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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Judson Trio - An Air Of Unreality (RogueArt, 2016) ****½

By Dan Sorrells

An “air of unreality” characterizes the best free improvisation. This performance—captured during last year’s Vision Festival in Manhattan’s Judson Church—definitely ranks among the best on record this year. Part of this unreality has to do with finding beauty and gratification in uncertainty, something that so often makes reality difficult to bear. Another part is transcendence, both of person and pedigree: the idea of a musician effaced by their instrument, and then by their creation. Music that, if not divorced from each musician’s lineage, then certainly—as the truism goes—surpassing their sum. Joëlle Léandre, Mat Maneri, and Gerald Cleaver as bass, viola, and drums, and then as something else entirely.

Absorption is as good a benchmark as any when attempting to evaluate improvisation. Even after several listens, I found myself surprised each time that An Air of Unreality was already concluding. Maneri and Léandre are a proven pairing, neither afraid of all the pitches and ambiguity that lie between the notes. The microtonal improvisation Maneri inherited from his father has parallels with the inflections of many folk traditions, and his close work in recent years with pianist Lucian Ban seems to have drawn even more of that influence into his playing. These deep cultural wells, authentic music of story-telling—and often of stunning virtuosity—are the places Léandre draws from, as well. “Unreal II” develops the meandering, melancholic quality of a Romanian doina, a rhythmically free and largely improvised folk lament.

Cleaver compliments the strings nicely. A robust and almost absurdly versatile drummer, his restraint here is commendable. He bides much of his time focused on color and accent, a palette heavy in cymbals, rattles, bells. He’s often able to anticipate points Léandre and Maneri wish to emphasize, underscoring each with an emphatic kick or thunderous tom hit. Still, he’s unafraid of making leading, muscular moves to goad his companions in new directions. Late in “Unreal I” he finds a vein of rhythm in Léandre’s low grinding drone and opens it into a propulsive groove, an brief and unforeseen measure of order in previously restless music.

The Vision Festival, celebrating its 20th edition in 2015, has become the last bastion for large-scale celebration of this music in a country that is often painfully indifferent to the avant-garde. Its annual rosters consist of none less than titans of creative music, and last year was no different. Listening to An Air of Unreality, documenting about half of the trio’s late Saturday night set, it’s hard to imagine a more earnest statement of improvisation’s vitality, or—even among such a field of giants—that many other performances that week could have reached Judson Trio’s apogee.

Tiger Trio (Joëlle Léandre, Myra Melford, Nicole Mitchell) - Unleashed (RogueArt, 2016) ****

An interesting grouping, with semi-frequent collaborators Joëlle Léandre and Nicole Mitchell teaming up with Myra Melford for a live performance of freely-improvised music. Although each of these players is known for their compositional and improvisational prowess, Melford has done comparatively less work in a purely free vein, so I approached this record with a good deal of inquisitive interest. How would Melford’s lyrical approach to the piano, typically working within well-defined compositional parameters, fare in this unstructured context? Quite well, actually. All three musicians establish a sympathetic rapport that results in a beautiful, graceful musical vision.

The group’s name (and the title of the record for that matter) is a bit misleading. Most of the music here isn’t “tiger”-like at all, and it certainly isn’t out-of-control aggressiveness. On the contrary, as freely-improvised music goes, this is remarkably disciplined and focused, with an emphasis on careful collaboration and mutuality that gives each track a unified feel and strong tonal center. I couldn’t determine if the names of the tracks were assigned after the recording, but they’re all nature-themed: “Bright Sunshine,” “Threatening Clouds,” “Summer Rain,” and so forth. Even here, the titles of the tracks don’t always seem obviously connected to the music itself: “Heavy Hail” moves loosely around a deliberate, even meditative bass figure by Léandre and gentle, yearning phrases from Mitchell, and “Dazzling Snow,” the record’s closer, is one of the record’s more rambunctious and ominous tracks, with Melford’s percussive left hand in punchy dialogue with Mitchell and Léandre.

But no matter. The music is frequently transfixing and stunning in the intricate interplay involved in its creation. Mitchell’s technique on the flute is impressive as always, as she alternately offers multiple tones, rapid runs, and an occasional touch of mysticism (evident on “Heavy Hail” in particular). Melford’s approach typically involves dense clusters of notes, particularly in conversation with Léandre, who is as stylistically diverse and virtuosic as always. Whether in dynamically rich, propulsive arco passages or simply plucking a few well-chosen individual notes, Léandre serves as a vital lyrical force, often referencing and elaborating upon the tonal palettes utilized by Melford and Mitchell. On the second track, “Freezing Rain,” Léandre matches Melford’s agile locutions superbly, the two musicians in perfect rapport, each with the utmost confidence in their own statements but with the care in listening needed to develop their ideas in true conversation. And hearing the three together on “Dust Storm,” with Mitchell’s swirling flurries dancing around the more percussive contributions of Melford and Léandre, we are given a stirring reminder of just how much music can be created through purely spontaneous improvisation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Joëlle Léandre & Théo Ceccaldi - Elastic (Cipsela, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Haruveni
Joëlle Léandre double master is quite picky when it comes to bringing young musicians to her close circle of collaborators but the young, 30 years old, violinist Théo Ceccaldi is already an integral part of that honorary circle. His trio hosted Léandre on Can You Smile? (Ayler, 2013), the two performed together during 2015 as a duo - Léandre favorite format - and Léandre enlisted Ceccaldi for her tentet reimagination of her composition Can You Hear Me? (Ayler, 2016). So, it was only natural for these comrades to finally document their shared affinity on Elastic.
But Elastic is much more than an obvious reaffirmation of the profound, immediate interplay of Léandre and Ceccaldi, cemented in the aforementioned settings and live performances. The mutual trust, their distinct experiences as free-improvisers and their commanding mastery of their instruments enable both to charge this recording with a unique, surprising spirit. Their intimate, chamber-like improvisations - in the most innocent meaning of chamber music - radiate a rare restraint and humility.
There are no brilliant sparks of humor or stormy, intense eruptions on Elastic, as one can find aplenty on both recorded work, no dazzling explorations of extended bowing techniques or operatic vocal gibberish and even less focus on virtuosic playing that takes your breath away. But what is left is much more important. The lyrical, melancholic atmosphere reflects the confidence in each other, a deep confidence that enable both Léandre and Ceccaldi to bear their naked souls and most fragile feelings.
Léandre and Ceccaldi improvisations tell us volumes about the essence of music of the moment. Sometimes less speaks clearer and stronger than more, you can engage in riskier emotional adventures when you fully trust your partner to hold you when you fall and you are stronger as and because the ones around you. This is music of true compassion and great sensitivity, of sharing feelings, ideas and insights, and of believing in the your comrades, believing that music and art at all can make a difference. When you open yourself, even surrender, to this kind of experience you can aim higher, much higher, and touch even deeper.
I can not agree more with the Free Jazz blog comrade, Stef Gijssels, who wrote the liner notes. These masters transform their elastic strings into beautiful sounds “and then transcend into emotional bonds between musicians and listeners. Wonderful magic".   

By Stef

And here are my full liner notes of the album

French theater maker Louis Jouvet once said : “L’improvisation ça ne s’improvise pas”, meaning that improvisation can only be done properly with lots of preparation and practice, and that is what you get here. Music that at first hearing sounds like modern classical music, composed, well-structured, balanced, with lyrical lines and interactions that could only be the result of carefully annotated written music. But listen - and think - again. The dynamics, the tension, the rawness and authenticity, the inventiveness, the liveliness you hear, can only be the result of improvisation: it is the music coming out of more than one mind, or one heart, the music that creates itself on the spot, out of the tension and the harmony between two people, full of confidence in each other, musically and technically, two musicians who have something to tell. It is a personal story. Two personal stories of likeminded people merged into one. 

They clearly love what they do, they love their instruments, the sound of strings, the resonance of wood, the scraping of the bow. They follow each other’s movements, the low bass and the high violin, they echo, or they challenge, they tease, they take the sound a step further … and enjoy it. You can feel that. Théo Ceccaldi confirms that not one word is spoken about the pieces before they start playing. Joëlle Léandre says it is all one big adventure. It is the music of surprise, even to them. But is it? It is, yet in a way it is not. You can feel that they know each other. There is no surprise there. They trust each other so completely that they open up. They listen with incredible concentration. They value what they hear. They like what the other one is doing, what the other one is feeling. And it is exactly then that the element of surprise hits. Possibilities open. The other one gives ideas, and they mutually reinforce one another. They like what they can add to this, to co-create, to co-compose, expressing their feelings, while rationally keeping the focus to keep the free ideas tight and compact, cherishing the new sounds. It is the moment of magic. When seemingly paradoxical elements come together, like frivolity and gravitas, sadness and playfulness, serenity and exuberance, control and abandon, sensitivity and rawness, intimacy and austerity, often alternating but even more magically within one sound, like life itself, full of conflicting feelings and unspoken sentiments. If this is a journey, or an adventure, the two travellers set out seemingly without luggage, yet they carry with them the skill to transform emotions into sound, they carry the mastery of many musical idioms, whether classical or jazz or folk to create something new, something never heard before, something that moves, that touches the emotion, that touches our sense of aesthetic beauty. 

The title refers to the flexibility of the taut strings, stretched to the limit, tense and unyielding, another paradox, yet it is also a wordplay on the French word “elastique”, or rubber band, which, when stretched and pulled, also produces sounds. A rubber band is also meant to keep things together, compact and coherent. This is a story of strings. They bend, they vibrate, they are muted, they stick together, and all other technical things that can be done in the hands of masters, who transform these strings into sound and then transcend into emotional bonds between musicians and listeners. Wonderful magic indeed! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Joëlle Léandre - Some historical albums II

By Stef

Joëlle Léandre - Taxi (Adda, 1982)

Her first album was a solo album, remarkably, with compositions that are still close to her classical training, with overdubs so you can hear several basses on the elegant and harmonious opening track "Ouverture" and on the long "Témoignage". Then comes "Taxi", and she is the woman in anger. Angry at the stupidity of people, here illustrated by the taxi driver's incomprehension about her instrument. How to put it in the car, even asking what it is. She tells the story, which soon degenerates in angry ranting. Sentences stop mid-way, words are aborted and joined to other words until semantic meaning is completely lost, until the only thing that remains are screams of folly. 

"Remarquez on est des, Tax! Casse, bassiste, qu'est ... ce cadavre, des trains, des musiques. Qu'est que c'est taxesse .. Votre bras, mousse, poche des tableaux. Des mariées des machins! Instrumentarressiste ... machiniste .. trucs ... des cadavres ... des tableaux. Taxi hommi Klos ... Crinari ... Taxxx ... Cadacaada Bassbusguita ..." (from the book "A Voix Basse").

Even then, and for her first album, she dared to do what nobody has done before her. Delivering her business card with a strong message that here is somebody whose skills are among the best, but who at the same time hasn't got one bit of respect for musical codes or composure or conduct. She is herself from the very start, deconstructing with humor and replacing what she tore down with music of a deeper meaning, revealing her true self. The album is quite accessible still, with melodious lines still determining the evolution of the pieces, together with organised changing rhythmic structures. She has surely not changed as a person. From her first album, you can recognise her, yet her music has changed. It has become much rawer, less premeditated, more in the here and now. 

On "Cri", a telephone conversation is mixed in, somewhere happening on the background with bass overdubs and voice creating an eery atmosphere. This kind of constructed sound structures disappeared in her later work. 

The album was reissued on CD in 1991 with the title "Urban Bass", and it has three additional pieces, including the long and beautiful "Séraphine" with Sylvie Altenburger on viola. 

Joëlle Léandre & Carlos Zingaro ‎– Ecritures (In Situ, 1996)

Recorded in 1990, released in 1999, the album offers a wonderful mix of improvised pieces rooted in classical music and avant-garde, with folk influences once in a while. Melodic and harmonic moments alternate with moments of sought dissonance, yet even these shimmer and dance with beauty, as on the mesmerising "Another Soundscape" or the hesitating "Goldenberg Bridge".

Both Carlos Zingaro and Léandre show their superb musicianship and they offer us great music. On "The Windows", Léandre sings worldlessly, and taps the wood of her bass, and her singing is even more beautiful on "Mémoires d'A", a dark and ominous improvisation.

"Oil on Canvas" is a superb, almost composed piece (actually I think it is, despite the announcement that it is all improvised), with minimal repetitive phrases, like a Philip Glass composition, with slightly shifting tones. There are moments of fun, there are moments of sadness, and there are moments when both fun and sadness coincide, as on the beautiful "Petite Valse Assez Triste".

The fifteen pieces are short, ranging between two and four minutes, but incredibly intense. I don't have the time to write a full review, but if you can still find a copy, buy it. It's a real gem.

Giacinto Scelsi - Joëlle Léandre ‎– Okanagon (Hat Art, 1993)

Okanagon is also one of those iconic albums in Léandre's discography. Catalogued as contemporary classical music, it is very avant-garde, with compositions by the great minimalist composer Giacinto Scelsi, written for Joëlle Léandre, with four double-bass solo pieces, three for solo trombone, performed by Giancarlo Schiaffini, five pieces for bass voice, performed by Nicolas Isherwood, and one solo piece for bass tuba, also by Schiaffini, and then a duet between Léandre and Frances-Marie Uitti on cello, and a trio piece, the long title composition with Karin Schmeer on harp and Robyn Schulkowski on percussion.

The combination of all these bass voices, their deep resonance, with the variety of instruments, and the strength of Scelsi's vision make this a unique, strong and coherent album. It is somber and dark, with "Le Réveil Profond", a six-minute long two-string shifting of timbre around one single note as the total pitch-black variation of hopelessness.

Scelsi himself said: "Okanagon is to be understood as a rite, or, if you choose, as the heartbeat of the Earth", and even if you may find some zen-like influences in the slow pace and the attention to organised naturalness, or structured nature, and the use of open space and silence, it is still all very uncanny. On the title track, the harp sounds like the strings have been loosened beyond their deepest natural sound, the bass just adds weird sonic counterpoint and the percussion is fit for a horror movie resonating in some faraway darkness, but at the same time it is all grand and majestic. 

The album ends with "Mantram", a sad piece for double-bass solo with Indian tonality and sitar-like glissandi. By any standard, this album is unique and fascinating. It is merciless and of a rare aesthetic quality. 

Joëlle Léandre - Some historical albums

Joëlle Léandre ‎– Les Douze Sons (Nato, 1984)
Although the album cover is of Léandre in ball gown on the Grand staircase of the Palais Garnier (Paris Opera) the recording was made during the four days of Carte Noir a Joëlle Léandre, held in June 1983 across the Seine at the more humble Left Bank location of Théâtre Dunois, a former coach inn which since 1977 had been a sort of laboratory for drama, dance and improvised music. One of Léandre’s earliest albums – though she’d been playing such music for a number of years, mainly outside France in America and Germany – she cites it as one of her most important discs. The title (The Twelve Sounds) is a reference to musical scope and intent rather than dodecaphony, an ambition that can be heard throughout the album, prescient of her music-making in the following years, and witnesses the renewing and forging of relationships she’d continue to explore, and at greater length. There are twelve pieces on the album, each different, but it suffers from a feeling that too many are mere appetisers: three last less than a minute and two just over – more substantial dishes though less varied and fewer in number, would have made greater musical sense.   
Looking back, the outlook and personality of John Cage, especially as found in his writings, were possibly the most signal influence on Léandre, emancipating her imagination by charging the everyday with aesthetic significance: “He turned life itself into a form of poetry”. For this reason, it would be misleading to think of her as having a particular style or role within music. Her playing springs from something more basic, inspiration through the animation of an object – the acoustic and physical properties of the double-bass itself: vibrating strings and their harmonics resonating in a wooden chamber; how the bass is plucked, bowed, scraped and knocked; even the posture the body is forced to adopt. Paradoxically, although Léandre had a rigorous formal training, and her playing is rooted in the sonorities of the instrument, it helps to forget everything you know about the double-bass and its history. Our natural tendency to categorise and reference other music in order to make sense of what’s going on actually works against a sympathetic appreciation of her work and often, even advanced notions of musical coherence have no real application.  There’s no avoiding the particularity of her sound, something which is nothing other than itself, and yet at the same time thinking in more abstract terms can actually make it easier to listen: events can have no significance beyond the moment – her desire to excavate and elaborate, before moving on – but what we hear in her duos and trios is the mutual and sometimes disjunctive exploration of shapes, surfaces, configurations and movement. Like Léandre and her colleagues, we have to put our imaginations into play: “The art of improvisation is not improvised. It’s practised through listening.” 
There are two duos with fellow bassist Barre Phillips: ‘Basses Profondes’ and ‘Grand Duo Concertant’, studies in the sonorities of the lower registers (“equivalent to the colour black”) with some impassioned bowing from Léandre. ‘Seriozo (pour Cordes et Trombone)’ adds George Lewis on the latter, though initially it’s barely recognisable as such, before he rises above the bass arpeggios and plays a quasi-lament.    
The guitarist Derek Bailey, whom Léandre first met when he invited her to play with him during a Company Week in New York, was also an important figure in cementing her views on improvisation, though they never discussed music, just played. Here, they’re joined by Ernst Reyseger on cello for a brief blur of arco and chopped chords, ending in a pizzicato flurry. (Léandre and Bailey’s subsequent, No Waiting (Potlatch, 1998) is recommended). 
There’s a comic air to much of what goes on. Of the four pieces from the trio of Léandre, Annick Nozati (vocals), and Irène Schweizer (piano) the first is a cabaret intro and the second a parody of the Sprechstimme from Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  With its virtuoso vocals and surreal twists, ‘Les Trois Dames’ is a forerunner of Les Diaboliques. In ‘Sonate Brève Échappée’ there’s a cartoonish gait on bass turned into a perpetuum mobile by Schweizer and evolving onto a free for all, from which Léandre recovers with syncopated pants. ‘Ballade de Chien’ features a contribution from Miss Biscotte, Léandre’s dog, in an impromptu dialogue with Lewis – the inlay informs us that no animals were mistreated during the recording, and the boxer even has her own Discogs entry.

Les Diaboliques ‎– Live at the Rhinefalls (Intakt, 2000)

Les Diaboliques is the long-standing group comprising Irène Schweizer (piano), Maggie Nicols (voice) and Léandre, presumably named after Clouzot’s classic, and still chilling, 1955 film of female duplicity. Recorded at the Rhine Falls in Switzerland as part of the 1997 Schaffhausen Jazz Festival, this is an excellent example of what the trio can get up to. 
Léandre is someone for whom the theatrical aspect of music has always been present – she’s worked in the theatre and with dancers and poets, giving her a sense of stage time – and Les Diaboliques is fundamentally a dramatic unit. There’s no substitute for seeing them perform, but there remains much to enjoy in their recordings, which contain some of Nicols’ best and most entertaining work. Capable of shifting from diva to pantomime dame in the space of a few seconds, and able to encompass everything from phonic scat to sweet melodies, Nicols is possessed of a wonderful singing voice. Mostly, she uses it as a third instrument, following and echoing her colleagues’ lines, rousing and undermining them.
We open with ‘Mercurial Drama’ and the title really says it all: Nicols’ impassioned wordless vocal, sometimes manic, other times folky – with some nonsense foreign language interjections and hammed up chuckles – while Léandre and Schweizer dart and scurry impishly around her, throwing in some silent movie skits and a bit of boogie-woogie. There’s even some tap dancing from Nicols. 
Léandre frequently uses her voice in performance, which she sees as an extension of her instrument (possibly due to her teacher enjoining her to make the bass sing).  There’s also a lot of mimicry and humorous dialogue with Nicols, though admittedly much is lost without the visuals.
It’s not all tomfoolery, however. There’s a lateral thinking at play in the way Nicols floats between sounds, syllables and singing at the beginning of ‘Almost Straight Ahead’, over Schweizer’s recital accompaniment. The piece then dissolves into blurred speech with pointillist dabs and accelerating spurts on bass and piano, and concludes with a catchy blues melody. ‘Rheingefallen’ is a piano interlude, which has the same stream of consciousness flow, and ‘Tongue Talking’ is the trio’s exploration of diffuse lines, fusing and separating. 
‘Diverse Moods’ Wings’ begins with Nicols monologue on what it means to have a good time and other musings on the medicinal treatment of unhappiness, which probably doesn’t bear repeated listening, but eventually it settles into excerpts from popular songs, some more tap dancing, despondent moans, bucolic babbling, and other therapeutic noises suggesting that she at least, is having a good time.  
The concert ends with ‘Vals Diaboliques III’, loosely based on ‘Softly as a Morning Sunrise’ with some lovely singing from Nicols and sensitive accompaniment from her friends. 

François Houle, Joëlle Léandre, Raymond Strid ‎– 9 Moments (Red Toucan, 2007)

Recorded in the studio and at a concert in Victoria, Canada in November, 2006, the trio of François Houle (clarinet), Léandre and Raymond Strid (percussion) perform nine pieces which exemplify Léandre’s observation that “improvisations are born and die, they are ceaseless little ecstasies and rebirths”.  Here, the title to each “moment” is an indication of its placing, mode or prevailing tone.  
‘Moment Premier’ is a short, carbonated introduction, which slowly fizzes to silence, followed by the more substantial ‘Moment Grave’, a study in stasis – Léandre sustains a subtly inflected note, skirted around by Strid’s mallets and Houle’s meandering figures, their decorations gradually becoming more elaborate. Bass and clarinet then merge as the vibrating tone intensifies. After an episode for percussion alone, the protracted intonations return, this time with bass, vocals and swirling clarinet, rising and then sinking back into a long drone and woodwind dirge. The ensuing ‘Moment Calme’ is a lighter affair, a jumble of split notes, bustling bass and erratic drums.   
‘Moment Tendu’ is about extending the most basic material – Houle’s circular breathing and bubbling contours, drum rolls, shuddering bass and bowed tremors – but also the lyrical expansion of simple motifs, exploiting Houle’s beguiling, lacquered tone. In the seemingly negligible the considerable is to be found.
The duo ‘Moment à Deux’ blends spectral bass harmonics and playing close to the bridge with soft cymbals, and in ‘Moment Clé’ a jerky animation from all three is the driving force, winding down in spasms to its conclusion. ‘Moment Spatial’ has Houle’s gentle configurations hovering over Léandre’s sonorous pizzicato; by contrast ‘Moment Donné’ is a skein of looping clarinet and agile drums. We end with ‘Moment Final’: spare, poised gestures and intimations of something more – a reflective close to a diverse collection. 

The trio’s further recording: Last Seen Headed: Live at Sons D'Hiver (Ayler, 2010) is also recommended. 

Interview with Joëlle Léandre

40 Years On The Road

Interview with Joëlle Léandre

By Stef

We agreed to have a Skype interview, and even though my questions were duly prepared, the grand lady of the bass has so much drive and energy that the interview does not need questions. She speaks like her music, her music is like she is: passion personified. 

She lets me know that she is flattered by the attention she is getting, not only from us, but also from the record labels who bring out new material by her, from the labels who offer her a concert (today!) in a church (Eglise Saint Eustache) in Paris to celebrate her 40 years on the road, together with Mat Maneri, Maggie Nicols and Christiane Bopp. She is flattered by the long article in Le Monde, the leading - and very respectable - French newspaper. 

How have you changed over the last 40 years? 

When I was a kid, nobody ever noticed me. I was so quiet. Nobody knew where I was. That is no longer the case, but for the last 40 years, I have not changed. My basic philosophy is still intact. I believe in “man”. I believe that people have to do what they have to do. In my opinion, there is no difference between a poet, a musician, a butcher or a baker. They all work with skills and interest and creativity … and lots of hard work. I worked hard on all my skills, and I still do, to master my instrument, the technique, the sound, the texture, the build-up and construction of my music. This hard work is needed to be able to express the essence, to create art, much like a painter, a dancer or a poet does. You cannot speak of a career. I am not trying to get higher in a hierarchy. I am on the road. I like that. My father was a road worker. I like to think that I walk on the roads he built. I move forward. I meet people. It’s a solitary journey, but a rewarding one, because you can learn from other people, you can give to other people. You meet another person, say a dancer, and she can teach you how to make music, just because of her dancing. You interact, you communicate no matter where you are. You find a common language and you learn from it, you become richer.  

Is that why you have a preference for duet recordings? 

I don’t like large families and their reunions. Everybody is there, yet you only manage to really have a conversation with one or two people. I prefer the intimacy of this real conversation with one other person. I like to listen, to understand the other perspective, her story, deeply listening to expand on it, to resonate with the other, to move along. It’s so much deeper, so much more authentic in its interaction.

Where did your road start? 

After my classical training in France, I moved to the US to play with Morton Feldman, but my real inspiration, the deep sense of music has come from African American jazz musicians, and interestingly enough in Europe. One revelation was listening and talking to Cecil Taylor at Saalfelden festival. He saw that I was anxious and he said to me “Don’t care Joëlle, go ahead, just play your shit”, it was a great encouragement to let myself go in my sound, to be myself. It was like he told me to invent myself, to open doors for which nobody but you has the keys. The thing is to be alive in your music, to be yourself. Raw and fresh. People will not judge you when you are being yourself. They will when you play a role. And this is more difficult for women than for men. 

You have always been a great advocate for women in music. 

Yes, I have always loved to play with people like Irène Schweizer and Nicole Mitchell and Maggie Nicols. There are not enough women in music.

We have seen many promising young women in jazz recently: Eve Risser, Alexandra Grimaldi, Susana Santos Silva, Kaja Draksler, Lina Allemano. 

Yes, these are good examples, but there are still not enough women in music. We need 300 Lina Allemanos. I think sometimes women lack the persuasion to move beyond the traditional boundaries. The funny thing is that as long as I lived in France nobody took me seriously either. It’s only when I moved to the United States, to Germany, to Japan, that I was looked upon in a different way. You’re a foreign musician residing abroad, and that by itself is already interesting, something that creates curiosity. Suddenly people notice you. Every artist should leave his or her home country. No man is a prophet in his own land.

You also have strong views on society

“Je suis la femme qui marche”. I am very politicised in that sense. I have a broad view on society and humanity. That drives me. Yes, I am an angy woman. I detest what’s happening in the world. I hate what’s happening in music and how the establishment looks at music. When you have a quartet of two violins, a viola and a cello, it is immediately appreciated and it’s called music. When you create a quartet with two double basses and two electric guitars, it’s considered subversive. Yet that’s needed to change the world. We have to break these silly rules and codes. I have never changed myself. I have kept my anger with all the negative things that are happening, but I can say that I have structured my thinking around it. I read a lot, and that helps to understand. I never understood that there was such a thing as “noble” instruments, like a violin, a cello, a piano. But a double bass and percussion instruments do not belong to the class of “noble” instruments. Why? Who decides about this? That same system delivers “old young people”, they are young of age, but old of mentality. They know all the forms and they manage the technique with competence, yet it’s often so empty. Where is the substance? That’s why I like working with young people, in the hope that they can find their own voice. I organise music workshops. I am quite honored to have been appointed visiting professor at Mills College in Oakland. 

Who else influenced you? 

When I left France, I met so many other people with great things to show. It was a privilege to play with Anthony Braxton. His open form compositions were a revelation. An opening into a world of new possibilities. He said “you need to be ready”. That means that you have to open up yourself to listen, to interact, to be part of what is happening in the music now, in this moment. Our contemporality requires new sounds. Our cultural institutions are not open to this. They are all led by white males. They decide on how subsidies are allocated. They decide which records are released. They organise the festivals. They decide about who should be successful. Yet they lack culture. Because of their narrow perspective, they do not represent society in full. Culture is the world around us, everything. They are only focused on something that is on the sidelines, but which they find interesting. They love hierarchies and differences.

And your music is the opposite? 

Yes, music means opening up to this world. That is why I like to play with people like Serge Teyssot-Gay, who was the guitarist of Noir Désir (a French post-punk band). He is a contemporary artist from a different tradition and musical background, but that makes it so much more fun and interesting to improvise together. We don’t need all these labels that people stick on things. That’s why I also like George Lewis a lot. His vision is all about opening up to deeper levels inside yourself. On the surface, people say ‘she plays bass, she’s a virtuoso’, but that’s only on the surface. At a much deeper level, my music is political, a reflexion on things, like authentical thoughts and feelings. You cannot learn that. You have to find that yourself. And that’s what makes the value of wonderful people like Steve Lacy, or Evan Parker. John Cage said “the sound is the man”, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Miles Davis or Vivaldi or Charlie Haden. 

And how does improvisation fit into this? 

It is trying to know how not to know, to have a complete opening to the outside world, a kind of innocence that lets you listen and go to the other one, almost naked and vulnerable. Improvisation wakes up and reveals. In French we say “révèle et réveille”. Most other music is made for the masses. It’s all the same, and it basically asks you to shut up. The supremacy of the composer tells you: play this and shut up. It’s mainstream. Media are commercial. Improvisation on the other hand brings about your individuality, your deeper self. You have no choice. I am very strongly indebted to oral music, music originating from people singing in villages and on the land, European folk, and blues, and other traditional forms who incorporate real story-telling. But this is looked upon with scorn by the ones in power. That’s why I value my brothers and sisters from America so much. They value the oral tradition. They showed me what was possible. I had the luck that in the 70s, Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were in Paris. Listening to their music, and its possibilities was a true feast, an absolute joy. 

You are also very theatrical on stage. You like elements of drama in your performances. You kick your bass, you shout, you laugh out loud. 

I am a stage woman. If only because my bass has such a presence on stage. But I like to make fun of things. That goes back the dadaist tradition, it’s called the “desacralisation of the serious”, in the way that Eric Satie, Marcel Duchamps, Cabaret Voltaire en Joseph Beuys worked. 

My first solo performance was in Buffalo, New York, 40 years ago. Already then, my music was all about building tension and bringing release, about existing and expressing myself. Humor is part of that, about bringing release. Women often take a distance from humor, but I like the approach of Han Bennink for instance. He gives himself completely, but with humor. I know my instrument, intimately. I know all the different sounds it can make, also the sound of the wood, when it gets kicked or slapped. The entertainment aspect is part of all art. You have to capture the attention and keep the attention going. I come from a family of clowns. It’s part of my heritage. It also means that I am free. I can do what I want. I do not have to conform. I determine myself. When I started so many years ago in Buffalo, I was nothing. I had no language. I had no context. I had no contacts. It had to learn everything and I had to unlearn everything. In daily life, in the street. 

You always call your albums your “babies”. Why? 

Like with children, I have no preferred CD. Someone told me that I performed on more than 150 albums, and I think that I have given my maximum for each of them. I have personally mixed or participated in mixing all my albums. All of them. I carry the music. I accompany it. I take care of it till the moment the album is finally brought to the shops. I have given my life to music, to my music. That’s why they’re my babies. 

Joëlle Léandre Week

A remarkable moment. Joëlle Léandre, the grand lady of the bass, the mother of free improvisation celebrates her 40th anniversary "on the road". She graduated with a first prize at the music conservatory of Paris, then performed with Morton Feldman, John Cage and Merce Cunningham. She graduates at the age of 21 in 1972. Then she decides to perform freelance in chamber orchestras, playing Bach, even if by that time her true vocation, improvised music had already appeared in her life, the opening, the escape route from the obligatory classical way of playing, the door into freedom.

In 1976, she received the double-bass part of John Cage's Concerto for Orchestra. He dedicated it to her : "For Joëlle, best wishes in America and in France". In her book, "A Voix Basse", she says: "I went to see him in New York, in his Bank Street loft. I remember it like yesterday, that winter's day in 1976. It was snowing. He had plants all over his place, a proper garden! He'd been a disciple of Suzuki, the Japanese philosopher, who strongly influenced him... John made me listen to the world around me. 'Let the sounds be what they are', he said to me" ... He was part of a major choice I made: no longer would I ever just be a bass-player in an orchestra or an ensemble". That is the beginning of fourty years on the road. She met John Zorn. She met Derek Bailey. She met Giacinto Celsi. She found her own voice. Lived abroad, in New York, in Buffalo, in Berlin, in Japan, in the United States again, meeting people, recording, and listening, refining her art, her own special voice, of anger, aesthetic beauty, raw energy, sometimes clownesque, often very profound and deep, always herself. I can recommend her biography, which appeared both in French and in English.

She's the grand lady of the bass. Impossible to pigeon-hole, and impossible not to like. We will spend the whole week on her music, some of the older albums, some of the music that is now released to celebrate her fourty years on the road, by RogueArt, by Fou Records, and the 8 CD box by Not Two.

There is a concert to celebrate her tonight in Paris, at the Eglise Saint-Eustache. We never announce performances, but today we make an exception, if there are still some places left.

For those interesting in reading about Joëlle Léandre we can recommend the following books:

Joëlle Léandre - A Voix Basse (Editions MF, 2008) - in French
Joëlle Léandre - Solo (Kadima/Editions MF, 2011) - in English

It's the same book, translated.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dave Douglas & Frank Woeste - Dada People (Greenleaf, 2016) ***½

By Lee Rice Epstein

When Dave Douglas and Frank Woeste first decided to collaborate on a dedication to the great Jewish immigrant artist Man Ray, there was almost no way they could have predicted the mood, time, and place in which the album would be released. Autumn 2016 has been harsh, foregrounded by global politics fueled, in part, by anti-Semitism and nationalist xenophobia. Douglas, American, and Woeste, French, both face this reality now. Just over 100 years ago, in response to anti-Semitism, the Radnitzky family changed its name to Ray and Emmanuel became Man. If I seem to be implying something weightier than would seem appropriate for Ray, who appeared to dismiss his Jewish identity during his lifetime, keep in mind he fled France and returned to the US during WWII, and later still married Juliet Browner, a Romanian Jew. Despite the intention to separate or distance oneself, Jewishness pervades. I have been in offices, at parties, in whole towns where I am, at any one time, the only Jew, and everybody else knows it, too. "Unconcerned, but not indifferent" reads Ray’s epitaph. I don’t want to overanalyze it, but it is, like much of his art, a perfect acknowledgement of that experience.

For weeks, I’ve been working up a review of the album’s wondrous touch, the group alive with the collaborative spirit. The quartet, co-led by Douglas on trumpet and Woeste on piano and Fender Rhodes, is rounded out by Clarence Penn on drums and Matt Brewer on bass. Brewer, fast becoming one of my favorite bassists, is most definitely the MVP of the group. I had become so used to hearing Linda Oh in Douglas’s quartet. Brewer has a similarly approach, a lush tone with a dynamic style he deploys to prod and interrogate his companions. Cue up Woeste’s Fender Rhodes solo on “Spork” for one such highlight. It precedes Brewer’s own lyrical solo.

A few practical notes: Douglas and Woeste split composing duties, with five tracks each. Their sensibilities are well matched. For example, Woeste’s “Montparnasse” fits beautifully alongside Douglas’s long line of slightly down-tempo odes. In the final minutes, Douglas and Woeste settle into a near-unison, Woeste playing out echoes of the melody under Douglas’s piercing statement. “Art of Reinvention,” another Woeste composition, produces some of the best interplay on the album. Late in the track, the tempo begins to shift radically, playing out an experiment urged by the title. The closer, “Danger Dancer,” plays two rhythmic melodies against each other, at a slightly awkward slant, creating a subtle tension.

In the past few weeks, several friends have fallen to one side or the other in an argument over the role, purpose, and value of art under threat. In that conversation, I would place Dada People squarely in the hopeful category, which is to say it’s lifted me up off the floor several times this month. It is fairly straightforward, yes, though with much of Douglas’s music, in particular, the thrill and experimentation hides in the details. It’s not High Risk; you wouldn’t come to this album looking for revolution. But as with Man Ray’s art, you might continue to return to it, always with a fresh perspective, and discover there is something special here.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Pauline Oliveros (1932 - 2016)

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

It's with sadness that we join the reports that experimental musician, composer, and educator Pauline Oliveros has passed away at 84. A couple articles on Oliveros' influential and ground breaking work can be found here and here.

In a small tribute, we'd like to share some of the recordings that we have covered on the Free Jazz Blog:

Deep Listening Band: Great Howl at Town Haul (Imprec, 2012)
Deep Listening Band: Needle Drop Jungle (Taiga Records, 2012)

New York Art Quartet - Call it Art (Triple Point Records, 2013)

Structure reaffirming improvisation.

By Fotis N.

This is 1964. While John Coltrane with his classic quartet, was accelerating his pace towards a new-more free, more spiritual, individualistic and collective at the same time-approach, fire music was just right at the corner. At the same time, the avant-garde (which the New York Art Quartet [NYAQ] had close connections with) was closer to the origins of the new sounds than ever before. Those were the years, and a few after that, of the peak of the counterculture and a time that demanded - pointed out to - a freedom of expression that made available any kind of artistic absurdity. Following this trajectory, youth were rejecting “old music” like the blues, and kept falling in love with the new sounds of the day .

Not long before - to paraphrase Herbert Marcusethe music of the soul became the music of salesmanship, overshadowing the collective artistic thinking and, in particular, the collective improvisation, that were the main drivers behind the prevailing ethos in what-to-do and what-to-play. In the studio and, mainly, playing live, amazing, skilled, visionary artists were leading things in various directions. Some of those were the guys within the NYAQ.  Among musicians, who were also gifted soloists, there existed a strong sense of  alltogetherness, which was enabled by the freedom of being at the margins. The margins - and often out of them - of white and black mainstream culture, the social and political climate was fertile for a radical shift in all ways of thinking and practices-artistic too.

This, definitely incredible, box-set makes a claim ( “call it art” ) that raises the stakes high. No arrogance here, just the passion, the will and the work of a small label of acolytes, Triple Point Records, to ensure that another piece of, perhaps forgotten art, will see the light of day, will be heard by those with ears wide open. The main man behind it is Ben Young, the guy who put together Albert Ayler's box set for Revenant Records. Having listened, read and touched this box set myself, I can assure you that there's no way of really complimenting the love behind it and how important was for me as a listener of free thinking music. Mr. Young has done it again. Not that we expected anything less. The other two releases of this small label again are here to prove all the above and, most importantly, are here to make a strong statement about how to present great music. I know that this paragraph may sound a bit over the top, but once you hear the material, you read the words, you touch all that's included, the passion of the makers will resonate inside you. Alongside the constant revelation of free thinking art, this is what we totally need right now.

This very beautiful, minimal looking birch wood box, which includes a clothbound book, nine sides of vinyl, dozens of photos, and many small memorabilia, is the product of many hours of research. It is very interesting to point out that the rise of archival material during the last five to ten years coincides with the new rise of the vinyl market. Not a bad coincidence for all of us...Made in just 665 (not even 666...) copies, it also brings to mind its main problem: its too expensive. Of course, I do not know the cost of producing it, cannot measure the many hours, days, weeks needed for research. We live in a capitalist economy, everybody has to make money to put food on the table. And I'm not adding the value of labour needed for production. Nevertheless, its price makes it a privilege for a few to own it, so, practically, it is a class issue unfortunately, and I cannot find a way to surpass this thought.

Going back to the core of Call It Art, the music and the people involved in it, there are some artists that need to be mentioned. The stories of all those involved are already well known, so I will avoid getting into details. The great and personal favourite Amiri Baraka ( I prefer to write about him with his chosen name) was a champion of the new thing (as well as bebop before that) right from the beginning. He had already participated in NYAQ's first album by reading Black Dada Nihilismus and he was familiar with what the collective was trying to formulate. His very recent collection of poems called S.O.S., that sits next to me, is a definite proof of the reasons I consider him one of 20th Century's great poets. Milford Graves, one of my favourite drummers, is totally associated (in my mind at least) with free jazz and the polyrhythimc barrage of sounds, first heard from Sunny Murray on the ESP recordings. John Tchicai was a constant source of free jazz expressionism with an ear for melody and structure. His playing in one of my favourite free improv recordings, the second for the I.C.P. Collective, proves he was capable of anything. Roswell Rudd already knew and had played with Tchicai, most notably in Shepp's Four For Trane LP. The rhythm section of Don Moore and J.C. Moses was a very tight and compact duo having forged this relationship during their stay with the New York Contemporary Five. Everything was in place, ready for the music to be heard.

Now that I think of it, such an overwhelming edition, full of unheard recordings, can make you feel saturated by the sheer power of the material, possibly rendering you unable to judge it accordingly and objectively. As early as bebop jazz had confronted and battled against all the orthodoxies of what jazz “should be”. As I already mentioned the key word for many musicians was collective thinking and it's way of expression collective improvisation. But, it's not that anything you will listen on all sides of vinyl is improvised. You can hear structure, you can distinguish melodies. Surely, I'm not pointing out anything new here, the music is not as radical as the ever transforming Coltrane sound of the period or other ESP recording of the same time. But that's not the point-of merely comparing. The recordings of this (will write it once more) incredible box set stand on their own  as another message in a bottle (finally read) of a time and a place. You will listen to live recordings and different takes. They are all accomplished pieces of  music. Alongside improvisations you will find pieces like Bird's “Mohawk” and tunes from members of the collective. Graves surely stands up, just like his constant flow of metal sounds never stops or fails. He can definitely swing, put the listener into his groove, and he can also drive himself into percussion ways akin only to improvisers. Every time he is one hundred percent himself. One can mention Ornette and his quartet's of the late 50's and early 60's and provide a very precise audio idea of what is heard. The poems-as strong interludes-of Baraka have a strong edginess and ground the recordings with the black struggle of the time-and how contemporary they feel when heard in 2016. In an overall look (from someone with no technical knowledge like me) the improvisations are reaffirmed from the strong presence of structured compositions in these recordings and vice versa. This is a wild combination, a rope dancer's balance that never fails but keeps going on, covering the distance. And that's really something.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Catching Up With Tilting Converter

By Derek Stone

Tilting Converter is the label run by Stockholm-based musicians Patric Thorman and Joe Williamson. At this time, the label has only three albums available, two of which will be reviewed here. The music that Thorman and Williamson produce (both are members of The Ägg, and Williamson is the vocalist and bassist of Receptacles) defies easy categorization, with even the relatively wide-ranging descriptor “free jazz” failing to completely encapsulate what’s going on. Despite this slipperiness, The Ägg and Receptacles produce decidedly concrete music, music that either captures the commotion of a small-parts factory on fire (as with The Ägg) or music that marries the listlessness of punk-rock with the unpredictability of improvised jazz (Receptacles).

The Ägg - Machines (Tilting Converter, 2016) ***½ 

The self-titled debut from The Ägg, released in 2013 by Found You Recordings, was the sonic equivalent of a complex piece of machinery that has been left running too long - stressed to the point of overheating, the tiny cogs and belts start to whine, melt, and then bleed into one another. With four drummers, three electric bassists, and three electric guitarists, The Ägg made an undeniably massive sound, but it never descended into incomprehensibility. Each player was an interlocking plate in a tectonic system that hinted at rupture without ever collapsing completely.

Imagine my surpise, then, to hear the first track on The Ägg’s newest release, Machines. In terms of player configuration, the only new development is that Raymond Strid is gone, leaving just three drummers (just). From the outset, however, it’s clear that the group have taken a different musical approach. Gone are the bulbous basslines, the screeching guitars, and the near-overwhelming barrage of percussion. In their place are sounds that are decidedly more low-key; on Machines, the guitarists have seemingly unplugged from their amps, leaving muted notes that quiver rather than quake. Likewise, the percussionists have reined in their rhythmic deluge, opting instead for wooden resonances that clatter along with all the insistence of covered wagons on Old West trails.

Interestingly, this acoustic approach somewhat muddies the distinct signature of each player. While the self-titled album contained pieces in which lines occasionally mutated and pushed restlessly against the constraints of the compositions, the tracks on Machines often seem to lack variation. Listening to the first ten seconds of each part of “The Rise and Triumph of Technology and Reason” will give you a good idea of what to expect from the rest. That’s not to say that there’s no improvisation or transformation going on here, but simply that the sonic properties of the group’s newfound approach have subdued and softened the individual voices. In the same way that asking a choir to sing in a whisper will result in an indistinct blur of breath, asking The Ägg to unplug results in a sound that, while not neuteured, is definitely not as unrepentantly turbulent as the work that came before. In this way, Machines could be considered free-jazz ambient - just put it on and let the odd (and admittedly novel) textures wash over you.

Receptacles - Freedom From Error(Tilting Converter, 2016) ***½

What if Captain Beefheart had cut his teeth listening to The Fall instead of Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley? The result might have sounded like Receptacles’ new album, Freedom From Error, a near-perfect example of the “jazzed up punk shit” that Mark E. Smith once preached about but never quite produced. Consisting of bassist/vocalist Joe Williamson, guitarist Anton Toorell, and drummer Dennis Egberth, Receptacles is either a jazz group with rock leanings, or a rock group with jazz leanings, or something else entirely. Just listen to something like “Sounds Like Shit,” with its thudding percussion, jittery, overcaffeinated bassline, and oblique stabs of guitar; it’s too odd and misshapen to be taken for a straight-up punk song, and too stiff to capture the the open-ended fluidity of jazz. A central component of Receptacles’ unpindownable mass of writhing, twitching sounds is the voice of Joe Williamson. Like the aforementioned Mark E. Smith, he spits out words with a deadpan, sing-speak delivery that is as acerbic as it is (occasionally) downright funny. On tracks like “Camping,” he simply lists the supplies needed for a successful (you guessed it) camping trip, while “Parkour” is a chance for him to espouse the benefits of the titular activity. Behind all of Williamson’s offbeat musings, the band carries on: Anton Toorell is the most distinctive musical voice here, with his jagged slabs of guitar noise that often seem to take Dennis Egberth’s throbbing, motorik-indebted time signatures as mere suggestions. Likewise, Williamson is no slouch on the bass; playing with a stuttering, nervous energy that contrasts nicely with the disaffected inscrutability of his voice, he provides a reliable anchor for Toorell’s more manic moments (the super-charged explosiveness of closing track “Uppin’ the Ante,” for example). While you could get into endless debates trying to figure out just what kind of music this group makes, it would likely be a fruitless endeavour - I doubt the band themselves know. As long as you’re receptive to, uh, Receptacles, you’re sure to have a good time - and you might even learn a thing or two about camping!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Peter Evans Quintet - Genesis (More Is More, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

About a minute into Genesis, the new album from Peter Evans Quintet, my wife looked over at me and asked, “What is this? It’s beautiful.” The “this” she asked about was “Introduction,” the first half of the suite “Fanfares,” an extended solo from Peter Evans. And it is definitely gorgeous.

Genesis, like Lifeblood, is another 100-minute album compiled from performances in 2015 and 2016. As a fan who doesn’t get out much, it’s fantastic to hear a release like this within a year of its recording. There’s no lineup change from Destination: Void, so again it’s Evans on trumpet and piccolo trumpet, Sam Pluta on live electronics, Ron Stabinsky on piano and synthesizer, Tom Blancarte on bass, and Jim Black on drums, percussion, and electronics.

Genesis consists of four new suites: “Fanfares,” “Genesis/Schismogenesis,” “Patient Zero (15 Scenes),” and “3 for Alice (Coltrane).” The Janus-faced quintet continues to blur the lines between electro and acoustic, primarily through Pluta’s live quoting and reassembling of, particularly, Evans and Stabinsky. Blancarte (a little low in the mix, for about half the album) and Black simultaneously buoy the band and propel it forward at a breakneck speed. It’s a type of highly-controlled chaos, with a classic hard-bop center. It feels strange to say (though maybe less so in the context of Nate Wooley’s 2015 quintet tribute) but it feels like you could draw a solid through line from the Evans quintet to Wynton Marsalis’s 1980s quartet.

After Stabinsky joins Evans towards the end of the introduction, “Fanfares” proper kicks in, and the band goes racing, tumbling, and, yes, swinging. It’s not long before a Stabinsky solo is suddenly fed back at you, highly distorted at variable speeds, that you catch where Pluta is folded into the mix. Meanwhile, Black glides from open ride to hi-hat, sliding across toms in tandem with Evans’s octave-leaping runs.

“Genesis/Schismogenesis,” organized into four stages, opens with contemplative beauty, Black on percussion and Stabinsky’s gentle chord blocks playing against Evans’s alternately plaintive and fiery exploration. Gradually, all the parts are drawn into an urgent center that just as smoothly flies apart. There’s a peculiar tension when parts align, the suspense that whatever comes next will be unpredictable, wild. The final section, “Stage 4,” features a utterly brilliant unison melody.

“Patient Zero (15 Scenes)” opens with a dread-infused keyboard motif that recurs throughout the suite, acting as a clapperboard between each “scene.” I’m fairly certain it’s a John Carpenter sample, but I couldn’t find the exact source; if it isn’t, well, it strongly evokes his scores from Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and The Fog, setting the mood for the next 15 minutes. After several recurrences, however, even the motif dissolves, with Pluta drawing out long sequences of effects, distortion, and high frequencies, interwoven with some unconventional improvisation from Evans.

And then there’s “3 for Alice.” At 47 minutes, it could be an album all on its own. More love for Blancarte here, who moves into the foreground (he’s also helped by a great mix on the final suite). “Intergalactic,” “Elemental,” and “12 Earthly Branches” are separated by brief interludes, the first of which highlights an incredible Blancarte solo. Stabinsky fills “Elemental” with fleet, gorgeous runs, and Black pulls back slightly, settling into a mellow swing groove. This winds its way to another tightly-wound unison line that takes the tempo to an almost unreal place, leading right into an improvised duet from Pluta and Black (duo album from these two, please). And “12 Earthly Branches” finishes the album with 15 straight minutes of big-hearted fire. The group starts and stops on arrhythmic beats, rapidly shifts tempo, turns sharp corners, and flat-out swings like very few bands out there.

One final note. After assembling some notes, I went back to read our past reviews of the quintet, and I found that Joe Higham had written the following about the debut Ghosts: “Blancarte holds the whole thing together, probably more than we actually notice” and “This for me is where Wynton Marsalis could of gone with his classic 4tet, but never did [sic].” It was interesting to see that two reviewers, years apart, would come to similar conclusions.

Available at Bandcamp.