beginning has crept into the performance - without losing the initial transparency and crispiness.

And Mats Gustafsson? He conducted his musicians like a manic preacher with sweeping movements, which was fascinating to watch. He lifted his arms and crossed them in dramatic gestures, he brought musicians in, he increased and slowed down dynamics. Sometimes the light show featured him as if he was an angel. Like me, he seemed to enjoy the evening very much.

Fire! Orchestra 2016 is:
  • Mats Gustafsson (baritone sax, conducting)
  • Mette Rasmussen and Anna Högberg (alto), Lotte Anker (tenor)
  • Per “Texas“ Johansson (bass sax, clarinets)
  • Niklas Barnö (tp), Nate Wooley (tp),
  • Mats Äleklint (tb)
  • Finn Loxbo and Julien Desprez (g)
  • Johan Berthling (b)
  • Per Åke Holmlander (tuba)
  • Martin Hederos (keyboards)
  • Andreas Berthling (elec)
  • Andreas Werliin and Mads Forsby (dr)
  • Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg (voice)

Fire! Orchestra - Porgy & Bess, Vienna, Austria, 6/7/2016

Days of Fire (4)

Fire! Orchestra in Austria, photo by Eyal Hareuveni

By Eyal Hareuveni

European jazz festivals often publicize the performances of the Fire! Orchestra as once in a lifetime experience. The festival publicists know their audiences. How often does one gets to see a big band of 18 great, opinionated improvisers, most of them leaders in their own right, sharing the same stage? And when experiencing the Fire! Orchestra you are guaranteed that all play with fiery passion and great imagination, fucking up genres and borders, as the Orchestra leader Mats Gustafsson like to say, mixing free improvised music, contemporary music, electronica, psych, free jazz and prog rock.

The Orchestra's last 8-stop Europa Bus Tour presented its third work, ‘Ritual,’ performed by the Orchestra for over a year now and released a studio version earlier this year on the Rune Grammofon label. The performance in the acclaimed Viennese club Porgy & Bess - the fifth stop in the tour - was the third time that I experienced the Fire! Orchestra performing ‘Ritual’, after two memorable performances at the Jazzhouse club during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival last July. All the performances were different, and obviously different from the recorded version, though ‘Ritual’ is still orchestrated as a five-movements piece, based on the anti-war lyrics of modern Swedish poet Erik Lindegren.

But before beginning with ‘Ritual’, the first part of the performance was dedicated to short solo free-improvised performances of musicians of the Orchestra that emphasized the expansive, inclusive vocabulary of the Orchestra. Guitarist Finn Loxbo opened with a noisy texture, nuanced and imaginative and stormy in its spirit. Sax player Lotte Anker and trombonist Mats Äleklint followed with a playful duet that stressed their personal extended breathing techniques. Vocalist Sofia Jernberg concluded with a beautiful exploration of strange voices.

And then the Ritual began, if you experienced this work only through its recorded version you may have experienced only part of it. The recorded ‘Ritual’ radiates a feeling that all parts of this complex piece fell into place, while the live performance charges ‘Ritual’ with a sense of wild urgency, as if it is still a work in progress, Still, the recorded version and more so the live performances offer a unique kind of a magical sonic ritual that possesses you from its first second to its last one, submitting you to its transformative, healing power.

You may begin to understand its power by recognizing your total, immediate surrender to the pure, addictive driving force of Fire!, the original trio of Gustafsson, usually playing the baritone sax, Johan Berthling on electric bass and Andreas Welin on drums. These three, augmented by drummer Mads Forsby, set the powerful, hypnotic riffs that are the basis of all Fire! Orchestra works. Their rhythmic drive ignites ‘Ritual’ throughout its many changes, with Berthling behind all as the main navigator of the Orchestra thunderous pulse with his assured, powerful playing.

Upon these massive rhythmic foundations the loose architecture of ‘Ritual’ is developed. The trumpeters Niklas Barnö and American Nate Wooley (in his first tour with the Fire! Orchestra) add a dimension of lyricism and abstract expressiveness. Sax players Anna Högberg, Mette Rasmussen and Anker complements Gustafsson commanding sax wails with strong, highly personal solos. Trombonist Äleklint has a perfect timing and his solos always show his unique language, while tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander injects a necessary dose of humor in his solos. Bass sax and clarinet player Per 'Texas' Johansson, who joined the Fire! Orchestra only with the recording of ‘Ritual’, is now one of its key members. He adds the deep-toned colors of the bass sax, but his solos on the the clarinets family are truly breathtaking, intuitive and melodic, charged with lasting emotional impact. Guitarists Loxbo and Julien Desprez, keyboards player Martin Hederos and electronics player Andreas Berthling expands the sonic envelope with abstract noisy textures and weird sounds.

It may sound as recipe for a chaotic, bombastic extravaganza but the Orchestra plays as a tight and focused unit. The Orchestra personnel is full with some eccentric, highly individual musicians, but play in an exemplary emphatic interplay that in any given moment attempts to expand its sonic envelope. Leading all are vocalists Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg. Both deliver the poetic lyrics with such charismatic conviction, complementing each other with remarkable elegance, power and rare beauty. You can easily imagine these two eloquent vocalists leading masses - orchestra, audience, listeners everywhere around the universe - to a new enlightened age. And of course, Gustafsson, who navigates and conducts this passionate celebration with natural authority and typical intense, driving force, pushing all - musicians and audience -  to another ecstatic experience.

Gustafsson likes to quote fellow musician, sax legend Joe McPhee who says : “Don’t postpone JOY!”. The Fire Orchestra will perform again this summer. Reserve your tickets now, you will thank me later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mats Gustafsson - This Is From the Mouth & Det Flygande Barnet

Days of Fire (3)

Mats Gustafsson - This Is From the Mouth (Utech Records, 2016) ****

Fire! - Det Flygande Barnet

(Rune Grammofon, 2016)****

By Martin Schray

Mats Gustafsson’s single-sided LP This Is From the Mouth and Fire!’s Det Flygande Barnet were recorded around the production of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play “Das fliegende Kind“ (“The Flying Child“) at the Orion Theatre in Stockholm. Schimmelpfennig’s play circles around a crucial, horrible moment: A father runs over his own child. The play shows only two people, the father and the mother, in different stages of their lives - at the age of 40, 50 and 60. At the age of 40 is the time before the accident, at 50 and 60 the parents have learned to live with the burning horror of the loss of their child, which has grown more and more. The play vivisects this kind of pain relentlessly.

Det Flygande Barnet is music written for the play itself and presents two three-minute songs, “En Man Kring 40 - 60“ (“A Man Around“) featuring David Sandström, and “En Kvinna Kring 40 -60“ (“A Woman Around“) featuring Mariam Wallentin. The play consists of a lot of repetition and the two pieces use this stylistic device as well, which makes the cruelty almost intolerable. “En Man Kring 40 - 60“ centers around a monotonous doom metal riff and highlights Mats Gustafsson on electronics. David Sandström, drummer and vocalist of the hardcore punk band The Refused, cries out and therefore embodies the ultimate terror the father must feel. The flipside, “En Kvinna Kring 40 - 60“ comes up with a dragging, repetitive bass/drum motif over which Gustafsson’s saxophone wails, while in the background Wallentin’s human voice stammers percussive fragments.

Both pieces are typical Fire! stuff from the twilight zone of metal, jazz and even new classical  music, which is why this 7’inch is a must for fans.

In contrast to Det Flygande Barnet, This Is From the Mouth was not written for the play itself, it was conceived and recorded separately, although it breathes the same spirit. Gustafsson, who is on baritone saxophone, organ and electronics here, has again teamed up with David Sandström and Fire!’s Andreas Werliin, who are both on drums here. Driven by the two percussionists the piece stands in the tradition of other Gustafsson collaborations like One Bird Two Bird (with Masami Akita and Jim O’Rourke) or Live at The South Bank (with Kieren Hebden and Steve Reid). “This Is From the Mouth“ (the piece itself) is a huge drone, a monstrous wall of sound, a distorted, dark, slow-moving beast. Like the horror of the two protagonists in the play the tension of the track is almost unbearable. One of the drummers starts with a dull motif on the snare and Gustafsson contributes a monotonous organ chord. Layer after layer of noise is added, there are single saxophone chords which vanish in nothingness, electronic drizzle is thrown into the maelstrom. As “This is From the Mouth“ progresses, it increases in dynamics, volume and intensity until it finally fades out.

This Is From the Mouth is available as a single-sided vinyl picture disc in a limited edition of 300 or as a download.

You can listen here:

Det Flygande Barnet is available as a 7’ inch single in an edition of 700. Only 100 were reserved for normal distribution, 600 are sold at Fire! concerts.

You can buy it from

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fire! Orchestra – Ritual (Rune Grammofon, 2016) *****

Days of Fire (2)

By Martin Schray

I have often asked myself why I love Mats Gustafsson’s projects The Thing, Fire! and Fire! Orchestra so much. But actually, the answer is relatively simple: It’s these riffs and catchy grooves that kill me - and with Ritual Fire! Orchestra excel themselves. Here they combine the soulfulness of their debut album Exit with free jazz excursions and the prog rock elements of the follower Enter to a beast of ultimate power and beauty. For the first time they have found the perfect balance between elaborate arrangements and free improvisation.

If you compare the music on Ritual to “Enter Part Two“, the central track on Enter, for example, you can see that it already had one of these gripping riffs but then Mats Gustafsson didn’t seem to trust his vision so that he added a pure noise segment so that the piece fell apart.

On Ritual everything is much more organic. The album is conceived like a suite with five cohesive tracks. The lyrics are from Erik Lundgren’s “Mannen utan väg“ (“man without a way“) from 1942, as well as some original texts from Mats Gustafsson, all sung by Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg (Simon Ohlsson, who added male vocals on Enter, is not part of the project anymore). Three songs are uptempo soul rockers (“Ritual 1“, “Ritual 2“ and “Ritual 4“), two are slow, groovy shuffles (“Ritual 3“ and “Ritual 5“). The first four tracks are loosely connected by solo and duo parts (saxophone, electronics/guitars, drums), only the last track is separated. In these connections the musicians can live out their lust to freely improvise before the solos  are absorbed in the notated parts of the compositions.

The three rockers are the highlights of the album, the band is very disciplined and plays them very tightly. This might have to do with the fact that the Fire! Orchestra has downsized. On their previous albums there were up to 29 musicians, now they are just 21 members. This means that  they still have the impact of a full orchestra however, the compositions have got rid of unnecessary bombast. A good example of this is “Ritual 2“, an impatient, bumpy funk piece, which consists of three connected layers: the main theme played by the guitars, bass, drums and parts of the reeds, the interspersions by the brass section and the solos that soar above them - the voices (especially Jernberg’s helium voice hits the roof), a nervous trombone and a frantic soprano saxophone. In general, all the tracks have a very dramatic structure, they amount to a climax and then they calm down again (most notably in “Ritual 4“). “Ritual 5“ is the grande finale. Based on a slow Fender Rhodes riff, the brass section throws in excessive chords and the singers move mysteriously between heaven and hell. There is a certain smoothness in this track, if there weren’t disturbing electronic and guitar sounds that save the song from being too accessible.

This music keeps circling like the wind in the aftermath of a storm scattering ashes and debris, the underlying tension is one of the great qualities of the album in general. Finally, there is the sound, which is full and clear. The music is superbly recorded capturing every detail beautifully. All in all, Ritual is one of the best albums this year.

Ritual is available as a double LP on white vinyl (in a limited edition), black vinyl and on CD.

Fire! Orchestra is:

Mats Gustafsson / baritone and slide sax, conduction
Johan Berthling / bass
Andreas Werliin / drums
Mariam Wallentin / vocals
Sofia Jernberg / vocals
Susana Santos Silva / trumpet
Niklas Barnö / trumpet
Mats Äleklint / trombone
Hild Sofie Tafjord / French horn
Per Åke Holmlander / tuba
Anna Högberg / alto and baritone sax
Mette Rasmussen / alto sax
Lotte Anker / tenor and soprano sax
Jonas Kullhammar / braithophone, bass and slide sax
Per “Texas“ Johansson / clarinets and baritone sax
Julien Desprez / guitar
Finn Loxbo / guitar
Martin Hederos / keyboards and violin
Edvin Nahlin / keyboards
Andreas Berthling / electronics
Mads Forsby / drums

Listen to “Ritual Part 1“ here:

Available at Downtown Music Gallery and Instant Jazz.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fire! – She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon, 2016) *****

Days of Fire (Day 1)

by Martin Schray

I am the god of hell fire, and I bring you ….
I'll take you to burn.
I'll take you to learn.
I'll see you burn!

These are the first words in Arthur Brown’s classic psychedelic rock song “Fire“ from 1968. During live performances Brown performed the song wearing a burning helmet. He literally hurls the famous opening proclamation in the listener’s face. The song is about what awaits sinners in hell, they have to burn and learn in order to get purified. In their best moments the music of Fire! (the exclamation mark is an integral part of the their name) can do this as well, their music can both torture and elevate you. The trio, which consists of Mats Gustafsson (saxes), Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums), tries to unite a free jazz attitude with rock elements and has even expanded this notion to an orchestra.

Over the course of the week, there will be reviews of their latest albums and a live concert.

Fire!  She Sleeps, She Sleeps


After the colossal debauchery of the Fire! Orchestra moloch Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin broke it down to the bare necessities again - sax, bass, drums (and additional guitar or cello here and there). She Sleeps, She Sleeps propels the band even further back than where they started from with You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago. It displays the roots of the musical influences like blues rock á la Blue Cheer and uses it to reconstruct and highlight a different side of the band’s identity.

She Sleeps, She Sleeps begins like a metal album. Four massive chords that sound like chimes open “She Owns His Voice“, each of them lasts 14 seconds and they make up the underlying, basic pattern of the track. Then you get what has made Fire! such a great concept: In front of a solid background (here: the looped chords from the beginning), Gustafsson and Werliin drive the piece apart. The novel effect on this track is that Berthling, who is exclusively on double bass this time, follows them. On the previous albums he was the one who had held the pieces together with a steady pulse. Now the compositions put Gustafsson’s tone, his extraordinary phrasing, his immense lung-power and volume in the foreground. His playing is so mournful, angst-ridden and desperate, one might be afraid that he has just met the devil in persona.

For the title track Oren Ambarchi augments the trio. He has worked with them before on their (possibly best) album In the Mouth a Hand on which he had a very prominent role. Here he is very much in the background and polishes the piece by delivering icy textures that could serve as a soundtrack for a film noir.

For the last two tracks of the album, the trio is joined by cellist Leo Svensson Sander. But he doesn’t play the wide melancholic lines that are so stereotypical for a lot of cello music. His approach is rather percussive, in “She Bid a Meaningless Farewell“ he dances almost joyfully around the dark saxophone lines. Finally, “She Penetrates The Distant Silence, Slowly“ drags us even further down the gloomy road. On this last track Berthling plays a super-slow Black Sabbath riff on his double bass and introduces us to an utterly deserted and lonesome void, in which Werliin’s bells buzz around like lost souls. Gustafsson cries out a bruised blues picking up Berthling’s riff from the beginning, supported by short, high cello notes. Gustafsson and Sander even expand this riff and boost it with an extra portion of sadness and volume.

Additionally, there is a meaning to this album, which my colleague Colin calls “a long lament to lost love“. She Sleeps, She Sleeps is about the different moments of a relationship, about two people being one (“She Owns His Voice“), about the time when you are willing to make compromises although there might be enormous differences (“She Sleeps, She Sleeps“). Eventually, separation is unavoidable, brief and cruel (“She Bid a Meaningless Farewell“ - the shortest track) before - after a long silence - the former partners try to build up a new form of communication (“She Penetrates the Silence, Slowly“), with all the scars the relationship has left.

She Sleeps, She Sleeps has helped me to go through very difficult time in my life, it’s the album that I have been listening to over and over again since it was released. It has been a consolation, a catharsis and a support to me. On a very personal level, it is my album of the year. Thank you for this music, Mats, Johan, Andreas. It was there at the right time.

She Sleeps, She Sleeps is available on vinyl and on CD.

Available at Downtown Music Gallery and Instant Jazz.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Julien Desprez / Benjamin Duboc / Julien Loutelier - Tournesol (Dark Tree, 2016) ****½

The French boutique label Dark Tree has released so far only five album since 2012, including Tournesol (sunflower in French). But each of these five releases have been carefully-picked, demonstration outstanding form of free improvisation (and modern jazz, considering the reissue of Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet, No U-Turn - Live in Pasadena, 1975, from 2015).

Tournesol feature's the trio of guitarist Julien Desprez, who joined the recent incarnation of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra and is a member of pianist Eve Risser’s White Desert Orchestra; master double bass player Benjamin Duboc, who played on previous releases of the label as the En Corps trio, also with Risser, and another trio with sax player Daunik Lazro and percussionist Didier Lasserre; and percussionist Julien Loutelier, who plays in the quartet of sax player Emile Parisien and pop outfits as Cabaret Contemporain. This trio released a self-produced, digital-only, live album in 2014.

The title of this album may be an apt description to the trio aesthetics. In a similar manner to the sunflower, the trio's mode of operation is based on the mutual process of floral photosynthesis. The trio is alert to its surrounding atmosphere, feeding from from it and cultivating a rich and independent universe of its own. The four free-improvised pieces of Tournesol were recorded at the same location of the previous album, Ackenbush, in Paris on January 2015.

All four pieces are intense collective researches of electro-acoustic drones, but each one offers a different, coherent, and organically-developed perspective of drone-based textures. The opening track “Pour Que” sounds more industrial and monochromatic with its buzzing hum, but the following, brief "La", already transforms the drone-based texture into a much richer one. It is a minimalist and mysterious soundscape, suggestive in its cinematic qualities.

The almost 13-minute “Nuit” highlights the extended techniques of all three musicians: the commanding bowing technique of Duboc, the gentle and clever play with guitar feedback by Desprez, and the masterful brushwork on the cymbals and drum skins from Loutelier. These techniques form a continuous series of waves of overtones, almost like in an Indian raga introduction, the alap. And as in a raga the meditative introduction intensifies and forms a much more dense interplay, here sounding more claustrophobic, but maintains the trio's reserved and focused interplay, before it resumes again the meditative-contemplative mode. The final 12-minute “S'ouvre” revolves around assorted rattling sounds of string, cymbals, wood and skins, but, again in a way that suggests clear and tight sonic identity. One that becomes more and more intense, dark-toned, grave without any attempt to offer unnecessary dramatic peaks.    

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trevor Taylor, Paul Dunmall, Phillip Gibbs - Circuit: Electro Acoustic Ensemble (FMR, 2015) ***

By Lee Rice Epstein

In the promo materials for the latest from Trevor Taylor’s Circuit: Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, Paul Dunmall’s flashing a typical bright, huge smile, emblematic of the friendly openness he brings to any creative music. Taylor, Dunmall, and Phillip Gibbs have worked in the quartet Atmospheres Without Oxygen, in addition to joining together in a variety of lineups for Taylor’s Circuit ensemble. The overall mood of this session is comfortable and relaxed, with all three exploring some newer timbres. Taylor has an expansive kit of acoustic and electronic percussion, and Gibbs is primarily on electric guitar. And Dunmall, in addition to sax and flute, spends much of the album on a Yamaha WX7, a vintage “wind synth” from the 1980s.

The album’s divided into 5 unnamed, improvised tracks. It’s a brief album, clocking in around 40 minutes, and it sort of floats along ethereally. The bubbling MIDI sounds of the WX7 weave nicely with Gibbs’s delicate guitar work on “Track 1.” Taylor provides some excellent mallet work on both “Track 1” and “Track 2,” where he adds a gently ringing vibe sound that amplifies Gibbs’s bright improvisation. These two and “Track 5,” all with Dunmall on the WX7, are the most electro- of the electro-acoustic. The remaining tracks, “Track 3” with Dunmall on sax and “Track 4” with Dunmall on flute and electronics,” blend the acoustic winds with piercing electronic tones that warp and wind themselves through Dunmall’s cautious, probing solos. Taylor deftly switches between metallic percussion and the full drum kit, and “Track 3” settles into a fascinating groove, with Gibbs providing some lush textures.

Circuit: Electro Acoustic Ensemble is the seventh in this series of ensembles, led by Taylor. As I mentioned, there’s a really comfortable vibe to this whole recording, due largely to the years of collaboration among Taylor, Dunmall, and Gibbs, although it’s not without its surprises and many, many moments of delight.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Eric Revis Trio - Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

Eric Revis is an American bassist and composer who has been steadily building his oeuvre and expanding his reach (both musically and with regard to the players with whom he associates). In 2013, he released the excellent City of Asylum with Kris Davis on piano and the legendary Andrew Cyrille on drums. As a fan of Davis, particularly her work with Ingrid Laubrock and Tyshawn Sorey as Paradoxical Frog, I was immediately drawn to that album. Needless to say, it was a joy to hear, and it also held a few surprises, the biggest one being Eric Revis himself. He is an astoundingly adept bassist, moving from note to note with an elasticity and dynamism that aren’t easily matched. Together with Davis’s gorgeous abstractions and Cyrille’s sympathetic percussion-work, Revis’s bass made for a sumptuous sonic feast.

Now, the Trio is back, albeit with a different drummer. Instead of Cyrille, Gerald Cleaver is on the skins - and while it’s sad to see Cyrille go (his long association with Cecil Taylor make him a perfect fit for Kris Davis’s knotty clusters), that sadness quickly gives itself up to eager excitement; to anyone familiar with Cleaver’s work in the Farmers by Nature trio (with Craig Taborn and William Parker), Cleaver’s involvement on this record can only be a cause for celebration.

Straight away, the album opens with Revis’s probing, urgent bass - he glides along the strings, plucking with an infectious vigor. Within a few seconds, Davis and Cleaver join him, and we’re off to the races. As I said, Revis’s energy is infectious, so Davis is soon tumbling over herself, playing with a speed and suppleness that, while not uncharacteristic for her, are certainly never in so much abundance as they are here. Meanwhile, Cleaver rides the cymbals, in search of a rhythm steady enough to support the near-to-bursting paroxysms of his bandmates. It goes without saying that he succeeds!

After the equally-wild “Bontah,” the band reins it in a bit, and we get the lovely “Victoria.” It breezes by, Davis’s languid, romantic phrases combining with Revis’s pulsing bass and Cleaver’s sensitive brushwork to create a beautiful slice of melancholy.

“QB4R” shows the fantastic interplay between Cleaver and Revis: while Revis’s notes bubble up with all the effervescence of champagne, Cleaver acts as the bottle itself, giving shape to Revis’s ruminations and perfectly capturing their unresting vitality. The title track returns to the slower pace of “Victoria,” but imbues it with a sense of apprehension; this is perhaps due to Revis’s use of arco - Davis’s sparse piano-work is ghostly, but it is Revis that conjures up the most phantoms, bowing out wisps of sound that hang uneasily over the rest of the composition.

The longest piece here is the final one, “Anamnesis, Pt. 1 & Pt. 2 (For Tamir and Ms. Bland).” What is anamnesis, anyway? Well, the idea itself works on the assumption that humans have had many, many incarnations - anamnesis is the belief that knowledge (specifically, philosophical knowledge) has accreted in us through each incarnation, and the act of “learning” is simply the re-remembering of this knowledge. As to how this relates to the piece, I have no idea, but there is a genuine sense of movement, decay, and regeneration here. After the first section, a slow-spinning vortex of scattered notes and textures, the various streams coalesce and form a recognizable melody. It doesn’t take long, however, before the lazy river breaks up and becomes a series of rapids: Davis sends out pointillistic shards in every direction, while Revis throbs persistently underneath. Cleaver gives the piece a sense of subtle transformation and variation, moving between textures and rhythms with near-undetectable fluidity.

Crowded Solitudes is an exciting collection of music, and it shows each member of the trio at the height of their abilities. While it sometimes lacks the explosiveness that I admire in much of Kris Davis’s other work, it makes up for that with intriguing arrangements (thanks to Revis) and group interplay that highlights just what a modern piano trio is capable of.

Available at Downtown Music Gallery and Instant Jazz.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up - Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi, 2016) ****½

Pardon me while I nerd-out on Threadgill here. Because there’s a lot here to dig into, and I really want to take my time with this one.

Threadgill began Old Locks and Irregular Verbs as a tribute to the great innovator Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris. Regular readers of this blog likely don’t need a review of conduction, and far better writers have summed up the approach, so I’m not going to get into it here. But Threadgill has tackled his ode to conduction in a suitably interesting way, by combining Morris’s approach with his own unique take on collaboration and democratic improvisation.

The band, Ensemble Double Up, is a new one, created for this tribute’s debut. It’s a mix of Threadgill regulars and newer voices, with Jason Moran and David Virelles on piano, Roman Filiu and Curtis Macdonald on alto, Chris Hoffman and Jose Davila reprising their Zooid spots on cello and tuba, respectively, and Craig Weinrib on drums, taking over for Elliot Humberto Kavee, who had performed on every Threadgill recording for the past 15 years. I had to look this up, just to be sure about it, but it’s been 20 years since Henry Threadgill last included piano on an album. That was “Noisy Flowers,” with Myra Melford and a quartet of guitarists, from Makin’ a Move, the last album to feature Very Very Circus.

I kept going back into Threadgill’s discography because there are very few precedents Old Locks in his catalog. Similar to last year’s In For a Penny, In For a Pound, Threadgill’s Ensemble Double Up debut is a thrilling shakeup of his compositional language, which has admittedly been in a state of near-constant evolution for decades. If it was strange to be missing Stomu Takeishi’s bass on last year’s Zooid double-album, it’s even stranger to have a new album without Threadgill’s flute or Liberty Ellman’s guitar. This type of reformatting is, perhaps, the best possible way to pay tribute to Morris, whose own conduction technique remained an ever-moving target, the sounds, sizes, and shapes of his groups always shifting.

Of course, Threadgill has an identifiable sound, one that’s only slightly less identifiable coming from Filiu and Macdonald, instead of Threadgill’s own horn. The two have an overall warmer tone, less clipped than Threadgill’s own, though it’s remarkable to hear them so completely subsume their more lyrical styles to play in his intervallic realm.

Old Locks is divided into four fairly neat parts. “Part 1” opens with Moran and Virelles in a playful duet that references Threadgill’s blues-inspired interlocking phrases. The rest of the band drops in with a brief statement of the melody. On first listen, “Part 1” seemed to play it fairly straight for the first 10 or so minutes, with the members of the band each taking their turn at a measured solo, over the relatively fluid rhythm section. Davila takes the first full solo, over the rhythm quartet of Virelles, Moran, Hoffman, and Weinrib. As evidenced on his Zooid appearances, Davila really clicks with Threadgill’s music. He shifts pretty effortlessly from his solo into taking a spot in the rhythm section, playing off Hoffman in a subtle duet, that snakes under Filiu and Macdonald’s solos. But, it’s really the last 5 minutes of this section where the group begins fragmenting into duos and trios that excitedly clash against each other. I never caught this group live, but I suspect this was a fierce run in any performance. Both Moran and Virelles really let loose, demonstrating their immense prowess and sensitive improvisatory abilities.

“Part 2” features some curious new-music interpolations, which last about a minute. These seemed more strictly composed, but the group quickly drops out for a Weinrib solo. For anyone curious about the differences between Ensemble Double Up and Zooid, start here. Weinrib brings such a new voice to Threadgill’s work, it’s as fresh as when Kavee first took over. His crisp, percussive solo takes up the remainder of “Part 2,” leading right into a stunner of a solo from Hoffman, opening “Part 3.” Hoffman was such a fantastic addition to Zooid, he really elevated the band and was a highlight of In For a Penny, and he does not disappoint here. He layers a plaintive lyricism over his solo this time around, prefacing the elegiac shift to come in “Part 4.”

Moran and Virelles, both with deep ties to Threadgill, bear a strangely heavy burden of reintroducing piano to Threadgill’s discography. And their solos throughout show a deep affinity for Threadgill’s tonal and rhythmic playgrounds. “Part 3” owes maybe the most obvious debt to Morris’s legacy, with its fierce, clashing conduction, and it’s a showcase for both Moran and Virelles. Virelles is one of my personal favorites, right now, and I really love the opportunity of hearing him in this larger band. His groups have a pretty loose sound, already, but he seemed to relax into this in a new way. “Part 4,” as I mentioned, is a flat-out gorgeous elegy, with brighter piano and a rather loving funereal dirge on the back end. The final statement is both beautiful and shocking, a reminder of just how long it’s been since Threadgill’s recorded something so emotionally raw, leaving me, at least, to wonder just how the man himself will be memorialized, when his time does come.

Available at Downtown Music Gallery and Instant Jazz.