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Friday, September 30, 2016

Jean-Marc Foussat w/Joao Camoes and Marialuisa Capurso

João Camões & Jean-Marc Foussat - À La Face Du Ciel ‎(Shhpuma, 2016) ****
Marialuisa Capurso & Jean-Marc Foussat – En Respirant (Fou, 2016) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Playing in a duo with electronics shaman Jean-Marc Foussat must be like discovering what instrument your partner plays the moment the curtain rises—and perhaps more disturbingly, discovering minute to minute that it’s a number of instruments you’ve ever encountered before. Two recent duo recordings are as much about how traditional instruments respond to the frenetic, protean realm of electronics and synthesizers as about the power Foussat wields with such devices. À La Face Du Ciel pairs Foussat with Portuguese violist João Camões, while En Respirant is a duet with Italian singer and fellow electronicist Marialuisa Capurso.

It’s tempting to view Foussat as the dominant force on À La Face Du Ciel, with Camões playing defense. This may be misleading however, if only because discerning when Foussat is being pro- or reactive is far from straightforward, and the unflappable Camões sounds as self-possessed in responding as he does when he takes the lead. Earlier this year, I reviewed Bien Mental, the trio of Foussat, Camões, and Claude Parle. There, Parle’s sweeping accordion drones were the cohesive, binding element. Here, that role falls to Camões, as it is often difficult to follow everything Foussat is doing in detail. There’s an arc to each of the two pieces that’s drawn by the familiar timbre of Camões’ viola, an earthy, grounding force in a music that is otherwise extraterrestrial, interstellar.

“Suite Pour La Trosième Oreille” gets off to an abrasive start, and it’s unclear whether Camões is amplifying his viola, Foussat is manipulating it, or a mixture of the two. What’s immediately apparent is how near-sounding the recording is. Listening through headphones lends the impression of a concert from within—less that you’re in an aural space than your skull is the space. (“Do you hear that sound?” Daniel Higgs once asked. “Your resonating skull sound—the sweetly humming skull tone.”) It’s a fitting illusion for music that’s linear but constantly shifting, like the endless turns and warps of thought itself.

As always, I’m amazed at the sheer variety of effects Foussat produces. “Suite Pour La Trosième Oreille” eventually shifts into the rasp and buzz of a robotic cicada swarm. “Mécanique Verte” is oceanic, with Camões’ plinking pizzicato notes splashing in Foussat’s watery sampling. But what Foussat tosses into the mix never sounds like some jumbled grab-bag; it truly seems he has an encyclopedic knowledge of every strange timbre available to him, and chooses exactly the sound he intends for each moment. Camões often counters with lyrical, punctuated remarks, poking holes in Foussat’s enveloping sound. Still, in one rather disconcerting moment towards the end of the record, it sounds like Camões simply evaporates into computer bleeps and bloops, finally succumbing to the digital onslaught.

En Respirant is more programmatic, briskly changing ideas and approaches. The music here is about subverting—even destroying—some of our most strongly-held aural associations by playing with the human voice, which by the very wiring of our brains we can never fail to address. Both Foussat and Capurso use their voices as fuel for their electronics, distorting them beyond all recognition but periodically revealing flashes of the human source. Paradoxically, this allows some of the most conventional moments to be the most powerful – towards the end of “Osmosis,” after a thorough deconstruction of anything resembling humanity, the sound drops away to Foussat’s electronic shimmer, and Capurso enters with a simple, hymnal melody, vocal loops slowly breaking away and diverging in a haunting canon.

“Purple Future” playfully contrasts Capurso’s voicings with those of seagulls, something that sounds ridiculous, but feels logical in the psychedelic swirl the two have conjured. The track moves from trippy to soothing to rather menacing while preserving many of the same elements. By adding and subtracting sounds, the context of others is rebuilt on the fly: nighttime insects change in a moment from summertime soundtrack to rapidly encroaching swarm.

Both À La Face Du Ciel and En Respirant document fascinating strategies for dealing with the “problem” of Foussat: Camões, by using virtuosity and ingenuity to confront him on the viola’s terms; Capurso, by blending into the electronic wash and addressing his challenges from the inside out.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thomas Borgmann Trio: One for Cisco (NoBusiness, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

Saxophonist Thomas Borgmann is a German free jazz veteran, though rather underrated. He’s been on the scene since the early Eighties, and played in a number of bands, such as Boom Box (with Akira Ando and Willi Kellers), BMN (with Wilber Morris and Reggie Nicholson), BMC (with Wilber Morris and Denis Charles), and trios with Borah Bergman and Peter Brötzmann. His most prominent band is Ruf der Heimat, a quartet with Willi Kellers, Luten Petrowsky and Christoph Winckels. There have been some wonderful albums – try Nasty and Sweet and Live in Poland – but he‘s had not played in the US since the turn of the century.

Here, Cisco Bradley comes into play. Bradley, a newly tenured history professor at Pratt Institute in New York, has been running a blog called Jazzrightnow, focused on the Brooklyn improv scene. He's also been organizing a series of house concerts -- New Revolution Arts. In 2015, Bradley invited Borgmann, long-time colleague Willi Kellers (who’d never played in the US) and New York based bassist Max Johnson, and set up a handful of gigs as well as a sax festival at the I-Beam, at which this album was recorded.

One for Cisco is a beautiful album. However, not all free jazz fans rate Borgmann. After a Ruf der Heimat concert the person next to me complained that he had no voice of his own. I don’t agree. His sound is the sum of many styles, integrating different voices to produce a distinct musical personality.

One for Cisco is an excellent example of this. At the beginning of the set Borgmann plays a very romantic solo, a slow blues, vibrato laden, reminiscent of great saxophonists like Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins. He‘s supported by Johnson’s bass lines and dead-on harmonics while Kellers drives the piece forward. In a barely noticeable fashion, Borgmann shifts the mood with bebop lines so that the rhythm section can move away from the groove - a classic Ayler moment –  a propulsive and beautiful free saxophone trio at work.

After a short interruption by a drum solo the band plays another blues melody - melancholic, dramatic, again fully aware of jazz history. At the end of the A side Borgmann uses the soprano and the music gets bumpier and more angular. There‘s then a toy melodica to take us over to the B side, and a simple folk ditty. Kellers strokes his cymbals like wind chimes, echoed by Johnson's a bowed, gentle melody. Here Kellers steers the track in a different direction with a pulsating tom-tom beat to which Johnson replies with dark, scratched lines. Borgmann joins in with a mild-mannered tenor, typical of his understated manner. The trio accelerates, but with a light-footed tone, even when they move into more extreme fields. Borgmann makes sure that there’s always a melody below the free outbreaks, deep down he‘s a great balladeer and the others let him have his way.

Borgmann may not have a prominent signature like Evan Parker or John Butcher, nor is he an iconoclast like Peter Brötzmann, but he has a mature and rich vocabulary. One for Cisco is nice and old-fashioned (in a positive way) and should convince the skeptics.

The album is available as an LP in a limited edition of 300.

You can buy it from there label

You can watch an excerpt of the concert here:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ehran Elisha: Three Quintets

Ehran Elisha - Kindred Spirit: Quintets (Out Now, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

NYC based drummer and composer Ehran Elisha's double album Kindred Spirit: Quintets is a rich trove of music hewn from close listening and deep personal/musical connections.

The first disc, Kindred Soul features the late Roy Campbell (1952-2014) on trumpet, and the second disc, the Spirit Suite, is an improvised group with OutNow label mates including Yoni Kretzmer and Michael Attias. The connecting thread, aside from the drummer of course, is that both quintets were recorded at IBeam in Brooklyn one night in 2013. 

A real treat of the Kindred Soul quintet is a chance to hear new posthumous work from Campbell, but it is the duo of Ehran and his father, pianist Haim Elisha, that are at the heart of this music. Ehran sets up the framework for the group's interplay as the album opens. The first track, 'Prism' begins with atmospheric percussion and a light sprinkling of mysterious arpeggios from the piano, then, when Campbell enters, a real boost of energy. The intersection of Campbell's melodic lines with open tonal clusters from the piano, accented by percussive textures, is a treat to savor. On 'Charted Treks' Campbell sets the stage as his blues-drenched trumpet work shoots laser-like through oscillating piano figures and an undulating rhythm. On 'New Horizon', violinist Sam Bardfeld goes toe-to-toe with Campbell in a kinetic tussle. 'Moving On' features an energetic bass and drum passage that bundles up melody and atonality in a tempting package.

On the second disc, Spirit Suite, the new quintet cuts quite a contrast to the previous band. With two saxophones, Sean Conly on bass, and Rick Parker on trombone, the approach has an edgier tone and lacks the lush harmonies found on the first disc. 'Spirit Serenade' kicks things off again with Elisha's stick work, Conly plays a spritely walk, and the horn section enters with a legato phrase. The controlled free playing that occurs gives listeners many musical strands to follow, with an overall effect of weaving a rich sonic tapestry. Parker's measured and melodic trombone solo at the end of the track is a knockout. The track 'Two by Five' is as classic free jazz as it gets. Intertwining themes are lifted by the deft rhythm work of Ehran and Conly. The closer, 'Outrise' has a slow fuse, but it when it burns down ...

In both of these quintets, Elisha's drumming is an equal partner in melody and tempo. He doesn't try to stand out as much as pull together through improvisation and composition. His great strength comes through creating the setting and guiding the music through its complex moods and approaches.

Kindred Spirit: Quintets is an excellent showcase for Elisha's musical concepts and relationships.

Ehran Elisha Ensemble - Continue (CIMP, 2013) ****

Worth a mention is Elisha's previous album Continue. Also featuring the piano work of his father Haim Elisha, the tight musical connection that drives the Kindred Souls quintet is on full display here too, along with the work of violinist Sam Bardfeld, saxophonist David Bindman, and bassist Ken Filiano.

'Continue, part one' begins with long passages featuring all the players, but right about in the middle of the 18-minute track, there is a spot where all the points seem to connect, like the center of an intricate spider's web and bassist Ken Filiano anchors it. From there, the bass and violin take extended solos with minimal splashes of color from the piano. When the sax comes back in, the music has changed and part two begins. Another highlight is the short 'Kirat Moshe' - an homage to the Jerusalem neighborhood perhaps - tinged with a melancholic beauty.

The mix of instruments and sharp compositions makes Continue something to come back to again and again.

Kindred Soul (disc 1):
Roy Campbell - trumpet & flugelhorn
Sam Bardfeld - violin
Haim Elisha - piano
Dave Phillips - double bass
Ehran Elisha - drums

Spirit Suite (disc 2):
Michaël Attias - alto & baritone sax
Yoni Kretzmer - tenor sax
Rick Parker - trombone
Sean Conly - double bass
Ehran Elisha - drums

Haim Elisha: piano;
Sam Bardfeld: violin;
David Bindman: tenor saxophone;
Ken Filiano: double bass;
Ehran Elisha: drums

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Variable Geometry Orchestra - Quasar (Creative Sources, 2016) ***½

Boasting a forty-six member orchestra, the Variable Geometry Orchestra is one of the larger free-jazz ensembles I’ve listened to, and I can’t say I’m not a little surprised. First of all, the piece itself stretches to a mere thirty-one minutes; with such a colossal group at his disposal, one could easily forgive the VGO’s leader Ernesto Rodrigues for any indulgences - before seeing the run-time, I could have imagined the piece going on for three, even four hours. The fact that Rodrigues reins the Orchestra in and caps them at half an hour is impressive enough! The question that must be asked is this: does thirty minutes provide ample time for exploring the possibilities of the Orchestra? Can each individual voice get an opportunity to contribute to the roiling, rolling whole? The answer is: probably not. And that’s not really the point. Quasar is a journey through the textures such a group can construct, not necessarily the interlocking melodies or instances of counterpoint. In fact, there are no “solos” here, nor is there anything resembling a traditional melody. The piece could be described as one, continuous undercurrent - an uninterrupted series of shifting shapes that, occasionally, swells up to engulf the listener.

The name of the piece is “Apparent Magnitude,” which references how we measure the brightness of celestial objects from the Earth. If the opening of “Apparent Magnitude” could be quantified, it would register as the faintest of glows. It begins with murmurous undulations - rumblings that issue from indistinct locations, and the tentative susurrations of some percussionist (there are five listed). At some point, burbling electronics rise from the softly-churning mass, only to become submerged again. After ten minutes, when some brass instruments emit a short series of clipped, discordant tones, it comes as a minor shock - Rodrigues is so good at guiding the Orchestra through the murky and muted topography of this sound-world that it feels as if they will never break through the canopy. Those bursts are only short detours, however. The piece quickly returns to where it seems most comfortable: hushed textures, creaking strings, and Maria Radich’s possessed voice sounding like the whispered prognostications of an ancient oracle. Despite the seeming “eventlessness” of “Apparent Magnitude,” it’s to the Orchestra’s credit that things breeze right along - because of the large number of players, and because of the lack of any set structures to capture the attention, your ear latches on to whatever it can: a stray bellow here, a short snatch of subdued strumming there, and the occasional sigh of a saxophone. If you approach this recording as a document of the distinct, unrepeatable sounds that occurred at a church in Lisbon in the fall of 2015, you will be rewarded. It strikes me as a set of field recordings that extraterrestrial beings might make and be perplexed by for centuries: listening intently, but never quite able to work out just what is going on. In the final minute, when the Orchestra releases all of the pent-up energy that has been bubbling beneath the muted surface, you can finally see the blinding Quasar of the title - but far from casting any light, it leaves you even more puzzled: What just happened? And why do I want to hear it again?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sachiko M & Eddie Prevost - 17.2.14 (Otoroku, 2016) ****

By Nicola Negri

Sachiko M – sine waves
Eddie Prevost – percussion

Free improvised music by definition allows musicians to work completely outside of established languages and traditions, and historically it has produced strikingly original musical worlds, radically different from anything that was before: Derek Bailey and his unique approach to the guitar, John Zorn in his duck calls period, etcetera.

Sachiko M, a Japanese artist active since 1994, has brought this approach to the extreme. Originally a sampler player operating in the “plunderphonics” movement, she soon departed completely from what electronic musicians were doing at the time, devoting herself to the manipulation of the sampler internal test tones, since then laconically billed as “sine waves”. This recent album documents a concert held in 2014 at London’s Cafe Oto, released as a digital download by the venue’s label Otoroku, and sees Sachiko M meeting one of the key figures of European free music, percussionist Eddie Prévost. A founder of the influential AMM in the 1960s, Prévost is another one of those musicians who consistently tried to go beyond the idiomatic boundaries of traditional music making, deconstructing the drum set and employing extended techniques to better explore his musical vision.

The album highlights from the start the musicians’ strengths and peculiarities, developing a slowly evolving soundscape based on surging waves of pure tones and subtle dynamics, reaching earsplitting extremes just to promptly recede to low volume drones, the sine waves and bowed cymbals effectively complementing each other in different layers of ethereal, high-pitched sounds. The careful attention to shape and form is exemplary of an approach to improvisation that favors texture and space, creating a fascinating, strangely soothing musical ambience. There’s a cyclical increase of density in the proceedings, and some recognizable percussive sounds begin to emerge in the second part of the performance. But they are always taken from a distance, appearing as minimal episodic gestures or ghosts of rhythm patterns. The overall structure keeps the music suspended between the mystery of silence and the perplexing beauty of pure sound, with few peaks of activity on an otherwise static base of slightly shifting sounds, slowly fading away into a long silent coda.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ken Aldcroft (1969-2016)

We were shocked to hear about the passing of guitarist Ken Aldcroft. The Toronto based musician was a celebrated musician, band leader, and teacher. His music explored free improvisation, honored Thelonius Monk and Eric Dolphy, and so much more.
Both in his compositions and guitar-playing Aldcroft manages to integrate the whole jazz-legacy without loosing his own voice, which is airy, carefully composed and free in the improvizations. At one moment it's bop, then free, then funk, then modern, but always with a creative touch, and a little harshness in the delivery, the tone of his guitar being more tuned for rock than for jazz, but it's accessible and compelling all the way. - Stef
It's an untimely and sad loss, our condolences to his family and friends.

Please take a moment to learn more about Ken Aldcroft's work here:
And on his website.

Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM, 2016) ****

Following ECM’s requisite 5-seconds silence, the first sound on Andrew Cyrille’s new quartet album is his crisp snare tapping out the introduction to “Coltrane Time.” It’s a simple and deceptive beginning to an album of broad, expansive tones.

To put it plainly, Cyrille is a living legend, having recorded with nearly everyone covered and beloved by this blog: Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton, Borah Bergman, Peter Brötzmann, Irène Schweizer, Jimmy Lyons, Geri Allen, Marion Brown, David Murray, David S. Ware, and Marty Ehrlich. He also appeared on most of John Carter’s epic Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music (he’s on the ones I’ve, admittedly, never heard, because they were on Gramavision and remain out of print). Cyrille’s contributions to the history and development of free jazz simply can’t be overstated.

The quartet for Cyrille’s ECM debut is a slightly odd one, less reliant on musicians and instrumentations he’s worked with previously. While the drummer’s played for years with bassist Ben Street (as the symbiotic rhythm section of both Søren Kjærgaard’s piano trio and David Virelles’s Continuum band), the group is rounded out with Bill Frisell on guitar and Richard Teitelbaum on electronics and keyboards. Cyrille’s played in duos with both Frisell and Teitelbaum, but to my knowledge, this is the first time the two have recorded together.

The Declaration of Musical Independence is filled with lush, roomy compositions. Frisell and Teitelbaum bathe the album in sonic washes. Teitelbaum often fades in and out of the edges, taking an idea deep in Frisell’s chords and extending it into a vibrating countermelody. Street stays primarily in the background, providing a robust foundation for Frisell and Teitelbaum’s interplay. He periodically drops heavy notes in the middle of a languid group improvisation, as if to signal a reset or change in direction.

Cyrille, already a textural drummer and percussionist, has recorded dozens of compositions rich with improvisatory exploration, but this lineup takes everything he’s done and recasts it with airy textures and slow, abstract tempoes. There are no compositions credited solely to Cyrille. Instead, his songs’ credits—"Sanctuary," "Dazzling (Percchordally Yours)," and "Manfred"—are shared by all four musicians. In addition to these and the Coltrane cover that kicks things off, there are three from Frisell—"Kaddish," "Begin," and "Song for Andrew No. 1"—and one each from Street and Teitelbaum—"Say" and "Herky Jerky," respectively.

I’ve noticed I made a lot of notes about the spaciousness of this album, and it does float more gently than previous Cyrille albums. Maybe this is Cyrille in a melancholy mood. The songs are filled with longing and reflection, anchored by that unique sensitivity Cyrille brings to his playing. Although none of these tracks truly swing, that’s alright in the context of the album. It’s a muted declaration, but a radical statement of independence.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry – Proximity (Sunnyside, 2016) ***½

It is rather amazing to comprehend Andrew Cyrille’s longevity as an artist—someone whose productivity over the last couple decades easily rivals that of his prime, when he was making his mark with Cecil Taylor in the 60s and 70s or confirming his legacy with so many superb Black Saint/Soul Note recordings during the 80s and 90s.  One only has to hear the music he’s made recently with the similarly ageless Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman in Trio 3 to know that he’s still got plenty left in the tank.  And that’s good news indeed.

What’s particularly noteworthy about Cyrille is his relentless exploration: his desire to continue evolving and trying out new approaches to his instrument.  As a drummer, Cyrille can certainly bring the heat, but he often seems most content when he’s simply a colorist, offering subtle commentary and pared-down rhythmic structures rather than explosive bombast.  This is evident on his latest ECM release, Declaration of Musical Independence, as well as this duo outing with tenorist Bill McHenry.  Although McHenry is the youngster in Cyrille’s company, the two have recorded previously.  They released a record years ago on Fresh Sound New Talent with Henry Grimes (Us Free), and a live recording from 2012 (La Peur du Vide) on Sunnyside with pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis.  On this record, recently following a live duo performance at the Village Vanguard, McHenry and Cyrille were compelled to go into the studio to document the results of their partnership.

The results are quite enjoyable overall, as the two musicians clearly have a mutual affinity.  McHenry’s warm, inviting tone on the tenor is perfect for the spare, haunting “Bedouin Woman,” which opens the record.  Over Cyrille’s quiet mallets on just a couple of toms on his kit, McHenry puts his touch on a track clearly inspired by the spiritual searching of late-period Coltrane.  Cyrille continues his avoidance of the cymbals on the next couple tracks, using just the drums to tease out melodic phrases on “Fabula” and “Drum Song for Leadbelly,” and in response McHenry offers jaunty phrases of his own.  Later on the record, though, on tracks like “Let Me Tell You This,” or “Drum Man Cyrille,” the two musicians break free of the tempered constraints of the earlier cuts and the music becomes much more exhilarating, with McHenry’s soaring flights and tempestuous flurries of notes met by Cyrille’s equally spirited contributions.

At only 38 minutes or so, the record does feel too brief, as it’s clear these two have a lot to say!  But since Cyrille shows no signs of slowing his pace, I’m sure they’ll find opportunities in the future to continue their collaboration. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Oren Ambarchi / Stefano Pilia / Massimo Pupillo - Aithein (Karlrecords, 2016) ****

By Antonio Poscic

There is no rhythm, explicit or otherwise, on “Burn,” the first of the two long pieces that make up Aithein, the debut collaborative release by Oren Ambarchi, bassist extraordinaire and shaman Massimo Pupillo (Zu), and the hushed creative force of guitarist Stefano Pilia. Instead, it builds its inner tension with textural expansions and contractions, and through clashes of extreme sonic abstractions. In a way, the effectiveness of the fabric of this music is amplified by its simplicity. Shrieks try to come alive only to be maximized through reduction by endlessly processed and fed back guitars. Vast and bulbous sounds, wails, and screeches float like fragile bubbles in an abyss in which colossal beings communicate gently. The trio’s roars oscillate and reverberate, as if searching, trying to understand and learn, discovering their own dialect of Morse code. Almost unintentionally, the three musicians chisel out a transparent, elastic wall of sound—a byproduct of their exploration. It’s existence is sine qua non for music devoid of any perceptible buildup or climax point. Music that rather relies on constant and simultaneous creation and destruction, a process lost amidst a sense of desolate beauty. Near the end of the cut, one of the guitars will venture into what could be described as a field of accidental harmonies, while the other will try to pull it back in with grating, sawing sounds. It’s unfortunate that this poignant interplay is cut short when Pupillo’s bass starts to rumble a transition to the second part of the performance recorded live in Bologna in April 2015.

True to its name, “Shine” takes the patient glow of “Burn” and flares it up a thousand times, bringing it ever closer towards a painful explosion. It makes for a wonderfully contrasting half and evokes stills of darkness, light, and a certain dreadful inevitability from Danny Boyd’s film “Sunshine.” With Ambarchi moving from guitar to drums and percussion, “Bright” is delineated by a solid and at times very structured rhythm. It’s a driven improvisation that keeps rolling forward, towards the brightness, never looking back or even alluding to what came before it. The piece thus feels closer to conventional forms, but Pupillo and Pilia keep it from sounding anything but conventional by weaving abrasive textures around it. Their resonances are dynamic and loud, often reduced to short bursts of energy. While “Shine” progresses, a sense of urgency emerges and the tune starts to dissolve into shapes close to post-rock and drone. The crescendo that was hidden in plain sight, now slowly reveals its full glory as all of the sounds coalesce, forging a rocking whole.

A truly compelling album.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Keiji Haino / Jim O’Rourke / Oren Ambarchi - 君は気がついたかな 「すみません」 という響きがとても美しいことに それ以上悪くしないように (I Wonder If You Noticed ”I’m Sorry” Is Such A Lovely Sound It Keeps Things From Getting Worse) (Black Truffle, 2016) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Japanese Keiji Haino, Tokyo-based American Jim O’Rourke, and Australian Oren Ambarchi are all sound sculptors and multi-instrumentalists that never cared much about genre or style boundaries. Free improvisation, art-rock, noise, minimalism, ritual music and live poetry just begin to describe the dynamics of this trio's seventh album since 2010, and as the previous albums, one with a suggestive, poetic title (and if you will follow Haino tweets you will find many more of such koan-like poetics). This album documents the trio's entire set at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe club on March 2014. Haino recites and sings his metaphysical ponderings in English (for the first time) and Japanese, explores the Turkish string instrument baglama (that sound almost like the Japanese shamisen) and the contrabass harmonica and adds electronics; O’Rourke plays on effects-laden, processed bass and Ambarchi plays percussion and drums.

This performance as many of the trio past ones is a kind of futuristic-tribal ritual and Haino, no doubt, is the master of ceremonies. He leads the first piece, "Who is so cleverly manipulating The word ‘Everything’", with a fragile, haunting recitation in English and economic, repetitive riffs on the baglama while O’Rourke and Ambarchi build the tension methodically with psychedelic, heavy bass pulsations and pulse-free percussive touches. The second piece "Be careful of this word ‘New’ With it's glittering trap" adds a mysterious vein to the already established ritualistic spirit. Haino recites now in Japanese with a much more authoritative command, soon his guttural growls are washed in a dense electric storm comprised of the tortured-spacey of O’Rourke processed bass and Ambarchi massive, cosmic pulse. This epic and volatile eruption becomes even more bizarre when Haino experiments with the contrabass harmonica, a sound that softens the previous tsunami waves of ecstatic noise.

The third piece "The universe is tired Please For just one second stop thinking" changes the course and now O’Rourke resourceful bass work is in the center, heavily processed with an array of effects, sketching a magnificent, hypnotic noisy drone, backed by the repetitive, thunderous drumming of Ambarchi and occasional screams of Haino. This sonic storm suddenly quiets and leaves Haino pondering his cryptic-metaphysical ideas in a tempting-tortured voice, often obscured by O’Rourke bass noises. The last piece "That ‘?’ Squatting Proudly at the Edge of Surface Tension Is It Perhaps a Mystery..?" continues the explosive spirit with a simple but highly addictive single-chord grind that brings to mind Haino seminal psychedelic group Fushitsusha. Haino keeps screaming “explode” between his Japanese growls. Again, suddenly the grind halts and Haino closes this ritual as it began more than an hour ago, chanting with a soft and compassionate voice and playing gently on the baglama.

A moving experience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oren Ambarchi / Kassel Jaeger / James Rushford - Pale Calling (BlackTruffle, 2016) ***

By Eyal Hareuveni

Pale Calling is the first collaborative work of three electroacoustic sculptors - Australian Oren Ambarchi, Parisian composer Kassel Jaeger, and Australian composer, Los Angeles-based James Rushford. The two side-long extended pieces of this vinyl album, recorded at GRM studios in Paris in 2014, sketch an intriguing and quite accessible sonic territory. Both are layered like gentle, surreal puzzles of weird-sounding field recordings, unintelligible vocals and child-like cries, processed electronic sounds with fragmented, rippling percussive touches.

The two pieces, “Pale” and “Walking”, navigate organically and patiently through hazy, atmospheric terrains according to their inner dream-logic compass. “Pale” suggests a more subtle and sparse sonic scenery, spiced with a surprising, minimalist reference to the iconic organ theme of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” at its coda. “Walking” has a clear narrative, progressing along an addictive rhythmic pattern matched with a seductive cinematic theme played on the harmonica and the piano. This theme sounds as coming from a futuristic David Lynch film, obscured more and more by disturbing wordless, human vocals, but ends with a field recording of distant animals and insects.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke - Behold (Editions Mego, 2015) ****½

By Derek Stone

In the worlds of improvised and experimental music, the company you keep can be just as significant a choice as the compositions (or lack thereof) that you play. Oren Ambarchi is no stranger to this maxim, having associated himself with some of the weightiest names in the game: Keith Rowe, Merzbow, and Keiji Haino, to name a few. On Behold, Ambarchi once again shows his penchant for first-rate collaborations, as he here joins Jim O’Rourke. O’Rourke cuts an interesting figure in the music industry - he’s released or been associated with a mind-bogglingly diverse range of projects, from acerbic pop (Insignificance, Eureka), to the Fahey-indebted folk stylings of Bad Timing, to the free-jazz guitar workouts of 2014’s Vandermark/Nilssen-Love collection, Extended Duos. While Ambarchi and O’Rourke have worked together numerous times in the past few years, this is only their second duo recording (the first being 2011’s Indeed).

“Behold One” opens with muted, spectral tones, and quickly unfolds into something resembling an ambient soundscape. From the get-go, it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into fleshing out these textures - far from simply being a homogeneous drone, this first piece is packed with unanticipated textures and effects: snatches of conversation, cars starting, synths that bubble up out of the ether and rapidly dissipate. A few minutes in, when Ambarchi’s drums enter, it’s clear that Behold cannot be written off as just “ambient.” In fact, quite the opposite: it actively seeks your attention, and it rewards careful listening. Midway through, Ambarchi’s kick-drum is the slowly-beating heart of the composition, while O’Rourke’s alien sound-effects orbit and swirl all around. When a thick, bone-rattling bass-tone rises up from this whirling mass, it’s both startling and exhilarating. Clearly, Ambarchi and O’Rourke know how to establish atmosphere and ratchet up musical tension; the first half of Behold is proof.

“Behold Two” exhibits the same meticulous attention-to-detail heard in the first, but it seems more willfully “song-like,” with organ effects and retro synths that recall the spaced-out melodicism of mid-70’s Tangerine Dream. A few minutes in, Ambarchi’s drums return to provide a steady pulse to the composition, while blissful layers of sound stack themselves up to the heavens. More than halfway through, all of this build-up (though admittedly enjoyable in its own right) results in a simple, repeating motif on the piano from O’Rourke, one that helps drive the piece upward. While the opening is somewhat minimalistic, akin to floating in the frigid depths of interstellar space, “Behold Two” eventually pushes itself into a more celestial sphere, with squalling guitar feedback from Ambarchi and percussion that gets louder and louder.

On Behold, Oren Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke meet at the glorious intersection of electronic and analog, producing something that marries the best tendencies of both. It’s swathed in synths and textures, but it is warmly human; it’s driven by Ambarchi’s percussion and (later) O’Rourke’s stirring piano, but it is often otherworldly. These are contradictions, sure, but one of the joys of experimental music lies in its ability to cut through seeming contradictions, to show us combinations and configurations that we thought impossible. Behold does all of this, while still being eminently listenable and engaging - I’d call that a success by any metric!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Oren Ambarchi – Live Knots (PAN, 2015) ****

By Eric McDowell

If among Oren Ambarchi’s staggering nonstop flood of releases you missed 2012’s Audience of One and its centerpiece “Knots,” you have not one but two more chances to enjoy the Australian guitarist’s epic composition. Live Knots, released last year on PAN, pairs two different versions of the piece, one recorded in Tokyo and the other in Krakow. Even if you didn’t miss Audience of One, you’ll want to see what Ambarchi can do with “Knots” in these varied contexts.

Side A, “Tokyo Knots,” represents what would technically be considered an abbreviated version of the piece, though it still runs upwards of 25 minutes. But even pared ten minutes down from the original and retaining only drummer Joe Talia from the 2012 line-up, this version astonished me with the hugeness and intensity of its sound. It begins with Talia’s driving accented ride cymbal, a through-line for the piece. In contrast Ambarchi builds ambient textures veined with alarming feedback whine. Here as elsewhere Ambarchi proves capable of singlehandedly producing an impressive array of sounds—YouTube footage of the gig, recorded at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe in March 2013, shows Ambarchi seated behind a bank of electronics, his guitar obscured by knobs and wires.

Minute after minute, Ambarchi and Talia build the piece masterfully, overseeing an almost imperceptible mounting of tension and drama. Along with his indefatigable labor on the drum kit, key to this effect is Talia’s control and restraint. He adds new elements to the beat judiciously so that he always has room to match Ambarchi’s increasingly vertiginous playing, which hits a peak with strobe-lit shredding more likely to risk inducing a seizure than a trance. Inevitably but thankfully the piece comes back down in its final moments—knots coming untied?—leaving things in a distinct state of aftermath with the guitar groaning distantly and the drums methodically thinning to a shimmer.

It may be advisable to rest before starting up “Krakow Knots,” the 42-minute version of the piece that occupies sides B and C, though back-to-back comparisons offer the opportunity to consider which aspects of the composition are fixed and which depend on variable factors. “There is a clear composition and a clear arrangement,” Ambarchi says in an interview on The Quietus. But: “The intention is that it still has a very open and free atmosphere.” The obvious difference here is the number of people on stage—along with Ambarchi and Talia, there’s sound artist Crys Cole on contact mic/spring and violist Eyvind Kang, who’s also conducting the Sinfonietta Cracovia on strings (watch a similar line-up play “Knots” at Cafe OTO here). Along with providing new depth and texture, the added players help draw the composition out to its expanded length, especially towards the beginning and end, including noteworthy moments of eerie tension occasioned as swells of strings are superimposed over the fading groove.

Anyone interested in but intimidated by Ambarchi’s discography might find Live Knots a suitable point of entry, streamlining as it does the guitarist’s varying interests in ambient/electronic soundscapes and head-banging rock.

Oren Ambarchi Week Introduction

Oren Ambarchi at Issues Project Room, Brooklyn, NY.
Photo by Peter Gannushkin

By Antonio Poscic

Australian composer and multi-instrumentalist, primarily guitarist and drummer, Oren Ambarchi is a unique and important character in today’s experimental and improvised music scene. Never confined by genre or style, he seems to be fueled by a relentless desire to shape sounds into impossible forms, dissolving them from their original patterns and recontextualizing them into contemplative yet often ominous structures that show glimpses of an emotional substrate. Analog and digital, improvised and composed, the various modes of operation he discovers in solo works—looped and sampled guitars might crash droningly into themselves—are reflected in his numerous collaborations with varied but always impressive names such Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke, and Fire! Unequivocally, his work shows a musician with a keen, thirsty ear to the developments in improvisational, electronic, and experimental music and a voice that never fails to narrate something new.

When artists as prolific as Ambarchi are concerned—he appeared on over ten records in the past two years—it becomes difficult to cover all of their work with due attention. Since we at the Free Jazz Blog are guilty of neglecting Ambarchi, we’re dedicating a week to his recent output. Follow us during the next few days as we review several of his solo and collaborative releases from 2016 and 2015. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Guus Janssen - Meeting Points (BIMHuis Records, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

This retrospective of Dutch pianist Guus Janssen, featuring his work as a brilliant improviser, composer for improvisers, and leader of excellent ensembles, will make you wonder why you have not heard more of him. The nine, previously unreleased live pieces selected for Meeting Points were recorded between 1989 and 2014. All emphasize Janssen smart and witty compositional and improvising skills, as a musician who likes to twist alongside the listener expectations as well his fellow musicians, a versatile pianist who is equally versed in the work of jazz pianists Lennie Tristano and Art Tatum and classical composer Franz Josef Haydn.

It is no surprise that Janssen was the natural choice to take the seat of pianist Misha Mengelberg in the Instant Composers Orchestra (ICP). Janssen acknowledges Mengelberg's seminal influence in his cover of “Peer Counting Song”, a duet with drummer John Engels, recorded in 2014. This gentle-contemplative piece sound now as a moving homage to the great pianist who retired from performing due to dementia.

The insightful liner notes of Dutch jazz scholar Kevin Whitehead shed light on the eclectic pieces, all were recorded at Amsterdam’s acclaimed Bimhuis club, close to Janssen’s home.  The earliest one, “Rondo” from 1989, is a post-modernist, surreal piece, performed by the short-lived Cluesome Quartet, with clarinet player Michael Moore, cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Han Bennink (soon to be incarnated as the better-known Cluesome 3, without Janssen). This kaleidoscopic, epileptic piece mocks the sound of ancient Chinese instruments, swings hard, quotes briefly Charles Ives composition and is often intruded by musique mecanique sounds.

The brilliant 1999 title-piece duet with alto sax player Lee Konitz, another disciple of Tristano, shows these two quick-eared masters at their best, inventive, surprising with their sudden switchbacks and dropouts. Both are enjoying this clever, game-like improvisation. Another duet, “April” from 2007 with the  hard-swinging Bennink suggests this long-running duo open and imaginative interplay. Bennink powerful swing enables Janssen to abstract on Tristano ideas.

Three pieces from 2011 feature the trio of Janssen with double bass player Ernst Glerum (who is also a member of ICP) and Janssen brother, drummer Wim Janssen, augmented by clarinet player Michael Moore (another member of ICP) and violinist Sanne van Hek. The playful performance of “Koto à Gogo” revolves around loose hip-hop pulse set by Wim Janssen; “Vrij naar AT” is a wise, spare salute to the hyperactive music of Art Tatum and on “Janus Bifrons” the quintet disturbs the melodic-swinging theme with typical ICP eccentric twists.

Two recent compositions from 2012 are by an impressive sextet with van Hek, Glerum, Wim Janssen, trombonist Wolter Wierbos (who also plays in ICP) and guitarist Raphael Vanoli.  Both “Pogo 1” and “Pogo 2” are an amusing, speedy pieces, full of ironic, quirky game-like twists, twisting even the artificial distinction between instant composing and improvisation.

Janssen is a one of a kind, don’t miss this fascinating retrospective.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sylvain Guérineau, Kent Carter, Itaru Oki, Makoto Sato - D’Une Rive A L’Autre (Improvising Beings, 2016) *****

By Nicola Negri

Sylvain Guérineau – tenor saxophone
Itaru Oki – trumpet, flugelhorn, flutes
Kent Carter – double bass
Makoto Sato – drums

This recent release on the always excellent Improvising Beings label features four masters of improvised music, gathered together in a quartet specifically created for this project. The most widely known in the group is Kent Carter, a member of Steve Lacy’s bands of the 1970s and a true jazz giant that returns to improvisation after a long absence. By contrast, the main originator of the album, Sylvain Guérineau, is virtually unknown outside France, and probably more famous as a painter there (his delicate yet incisive abstract art adorns the CD package), even if he is a long-time collaborator of French free jazz pioneer François Tusques. The group is completed by two Japanese musicians who both moved to Paris in the early 1970s: Itaru Oki, a key figure of the Japanese free jazz scene who continues to play in strikingly different contexts, and Makoto Sato, former assistant of percussionist Masahiko Togashi and a constant presence in the French jazz community.

The album is dedicated to sailors from all over the world, their often rough living conditions and the adventurousness of life at sea. The opening “Terre Neuvas” effectively illustrates the exploratory character of the album and its thematic subtext: Carter and Sato cast a wide net of different impulses, with long arco bass lines and sparse percussive accents patiently building an increasingly intense free form piece that highlights Guérinaeu’s huge tone and Oki’s lively phrasing. The following “Bateau Phare” follows the same steps, but keeps the music on a more restrained ground, with Guérineau, Carter and Sato creating a richly layered textural soundscape, until Oki’s muted trumpet brings some fresh melodic material to the collective dialogue. With “Récif” the mood changes drastically: a bouncy bass and cymbals rhythm pushes trumpet and sax into a light, humorous melodic exchange, but frequent changes of tempo challenge the soloists to continually reinvent their respective roles, with the whole band finally converging on a well structured coda. “Le Rideau De Mer” returns to a suspended atmosphere, until Carter lays down a dark ostinato that channels trumpet and sax towards a long abstract finale framed by Sato’s busy brush work.

The closing “D’Une Rive A L’Autre” underlines the continuous tension, present throughout the album, between structurally defined and open form sections. The musicians navigate these different scenarios with confidence, moving from a tight interplay to simultaneous digressions with a captivating sense of discovery. Guérineau and Oki promptly pick up each other’s ideas and develop thematic cues that are further expanded in different directions, eventually converging on beautifully crafted melodies or dense contrapuntal exchanges, while Carter and Sato are particularly effective in balancing their activity between a solid supporting role for the soloists and a completely independent voice, equally contributing to the improvisational dialogue.

Carefully conceived and beautifully played, D’Une Rive A L’Autre is a passionate, powerful example of creative music expression, bringing the excitement of early free jazz into a flexible and ultimately timeless musical dimension that highlights the unique personalities of these extraordinary improvisers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lotte Anker/Fred Lonberg-Holm & Dave Jackson/Dirk Serries - Two Duos (Astral Spirits, 2016) ***½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Lotte Anker and Fred Lonberg-Holm, recorded live at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago, on a split-release with Dave Jackson and Dirk Serries, recorded live at Café Oto in London. It’s almost like free jazz bingo. If you had “Astral Spirits” in the label column, you win! The title Two Duos plays like a droll joke, once you start listening. Both halves contain breadth and depth well beyond the simplicity of a duo.

Anker and Lonberg-Holm’s duet plays on all their strengths. Their extended improvisation takes a kind of narrative approach with the titling, “Ice King” / “Melt” / “The Frigid Air” / “Cold Only Hurts Those Who Feel,” and the playing is thrillingly free. Anker and Lonberg-Holm both have a way of taking tuneful lines to their scorched edges, successfully mixing atonal leaps with extended techniques.

On their live improvisation, recorded at Cafe Oto, Dave Jackson and Dirk Serries come screaming, but right around the middle of their duet, Serries swerves lightly into a solo stretch, toying with the volume knob to give his chords that echoey coming-going effect. Jackson intersects with some shockingly high-register, staccato playing that reminded me of some earlier Roscoe Mitchell solos. The whole second half, they stay in this bright and open, atonal space, creating a playful banter.

To be honest, this doesn’t have the feel of a must-have entry in all these musicians’ catalogs. Both are certainly enjoyable improvisation sessions, but I don’t feel like I can give an unequivocal buy-this-now recommendation, which frankly feels a bit odd, considering how much I enjoyed the album. I have a thing about not messing with a label’s canonical release, but you could take the digital versions and split it into two shorter, EPs, rather than leaving it as a single split. You might find yourself dipping into both more often.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Red Trio and John Butcher - Summer Skyshift (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Captured at the 2015 Jazz em Agosto Festival in Lisbon, Summer Skyshift is the second collaboration between saxophonist John Butcher and the Portugal's RED Trio, their first was Empire, from No Business in 2011. This new collection of improvisations runs from introspective to out of this world during the course of its four tracks.

Butcher hardly needs an introduction to readers on this blog. The unique musical lexicon that he has developed allows him the freedom to use his instrument as an extension of sound itself - the absolutely surprising the tones and timbres he creates from the saxophone blends in seamlessly with traditional ones, and he connects with the trio brilliantly. Likewise with the RED Trio, comprised of Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on double bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums and percussion, they have consistently enthralled the writers and readers of blog. For example, going back to Dan Sorrell's review of the Trio's album Rebento (No Business, 2013):
Despite the classic instrumental lineup, we’re encroaching upon territory that’s beyond history or influence, cutting a path through the dense thicket of three overlapping minds, one that becomes illuminated when they put fingers to instrument.
Words that ring quite true here as well, though now augmented by Butcher's presence. The trio is a formidable unit that when mixed with the reed player, becomes a musical juggernaut. Track one opens with tiny splashes of chords from the piano and a smattering of tones from the saxophone, as the group embarks on a steady building of intensity. Three minutes into the 13-minute track, finds Butcher stacking phrases upon phrases atop the trio's insistent foundation. Then, shifting to more spacious phrasing, Pinheiro gives Butcher the opportunity to really let loose, which in turns cues the others to ratchet up the intensity. Track 1.2 is a study in quiet tension. Playing quietly or laying out entirely, the piano and drums allow wide berth for Butcher and Faustino to engage in a long duet, juxtaposing stretched tones and blips of sound into an evocative collage. Moving ahead to the third track (1.3), Pinheiro's keys are leaping from the board, Ferrandini keeps and extends the pulse, and Faustino's bass shifts musical tectonic plates.

It's always interesting to see how certain combinations work together and RED Trio has proven to be extremely versatile, releasing albums with Lotte Anker, Nate Wooley, Mattias Stahl, among others. However, sometimes a collaboration becomes its own thing and to my ears, that is the case here - this a quartet that has really latched onto something unique in their fiery crescendos and passionate forays. Summer Skyshift has certainly landed on my top ten lists for the year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nate Wooley - Seven Storey Mountain V (Pleasures of the Text, 2016) ****

Nate Wooley’s Seven Storey Mountain V is the latest addition to an interesting series of albums. The first Seven Story Mountain album was recorded live at the Abrons Art Center in 2007 (released 2009) and featured a trio of Wooley with David Grubbs on harmonium and Paul Lytton on percussion. The newest addition to the series, also recorded live at Abrons in September 2015, features a nineteen piece group. The low end is handled by Colin Stetson (amplified bass saxophone), Josh Sinton (amplified bass clarinet), and Dan Peck (amplified tuba). C. Spencer Yeh and Samara Lubelski play amplified violins. Chris Dingman and Matt Moran are on vibraphones while Ben Hall and Ryan Sawyer provide percussion. Ben Vida is on electronics. Nate Wooley plays amplified trumpet and tape. The TILT Brass Octet is also along for the journey.

From the lush brass chorale opening through the squall to the final quiet moments, SSMV is an adventurous journey over the course of almost fifty minutes. At times Wooley literally speaks through his trumpet, reading sentences from authors like Jim Harrison, Herman Melville, and Wallace Stevens, whose muffled, distorted voices push through the veil like ghosts long forgotten. There is a repeated ding that runs through the piece, like a typewriter carriage returning at the end of a line. Squalling drones drift through like sand storms deep in the desert. The feedback can be as blinding as a late Agnes Martin painting, disorienting you as you wander across the albums’ expanse.

This album requires active engagement on the part of the listener. It’ll push you through your confusion into a place satisfyingly close to enlightenment. High volume and good speakers are heavily recommended.

Looking forward to the final two installments in the Seven Storey Mountain series.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Stirrup – Cut (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

While there’s nothing novel in celebrating Fred Lonberg-Holm’s gift for transforming the cello into the perfect vehicle for just about any genre, it may be worth pointing out that some of his projects are better suited to capturing the full extent of his masterful range than others. Where, say, does 2005’s warm and gentle Other Valentines meet last year’s hazardously caustic You Can Be Mine? Try Stirrup, Lonberg-Holm’s trio with fellow Chicagoans Nick Macri on bass and Charles Rumback on drums. On their second studio album (check out their debut, Sewn, and their follow-up live album with trumpeter Russ Johnson) the group continues grooving, crooning, and shredding, by turns and all at once.

Cut opener “Sleep Comes to Everyone” hints at the trio’s dynamic capabilities. The rhythm section’s counterbalanced light and dark—Rumback’s fluid, bouncing drums against Macri’s rich, anchoring bass—fashions an ideal stage for Lonberg-Holm, who drifts and wheels in an almost pastoral mode before virtually welding the notes down with the help of the effects pedal. While the next track, “Rodney’s Last Ride,” takes a similar overall shape, cello skidding into blister and glitch, the gloomy tension of “Then Fall Fell” comes in part from Lonberg-Holm’s just-restrained distortion, holding off the pyrotechnics. Meanwhile slightly mellower moments like the acoustic sawing on “You May Think” keep the album from overheating.

On guitar Lonberg-Holm proves equally capable if (maybe) less singular. Near the beginning of “Six Minutes to Montrose” you can actually hear an electronic sizzle just before he climbs astride Macri’s rolling ostinato. From there: searing anti-licks, splintered feedback, and pick-melting shredding, all thinning to nothing at the end like smoke from a doused blaze. “Salt Lines” and “You ‘n’ Me,” a pair of swinging 3/4 tunes near the end of the album, feature more of Lonberg-Holm’s killer guitar work.

Though on Cut I might like to see the trio push harder against the tendency to stratify along traditional lines—Macri and Rumback establishing the rhythmic foundation, Lonberg-Holm carrying the melody and soloing—it’s obviously a formula that works, and even in their relatively restrained roles, the drummer and bassist play with intention, inventiveness, and energy (besides penning a third of the album’s pieces each). Rumback has a knack for roaming the kit without sacrificing the pulse—see for instance the opener’s Afro-Cuban groove, the measured waltz swing of “Who We Were,” or the Morello-inspired solo towards the end of the final track. While this flexibility keeps Rumback adaptable to Lonberg-Holm’s shifting shapes, it might not be as convincing without Macri’s sturdy playing, the bedrock of Stirrup’s music. (Macri is, after all, the bassist holding down Audio One’s monster jams.) Still, he surfaces when he can, as in his satisfying if brief features on “Five
Ruminations” and “You ‘n’ Me” or the glittering harmonics on the “Domi’s Dream” groove.

If you’re in Indianapolis, be sure to catch Stirrup (with Tortoise’s Dan Bitney on drums) tomorrow night, Wednesday 9/14, at the Irving Theater—with the Free Jazz Blog’s own Tom Burris helping set up the gig. (Other Midwesterners, look out for shows in Cincinnati and Detroit!)

  • Wed 9/14 - Indianapolis, IN - The Irving Theater - 8 pm
  • Thurs 9/15 - Crestview Hills, KY - Thomas More College
  • Fri 9/16 - Cincinnati, OH - The Listing Loon - 9 pm
  • Sat 9/17 - Detroit, MI - Trinosophes - 9 pm

Monday, September 12, 2016

Adam Kahan - Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Case of the Three Sided Dream(Monoduo Films, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I'm not sure how Rahsaan Roland Kirks's music is best considered- it's not 'free jazz' - though it has elements of it in sound and spirit, and its certainly not 'traditional jazz', though he played standards. It was tuneful, soulful, unusual, and often defined by his use of multiple horns.

It seems that it was his own music, and it came purely from a world of sound. Kirk, who became blind because of medical care carelessness as a baby, lived in a world defined by sound, and by his own account, his dreams. Politics and fashions informed his music, but not as much as his own dreams. He asserted that it was the sounds that he heard in his dreams that he wanted to recreate with his multiple horns. It's this notion that provides the framework for Adam Kahan's documentary on Kirk, 'The Case of the Three Sided Dream,' which has finally received wide release, through multiple digital channels.

We first see Kirk in action, heading to a club date in the late-1950s/early-1960s, with a voice over of him  introducing a song. Then, we backtrack to his early life. This part is quick, a brief discussion of his discovery of music, and then his move to New York in the mid-1950s. Interviews, concert footage, and snippets of candid moments are mixed with animation. Of course watching Kirk in action and getting a glimpse of the man behind the inflated tear is worth the time alone, but I kept asking myself at first, did the animation help? It lends a certain feel to the film, but aesthetics aside, I soon realized that the animation is key in evoking the imagination that drove Kirk's music making, it illustrates his dreams and provides a stream of connective imagery.

A real highlight is that the film consolidates footage from several televised concert specials by Kirk. It's a blast to see him in action with the multiple horns (even the kind of crazy nose whistle), and evolving from wearing a suit to the period fashions in the 70s. We learn a lot through interviews with people like his widow Dorthaan Kirk (who works at the Newark, NJ based powerhouse jazz radio station WBGO), and trombonist Steve Turre (who played with Kirk). Check out Turre's story about Kirk's circular breathing, and you get a sense of the mystical side of Kirk.

Recounted by friend Mark Davis, Kirk's political side also comes through. In the early 1970's, Kirk wanted to raise the stature of what he coined "black classical music" and used television - and whistles of course - as his medium. Interrupting an interview during a taping of the Dick Cavett show, his protest was parlayed into an invitation to perform on Ed Sullivan's show. Where, instead of performing the agreed upon song for this show, he assembled a band augmented by Charlie Mingus, Archie Shepp, and Roy Haynes, and performed a spirited version of 'Hatian Flight Song'. His political feelings also were expressed freely in his on stage banter and in his music, like the song 'Blacknuss', which is shown performed in a televised concert.

The impact of Kirk's first stroke, in 1975, is conveyed by Dorthaan Kirk in a moving, somewhat visually dramatized way. Kirk had just signed with Warner Brothers and his career and music, she explains, was entering a new level, when he suddenly collapsed in the family home. A video of a 1977 post-stroke performance is a stunning rebuttal to what had happened physically to the musician. Playing a modified horn which allowed the pinky of his working hand to compensate for his paralyzed one, 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' is an emotional tumult. Turre talks about how amazed he was at Kirk's ability that he would sometimes be watching him and forget to play. It was a second stroke, the day after a performance in 1977, that ended Kirk's life. He was only in his early 40s.

Kahan's film captures Kirk's character, determination, and pure musicianship through thoughtful stitching of interviews, existing footage, dramatizations and animations. It's a powerful story: a musician who did everything that he could to bring passion, politics, and feeling to the world through his music against surmounting odds.

The film is available on blue ray DVD, Vimeo, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Dire State of Music Blogging - A reaction

By Stef

On the highly recommendable blog "An Overgrown Path", the author muses about the state of (classical) music blogging, some days ago, with some self-irony since that's what he does (I assume he is a man, but I might be wrong). Here is a big chunk from the author's article:

"In the early noughties new media in the form of blogs arrived offering a platform that was free from the commercial agendas of mainstream media. As lively, informed and free-thinking writing was squeezed out of the mainstream, the hope was that blogs would provide a platform for the defiant viewpoints that Deryck Cooke praised in 1964. But the dream never became reality. As traditional media atrophied, those with something to sell - and there are very many of those in classical music - realised that blogs offered the perfect platform for their sales pitches. So music blogs progressively became vehicles for scarcely hidden self-interest and disingenuous spin pandering to the foolishness of crowds.  

In a series of recent tweets Charles Downey assessed the state of music blogs by tracking those in Alex Ross' seminal 2004 listing, and concluded that "Year of last update often somewhere around 2014. Some completely disappeared. Some with one post so far this year. #itsover" Elsewhere attempts have been made to explain the slow and painful death of music blogging, with everything being blamed except the real reason. Music blogs are dying because with very few exceptions they are not worth reading. They are not worth reading because they have become just another expression of the compromised ethics and scarcely disguised self-interest that pervades classical music. In fact most music blogs, like so much social media, are no more than selfies in print posted by a new breed of prosecco activists .

Music blogs are now just another part of a tacky global marketplace where people have principles, but are prepared to change them if the price is right. There is no place in the blogging community for the rich range of independent viewpoints that Deryck Cooke cherished or the constructive debate that such richness of opinions fosters. Charles Downey is right when he observes that music blogging #itsover. Classical music desperately needs a wider and more diverse journalistic constituency. However it is not to be. A golden opportunity has been squandered by music bloggers, and I am in that group. But given the dire state that music blogging is in today, its demise will be regrettable but not a major loss". 

I am sure he has a point, yet at the same time we are happy to say, that with our 10th anniversary in view, we can still claim with great emphasis that we managed to avoid all commercial interests, while steadily growing our readership. In August - last month - no less than 112,000 pageviews (yes!) came to our blog, with a similar figure in July. And these people (you!) read our reviews only because of the informative value they offer. Sure, we get albums from the music labels, or directly from musicians, and from our friends at Instantjazz and Downtown Music Gallery, who only give us CDs with no strings attached. Yet we also buy music, at concerts, from digital outlets, and from regular music stores (although it's rare that they sell the music we review). And for sure, labels and musicians send us emails asking to be reviewed, yet the music and the quality of the music remains the number one criteria for writing posts. We'd like to think we are fully independent, even so independent that our writers wield their own pen based on their own opinions. And that is what explains our success : enthusiastic writing, with critical interest in the music, and - I need to repeat this - only reviewing the music we like, the music we would like to recommend our readers to explore themselves. 

He also has a point when he says that some music blogs, especially when they are independent and when they cover other than mainstream music, have a hard time to continue existing. It requires daily efforts by a team of dedicated people who listen and write just for the fun of it, because they love the music and they love to share what they hear, spending valuable time with their ears glued to the music, and with their fingers on the keyboard, finding out more information about the musicians, browsing through catalogues to place the music in the development of the band or the artists, going through their own archives, listening again to earlier recordings by the musicians, reading liner notes and listening again, and again and again, to absorb the music, to listen again with an analytic mind, to listen again with a vivisective mind, to listen with a synthetic mind, to listen without rationality again, letting your whole person be overwhelmed by it, letting the music sink in and reach the entire person, or not. I started this blog like a maniac, reviewing albums on an almost daily basis. Today, we have a whole team of people who contribute, more knowledgeable and better writers than myself, and maybe that is the key to our success, that it's the result of a team of individuals with their views and preferences and style, but we all share the same love for the music. 

To end my long litany, one more point : the music we write about deserves a wider audience, and often we write for the converted, but at the same time listening and writing about it has widened my musical horizons, and together with the evolution of the music itself, our readership has gradually expanded too, reaching more people. We are reaching 'only' some tens of thousands to read our blog posts every month, and maybe that's our 'universe' as marketeers would call it. We hope to expand and inform, and include more people in this community. He writes that "a golden opportunity has been squandered by music bloggers" and "given the dire state that music blogging is in today, its demise will be regrettable but not a major loss". I hope that we have demonstrated the opposite.