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Monday, October 31, 2016

Mats Gustafsson / Christof Kurzmann - Failing and 5 other failings (Trost, 2016) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Failing and 5 other failings may be the most intimate and maybe even the most provocative musical statement that Swedish sax titan Mats Gustafsson and Austrian electronics player Christof Kurzmann have recorded so far. Ken Vandermark, who wrote the illuminating liner notes, suggested listening to this album as “abstract hymns for the left as we are faced with the advance of the right.” Either way, this album offers a fascinating work of two restless individuals who always search for new ways to challenge themselves, both are experienced and resourceful improvisers who understand deeply the essence of music of the moment.

Gustafsson, who plays here the slide, tenor and baritone saxes and adds electronics, and Kurzmann, who plays the ppooll software, sings and live processes some of the improvised events, collaborated sporadically before (on Kurzmann's retrospective, Then and Now, Trost 2014), but this is their first duo album. All six pieces were recorded as open-ended improvisations at Martin Siewert's studio in Vienna, during two days on May 2015. A section from each improvisation that was considered successful was cut and marked as a ‘Failing’ composition.

Vandermark, a close collaborator of both Gustafsson and Kurzmann, notes on the state of mind of both musicians. “While looking at the state of global politics in 2016, the idea that there has been social progress in the last four decades seems, at best, questionable. And, in retrospect, it would seem that the intersection between adventurous art and music with mainstream society was much more common in the 1970s than today.” He claims that today’s creative impetus, in cinema or in jazz, as an open-ended art form, is often preoccupied with replicating ideas from the past instead of challenging or rebelling against such conservative ideas.

Gustafsson and Kurzmann improvisations-compositions sound as answering the artistic void that Vandermark is troubled about. Both employ their idiosyncratic palettes of sounds to suggest intriguing strategies that respond to what happens right now, in the studio but resonate the global atmosphere outside the studio. Both articulate their shared sonic concerns and fears, but more important, offer their compassionate and determined response: stand up, speak up, loud and clear, and if you fail, fail again, fail better.

Gustafsson employs his wide range of extended breathing techniques to create cyclical rhythmic phrases that do not accumulate to any recognizable pulse, and alternates with dark rustling drones, all played with an impressive sense of reserve and moving lyricism. Kurzmann creates with the ppooll software rich spectrum of expressive sounds, including processed sonic events. Surprisingly, these sounds radiate fragile human emotions, soaked with a disturbing sense of melancholy. Vandermark concludes that Gustafsson and Kurzmann do not attempt to recreate something that sounds like the past, nor attempting to be futuristic and artificially avant-garde. Their music of the here and now may reaffirm a poetic epigram of a fellow-conspirator Keiji Haino: “memory is just an obstacle in the pursuit of a perfectly screaming self.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Vijay Iyer Trio @ Miller Theater, Columbia University, NYC 10-22-2016

Vijar Iyer, Stephan Crump, and Tyshawn Sorey at Miller Theater, Columbia University

By Paul Acquaro

It's probably best to be forthright about this: while I have read all of the reviews of pianist Vijay Iyer's releases on the Free Jazz Blog, and enjoyed the profile on him in the New Yorker before his appearances at the opening of the Met Breuer, aside from the Trio 3 + Vijay Iyer recording Wiring (Intakt) from 2013, I really knew Iyer's music best by text. However, a chance to see him with bassist Stephan Crump and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey (both of whom I have had the pleasure to hear many times) at Miller Theater, Columbia University, was a great opportunity to rectify this. I approached with an open mind - armed with only the pile of descriptions - and left a satisfied customer.

The show was broken into two 40 minute sets (or so, I didn't actually keep track) and each one had its own personality. The first was an unbroken string of tunes, until the last song, where the band paused, Iyer bantered a bit, and launched into a final song (possibly a Radiohead tune?). Two other covers, or rather deconstructions, in this set were 'Work' by Thelonious Monk and 'Human Nature' from Michael Jackson. While I have it on good authority that the latter is a concert staple, what the trio does with it was fantastic. Distilling key musical events - like the well-known chorus - and using it as a bridge between solos and collective workouts, the original song became a touchstone in a maelstrom. It was ever a pleasure to hear Sorey kicking the shit out of his kit!

Overall the first set seemed to really mine Iyer's catalog, and the songs had the ECM 'sound' to them - atmosphere and spaciousness were the rule, but one which was often broken by the rapturous climaxes of interlocking layers powered by Iyer's elliptical arpeggiated bursts. Crump's crisp bass lines, which hung just behind Iyer's beat, gave the music additional oomph, as did Sorey's imaginative drumming.

The musical statements in the second set seemed to flow more continuously and the connection between the three musicians involved even deeper concentration. On one tune, a pastoral 'mid-western dreamscape' à la Pat Metheny, Crump was noticeably deep in thought, conjuring the bass by shaping the air around it. When he finally connected with the instrument, the song  - which I had found a touch sleepy - suddenly burst apart is his hands as he played a solo that completely changed the group's direction. Sorey and Iyer responded in kind and the peak they reached was a tornado ripping though the musical landscape. That tune, along with Sorey's crescendoing solo on the penultimate tune, received enthusiastic applause from the already receptive and excited audience.

An excellent show, and one that has me scrambling to back-fill my collection!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Free Mathematician in the Kingdom of Absurdity

New Recordings from Jack Wright

By Tom Burris

Jack Wright & Zach Darrup – Meet & Greet (Spring Garden Music, 2015) ***½

Zach Darrup was playing in a Philadelphia rock band, tired of being the only member to veer wildly off course.  Enter Philly's “Johnny Appleseed of Free Improvisation,” Jack Wright.  Wright is apparently finished with anything even remotely resembling notated music.  Music exists primarily on a sonic plane for Jack (and presumably Zach), involving the infinite possibilities of time, space and sound.

Given that fact, it appears Wright's music has more elements in common with the majority of European improvisers than with their jazz-based American brethren.  But Wright himself is as American as Thoreau, wearing a proud badge of rugged intellectual and spiritual individualism on his sleeve.  Jack is a giant example of a man forging his own path and completely rejecting anything that to his mind whiffs of bullshit.  Now in his mid-70s, he's touring with like-minded souls for any audience willing to take a chance on something new, involving elements of chance, while crashing on couches and floors like someone fifty years his junior.  The man is a marvel and an inspiration to those fortunate enough to cross his path.

His dialogues here with Darrup do feature elements of the Derek Bailey / Evan Parker school, but with even more open possibilities – if you can imagine that.  Darrup yanks strings away from his instrument.  Objects are rubbed up against strings or slammed against the guitar.  Silence is created as much by the duo as it is created by itself.  Try that trick someday.

Jack's playing here is short, sharp, staccato.  He pops and blows, propelling further possibilities into every resolution.  In the creation of this music – as I believe is the case with all of his music – Wright is looking to forge a collaborative experience and a music that can never be reproduced.  He is most interested in having a conversation in a language that is being invented on the fly.  In English, Wright describes it like this: “If music isn't problematic, then what's the point?”

Jack Wright & Ron Stabinsky – Just What You Need Today (Spring Garden Music, 2016) ****½

Any resolve in Jack Wright's music carries further possibilities along with it.  It's why his music moves continuously forward – and never seems to have an ending.  Ron Stabinsky's day job is as the pianist in Mostly Other People Do The Killing – and here he joins Wright on piano, trumpet and “objects”.  Here Stabinsky is given complete freedom to play as “out” as possible – and he leaps at the opportunity.  For his part, Wright goes even farther out than on the Meet & Greet recording, creating a total sound object of the saxophone.

Stabinsky's treated piano is all over the map, sounding like a hive of bees - or giant springs being pounded against car parts - while Jack grumbles and farts responses that almost generate actual stink from the speakers.  The sounds and pops that are a Jack trademark are met with often beautifully  incomprehensible responses from Stabinsky.  The dialogue is often quiet, thoughtful; and if a concept like “free math” has never existed, please consider this recording to be a proposal.  Logic is a crucial component of these conversations; but to pin the particulars down in any exact measurement would be futile.

Have you ever experienced an epiphany that all is somehow naturally perfect and you'd simply been looking too hard for answers?  Perhaps a moment when birdsong, traffic, wind – the sounds of the natural world colliding with man-made “progress” - all sound somehow divinely composed?  I'm not going to so far as to say “free math” could be the finger pointing to some universal truth; but it's certainly more interesting than any conceptual system I've encountered.

Jack Wright, Joel Kromer, Edmond Cho – This Is Where You Get Off (Spring Garden Music, 2016) ***½

Given this setting, I suppose Teitelbaum comparisons go with the territory for synth player Joel Kromer.  It's an obvious reference but not entirely fair, as Kromer has his own particular arsenal of sounds at his command.  “This Is Where You Get Off” draws less from dadaism than the Stabinsky recording, veering more in the direction of Italian futurism while retaining the humor and absurdity of both.  Recommended to fans of Instant Composers Pool, Captain Beefheart, and the Boredoms.  All play and no work make Jack a fun boy.

Cho inserts melodic lines on occasion that are almost protest-like, straining the spike out of the punch.  The principles of free math are applied here, but only after a few too many drinks.  The long opening track is definitely dinner and drinks at Uncle Jack's; while the post-script of the second and final track, “therefore,” sounds like the darker aftermath.  The hangover.  Jack growls and screams; apocalyptic drones howl.  What was once hilarious turns frightening.  Timely, I'd say.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Solo: Catherine Sikora and Paulo Chagas

Wrapping up solo week (and yes, you can expect a Duo week coming soon) we have two folks known to the blog: Catherine Sikora and Paulo Chagas.

By Paul Acquaro

Catherine Sikora - Jersey (Relative Pitch, 2016) ****

Saxophonist Catherine Sikora spent some time living in the Garden State and knows about the unbridled joy of waking up to a New Jersey sunrise and the colors that only a New Jersey sunset contains. It is such feelings, I assume, that inspired her solo album's title. However, it's a note from a former neighbor in Queens, NY printed in the inner gatefold of the CD's digipack thanking her for practicing the saxophone that sets the tone. A quick listen to the album and you can hear for yourself how Sikora enthralled, rather than enraged, her anonymous neighbor.

'Ripped from the Headlines' begins the album in an unhurried manner. As the lines build upon each other, there is a stream of consciousness logicality to the phrases that lead the listener from one thought to the next. From track to track, there is an arc that suggests that instead of miniatures, tracks breaks are more like deep breaths between shifting, deepening, arguments. Track 3, 'Firefly Night' introduces more rapid phrases, while on track 4 'Pistol Grip’ there is an overall tightening and increasing intensity of her phrases. As the album continues, the tempos and techniques used to express the spontaneous melodies vary, but the general pattern is set. Sikora has invited us into her musical world, and like the neighbor from Queens, it is our good fortune to be in its midsts. 

Jersey, clocking in at 42 minutes, is a wonderful document of a truly under-recorded musician. If you can, check out this album as well as some of the others she's played on.

Paulo Chagas- Oboe Solo (Zpoluras Archives, 2016) ****

The oboe is not a common instrument in the free jazz world, and my own references to it seem rather limited ... I think of  Karl Jenkin's circa Soft Machine's Six, Paul McCandless in early Oregon, and well, that's about it (please use the comments to share other examples) So, Portuguese woodwindist Paulo Chaga's Oboe Solo recording is somewhat new aural territory for me and it's one that is well worth delving into.

The double reed instrument has a timbre reminiscent of a Bb clarinet but otherwise it is its own creature. Chagas mixes together seamlessly experiments with embouchure, tonguing, and the instrument's natural range, with often quite lovely melodies. Track 1, 'Demagogy' starts off with gentle multiphonics and slowly unfolds into 'Inner journey.' Track 5, 'Playing chess with myself' features a forlorn melody, folkish in its simplicity, which also brings with it a poignancy. Track 6, 'New astrology for smart people,' is bubbly - literally, and on track 8, 'To improve mental elasticity,' you may think a Tuvan throat singer is warming up! The sonority of track 9, 'Pocket nirvana,' is seemingly a rebuke of the last track, serene and melodic, drawing on middle eastern inflections and classical phrasing. The range of Chagas' playing is quite wide!

It's fascinating to hear the oboe pushed and pulled to its limits by such a restless and thoughtful improviser.

Check it out:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Joe McPhee – Flowers (Cipsela, 2016) *****

By Tom Burris

Joe McPhee's Flowers is the fifth release from the new progressive Portuguese label Cipsela.  It is a solo alto saxophone performance, recorded in front of an audience in Coimbra, Portugal back in 2009.   Why would a brand new revolutionary label release a recording of a seven-year-old performance?  The real question is how did Joao Ferraz (engineer) and Marcelo dos Reis (mastering) manage to keep the documentation of this very special performance under wraps all this time?

Beginning a piece for American painter Alton Pickens called “Eight Street and Avenue C,” McPhee clacks the keys of his alto.  Then the slightest of tonal pops can be heard accompanying the clacking keys.  This is followed by noteless breathing, after which McPhee returns to key clacking – but more rhythmic this time.  A recurring four-note riff alternates with freer flights.  So beginning with the fingers, then the breath, then sound, then composition, followed by freedom, professor McPhee combines the various elements into a condensed audio syllabus for a course in automatic composition of the highest order.

Two conventionally composed pieces follow.  The first, “Old Eyes (For Ornette Coleman),” incorporates quotes from Coleman compositions over which McPhee adds his own harmonic components.  The second, “Knox” was written for Jazz in Willisaw founder Niklaus Troxler, who also wrote the disc's liner notes.  It is structured as a standard 12-bar blues piece but with surprises, especially when McPhee shouts into the horn unexpectedly.

“I don't do water.  I need scotch whisky.” These words are spoken by McPhee before he rips into the title track, an improvisation for the great John Tchicai.  Exploring the tonal range of the alto as well as the width of dynamic possibilities, McPhee pulls all the stops for his fellow traveler.  About “Old Eyes,” McPhee stated that “we have to give people their flowers while they're here.”  As you know, since this concert took place we have experienced the devastating losses of both Tchicai and Coleman.

On “The Whistler,” a piece for saxophonist Mark Whitecage, McPhee whistles (yes) a pensive melody, then repeats it on his alto.  It's a very deliberate-but-subtle piece that is also a bit Zen. Additionally, I immediately had visions of some of my favorite Ozu films while listening to it for the first time.  It's a bit odd, but very appropriate, that Ozu should come to mind.  Roger Ebert once said about Ozu that he “is not only a great director but a great teacher, and after you know his films, a friend.”  I feel similarly  about McPhee.  A listening session with Joe McPhee is typically a profound personal experience – and this disc is certainly another great representation.

This is followed by “Third Circle (for Anthony Braxton),” on which McPhee quickly repeats a short flurry of notes using circular breathing techniques before making outward forays into the ether. There are bits near the end that sound like Warne Marsh as played by Sam Rivers, so there's that.  I don't know what to make of it; but I like it nonetheless.  “The Night Bird's Call (For Julian Hemphill)” begins with a hand-clapping rhythm.  McPhee then transfers the rhythm to a very staccato melodic popping on the alto, sounding like a thumb piano!  He then clacks the keys in time to somehow approximate the sound of an African shekere!  It's an astonishing short piece that leaves you stunned – before you're leaping toward the Play button again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jessica Pavone – Silent Spills (Relative Pitch, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

Looking at the track listing of Silent Spills, violist Jessica Pavone’s latest solo release, you might think something’s missing. Five tracks totaling less than twenty-five minutes? But a single listen reveals the album as a complete musical statement, one executed at such a level of intention and intimacy that it would hardly be sustainable for much longer— for neither performer nor audience. Want more? Better play it again.

Fans of Pavone’s 2015 solo album, Knuckle Under, will find themselves in familiar territory here—not just both albums’ brevity, but their penchant for minimalism and repetition, their meditatively drawn-out tones, their judiciously employed effects, their rustic folk leanings.

Silent Spills begins with an exercise in entropy. Two steadily oscillating notes establish a sense of stability and order, Pavone sawing with concentration, and the music develops with a simple logic as a new pair of notes is introduced in predictable alternation with the original two. But almost imperceptibly Pavone’s playing accelerates until the sound begins to splinter with distortion, eventually breaking the whole thing down. The piece gathers itself back together again with another oscillation, this time between two sets of distorted pulses, as if we were hearing the initial two notes slowed way down, or through some type of auditory microscope.

“Shed the Themes of Broken Records” colors the album’s introspection with a touch of melancholy. In the first part of the track Pavone makes excellent use of silence, razoring a note or two into the air and letting the sound decay. Later come rich folk-tinged drones, played with feeling and almost mistakable for harmonica. Actual breath—not just metaphorical or simulated—plays a part in the third track, “Dawn to Dark,” where Pavone sings in unison with stop-start pizzicato: “far from the sea / not near the sky / the sun gets weaker / and the earth dies…” Yet the song’s delicate humanness—built of fingers and a small voice—then gives way to the mechanical, with relatively harsh high-pitched distortion that’s carried through into “Ugly Story,” the shortest and humblest of the five tracks.

“Seeded and Seated” closes Silent Spills on a more buoyant note, combining and recapitulating Pavone’s various approaches throughout the record, from the opening pizzicato arpeggios and strumming to the serrated drones that overtake them to the silence that utterly blooms between the album’s final notes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Peter Evans - Lifeblood (More Is More, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

On his previous solo albums—More Is More, Nature/Culture, and Beyond Civilized and Primitive—Peter Evans has seemingly stretched and distorted the trumpet beyond its logical sonic boundaries. I spent about five minutes on Google, perusing lists of extended techniques, before I decided that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Partly, this is because Evans himself is on record as disliking the descriptive “extended techniques,” and partly because I feel his approach breaks down some technical barriers between what’s extended and what’s simply playing the horn. The techniques are simply Evans’s mode of expression, his language for saying everything he wants to say. As Evans has noted, “All the chops in the world don't mean anything if there aren't real ideas and emotions behind them.”

Lifeblood is his first solo album in 5 years, and at nearly two hours, it’s a bold, massive statement. He’s been steadily playing solo throughout that time, and the pieces here were recorded throughout 2015 and 2016. There’s connective tissue in the form of motifs and echoes of ideas, snippets of melodies, and rhythms scattered amongst the whole. The album is bookended by long-ish suites, “Lifeblood” and “Prophets,” and a dedication, first to Rajna Swaminathan, “Pathways,” and later a dedication to Roscoe Mitchell, “Abyss.” Mitchell is one of the patron saints of the solo expression, along with Evans’s friend and mentor Evan Parker, and both of their influences are felt on the album.

“Lifeblood,” recorded in early 2016, opens the album with a richness and urgency that seems to distantly echo Mitchell’s epochal 1977 recording of “Nonaah.” Perhaps it was the dedication that sparked my thinking here, but there’s a starkness to Evans’s playing in the opening that strongly reminded me of that particular performance, the way there’s a challenge issued to the audience contrasted by the daring nakedness of the artist.

The middle of the album is made up of shorter pieces (videos of which have begun to appear online). “Mirrors of Infinity”, “Humans!”, “How Demons Enter”, “Pneumata”, “Night, parts 1–3”, and “Abyss (for Roscoe Mitchell)”. The videos are a nice complement, highlighting the very human side of Evans’s playing. Around the halfway mark of “Abyss,” Evans plays a brief run that involves holding the trumpet away from his mouth, while blowing into it. The result is a softness that’s something of a cross between humming and whistling. On the album, it’s a stunning moment, but seeing Evans perform it in the video, there’s a captivating tension.  

The final suite, “Prophets,” takes up 40 minutes of the album’s runtime. From bright, brassy tones to a fluttering, lumpy run in the third part, Evans traverses just about every corner of his imagination. You can almost hear him shoving his own brain around, telling himself to keep going, keep questioning, keep pushing. It’s impossible to guess where he’s headed, but there’s real delight in that unknowing.

Available at Bandcamp:

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Lonely Improviser: a Week of Solo Albums

By Martin Schray
Playing alone might be the most difficult option in improvisation. Even Derek Bailey, one of the great solo improvisors, said that though there were advantages, it lacked the more essential and magical side to improvisation: an intuitive and telepathic exchange, which can only be enjoyed in a group context.

At their worst, a solo performance can amount to not much more than a catalogue of personal clichés and crowd pleasing moments. A soloist can also lose any proper critical distance, missing the point to finish, or move on, sounding tedious and self-indulgent. On the other hand, playing alone can be a useful means of analysing and assessing style and vocabulary, putting them under the microscope. Another important feature is that good solo improvisations often have a plan, a notion of where things should go. Some good examples of the genre produced recently are Pascal Niggenkemper’s Look With Thine Ears, Peter Brötzmann’s Münster Bern, Eve Risser’s Des Pas Sur La Neige, Nate Wooley’s (9) Syllables, Matana Robert's Always,  and Paal Nilssen-Love’s Cut and Bleed.

This week we‘ll be reviewing a bunch of recent solo albums, some by well-known artists, others lesser known but equally deserving of attention.

Yorgos Dimitriadis - Kopfkino (Creative Sources, 2016) ***

Thessaloniki-born percussionist Yorgos Dimitriadis is one of the most prolific members of Berlin’s Echtzeit network, where he has played with Frank Paul Schubert and Mike Majkowski (in the excellent Fabric Trio), Miles Perkin and Tom Arthurs (as Glue). Kopfkino (a German expression for “film in your head“) is his first solo effort. Listening to it, you might be surprised this is a live recording with barely any electronics. Dimitriadis plays a very ordinary, small drum kit, in a conventional way, using sticks, mallets and brushes, but only with his right hand. In his left is a microphone which he uses to generate sounds reminiscent of large singing bowls - aural landscapes that rustle, fizzle and hiss. Dimitriadis alternates between introspective passages, in which his music displays wide spaces, and hectic video game sounds, where the music pants and moves forward in a jerky and twitchy manner. An unusual approach, he keeps his performance short and tense.

Black Pus, Brian Chippendale’s drum project (but with the addition of electronics and voice) came to mind when I first listened to Kopfkino, In comparison, this album is more subtle and relaxed, less energetic.

Some listeners might be skeptical when it comes to drum solos. This album could prove them wrong. Kopfkino is available on CD.

Watch three minutes of the performance here:

Steve Swell - The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser (Swell Records, 2015) ****

While Yorgos Dimitriadis is a new name to many, Steve Swell needs no introduction, one of the leading trombonists in free jazz today (along with George Lewis and Jeb Bishop). His trio with Paal Nilssen-Love and Peter Brötzmann is superb, as is his quintet on Soul Travellers (with Jemeel Moondoc, Dave Burrell, Gerald Cleaver and William Parker). Interestingly, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser is the first solo album in the long career of the 61-year-old. (The title, taken from Alan Sillitoe‘ book The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, might be a nod to trombonist Paul Rutherford’s solo classic The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie, whose title references Luis Buñuel’s film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.)

In brief: a very good album. Over the fifteen pieces you can hear intermingling voices from the long history of jazz: musicians like Roswell Rudd and Rutherford. Swell’s playing is wide-ranging and articulate, an effortless blend of timbres, techniques and means of construction.

As befits the trombone, there are blues roots together with more modern work. Jumping from circular breathing (“Bubbling Quantum Novas“) to staccato salvos (“Sequences“), alienated sounds (“Cogitation“) to beautiful lines (“For Kenneth Patchen“), Swell murmurs, pants, sneezes and grumbles. My favorites are the more conventional “Tongue Memory“ and “Blue Spirit“, the last two tracks on the album, swinging numbers, as if Swell wants to give good old New Orleans a more contemporary feel. Feel free to click your fingers.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser is available on CD.

You can get it from

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Abbey Rader: from the West Coast to the Gold Coast

By Paul Acquaro

Florida-based drummer, composer, Buddhist, and martial artist, Abbey Rader earned his avant-garde creds coming through the late loft scene in New York City, then through an extensive tenure playing and teaching in Europe, and back in the US since '89, playing and touring with musicians including David Liebman, Frank Lowe, and Billy Bang. He recently has released a string of recordings on his own label, working with a range of musicians including Peter Kuhn and Kidd Jordan.

Abbey Rader West Coast Quartet - First Gathering (ABRAY Productions, 2015) ****

As an introduction to Rader, 2015's First Gathering is a good place to start. Here we have Rader's West Coast Quartet which includes woodwind player Kuhn, bassist Kyle Motl, and saxophonist Drew Ceccato. It's a dense and intense affair, that comes out swinging.

On the opening track 'Foreign Dust', the two saxophones clash and chatter over Rader's precise and efficient stick work. Motl's bass playing is strong, adding heft to the pulse, but also shading in key moments with pizzicato fills, both melodic and textural. The second track, 'Inward Light' starts with a dissonant searching melody, moodier and darker than the preceding one. The sound of a sax rises above the shifting pallets, keening and forlorn. The chatter from working increases as the group digs deeper. The energy cannot be contained and track explodes about two-thirds of the way through. The final track is the most contrasting of all, 'Realization to Truth' starts with bass harmonics, breathy sounds from the woodwinds and no percussion at all. At over 20 minutes, there is little need for haste, and through the slow layering of legato lines, the group lays the foundation for the excitement that builds and eventually boils over, with Rader's percussion work a driving force.

Abbey Rader Quartet with Kidd Jordan- Reunion (ABRAY Productions, 2016) ****

2016 saw the release of a Reunion which features Rader with bassist Motl, saxophonists' John McGinn, Noah Brandmark, and the renowned Kidd Jordan. The reunion referenced by the title is with Jordan whom Rader had played with at the dawn of the aughts, when the drummer was on tour with Billy Bang and Frank Lowe. The recording is culled from a live date in south Florida in October of 2012 and its release is a welcome one - it's unfair for anyone to squirrel away such remarkable music!

Leading from behind the kit, Rader demonstrates his sound judgement and improvisational prowess kicking off with the track 'New Found Spirits'. The drummer begins with a solo passage setting the expectation with a taught but spacious pulse and drive. Then one of the saxophonist joins, and begins laying down an intricate and lively lines. This is followed by yet a different saxophonist, who delivers an more acerbic but still spritely solo, and as he plays the others start creeping in, filling gaps, and slowly growing louder. This is then followed by a third sax solo, all of which happens over the tight/loose interplay of Rader & Motl. However, it's when all three saxes collectively solo over that power of this quintet is revealed.

On 'Facing the Wall', the next track, again it is Rader who kicks things off, but with a more deliberate pacing. Somewhat martial sounding with the use of the floor toms, as he adds more elements of the kit, the feel turns to hearty, driving, classic free jazz. A single saxophonist jumps in and delivers a beautiful solo, but what happens next is worth the listen: Motl and multiple saxes get into an sparring match where their instruments seem to blend into a single voice, crying and laughing and everything in-between. 'Talking, Burning, Praying' closes the album with a strong ascending melodic statement that introduces the 20-minute improvisation, rising and falling with musical depth and breath. Following a similar arc to the other tracks, the switch between individual and collective playing provides a nice contrast in energy, density, and approach.

Simply an excellent album, and when combined with the 2015 date, a true gift for the free jazz fan. Creative, varied, and crafted, the music is a treat. Both albums are available at Downtown Music Gallery. Get 'em both, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Peter Kuhn: In With the Old, In With The New

By Paul Acquaro

It has all the makings of biopic: Peter Kuhn, a promising young musician in the late 1970s living in New York City and taking part in the vibrant downtown loft scene - friends and collaborators with Billy Bang, Lester Bowie, Frank Lowe, William Parker and many others - plunges into the depths of addiction...

"The loft I had on Prince Street was a dump. No insulation, broken windows, and on a block that was entirely burned out except for my building and the corner bodega" writes Kuhn in the liner notes to No Coming, No Going.

Speaking frankly about his descent into addiction and the friendships that still mean a lot to him, Kuhn writes "he [Frank Lowe] came over one day when I strung out like a dog on heroin and pretty sucked up from not eating. All my money went to drugs; food was not an essential. Frank pulled me up and schooled me that I have to take care of myself for the music and any longevity."

Before moving back to the west coast in '81, Kuhn cut the ironically titled but deeply moving Livin' Right. After having some additional success in California, touring, and recording for Hat Hut and Soul Note, he hit rock bottom, and started working on getting clean, but in the recovery process dropping out of the music scene.

Thirty years later, through hard work, a turn to Buddhism, and a desire to reconnect with music, Kuhn has reemerged a prolific player, picking up virtually where he left off.

Peter Kuhn - No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn 1978-79 (No Business, 2016) ****

Kuhn's first album, Livin' Right was released in 1978 and featured William Parker (bass), Dennis Charles (drums), Arthur Williams (trumpet), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet) and Kuhn (clarinet, bass clarinet). Here it is disc one in the double CD No Coming, No Going: the Music of Peter Kuhn (1978 - 1979).

The tandem melody by clarinet and trumpet that kickstarts the album has the feel of an Ornette Coleman theme, delivered in dry urgent tones, though it soon gives way to a long drum passage. The second track is a half hour long and seems to package several tracks of the original release as one. 'Manteca, Long Gone, Axisential' begins with 'Manteca' (not the Dizzy Gillespie tune), which sees a great deal collective soloing over a driving pulse. The intensity grows throughout the track and Kuhn's clarinet work glistens throughout. What I assume is 'Long Gone' is a captivatingly slow and brooding affair, and 'Axistential' picks the pace back up and features an intense trumpet solo. Musical ideas that appear here resurface in some of Kuhn's recent work, revealing a certain vision and maturity already.

The second disc is a woodwinds and drums duo with Denis Charles recorded at a concert in Worcester, Massachusetts during the fall of 1979. This is a sick show in the best way possible. Charles is an unrelenting task master - but a compassionate one - the pulse and textures he plays act as both support and lead. Kuhn's work is fiery right from the start. A cascading melody starts 'Stigma,' Kuhn is locked in with Charles who is following the melody with his rhythm, but then the clarinetist breaks free into a wide-ranging solo that covers every inch of the clarinet. A solo passage during the final third of the passage is eviscerating and beautiful in its starkness and precision. With little place to hide, the whole concert offers such moments of pure, earnest musicianship.

Though recorded thirty eight years ago, the music is still fresh and exciting - except for maybe the squeeky toys on Livin' Right that have aged a little less well than the rest of the album (some ideas are definitely of the time). There is a lot to recommend on these two discs and we owe No Business a big thank you for releasing this retrospective.

Now, onto the new...

Peter Kuhn Trio - The Other Shore (No Business, 2016) *****

A big leap forward to 2016 and a trio recording, also on No Business, featuring Kuhn with a trio consisting of Kyle Motl on bass and Nathan Hubbard on drums.

Happily, after 30 years since dropping out of music, The Other Shore is a return to form and over the decades, the emotional quality of Kuhn's music has deepened. Whereas on the duo recording with Charles he charged out of the gate, here, the trio takes its time to build. Not to say that there is a wasted moment during the opening 'Is Love Enough' - every second is festooned with fresh ideas. Kuhn's tone on the bass clarinet is sumptuous and the unhurried improvised melody that he starts with is as composed as one he could have worked on for days.

The track 'Causes and Conditions' is a stand out - it begins with some tonal smears and short tense phrases from Kuhn on the clarinet. A rattle from the percussion and coarse bass accents undergird the saxophonist, and as they gain momentum, the ferocity picks up along with the velocity. The title track delivers measured exuberance, and a long 'everybody solos/nobody solos' passage in the middle highlights the subtle interactions that glues this trio together.

'Not Two' has the most decidedly free-form approach on the album, with the trio extending the technique of the song, while staying relatively inside the lines with their instruments. The impact is gripping as the bass clarinet is stretched across the tempo-less time, while bowed bass lines fill in the rest with crosshatch.

The 'Other Shore' quickly and insidiously infiltrated my playlist and is quickly becoming a favorite of the year.

Peter Kuhn / Dave Sewelson - Our Earth / Our World (pfMentum, 2016) ****

The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center located in the Lower East Side was founded in the early 1990s when the Lower East Side was still far from being yet another trendy hot spot for Manhattan real estate. The building is a lovely Dutch Neo-Gothic block-long former school building and is a much needed refuge for the artists being displaced by high rents and endlessly numbing luxury condos. On an upper floor of the building, Arts for Arts, the non-profit responsible for coordinating the Vision Festival, and much more, runs occasional performance series like the one that this recording was made.

In April 2015, Peter Kuhn and an ad-hoc group comprised of drummer Gerald Cleaver, saxophonist Dave Sewelson and bassist Larry Roland, hit the floor with a screaming set of improvised music that re-united Kuhn and Sewelson (who's association goes back to when Kuhn was walking these very different streets in the late 70s) and introduced them to Cleaver and Roland.

The concert recording starts off with a bang - like the aforementioned duo from '79 - however, this time it's Kuhn and Cleaver who engage in a high-speed chase, with interjections from Roland and Sewelson. After an extended drum led section, Sewelson comes in with a distinctively melodic solo that turns in parts to Ayler-esque outpourings ...  and when both of the woodwinds team up, an amazing squall ensues. Midway through 'Our World,' a calamitous woodwind solo reaches a feverish pitch and extended drum, bass, and baritone sax passage follows, casting a spell over the track.

Though they started off in fiery dialog, where they end up is somewhere completely different. Roland starts the track with a long solo bass introduction. After a stretch of searching and re-calibrating the group settled into a satisfyingly yet obtuse pocket. The two winds stretch notes and dig deep and create something special.

The No Business (re)release is a welcome (re)introduction to Kuhn, which captures an exciting start to a too quickly curtailed musical career, however, the music of The Other Shore and Our Earth / Our World finds him making up for lost time with real purpose.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ornette for Christmas

By Stef

Would you believe this? A whole series of Christmas jazz CDs, and one with Ornette Coleman's music. Yes, tracks from the first albums, but still ... Who would have thought almost 60 years ago?

Still good to hear his music. If you ever run out of ideas for gifts under the tree ...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Peter Brötzmann: An Update on the Latest (Day 3)

Today we wrap up our update on the prolific Peter Brötzmann, may the creative juices keep flowing!

By Martin Schray

Defibrillator & Peter Brötzmann: Conversations About Not Eating Meat (Border of Silence, 2016) ***

Defibrillator is a project by the Polish brothers Artur and Sebastian Smolyn on electronics and e-trombone, and German drummer Oliver Steidle (of Soko Steidle and Die Dicken Finger fame). Steidle has been a frequent collaborator with Brötzmann recently, mainly as a duo. Using a quartet is new and even for those well-acquainted with his music, there’s much to discover. On “Uterine Prolapse“, the best track on the album, (opening again with the call to arms) there’s a short Kim Fowley quotation (“Nutrocker“). On the whole, the music resembles Brötzmann’s work with Full Blast or Keiji Haino. On occasions, his saxophone has difficulty projecting over with the heavy electronic debris of the Smolyn brothers, trying to maintain a distinct voice and not be drawn into maelstrom.

Conversation About Not Eating Meat is available on CD.

Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann: Self-Titled (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½ 

Brötzmann’s contributions on this album are different to his other appearances in this round up. Black Bombaim are an instrumental psychedelic hard rock band from Portugal (who have also worked with Rodrigo Amado) and it seems that Brötzmann has finally answered Bill Laswell’s prayers. In the 1980s, when the Wuppertal beast played with the famous producer and bassist, Sonny Sharrock, and Ronald Shannon Jackson in the free rock formation Last Exit, Laswell wanted him to join metal bands like Motörhead, but it never came to be - thank God (although I like Motörhead). Brötzmann said that for him such music "got too boring (because) the rhythmic conceptions of the band" soon loses its interest. However, listening to this album is proof that sometimes there‘s only a thin line between improvising jam bands and free jazz. Brötzmann simply adds his typical sound to Black Bombaim’s monochrome and monolithic excursions. The result is a pure rock album, with straight ahead drumming, distorted bass, wah-wah guitar solos, reverberant sound and a wild, angry, and uncompromising Brötzmann as the icing on the cake. As if Queens of the Stone Age were going ballistic.

Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann is available on CD.

Paal Nilssen-Love/Claude Deppa/Peter Brötzmann - Cafe Oto London, 9th April, 2013 (Self, 2016) **** ½ 

Last but not least, there’s Brötzmann’s trio with Paal Nilssen-Love and South-African trumpeter Claude Deppa, who has worked with Chris MacGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra. Deppa’s music includes African, world, and Afro-Cuban jazz elements, as well as soul, funk and European chamber music. In the free jazz sector recordings with him are rare, which is a real pity since he is the actual sensation on this album, recorded when Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love were a long-standing team. Deppa adds fresh colors and ideas to the duo. In the first (and longest) track he growls and gnarls in the background, then buzzes like a bee while Brötzmann casts wide, elegiac lines. Deppa has an excellent technique which reminds me of great bebop trumpeters, and a lush and pungent tone. The duo passages with Brötzmann are beautiful. One wonders why they hadn‘t played together before. The album is marked by enthusiastic playing, and it’s also great fun.

Brötzmann and the other musicians sell the album at concerts. I’ve included it for the sake of completeness (and I like it a lot). It might seem hard to get but wherever you find a copy don’t hesitate to buy it.

Cafe Oto London, 9th April, 2013 is available as a CD.

Watch a very short amateur video from the gig:

Available via or the label websites. Black Bombaim and Conversations About Not Eating Meat can be purchased at

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Peter Brötzmann: An Update on the Latest (Day 2)

A round up of the latest releases by the remarkable Peter Brötzmann, day two of three.

By Martin Schray

Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla - A Crack To Beauty (Omlott, 2016) ***½

For almost twenty years, Peter Brötzmann and Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla have been playing regularly together as a duo and in a trio with Danish bassist Peter Friis Nielsen. Brötzmann’s collaborations with drummers are many, but the duo with Uuskyla represents an alternative to those with, say, Hamid Drake or Steve Noble. Uuskyla’s style is jagged, full of twists and turns. Brötzmann adapts by harking back to his sound of the 70s and 80s. Straight free jazz, less vibrato and overtones, no pity, sounding angry, brittle and uncompromising. Notwithstanding its coherence, A Crack To Beauty can also seem a little redundant here and there. All in all a good album though.

A Crack To Beauty is available on vinyl in a limited edition of 500.

Listen to a an excerpt here:

Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla - Holy Drinker 7’inch (Omlott, 2016)

Holy Drinker contains two tracks from the A Crack to Beauty album, “Holy Drinker“ and an excerpt from “Cracked Way Out“ (rating see above). It’s a 7’inch limited to 150 copies. For die-hard collectors only.

Borah Bergman/Peter Brötzmann/ Frode Gjerstad - Left (Not Two, 2016) ****

Brötzmann’s trio with Borah Bergman and Frode Gjerstad is a recording from the Molde Jazzfestival in 1996 and can be seen as a tribute to the late great New York pianist (the cover shows just Bergman). Brötzmann has released two albums in a similar formation with Bergman and Thomas Borgmann (Ride Into the Blue and Blue Zoo) and with Bergman and Anthony Braxton (Eight by Three), all of them recorded around the same time. Again, he‘s on tenor, clarinet and tárogató here while Gjerstad can be heard on alto saxophone. The album’s interest lies mainly in the contrasting sounds: Bergman emphasizes the extreme registers while the two saxophones dance like hummingbirds around a flower (“Left Hand“). There are also some awesome solo moments where melodic elements shine through (“Left Us“). The album presents Brötzmann as a disciplined team player, and Bergman steers the ship with firm, stoic chords providing a foil for the saxophones. Left is a solid date, with three distinctive stars of the scene.

Left is available on CD.

You can listen to the complete album here:

Laboratorio Musicale Suono C + Peter Brötzmann: DEComposition (Setola Di Maiale, 2016) ****

In contrast to the albums reviewed so far, in the next three (continued in the next installment) Brötzmann is the guest in established formations. His role is to add something different and prompt them into discovering new aural landscapes. Laboratorio Musicale Suono C, a project by Italian musicians Gianni Console (alto, electronics), Giuseppe Tria (drums), Walter di Serio (bass), Donato Console (flute) and Giuseppe Mariani (trumpet), invited the German fire breather to be part of their auditory world, which works quite nicely as the ensemble’s music is diverse. The principal goal is a compromise between differences; the band’s music incorporates dub reggae, various electronic textures, cool jazz fragments, techno beats, and rock/fusion. Brötzmann’s saxophone adds a more natural sound to the rather artificial soundscape, providing a welcome contrast. The tracks, simply called “Decomposition 1 - 6“, are good examples of deconstruction and reassembly. Brötzmann’s sound is harsh, which fits perfectly with the brutal beats created by the band. Music for a gloomy science fiction movie.

DEComposition is available on CD.

Listen to “DEComposition 6“:

Available via or the label websites. Left can be purchased at

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Peter Brötzmann: An Update on the Latest (Day 1)

"Will Brötz ever stop going, on and on?", my friend Peter, a dedicated Brötzmann fan, asked me when I told him that there was another release by the great saxophonist on Holiday records (Eklisia Sunday, a vinyl release of a 2013 Not Two CD). He had to have it, even though he knew there have been more than a dozen new releases and reissues this year (and it’s only October) such as Songlines and Beautiful Lies, his album with the ICI Ensemble, and Risc, a recent album with Full Blast. But there are also negative voices. Julia, the host of the SWR 2 Freejazzblog On Air radio show, said she was puzzled by all these albums, that Brötzmann’s output was simply too much.  It might seem a glut, but Brötzmann is as close to a guaranteed seller as it’s possible to get in free jazz, and it’s primarily labels and other musicians who decide to release these recordings of his performances.  Brötzmann is also keen to support other ensembles. And, along with the touring, the answer might have something to do with the absence of pensions in free jazz. 

Given the number of releases, we will spend the next three days covering them mostly in shorter reviews though some certainly deserve closer attention...

Brötzmann/Parker/Drake - Song Sentimentale (LP and CD) (Otoroku, 2016) ****½

When Brötzmann started out in the 1960s, he was trying to find a language that could express what he felt conventional music was unable to do. In his attempt to find something new Brötzmann was standing on the shoulders of other giants who had asked themselves similar questions, though his early involvement in art exposed him to certain non-musical solutions, like the German Dadaist Richard Hülsenbeck, for whom the language critique of Dada started like any other critique - with doubt. Like them, Brötzmann asked himself if the continued use of existing modes could accommodate the kinds of things he wanted to say. And so he left conventional paths and started to express himself by ignoring the usual structures, looking to find fresh ways to address issues of modernity. In a career that’s spanned fifty years, Brötzmann’s playing  has changed. It now has a more nuanced vocabulary, aware of the simple but potent locutions at the core of the jazz tradition, combined with his own articulations – playing that is recognizably his own.

Song Sentimentale documents parts of a Café OTO residency with his longtime collaborators William Parker (double bass) and Hamid Drake (percussion). OTO’s own Otoroku label has released the music in split format, with different music on the LP and CD, using the same title and cover art. The music on these nights can be heard as the quintessence of Brötzmann’s oeuvre. The best example is “Stone Death”, Everything is in here: the opening call, songlike phrases, folk song allusions, the angry do-or-die improvisation, crassly overblown parts, relentless in their intensity. Initially, there‘s the old mad dog of the early days, grounded by a rhythm section that moves with the elegance of a ballet dancer. Parker and Drake shuffle and swing like hell, and adjust the temperature by speeding up or decelerating. Drake even throws in a rock groove used by Brötzmann to let loose. The last six  minutes present the “new“ Brötzmann, knee-deep in melancholy, playing of pathos which can almost bring a tear. Notwithstanding the album title, short, harsh outbreaks ensure that poignant doesn’t become sentimental.

“Dwellers in a Dead Land” presents a different Brötzmann, employing oriental and African rhythms, with Drake singing and finger-tapping on a frame drum, while Parker plays the guembri. Brötzmann is on tárogató, and as often when he plays the instrument, his lines sound closer to African and Far Eastern harmonies. In the middle of the track he drops out and returns on clarinet, dueling with Parker on shenai, a reed instrument similar to the oboe - European free jazz iconoclasm meets Indian trance.

The LP‘s a good example of what has become a typical Brötzmann’s performace (although his health is sometimes not the best these days). The set begins with his familiar call to arms, followed by variations on tárogató with Drake delivering a polyrhythmic salvo while Parker’s bass supports with a pungent pulse. It’s a pleasure to listen to a group able to submerge so deeply in their music. The structures are similar to the CD performances. After a take-no-prisoners intro, it’s time for the blues. Brötzmann’s sad melodies are soon replaced by a rough tone but Parker and Drake keep the blues fire burning.

In the twilight of his career, Brötzmann seems to be fully conscious of his art, and its potential, drawing on the language he helped invent and what he considers to be the essential elements of jazz history. Even when things seem more accessible, they’re far from being convenient. This is powerful, invigorating, challenging music. Both releases are among his best in recent years. They are a must for Brötzmann fans and a good entry point for newcomers.

Listen to an excerpt here:

Available via and the label's websites.

Monday, October 17, 2016

José Bruno Parrinha / Luís Lopes / Ricardo Jacinto - Garden (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Portuguese guitarist Luís Lopes is often characterized - even marketed by his labels - as a musician that focuses on the terrains of extreme electric guitar, producing noise blasts and muscular free jazz that is close in its spirit to punk and rock, especially since he released his first solo album Noise Solo (Lpz Records, 2013). But his latest releases feature Lopes as a much more resourceful musician who can accommodate his idiosyncratic vocabulary into different free-improvised settings. Lopes released earlier this year his second solo album, Love Song, a set of touching, fragile improvised ballads dedicated to his partner, Magda (Shhpuma, 2016). His duet from last year with French experimental alto sax player Jean-Luc Guionnet, Live at Culturgest (Clean Feed, 2015) stressed the organic manner that he adapted to the free associative discourse of Guionnet while confronting Guionnet with his reserved, still masculine guitar attacks.

The Portuguese free-improvising trio featured on Garden highlights Lopes' versatility and resourcefulness even more. This trio suggests that opposites do not only attract to each other but also may deepen and expand the other’s sonic aesthetics, vocabularies and techniques. This trio is comprised of highly distinct voices. Besides Lopes, there is sax and clarinet player José Bruno Parrinha, who studied jazz but is now committed to a very refined idea of free improvised music. Parrinha collaborated before with Lopes in a short-lived trio with double bass player Hernani Faustino (of RED Trio, on the digitally-released self-titled album, UNLOAD, 2013). Finally, there is the experimental cellist and electronics player Ricardo Jacinto, a sound sculptor whose work, including sound installations, focuses on the relation of sound and space.

The trio's debut album succeeds to distil the contrasting discourses of the three musicians into a collective sonic approach. Surprisingly, this approach sound natural, almost unassuming, but, obviously, it demanded focusing on concrete, idiomatic phrasing and delicate balance between these strong-minded personalities. Such approach also demanded a great sense of discipline and control to the highly nuanced yet minimalist textual development of the improvisations. What is even more surprising is that this disciplined approach liberates the three musicians from former, well-practised strategies.

Parrinha, Lopes and Jacinto articulate their sounds in a very economical manner. Just a few notes, simple and long breaths, distorted bowing, or scarce, noisy electric drones. All these sounds may sound random, sometimes even unintelligible, but soon emerge and morph into detailed, dark textures. In each piece the trio searches for new ways to intensify and enrich the collective sonic unity, while keeping its loose, open-ended course. The second piece, “1402”, manages to bind beautifully the distorted, feedback and effects-laden guitar of Lopes, the processed, tortured cello of Jacinto and the extended breathing techniques of Parrinha into a highly seductive, cinematic narrative. The fifth piece, “1030”, weaves the contrasting electric and acoustic sounds into a much more complex, arresting texture. Here a gentle bowing reconciles naturally with a noisy feedback, soft breath assimilates immediately into electronic processed, otherworldly sound, and all these weird sounds accumulate into an intriguing, multi-layered and dark sonic journey. Only on the sixth piece, “744”, the contrasting voices sound stormy and violent, but even on this intense improvisation all three musicians agree on a collective course.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Raymond Boni / Jean Marc Foussat / Joe McPhee– The Paris Concert (KYE Records, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

American saxophonist and trumpeter legend Joe McPhee met by chance French guitarist Raymond Boni and sound engineer and analog synthesizer explorer Jean Marc Foussat at the American Center in Paris in 1975. McPhee was enjoying, at that time a timely, a justified acknowledgment of his creative powers in Europe. During the same year, Werner X. Uehlinger founded the Swiss label Hat Hut, also after a chance meeting with McPhee, with a declared goal of documenting his work.

This meeting of McPhee with Boni and Foussat led to a long and deep friendship between these unique musicians. McPhee kept playing and recording with Boni throughout the years in different configurations. The first recordings were for the Hat Hut label, with Boni and fellow French sax and clarinet player André Jaume (Old Eyes & Mysteries, 1979; Topology, 1981; Tales and Prophecies, 1981; Oleo & Future Retrospective, 1982) . Foussat recorded McPhee music and the two performed together.

The Paris Concert celebrates the 40th anniversary of the chance meeting at the American Center (now long gone) in Paris. Boni, Foussat and McPhee performed at a private house in Paris before 15 invited guests on May 13, 2015. A lot has changed since the first meeting and as McPhee said: “‘The City of Light’ strives for a new meaning in a time of great challenge. The world has changed and we all walk naked on a razor’s edge”. This recording is released as limited-edition of 400 vinyl copies, with download card the features the encore that is not featured on the vinyl version (but is seen in the video below).

Obviously, all three musicians are experienced free-improvisers, but all three offer highly personal approaches to this kind of music of the moment. Boni's guitar lines are rooted in the jazz tradition, angular and sensual, marking possible textures architectures. McPhee's playing is totally free, more provocative, sketching short, poetic ideas, each one can elaborated to an entire composition. Foussat links all with his otherworldly, vintage electronic sounds and noises or his imaginative usage of processed voices, often sounding as a tortured horn. The emphatic, slow-cooking interplay intensifies and gets rougher, even violent, on the second extended piece, “Paris 2”. Boni's guitar lines now sound spiky, distorted and fractured, McPhee's fiery blows are fast and dense and Foussat charges this tense commotion with alien, industrial atmosphere. But as the three musicians reach the short, final piece their deep understanding and friendship shines through the music. “Paris 3” still sounds strange, but strange and arresting as a song of some mysterious, rare species of birds. Beautiful and surprising, innocent and frightening, profound but light and rhythmic. Great music of the moment.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg and Jon Fält - Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Life and Other Transient Storms is kind of a dream team—hopefully, the first recorded meeting of what becomes a regular quintet—with Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Lotte Anker on tenor and soprano saxophone, Sten Sandell on piano, Torbjörn Zetterberg on bass, and Jon Fält on drums.

At least four of the members of are likely well-known to readers of the blog. Santos Silva was the subject of feature last fall (including a brief interview that’s available here). Lotte Anker has been praised extensively (this review has links to several others). Sandell’s been covered extensively (most recently for last year’s Gush album). And Zetterberg, who has reviewed a ton here, had two albums highlighted in an early-2016 rundown of Swedish music.

Fält was the wildcard for me. A Swedish drummer who appears to play mostly with pianist Bobo Stenson, stylistically he seems to fall squarely in the tumbling percussive mode, but there’s a noticeable deftness to his playing (check out his fills about 10 minutes into “Life,” where he settles into a brief dialogue with Sandell) that spurs on the group in part by leaving tons of room for everyone to fill in and play around with.

At some point early on—possibly because of the presence of Sandell—I was reminded of Townhouse Orchestra, with Evan Parker, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and Sandell. (Though I’ve only heard their first album, townorchestrahouse, which was released under Nilssen-Love’s name, I believe, back in 2005.) Here, on Life and Other Transient Storms, there’s a similar lightning-in-a-bottle style of interplay. Predominantly uptempo, rumbling, and fiery, the quintet travels about a million miles in the first half alone. From the opening moments, with Santos Silva and Anker interwoven over Sandell’s ringing piano, this is a thrill ride of top-notch free improvisation. About two minutes in, Sandell plunges into a rolling piano solo, with Zetterberg and Fält falling into an urgent, percussive rhythm. And shortly after, Santos Silva joins with a high, piercing solo, before joining in a stunning duet with Anker.

Both pieces, “Life” and “Other Transient Storms,” move in these cell-like clusters, with duets and trios peeling off the full quintet, and members returning and separating, the whole constantly restructuring itself. I don’t want to misrepresent the album, though, as there is a full range of emotion on display. Life and Other Transient Storms comes across, in some ways, as a deep and thoughtful exploration of life itself, of the necessity of community and an argument against the notion that we’re all in this alone, looking out for only ourselves. Perhaps that’s a radical interpretation of the album, but in these radically challenging times, it seems like nothing is untainted by the threats of chaos and hate. In that sense, Santos Silva, Anker, Sandell, Zetterberg, and Fält’s collaboration is a kind of enchantment, an improvised spell with which to fend off the curse that binds us.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Jim Black Trio – The Constant (Intakt, 2016) ****½

By Troy Dostert

Although Jim Black’s host of appearances as a sideman or bandmate are more than enough to cement his credentials as one of the most important drummers in the last twenty or so years (ask Ellery Eskelin, Tim Berne, or Satoko Fujii about Black’s value as a percussionist), his projects under his own name have not always received the same level of acclaim. This record, Black’s third with this lineup, may help change that. By combining an uncompromising melodic sensibility with Black’s typical rhythmic adventurousness, this music manages to be both engaging and challenging at the same time. Music for both the heart and the mind, essentially.

The first thing that strikes one in listening to this record is the staying power of the melodies. Three of the ten pieces (“High,” “Medium,” and “Low”) are built around the same theme, a subtle, melancholy tune that is hard to get out of one’s head after hearing it a few times. On these three cuts, Black and his partners see how far they can stretch the melody before it breaks—and it never quite does. The same goes for the other tracks on the record: each tune is developed in different ways, sometimes by presenting it straightforwardly and then deconstructing it, and sometimes by teasing it out more gradually. The rhythmic variation is also noteworthy, as one would expect on a Jim Black record. Driving rock rhythms alternate with abstract brushwork or other interesting percussive effects, often on the same track, serving as a springboard for collective improvisation that goes just far enough to feel a bit disorienting, before eventually coming back, always, to the melody.

Particular mention must be made of Black’s colleagues, both of whom are superb. The better-known figure here is Thomas Morgan, who’s been getting some press lately for his contributions on bass to recordings by Craig Taborn, Dan Weiss, and Tomasz Stanko, among others. Morgan comes straight out of the Charlie Haden school, with a strong emphasis on the melodic side of the instrument. He thus fits perfectly with Black’s concept here, as one can hear as he opens the record on “High” by establishing the tune with poise and understated grace. Throughout the record, he is as likely to provide a deliberate, carefully presented melody as he is to launch into nimble flourishes (although he can certainly do that too). The relative newcomer here is the pianist, Elias Stemeseder, who in addition to playing with Black’s trio has worked previously on a couple recordings with Anna Webber. Although he’s definitely developing his own voice, he brings Keith Jarrett instantly to mind through his dexterous fluidity and lush romanticism. But he also has a few twists to offer: listen to his feisty prepared piano on track two, “Song H,” as evidence. All told, Black has the perfect associates for this music, and together the three work as one throughout the record. Even the album’s closer, the Jerome Kern-penned “Bill,” is a tribute to the band’s ability to draw new dimensions out of an old classic.

A record worth enjoying and savoring, this release is sure to please Black’s current fans and win him a few new ones as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Angharad Davies

By David Menestres

Angharad Davies is one of the most interesting violinists working in new music today. You are as likely to hear her playing the music of composers like Éliane Radigue or Jürg Frey as you are to find her playing with new music ensembles like Apartment House as you are to find her improvising with top notch musicians like Alison Blunt, Steve Beresford, David Toop, or the late Tony Conrad, to name but a few of her many collaborators. A pair of new releases focusing on the improvised duo does a fine job of showing the width and breadth of Davies’ playing.

5.5.16 (Otoroku, 2016) ****

The first, simply titled 5.5.16, is a live performance from Cafe Oto with bassist Dominic Lash, released as a digital download through Cafe Oto’s Otoroku label. 5.5.16 is a singe track, named for the day it was recorded, that manages to cover an impressive amount of ground over it’s twenty-two and one half minutes. From Lash’s opening shimmer and the circular extremes of Davies’ bow, the album is a journey through the dark dream world of two fine musicians. Moments of extreme beauty are set against upwellings from the cold depths of the bass. The use of emptiness and negative space is top notch, no surprise from two performers steeped in the music of the Wandelweiser group. Detuned bass strings growl against the fingerboard, against Bartok pizzicati from the violin, against the space itself. The delicateness of the ending is remarkable, as light as gauze while still being as strangely suffocating as the heaviest parts of the piece. It would be nice to one day get a full album from these two.

Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji - Ffansïon | Fancies (Another Timbre, 2016) *****

Ffansïon | Fancies is the new album from Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji. Released by Another Timbre, a label that generally does excellent work, and this album is no exception. This isn’t actually a duo album. It’s a trio with the third member being St. Catherine’s Church in South London, where the album was recorded by Simon Reynell. Mukarji’s piano is a perfect foil for Davies’ violin and they way they both interact with the acoustics in the Church is awe inspiring. The sounds emanating from the piano are both familiar and deeply alien at times as Mukarji wrestles an impressive palate of sound from the interior of the piano. “Ffansi III” sounds both deeply organic and entirely synthetic, the sound of a large grassy field fed through a modular synthesizer made of shark teeth and decaying electronics. But it’s a piano. And a violin. And a church. Easily one of the best albums of the year. Their last album came out in 2007. If we have to wait another nine years for the third, it will be worth the wait.