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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The year in review

By Stef

Some personal reflections on 2016 and on the music of the year. What we have seen on the political scene is a global trend towards the particular, the personal interests, the conviction of one's own truth, protectionism, the exclusion of the 'other', intolerance, nationalism with political leaders propagating these vices based on populist post-truth claims ... and in its extreme forms racism, violence, terror, institutionalised or organised by fanatics ... and the millions suffering from all this. By all measures 2016 was a bad year.

And when I browse the list of albums we reviewed this year, you get a wonderful view of a different world, a world that is creative, global in the best sense of the world, open to possibilities, universal in its language, inclusive of other ideas and thoughts, even welcoming them to challenge and to expand one's own thinking. We had a wonderful album of Satoko Fujii (Japan) and Joe Fonda (US), crossing styles and continents, or Ståle Liavik Solberg (Norway), with saxophonist John Butcher (UK), we had many records by Joëlle Léandre (France) exploring her art beyond boundaries of geography, age, gender and style, we listened to Rodrigo Amado (Portugal) releasing an album with Paal Nilssen-Love (Norway) and Kent Kessler (US), Raymond Boni (France) with Jean-Marc Foussat (France) and Joe McPhee (US), we had an album with Sabir Mateen (US), Conny Bauer (Germany), Mark Tokar (Ukraine), Klaus Kugel (Germany), Carate Urio Orchestra with Joachim Badenhorst (Belgium), Sam Kulik (US), Frantz Loriot (French Japanese), Pascal Niggenkemper (French German), Sean Carpio (US), Brice Soniano (France), Nico Roig (Spain), the Porta Palace Collective with Italians, Americans, Japanese members, Mats Gustafsson's great Fire! Orchestra.... Need I go on? True creativity starts when different perspectives meet. New sonic experiences come to life. Is there anything more fun than to see this happen? Is there anything more rewarding than listening to these collaborative efforts without any other agendas than to create something significant, to contribute to an expansion of the world's aesthetics, to build something new without preconceived notions? I want to thank all the artists for their work and their attitude of openness and welcoming inclusion. You are showing the way. Thanks for that. 

Musicians of the year

As mentioned in the previous years, the personal nomination for this highly subjective "Musician Of The Year" category can only be given once. Some musicians keep leading the way, such as Joëlle Léandre, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, Wadada Leo Smith, Angharad Davies, Eve Risser, Mats Gustafsson, Nate Wooley, Mary Halvorson ... but they got the credits before.

These musicians were selected because they "marked" the year, they were exceptional in quality and often also in quantity of output.

Susana Santos Silva

The person omnipresent this year (and last) is Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, who kept releasing albums and performing and touring with various bands. Her "Life And Other Transient Storms" got kudos on this blog and elsewhere. She also released "Rasengan!", "Buku", and she performed on "Roji", not to mention her membership of Fire! Orchestra's "Ritual"

Anna Högberg

Young and Swedish, she already managed to deliver the "Album Of The Year" by the revierwers of our blog, for her "Anna Högberg's Attack", the Swedish all-women sextet. She also performed on MG50, the Mats Gustafsson 50th Birthday box, and in Fire! Orchestra's "Ritual". She already released a memorable album last year with "Dog Life", and we can only expect more from her in the coming years.

Ivo Perelman

Brazilian New York-based saxophonist Ivo Perelman gets more prolific with the years, but at the same time perfecting his art, and getting increasing and deserved recognition. In 2016, he released no less than 11 CDs, and I can recommend Colin Green's introduction to our "Ivo Perelman Week" as a start. He released a bunch of duo albums : The Hitchhiker (with Karl Berger), "Corpo" (with Matt Shipp), "Blue" (with Joe Morris); quartets with "Breaking Point" and "Soul", together with his series on Leo called the Art Of The Improv. Here are the links to reviews for "Vol. 1 & 2"; "Vol. 3 & 4", and "Vol. 5 & 6". And then just for the record: we started the year with three Ivo Perelman albums from 2015. That makes 14 album reviews in a year!

Peter Evans

American trumpeter Peter Evans is not prolific. But when he does release albums, they get noticed. His solo trumpet album, "Lifeblood" gets a 5-star rating on our blog, as well as his quintet album "Genesis". Evans is a searcher, someone who wants to keep reinventing himself while discovering new sounds and music in the process, reshaping what exists and creating where new sounds are needed. He also played on Ingrid Laubrock's "Serpentine" and released an excellent duo album with Nate Wooley on the not yet reviewed "Polychoral".

Henry Threadgill

American saxophonist Henry Threadgill figured in two consecutive years in many of our reviewers' lists of albums of the year. In 2015 with "In For A Penny, In For A Pound", and this year with "Old Locks and Irregular Verbs". Apart from being a great musician, Threadgill has proved himself a great "conductor" with his Ensembles, also re-inventing his art and even his own role within the bands he's leading, resulting in high quality work and welcoming musical surprises.

In memory of ...

At the same time, some excellent free improvisation and avant-garde jazz musicians have also left us, too early, too soon. The names we mention here are people with very different horizons, but they all shared the same aspiration to go beyond the status quo, to find some deeper and universal language in music and sounds. We will miss them yet we also cherish the fact that their music is still there for all of us.

Connie Crothers 

Dominic Duval 

Paul Smoker

Gato Barbieri

 Nana Vasconcelos

Getachew Mekurya

Pauline Oliveros

Ken Aldcroft

Marco Eneidi

Paul Bley

Wolfgang Fuchs

Bushman's Revenge - Bushman's Fire (Rune Grammofone, 2016) ****½

By Stefan Wood

Bushman's Revenge is a Norwegian jazz rock trio, with ven Helte Hermansen (guitar), Rune Nergaard (bass), and Gard Nilssen (drums). Their fusing of 70's era prog rock with 60's & 70's Impulse! era New Sound of Jazz improvisations have raised the group to international renown. Early King Crimson mixed with late era John Coltrane; Guru Guru jamming with Albert Ayler; I could throw many such combinations at you as examples of what Bushman's Revenge can sound like. "Fire" is a vinyl only live album that adds Kjetil Møster (saxophone) and David Wallumrød (hammond organ); having only three tracks, but each are extended jams that sear and burn. They redo "Baklengs Inn I Fuglekassa" from their album "Thou Shalt Boogie!" as "Yoga," now a Coltranesque dirge, Møster wailing passionately over a 21st Century Schizoid Man influenced soundscape. "Total Fucking Marmalade" is riff centric funk, Wallumrød, Nergaard and Nilssen laying down thick slabs of rhythm while Hermansen's guitar soloing Hendrix like throughout. Møster adds a bright infusion of horns towards the end of the track. "As We Used To Sing" is a Sonny Sharrock tune, a signature tune that the band plays in concerts, and it finishes the album on a very high note, with Møster and Hermansen both beautifully recalling Pharoah Sanders' brilliant playing as both alternate leads. Nergaard and Nilssen deliver a crushing rhythm section, Mahavishnu Orchestra like, as the band hurdles forward with breathtaking speed and fluid playing. Overall, "Fire" is an excellent live document of this highly regarded group. For newcomers, this is a good gateway to their catalog, which one should then avidly pursue. Outstanding!

Friday, December 30, 2016

DEK Trio - Burning Below Zero (Trost, 2016) ****

DEK stands for the first names of Austrian drummer Didi Kern and pianist Elisabeth Harnik and Chicagoan reeds player Ken Vandermark. Since Austria, and especially Vienna, have become one of Vandermark main stops during his busy touring schedule, establishing ongoing collaborations with local musicians was only natural. Vandermark performs there on a regular basis, records in the fine studios there, works with a local label, Trost, and collaborates with others local musicians such as Christof Kurzmann in the Made to Break quartet.

DEK Trio began to work in September 2014 bringing together a wide range of backgrounds and influences. Harnik, known as a new music composer and free-improviser who collaborates with double bass master Joëlle Léandre, fellow Chicagoan reeds player Dave Rempis, is a member of the Plasmic and Barcode quartets and the interdisciplinary Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose project which is inspired by the work of Gertrude Stein. Kern has worked with alternative Austrian bands as the noise-rock trio BulBul and the genre-defying Broken.Heart.Collector and collaborated in recent years with Mats Gustafsson (check their Eissalon (Live), Rock is Hell Records, 2013); Vandermark charges this trio free-improvised interplay with his diverse experiences, ranging from the intricate minimalism of AMM’s pianist John Tilbury to Afro-beat of late Ethiopian sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya.

The trio debut album was recorded live recorded shortly after its establishment on October 2, 2014 at the RAJ hall in the southern Austria town Klagenfurt. The three “RAJ” free-improvisations highlight the organic, instantaneous interplay of this trio, expressive and powerful one, open-ended and curious. On the opening, extended “RAJ One”, Kern keeps challenging Vandermark's rhythmic attacks and subtle sonic searches with fast-shifting rhythmic ideas and colors spiced with healthy doses of humor, detail and invention while Harnik frames their muscular, game-like interplay in a structured narrative, introducing into it delicate sounds extracted from the piano strings. The following, extended “RAJ Two” suggests a more “burning” interplay, way beyond zero, where each musicians feeds the other with intense energy in an intensifying cycle. This pieces stresses the versatile, rhythmic sensibility of the DEK trio, moving freely from driving-stormy eruptions to gentle, lyrical touches. The last, short “RAJ Three” is a cathartic outcome of the expressive energy of this great trio.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

David Virelles - Antenna (ECM, 2016) ***½

By Lee Rice Epstein

In just two albums, 2012’s Continuum and 2014’s Mbókò, David Virelles has shown himself to be one of our most forward-thinking pianists and composers. His compositions have an advanced flow and structure, typically eliding direct melodic statements in favor of developing heavily textured and thematically rich soundscapes. Mbókò subtitled, “Sacred Music for Piano, Two Basses, Drum Set and Biankoméko Abakuá,” hinted very strongly at a future direction for Virelles. Where I expected the instrumentation—particularly with Thomas Morgan and Robert Hurst doubling on bass—to take Virelles’s sound closer to Cecil Taylor’s Blue Note albums, the result was a more opaque and emotionally complex album that remains one of my favorites from 2014. On Antenna, a brief digital and vinyl EP running about 20 minutes, Virelles extends that sound significantly. Antenna is largely the result of a collaboration between Virelles and cellist Alexander Overington, both of whom contribute samples, programming, and production to the whole EP.

On the opening track, “Binary,” Virelles introduces Los Seres, a fictional percussion ensemble, programmed by Virelles, which I don’t know much about, but it seems to rely on stochastic elements. Los Seres briefly recurs on the final piece, “Text,” but there’s a lot of promise here. For example, percussionist Román Díaz, Virelles’s longtime partner, doesn’t appear on either track, but you there’s groundwork laid for combining the Mbókò and Los Seres groups, fusing organic percussion with programmed variables. Then, on “Water, Bird Headed Mistress,” Virelles’s mentor Henry Threadgill makes a brief appearance on alto sax. This is the first time the two have performed together on record, but they’ve collaborated for many years (Virelles also performs in Threadgill’s Ensemble Double Up, which released this year’s epic Old Locks and Irregular Verbs). “Rumbakuá,” which features Cuban rapper Etián Brebaje Man, similarly highlights some thrilling changes afoot. Brebaje Man raps over a surging uptempo drumbeat rounded out by chunky keyboards and Mauricio Herrera’s percussion.

“Threshold” and “El Titán De Bronce” are both the longest and the most Virelles-sounding tracks, if such a descriptor still holds meaning after this EP. Drummer Marcus Gilmore (who also played on Mbókò) and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia appear on both, but the tracks’ similarities end there. “Threshold” opens with buzzing insects and chirping birds before pivoting into a series of solos, moving rapidly from Overington’s cello to Gilmore’s drums. Virelles provides a thick backdrop, and eventually Díaz emerges with a short vocal line that signals another shift. Later, “El Titán De Bronce” features an atonal piano fugue that cycles through a few times, before opening up to an extensive, relaxed solo from Virelles. On both tracks, Bhatia’s guitar proves a balancing force, contrasting the earthiness with an airy texture that winds its way throughout.

I can’t wait to hear where Virelles goes next. This is an eclectic album, more of a preview of what may come next, but it’s an intriguing and unexpected collection. It’s recommended whether you’re already familiar with Virelles or not. And if you start here, I highly recommend going back to both Continuum and Mbókò, as well.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury, Wadada Leo Smith - Nessuno (i dischi di angelica, 2016) *****

By Nicola Negri

Nessuno, recorded live on 8 May 2011 at the always excellent AngelicA Festival in Bologna, Italy, features one of the most incredible line-ups ever, as it documents the one of a kind encounter of Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury and Wadada Leo Smith – simply some of the most important and influential musical thinkers of the last (and present) century.

With musicians like this, what could possibly go wrong? But free improvisation is ultimately about exploration and surprise, and even when putting together some of the best improvisers on earth the result is not guaranteed. With the strong instrumental voices present here, finding the right balance to effectively integrate the musical discourse without overpowering it demands a superior sense of ensemble thinking, and Nessuno (Italian for “nobody”) is indeed the perfect title for this record, as the performance demanded a complete openness to the possibilities of the encounter, accepting the risks inherent in the confrontation with different musical practices without resorting to the safety net of tried and true personal improvisational strategies. As soon as the record begins, it’s clear that the musicians effectively found a strong mutual understanding, constantly listening to each other, disappearing in the collective sound while retaining their personal traits.

The resulting performance inhabits a space between free improvisation and contemporary music, while referencing both the tradition of creative music (especially in Smith’s trumpet playing) and electroacoustic research (thanks to Oliveros’s digital accordion). The first few minutes are already perfectly calibrated, all the musicians facing the collective improvisation with the right dose of restraint, without sounding overly cautious. The dialogue is kept on the possibilities of counterpoint, dynamic development and tonal contrasts, until the musicians focus on more specific roles: Oliveros creates an ever-changing background to support the developing structure, while Tilbury delineates a wide net of musical signposts to broadly delimit the harmonic frame; Mitchell participates with a subtle and forceful textural work, and Smith assumes the soloist role, sketching long narrative arcs over the richly layered backdrop provided by the ensemble. These roles are of course fluid enough to keep the music constantly challenging and surprising, pulverizing the group in different combinations and relentlessly pushing the performance forward. The following track is a completely different take on the same basic principles: here the instrumental voices fully maintain their independence, building a dense four-way dialogue in which every musician contribute with clear ideas and a strong presence, always maintaining an extraordinary cohesiveness and structural coherence. The third and final piece is another tight collective exchange that concentrates the previous trajectories in a powerful burst of creative energy, brilliantly closing a truly monumental album – essential listening for anyone interested in the art of musical improvisation.

Pauline Oliveros – V-accordion
Roscoe Mitchell – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
John Tilbury – piano
Wadada Leo Smith – trumpet

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Masayuki Takayanagi – Angry Waves Vol.1 & 2 (Jinya Disc, 2016) ****½

By Chris Haines

Released earlier in the year these two archived documents were recorded live in 1984 showing the rarely recorded guitar trio of Takayanagi (Electric Guitar), Nobuyoshi Ino (Bass) and Hiroshi Yamazaki (Drums).  It’s the same line-up that released the classic 850113 album (the date on which it was recorded), which is my personal Takayanagi favourite.  Unlike the live recordings on 850113 the ones on Angry Waves Vol.1 & 2 were not originally released and stayed in Takayanagi’s private collection until recently.  These live materials have now been mastered from the original cassette tapes, and if that doesn’t sound too promising, then think again because they sound much better than one might expect.

To have two new discs of this great trio is of real historical importance for all Takayanagi fans as this line-up had only previously released the one album, which was a great shame.  Within the guitarists canon this group falls in between the earlier work of his New Direction Unit and the tabletop and electronics solo guitar of Action Direct.  Whereas the focus of both of those could be seen as using noise based materials to create differing musics, the Angry Waves trio functions more traditionally with regard to instrumental roles using a free-jazz vocabulary.  In particular, Takayanagi’s conception for this group was the music of Albert Ayler, to be specific, and both the Angry Waves discs contain titles that nod to the debt that the guitarist obviously felt for the great saxophonist/composer.
Most tracks share the title of an Ayler piece, but with the pre-fix ‘Fab’ inserted in front such as “Fab Prophet”, which opens Vol.1 or “Fab Spirits”.  The trio very much operates in the ‘spirit of Ayler’ as opposed to covering his tunes with the tracks often baring little resemblance to their namesakes, except for the likes of “Fab Wizard” on Vol.2, which clearly contains the opening melody of the original before Takayanagi takes it off in his own direction. 

These extended improvisations are complex in nature and are somewhat a stream of consciousness, with Takayanagi’s guitar being the regular constant with it’s unbroken flow of lines and perpetual movement driving and controlling the shape of the music throughout.  There’s an industriousness to the music, which is propelled further by the clattering and splattering drumming of Yamazaki, whilst Ino holds it altogether, being the perfect foil for Takayanagi’s playing.  There is also a gloriousness to the freedom of the playing contained on these two volumes without the guitarist taking it so far out that it comes at the expense of the rhythm, flowing lines or more traditional sounds as Takayanagi does on many other recordings.  This in itself has been recognized by the guitarist and it’s no wonder that his contribution is credited as “electric jazz guitar” (as is also the case on the earlier release of 850113), which also distinguishes it from his ‘cooler’ recordings labelled with his nickname “Jojo”.

If I haven’t managed to make it clear yet, then I must point out that this is probably one of the most important releases of the year, not only for the historical aspect but also for the music contained within.  There is much to digest on these two volumes, and although they are being sold separately, artistically they form a single statement and another chance to hear Takayanagi’s Angry Waves trio in full flight.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sei Miguel - (Five) Stories Untold (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Nicola Negri

Sei Miguel – trumpet
Fala Mariam – trombone
Moz Carrapa – acoustic guitar (track 2)
Carlos Santos – computer (track 3, 4)
Nuno Torres – alto saxophone (track 5)
Rodrigo Amado – tenor saxophone (track 5)
Bruno Parrinha – alto clarinet (track 5)
Paulo Curado – flute (track 5)
Pedro Lourenço – electric bass (track 5)
Hernâni Faustino – electric bass (track 3, 4, 5)
Luìs Desirat – drums (track 3, 4)

An elusive musician if ever there was one, trumpet player Sei Miguel has been active since the Eighties, but until recently he was virtually unknown outside the borders of Portugal. In the last few years the Clean Feed label has released a series of albums that allowed Miguel’s idiosyncratic take on creative music to be finally heard and appreciated by a broader audience interested in free improvisation, avant-garde composition and electroacoustic experiments.

(Five) Stories Untold might be the perfect introduction to Miguel’s music, as it collects five pieces characterized by instrumental combinations and creative approaches that effectively illustrate his peculiar aesthetic vision, blurring the line between composition and improvisation in always unexpected ways. The first piece, "Asterion", is a duet with trombonist Fala Mariam, and exemplifies the musicians’ distinctive styles and the tight interplay they are capable of: the bittersweet tone of Miguel’s pocket trumpet, denoting an exuberant melodic instinct and a penchant for deconstructing timbre and phrasing, is complemented by the austere, full-bodied sound of Mariam’s trombone, between textural abstractions and clearly defined tonal excursions. The following "Abrigo Dos Pássaros" adds Moz Carrapa on acoustic guitar to the mix, who provides a sparse melodic frame in which Miguel and Mariam move freely, the trio indulging in a transparent, lyrical dialogue of stark beauty. "Os Céus" and "Oito Lançamentos para Pedro Caveira" return to the core duo of trumpet and trombone, adding Carlos Santos on computer and the rhythm section of Hernâni Faustino on electric bass and Luìs Desirat on drums. Here the atmosphere is slightly different: there are echoes of intelligible structures, with a more clearly defined rhythmic dimension and the familiar development of reiterated thematic motifs and solo interludes – yet everything is more implied than actually stated, giving the performances a captivating, dream-like quality. The last track on the album, “Sentinela", continues in this vein, enriching the sound palette with a second bass (Lourenço) and a woodwinds and flute section (Torres, Amado, Parrinha, Curado). The rhythm here is distinctly delineated, the whole piece built on the backbone of a double walking bass that, combined with sweeping brass and woodwinds ensemble passages, gives the proceedings an intriguing cinematic character – and yet the music remains somehow unresolved, suspended between free abstract expression and structural concreteness, balancing sound and silence with carefully pondered minimal moves.

(Five) Stories Untold confirms once again the uniqueness of Sei Miguel’s music: the building blocks of his compositions and improvisations are not necessarily new, but the final result is always something of a mystery, inhabiting an eccentric sound world that sounds familiar yet completely alien, a musical dimension that is unmistakably his own.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The 2016 Free Jazz Blog Reviewer's Top 10s

On January 1st we will post the winner of the blog's New Ears award, but for now, 
enjoy the mouth watering list of top 10s from your friends in the Free Jazz Collective! 

Reviewers Top Albums of 2016

We begin with the reviewers top 10 albums of 2016. A heartfelt congrats to Anna Högberg Attack and the Mary Halvorson Octet who came in tied for the top spot with their excellent new albums!

  • Anna Högberg Attack - Self-Titled (Omlott)

    Högberg's compositions, as well as a short one by Bergman, emphasize the individual voices of Attack and suggest a fresh and irreverent perspective on modern and free jazz. Högberg playing tends to burst instantly into fiery, restless solos, rich with melodic inventions, while Wättring and Larsson, each in her own distinct manner, opt to structure their solos in a more patient and methodical way. (more)
  • Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12)

    Halvorson deserves much credit for her tight arrangements that showcase the band in their best light, leaving room for everyone to do their thing while still managing to act as a single multi-headed Hydra seeking to destroy your minds and expectations of what jazz is in 2016. (more)
  • Joëlle Léandre – A Woman’s Work… (Not Two)
  • Tyshawn Sorey - Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi)
  • Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks (Cuneiform)
  • Battle Trance - Blade of Love (NNA Tapes/New Amsterdam Records)
  • Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra - Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
  • Fail Better! - OWT (NoBusiness)
  • Fire! – She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
  • Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg, John Fält - Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)

 Paul Acquaro

Top 10s are tough - it kills me to have to choose ... I'd love to add Rodrigo Amado's Motion Trio, Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra, and that fiery album from Corsano, Rasmussen, and Flaherty, among many others. Anyway, here goes ...

  • Red Trio & John Butcher - Summer Skyshift (Clean Feed)
    Nothing short of exhilarating. Red Trio consistently push the well worked piano trio to new heights, add Butcher and it's heaven.

  • Yoni Kretzmer Five - s/t (OutNow)
    This group live is a blast ... the three horn front line of Swell, Herberer, and Kretzmer each bring their own style and swagger and the rhythm section kicks it into high gear.

  • Tim Stine Trio -- s/t (Astral Spirits)
    What a debut! Devising an angular and melodic guitar style, Stine is an exciting new voice on the scene.

  • Abbey Rader Quartet with Kidd Jordan - Reunion (Abray Productions)
    Rader and Kuhn (below) are both NYC loft scene veterans and practicing Buddhists who bring their musical history and spiritual mindfulness to their wonderfully free music.

  • Peter Kuhn Trio - The Other Shore (NoBusiness)
    Kuhn released at least three albums this year ... the re-release of his late 70s work is a must hear but the new trio points to even more to come.

  • Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston & Larry Ochs - Neutral Nation (Aerophonic) 
    Rempis' Aeophonic seems to be in the running for label of year! This recording catches a hot gig of this road-tested trio's abstract and cooperative playing.

  • Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)
    An absolute highlight for me was Hogberg's set at the Alarm Festival in Berlin this past summer. The women on stage blew the packed audience away and the album is a bold debut.

  • Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    It's the horn arrangements that get me each time ... there is something familiar, something intriguing, and something crazy. Throw in Alcorn's pedal steel shimmer and it's out of this world.

  • Ken Vandermark - Before The Code: Live (Audiographic)
    I'm a little wary of electronics but Kurzmann knows how to mix Vandermark and co. into something way bigger than the sum of the parts. Just one of the three Made to Break live albums that came out this year.

  • Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg & Mary Halvorson - The Out Louds (Relative Pitch)
    I'm a fan of all the music Goldberg makes, but it's even better when Fujiwara and Halvorson are on the recording too. It's wry, tuneful, and great.

Tom Burris

  • Joe McPhee – Flowers (Cipsela)
    An absolutely stunning solo set by Mr. McPhee. This is nothing less than the new standard for solo reed performance.

  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon – Both Will Escape (Family Vineyard)
    The sound of 2016 being blown to bits. Thank God.

  • Tim Daisy's Celebration Sextet – The Halfway There Suite (Relay Recordings)
    Daisy gave us a gift for his 40th birthday! An unbeatable combination of musicians contribute to Tim's ambitious and lovely birthday suite.

  • Protean Reality – Protean Reality (Clean Feed)
    Chris Pitsiokos' trio with Noah Punkt & Phillip Scholz made an album that kicks off at peak power and stays there. It should be exhausting; but it's as energizing as sunlight.

  • Mary Halvorson Octet – Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    “I don't suppose Mary Halvorson can walk on water, but I'd like to see her try.”

  • Tyshawn Sorey – The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
    Undeniably original & beautiful music that is still shedding its layers with each listen.

  • Keefe Jackson & Jason Adasiewicz – Rows & Rows (Delmark)
    Concise pieces that obliterate the line between improvisation and composition by the kids who always did the “extra credit” work & wouldn't let you cheat off their tests.

  • Hearts & Minds – s/t (Astral Spirits)
    Jason Stein, Frank Rosaly & Paul Giallorenzo mash-up 70s prog-rock, no wave, and free jazz to create a monster all their own.

  • Bill Orcutt & Jacob Felix Heule – Colonial Donuts (Palilalia)
    Orcutt goes electric (again). All forms of American music go free! This inspires all the patriotism I can possibly muster at this time.

  • Lasse Marhaug & Ken Vandermark – Close Up (For Abbas Kiarostami) (Audiographic)
    Marhaug and Vandermark create sound poetry for the Poet of the Cinema. I doubt Kiarostami would've liked this music but, wherever he is, I hope he can feel the love.

Troy Dostert

  1. Claudia Quintet, Super Petite (Cuneiform)
    Another superb collection of songs from John Hollenbeck, brilliantly played by his veteran associates in an ensemble now celebrating its twentieth anniversary. The ten memorable pieces are “petite” only in length; each is chock full of ideas and beguiling nuances.

  2. I Am Three, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (Leo)
    A high-powered, energetic trio fronted by saxophonist/clarinetist Silke Eberhard, this is one of the year’s surprises. Imaginative, spirited renderings of Mingus’s repertoire, but without the feel of a “repertory” exercise, managing to stay true to the originals while being refreshingly creative.

  3. Mary Halvorson Octet, Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    Adding to her septet from 2013’s Illusionary Sea, Halvorson brings pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn into the group, and the texture and mood she provides take the music to another level. Quirky, complex, and completely spellbinding.

  4. I. P. A., I Just Did Say Something (Cuneiform) Firmly in the post-bop lineage and with Scandinavian flair, this quintet thrives on a hard-driving, loosely-structured sound. Engaging tunes and top-notch improvisational chops throughout: an infectious release.

  5. Tyshawn Sorey, Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi)
    Drummer extraordinaire Sorey’s effort to bridge the worlds of improvisation and classical composition works wonderfully, largely due to the seamless rapport between his long-standing trio and the chamber string trio he assembled for this project. Beautiful and stirring, with further dimensions revealed with each listen.

  6. Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, and Tyshawn Sorey, Flaga: The Book of Angels Vol. 27 (Tzadik
    Further proof of John Zorn’s genius: assembling this trio to perform his Masada compositions. McBride’s dazzling, in-the-pocket technique is the perfect complement to Taborn and Sorey’s out-leaning tendencies. A stellar jazz performance that should appeal to mainstream and avant-garde fans alike.

  7. Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra, Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
    An impossible-to-categorize release, stunning in scope, capable of both uplifting and confounding the listener in equal measure. Risser’s expansive palette makes terrific use of her 11-piece band, with music that sounds both otherworldly and, at the same time, melodically poignant and affecting.

  8. Angelika Niescier and Florian Weber, NYC Five (Intakt)
    Saxophonist Niescier and pianist Weber offer six smart, challenging arrangements that consistently channel their own formidable skills as well as those of their partners: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Christopher Tordini and drummer Tyshawn Sorey are all in splendid form in this stimulating release.

  9. Wadada Leo Smith, America’s National Parks (Cuneiform)
    Another masterful release by one of the premier trumpeters of our day. Smith’s dedicatory homage to America’s abundant resources—both natural and social—is by turns cerebral, mysterious, and transcendent. A recording worthy of its subject matter.

  10. Susana Santos Silva, et al., Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
    Spontaneous improvisation of a very high caliber. The always-lyrical trumpeter Susana Santos Silva anchors a quintet that offers two long, extended performances that are both free-flowing and remarkably cohesive. Outstanding contributions from Silva’s partners Sten Sandell, Lotte Anker, Torbjörn Zetterberg, and John Fält make this a truly collaborative endeavor.

Lee Rice Epstein

  1. Anna Högberg Attack—s/t (Umlott)
    Back in April, I commented “Prediction: I'm going to play the opening 25 seconds of ‘Borderline’ on repeat about a thousand times this year.” And this was probably true. At a brisk 40 minutes, every element feels exactly right, from Lisa Grip’s cover to that Högberg solo I’m so crazy about.

  2. Mary Halvorson Octet—Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    The other day, I mentioned to Troy that in a year of strong Halvorson releases (I also really loved The Out Louds debut) this was the strongest. Every one of these records keeps getting better, the bar is incredibly high now. And Halvorson and her band clear it with ease.

  3. Lisa Ullén-Nina de Heney duo with Charlotte Hug—Quarrtsiluni
    Very few albums leave me at a loss for words, but this was one of them. It’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Ullén and de Heney are wildly creative. For the record, it was also great to have a new Ullén quartet album this year, but her duo with de Heney just edged that one out.

  4. Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra—Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
    It seems impossible to anticipate Eve Risser. Following her solo debut with its wintry urban setting, who would have predicted the follow-up would be a tentet playing songs inspired by Bryce Canyon?

  5. Anna Webber’s Simple Trio—Binary (Skirl)
    Funny, a couple weeks ago I thought, Webber’s album will probably be in my top five, and… here we are. This group, with Matt Mitchell and John Hollenbeck, is so incredibly talented. The interwoven lines are somehow complex, loose, and fun, all at once.

  6. Julie Kjær 3—Dobbeltgæenger (Clean Feed)
    Another sax trio, this one with the conventional sax, bass, and drums lineup, but Kjær’s playing is hardly conventional. I haven’t heard their Cafe Oto recording yet, but I was thrilled to see there is already a second album.

  7. Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg and Jon Fält—Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
    Santos Silva released a number of different collaborative albums this year, but her Life and Other Transient Storms project, bringing together Anker, Sandell, Zetterberg, and Fält, created some of the best group improvisations this year.

  8. Kris Davis—Duopoly
    An ingenious concept expertly performed by all parties. Davis is a creative genius, and her playing is incredibly good. Her dual-piano duets with Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez were very close to the highlights of the entire year.

  9. Catherine Sikora—Jersey (Relative Pitch)
    I hadn’t known Sikora’s work before this album, but her playing really captured my attention. I may have listened to this a dozen times already. The ideas here are so impressive and her playing is engrossing.

  10. Okkyung Lee & Christian Marclay—Amalgam
    This was another album that just captivated me from the moment I heard it. And every time I listen to it, more layers are revealed.

Stef Gijssels

  • ROVA Channeling Coltrane - Electric Ascension Live (RogueArt) 
        A wonderful interpretation of John Coltrane’s Ascension, with CD and DVD, performed by Bruce Ackley on soprano saxophone, Larry Ochs on tenor saxophone, Steve Adams on alto saxophone, Jon Raskin on baritone saxophone, Chris Brown and Ikue Mori on electronics, Hamid Drake on drums, Carla Kihlstedt and Jenny Scheinman on violin,  Nels Cline on electric guitar, Fred Frith on electric bass, and Rob Mazurek on cornet.
  • Joëlle Léandre Box (Not Two) What can I say? A great must-have 8 CD box highlighting and celebrating the various sides and settings of the grand lady of free music. 
  • Wadada Leo Smith - American National Parks (Cuneiform) Mr. Smith keeps perfecting his art and his musical voice: a magnaficent performance by his Golden Quintet, creating a new musical experience with a very mature selection of stylistic ingredients. 
  • Sei Miguel - (Five) Stories Untold (Clean Feed) A powerful album from Portugal, with trumpeter Sei Miguel in five different line-ups, for an album which I may have listened to the most this year. 
  • Mark Solborg & Herb Robertson - Tuesday Prayers (Ilk) Trumpet and guitar? I love the combination, especially when played by two virtuosi with excellent listening skills. 
  • Fail Better - OWT(NoBusiness) Hypnotic, mesmerising, psychedelic, free music from Portugal. Too short. Far too short. 
  • Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji - Ffansïon | Fancies (Another Timbre)Davies and Mukarji dive deeply in the nature of sound and timbre of violin and piano, deconstructing and recreating in an intimate dialogue. 
  • Im Wald - Orion (Wide Ear Records) A wonderful celebration of multi-layered organic improvisation by this Swiss quintet. Dark and compelling. 
  • Johannes Nästesjö & Vasco Trilla - Gingko (Creative Sources) An unusual duet between Swedish bassist Johannes Nästesjö and Spanish percussionist Vasco Trilla, creating sounds that wouldn’t expect from the instruments, resulting in a great listening experience. 
  • Nate Wooley - Polychoral (Mnóad) Multi-layered soundscape  with Nate Wooley and Peter Evans on trumpet. Forget all previous notions and just listen. 
  • Totenbaum Träger - Ouverture Du Cadavre De Sade (Tour De Bras)  Another duet between guitar (Dominic Marion) and trumpet (Philippe Batthika), now one from Canada, resulting in the most terrifying listening experience, in line with the band’s and album’s title, dedicated to the Marquis de Sade. 

Colin Green

  • Barry Guy & Ken Vandermark – Occasional Poems (Not Two)
    Musical dialogue of an altogether higher order.

  • Fire! ‎– She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
    The gentler, more reflective side of Mats Gustafsson, and it works like a dream, a dream.

  •  Konstrukt & Alexander Hawkins ‎– 10.08.15 (Otoroku)
    Two exceptional sets from Konstrukt and guest Hawkins on piano. A real chemistry at work.

  • Joëlle Léandre – A Woman’s Work… (Not Two)
    An 8 CD tribute to one of the most potent forces in improvisation.

  • Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi ‎– Live at Edgefest (NoBusiness)
    Lerner’s crystalline piano, Filiano’s fruity bass and Grassi’s edgy percussion combine to produce music of power and delicacy.

  • Dave Rempis Joshua Abrams, Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker ‎– Perihelion (Aerophonic)
    Two gigs from one of the outstanding saxophone trios of the moment, joined on the second by Baker on keyboards/electronics. In another busy year of Rempis releases, this is the best of the batch.

  • Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp ‎– Corpo (Leo)
    Transcendent performances from two musicians at their peak. Long may it continue.

  • Sabir Mateen, Conny Bauer, Mark Tokar, Klaus Kugel – Collective Four (For Tune)
    No frills free jazz – the original spirit still burns.

  • Henry Kaiser, Steve Parker, Chris Cogburn, Damon Smith ‎– Nearly Extinct (Balance Point Acoustics)
    The title’s a misnomer since on the basis of this recording, improv’s alive and kicking. The album bristles with goodies.

  • Howard Riley – Constant Change 1976-2016 (NoBusiness)
    5 CDs displaying Riley’s reinvention and renewal of jazz piano, and his acute ear for pacing. The set includes the three epic Mutability “Longer Stories”, each lasting an hour.

Chris Haines

  1. Masayuki Takayanagi – Angry Waves Vol. 1 & 2
    ...Rare recordings from the vaults, a fantastic free jazz guitar trio…

  2. Staffan Harde – Staffan Harde (Corbett vs Dempsey)
    ...Well overdue re-release of this obscure gem…

  3. Tim Stine Trio – Tim Stine Trio (Astral Spirits)
    …Angular melodies with lyricism and irregular time signatures with a groove, what more could one want…

  4. Ian Brighton – Now and Then (Confront)
    …Great album from this rarely heard British second generation free improviser…

  5. Bushman’s Revenge – Jazz, Fritt Etter Hukommelsen (Rune Grammofone)
    …The most mature statement from this Norwegian outfit so far…

  6. Marc Ducret Trio + 3 – Metatonal (Ayler)
    …Great musical balance between grounded form and inspirational moments…

  7. Duck Baker – Outside (Emanem)
    …Yes that Duck Baker and he’s playing free!...

  8. Ivo Perelman & Joe Morris – Blue (Leo)
    …The saxophonist’s painterly approach to improvisation in an interesting duo format…

  9. Eric Hofbauer – Ghost Frets (Creative Nation)
    ...The spirit of Garrison Fewell is all over this one…

  10. Fred Frith / Darren Johnston – Everybody’s Somebody’s Nobody (Clean Feed)
    …Experimental music with an accessible edge…

Eyal Hareuveni

Missed many excellent releases due to chronic lack of time. This is by no means an objective attempt to summarize 2016, just my personal picks, in no particular order:

  • Fire! Orchestra - Ritual (Rune Grammofon)
    The best album of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra so far.

  • Anna Högberg Attack (Omlott)
    Best debut album. And about time for a sophomore album.

  • Made to Break - N N N (Audiographic)
    Brilliant exploration of concepts of structure and improvisation by Ken Vandermark’s quartet.

  • Katharina Klement / Martin Siewert - Hoverload (chmafu nocords)
    This year i (finally) began to explore the work of Austrian guitarist-sound-artist Martin Siewert. You should too.

  • Radian - Ob Dark Silent Off (Thrill Jockey)
    Siewert trio that produces the most infectious, improvised noisy songs.

  • Østergaard Art Quartet - More Stories from the Village (Boggiepost Recordings)
    Danish-French-Norwegian supergroup with its long-awaited, most arresting, sophomore album.

  • Fredrik Ljungkvist / Mattias Risberg - And Now The Queen - A Tribute to Carla Bley (Lilao)
    Beautiful to the great Carla Bley 80th anniversary.

  • Guus Janssen - Meeting Points (Bimhuis)
    Dutch pianist-composer Guus Janssen excellent retrospective.

  • Warped Dreamer - Lomahongva (Rat)
    Belgian-Norwegian supergroup that sketches bewitching soundscapes.

  • Kristoffer Lo - The Black Meat (Propeeller)
    A unique sonic experience created by Norwegian tuba player.
Honorable mention:
  • Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (SacredBones)
    If you want to check something outside of the blog terrains, listen to the powerful feminine saga that blends stories on vampire movies, art and menstrual blood.
  • John Corbett - A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (University of Chicago Press)
    Concise, entertaining and enlightening introduction to this kind of genre-defying music.

  • Brötzmann - Graphic Works - 1959-2016 (Wolke Verlag)
    Indispensable 365 pages - posters, album and book covers with essays on Brötzmann art.
  • Voice - Sculpting Sound with Maja S. K. Ratkje, a film by IJ Biermann and Kai Miedendorp (Myrland Films)
    Impressive presentation of one of the singular musician of our age.

Eric McDowell

  • Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (Firehouse 12)
    With Susan Alcorn's keening pedal steel guitar, the first track alone is good enough to listen to over and over. But the whole album is killer.

  • Oren Ambarchi - Hubris (Editions Mego)
    While Ambarchi's latest album postdated our week devoted to his work, its sunny drones, electronic layers, and shredding guitar bring together many strands of his discography.

  • Battle Trance - Blade of Love (New Amsterdam/NNA Tapes)
    Somehow takes 2014's stunning Palace of Wind to the next level.

  • Tim Daisy's Celebration Sextet - The Halfway There Suite (Relay Recordings)
    Tim Daisy turns 40--best birthday party ever. An exhilarating half-hour ride.

  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon - Both Will Escape (Family Vineyard)
    From the opening gamelan sounds, I'm utterly hypnotized by this guitar/percussion duet.

  • Anna Högberg - Attack (Omlott)
    We willingly surrender. Fiery here, pensive there--an awesome debut.

  • Fail Better! - OWT (NoBusiness)
    The Portuguese quartet is as skilled at creating dark but breathable atmospheres as they are at jamming out.

  • Hearts & Minds - Hearts & Minds (Astral Spirits)
    Compositions that appeal to your brain played in a way that gets you in your gut.

  • Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönnimann, Lucas Niggli - Kalo-Yele (Intakt Records)
    Ten buoyant tunes. Simply put, this album brings me joy every time I listen set it in motion.

  • Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work (Not Two)
    Eight discs of the French double bass master in collaboration with an exciting variety of kindred spirits. What else is there to say?

David Menestres

These are the 10 albums that surprised me the most this year.
  1. Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji - Ffansïon | Fancies (Another Timbre)

  2. Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
    I was unprepared for how affected I was and still am by this album. The mystery has barely faded over many listens.

  3. Making Rooms box set (Weekertoft)
    A box set documenting four different groups recorded around the UK during the last week of April 2013: “Chasing the Peripanjandra” (Evan Parker, John Russell, John Edwards), “Naqsh” (Pat Thomas), “Knottings”  (Alison Blunt, Benedict Taylor, David Leahy), “Seven Cities” (Kay Grant, Alex Ward). A massive document from a deeply creative group of musicians. I am especially partial to the “Knottings” and “Seven Cities” discs.

  4. Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury, Wadada Leo Smith - Nessuno (i dischi di angelica)
    Recorded six years ago and finally seeing the light, Nessuno is as heavy and beautiful as you’d expect from four of the finest musicians of the last sixty years.

  5. Laura Cannell - Simultaneous Flight Movement (Brawl Records)
    Recorded inside Southward Lighthouse in Suffolk, UK, this is a beautiful solo album of fiddles and recorders with themes and improvisations rooted in medieval and renaissance times.

  6. Okkyung Lee and Bill Orcutt - Live at Cafe Oto (Otoroku)
    The most beautiful destruction of the year.

  7. Dave Rempis, Joe Morris, Tomeka Reid, Jim Baker - Nettles (Aeroponic Records)
    A digital only release featuring Joe Morris and three of Chicago’s top musicians. What else do you want out of this life?

  8. Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The Declaration of Musical IndependenceI (ECM)
    When was the last time we heard playing from Bill Frisell that was this interesting? It is worth the price just for Cyrille’s snare drum opening on “Coltrane Time” and the rest of the album is just as good.

  9. Battle Trance - Blade of Love (NNA Tapes/New Amsterdam Records)
    Four tenor saxophones performing a three movement work of intricate, organic, almost unparalleled beauty. A friend recently told me this is the only saxophone quartet he has ever liked. If you’re only going to pick one, this is it.

  10. Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus - The Distance (ECM)
    If we’re going by surprise alone, I was shocked to find myself enjoying a big band album in 2016, but Michael Formanek is as creative of a composer as he is a bass player. The economics of our music make it almost impossible to keep a big band working regularly, but this band, featuring some of the best players on the scene, needs to be around for years to come.

Nicola Negri

  • Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury, Wadada Leo Smith – Nessuno (i dischi di angelica)
    A precious documentation of an historical meeting and a masterclass in musical improvisation. Essential.

  • Wadada Leo Smith – America's National Parks (Cuneiform)
    As all the recent releases by Smith, this one will keep you busy for years, trying to decipher all the intricacies of a work of epic proportions.

  • Fire! – She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
    A beautiful addition to this band’s already impressive discography – dreamy, refined and powerful.

  • Arashi – Semikujira (Trost)
    One of the strongest trios around, a rare concentration of ideas, technique and pure energy.

  • Ryoko Ono & Rogier Smal – Wood Moon (Jvtlandt - Toztizokzoundz)
    An astonishing debut by a new improvisational unit, creating a quirky, exhilarating sound world.

  • Sylvain Guérineau, Kent Carter, Itaru Oki, Makoto Sato – D'Une Rive A L'Autre (Improvising Beings)
    Forgotten masters at work: a passionate example of free music expression in a timeless musical frame.

  • Tyshawn Sorey – The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)
    A complex work of impressive scale that manages to sound completely natural and always engaging.

  • Mats Gustafsson & Christof Kurzmann – Falling and 5 Other Failings (Trost)
    Electroacoustic experimentation at its best – uncompromising, mysterious and captivating.

  • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit – Ana (PNL)
    The best large ensemble working today in free jazz, in their most focused and effective release.

  • Keiji Haino / Jim O’Rourke / Oren Ambarchi – I wonder if you noticed “I’m sorry” Is such a lovely sound It keeps things from getting worse (Black Truffle)
    Another instant classic from the last underground supergroup. As one of the track titles suggests: “Be careful of this word ‘New’ With it's glittering trap”.

Antonio Poscic

  1. Oren Ambarchi - Hubris
    Ambarchi and his army of stellar collaborators (Jim O'Rourke, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Ricardo Villalobos...) crossed over into the pristinely electronic side of improv and came back with an ambitious, but never strained record. This is gorgeous music dressed in drones, guitar feedback, and electronic effects with a breathtaking sense of sonic and stylistic expansiveness.
  2. Fail Better! - OWT
    The Portuguese quintet of Marcelo dos Reis, Luís Vicente, José Miguel Pereira, João Pais Filipe and João Guimarães is back with another dark, beautifully layered, freely improvised album that is ferocious in its calm but tense delivery and interactions flickering between the realms of drone, jazz, and minimalism.

  3. Susana Santos Silva, Lotte Anker, Sten Sandell, Torbjörn Zetterberg, John Fält - Life and Other Transient Storms
    Deeply spiritual music that appears to be gleefully optimistic, almost explosive, yet reveals an introverted, pensive soul. Beware, because there's a danger of losing oneself in these cuts.
  4. Made to Break - Dispatch to the Sea
    Ken Vandermark's most daring project has released several great records this year with Dispatch to the Sea being the first among equals. Rhythmically engaging and texturally dynamic, it marks one of the high points of the band.
  5. Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp - Corpo“This recording is it, the ultimate coming together of everything Ivo and I have been for working on for years,” writes Shipp in his liner notes for Corpo. I find it hard to disagree. One of the best duo albums of the year.
  6. Joëlle Léandre - A Woman's Work...
    An 8 CD boxset devoted to one of the most creative and propulsive minds of the free improv/free jazz scenes. A Woman's Work is an impressive collection that showcases Léandre's unique voice both in a solo setting or contrasted against an array of great partners (Fred Frith, Irene Schweizer, Mat Maneri...).
  7. Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio - Desire & Freedom
    With Rodrigo Amado on tenor saxophone, Miguel Mira on cello, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums, this new installment of Amado's Motion Trio is another in a series of wonderful recordings, shifting and flowing from brash sections into subdued dialogs, but always retaining a certain singsong lyricism. Quite simply, one of the best trio recording of the year.
  8. Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks
    Wadada Leo Smith shows no signs of stopping, releasing, year in year out, majestic albums. Accompanied by his Golden Quintet, he explores the treasure of USA's natural and cultural resources and the dynamics between them and modern capitalist society. By virtue of Smith's activist, politically charged voice, this is probably the free jazz record that got the most attention from the mainstream. In this case, deservedly so.
  9. Arashi - Semikujira
    A no compromise vision of free jazz that Sakata, Berthling, and Nilssen-Love's embody into delirious, violent forms. Still, the album presents an evolution from their debut, introducing nuances and even reflective segments that interrupt the constant barrage of fiery free jazz.
  10. Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balasz Pandi - Strength & Power
    A completely improvised, ad hoc created recording that nonetheless feels incredibly cohesive and that somehow transports dixieland and other historic forms of jazz into the present, reinventing them in the process. Mysteriously exuberant!

Martin Schray

  • Fire!: She Sleeps She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon)
    These hellish bells at the beginning … they’ve often comforted me in a horrible year

  • William Hooker - Light (The Early Years)
    Re-release of Hooker’s first albums plus unreleased material - one of my favorite musicians

  • Brötzmann/Parker/Drake: Song Sentimentale
    2016 wasn’t Brötz’s best year but when he meets free jazz's rhythm twins he’s always in formidable shape

  • Anna Högberg Attack: Self-Titled (Umlott)
    Women-only band that kicks you right in the face - the sound and the fury! Plus the album cover of the year

  • Switchback: Live in Ukraine (MultiKulti)
    An excellent US/European band that explores the depths of both musical worlds

  • Konstrukt feat. Alexander Hawkins: Live at Cafe Oto (Astral Spirits)
    The Eastern World meets the Western World, the mysterious Turkish snake charmers in a jam with one of the most interesting representatives of the new British generation

  • Fire! Orchestra: Ritual (Rune Grammofon)
    A free jazz big band plays soulful prog rock; if they had existed in 1969 they would have played Woodstock

  • Roscoe Mitchell: Sustain and Run (Selo SESC SP)
    76-years old - and hardly anyone can top what he can do in solo performances

  • Snakeoil: Anguis Oleum (Screwgun)
    I only discovered Snakeoil after a beautiful gig in Frankfurt - I had no idea what I have missed until then

  • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit (PnL)
    The magic of large formation is something I can hardly resist, especially when they have exceptional soloists like Mats Äleklint and Julie Kjaer

Dan Sorrells

  1. Joëlle Léandre & Théo Ceccaldi - Elastic (Cipsela)
    This was the year of Léandre: our weeklong celebration seems hardly enough. There are a number of albums that could have gone here: the tentet on Ayler, the 8CD set on Not Two, the historic performance on Fou, and on and on. Her turn here with Ceccaldi is simply gorgeous music.

  2. Augustin Brousseloux, Jean-Marc Foussat, Quentin Rollet - Qui A Vu Ce Mystère… (Improvising Beings)
    There were also a number of notable Foussat releases this year, but this one with the (extremely!) young Brousseloux is a knock-out.

  3. Judson Trio (Joëlle Léandre, Mat Maneri, Gerald Cleaver) - An Air of Unreality (RogueArt)
    Two Léandre albums in the top three may seem excessive, but that's the kind of year she had. Maneri and Cleaver are also at the height of their powers.

  4. Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio - Desire and Freedom (NotTwo)
    Three long, glorious, lyrical cuts from Amado and his superb trio with Miguel Mira and Gabriel Ferrandini.

  5. Battle Trance - Blade of Love (NNA Tapes)
    Even more intense, intimate, spirited, melodic, ambitious, and virtuosic than Palace of Wind. If you can believe it.

  6. Lotto - Elite Feline (Instant Classic)
    The trio of Łukasz Rychlicki, Mike Majkowski, and Paweł Szpura conjure stunning, trace-inducing atmospheres out of bare-bones material.

  7. Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra - Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
    A hugely ambitious offering from Risser that showcases the many talents in her orchestra. A late year release that might have climbed even higher had there been more time to absorb it.

  8. Julien Desprez, Benjamin Duboc, Julien Loutelier - Tournesol (Dark Tree)
    Duboc has long been a favorite, and the two Juliens were new to me. This short album doesn't give up its secrets easily--every time I listen, it seems to be completely different from the times before.

  9. Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönnimann, Lucas Niggli - Kalo - Yele (Intakt)
    Infectious music. An ode to rhythm.

  10. Bushman's Revenge - Jazz, Fritt Etter Hukommelsen (Rune Grammofon)
    Admittedly, I've never been a big Bushman's Revenge fan, but this album is superlative. Some of the best "jazz" guitar I've heard in years.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Meet the Danes #3

By Eyal Hareuveni

Some recent releases by and with Danish musicians that promise to introduce you a unique aspect of the famous cozy concept of hygge, and warm your surrounding in the coming winter.

Kresten Osgood Trio - Live in Gothenburg (Ilk Music, 2016) ****

This trio brings together highly versatile, heavyweights musicians - drummer-leader Kresten Osgood, known from his collaborations with sax greats Sam Rivers, Yusef Lateef and John Tchicai and hero pianists Paul Bley and Masabumi Kikuchi; American, Copenhagen-based Ned Ferm, known from his work with sax player Maria Faust groups and vocalists Kira Skov and Marie Fisker, and pianist Anders Filipsen, who plays in the bands Travelling Tribes, The Black Nothing and The Firebirds. These prolific musicians were involved in countless projects that embraced modern jazz, world music, classic and contemporary music, country and funk, but as a trio they chose to improvise freely.

The debut album of the trio was recorded live at the Nefertiti club in Gothenburg, Sweden, three years after Osgood, Ferm and Filipsen began to play together. The six pieces are simply numbered without any titles, as all were improvised on the moment. Ferm leads the first piece, the 16 minutes of “4”, with a raw, ecstatic solo that set the tone for an explosive improvisation that sounds as a paying respect to the fiery legacy of American free jazz of the sixties, still, sounding totally fresh. Suddenly the trio changes gears to a contemplative mode before Osgood sets the engines on fire again. On the next, much shorter pieces, the trio explores similar moves, alternating between cathartic edges and the sparse moments. Still, on each improvisation these three musicians navigate differently, playing with commanding, irresistible power and passion.

Kasper Tom / Rudi Mahall - One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure (Barefoot Records, 2016) ****

Prolific drummer Kasper Tom Christiansen and German clarinet player Rudi Mahall - known from his continuous work with pianists-partners Alexander von Schlippenbach and Aki Takase - collaborate on a regular basis in few outfits. Both play in the German-Danish quartet Fusk and in Christensen’s Kasper Tom 5, a yet-to-be-recorded collaborative quartet with Danish sax player Mette Rasmussen and Norwegian bass player Ola Høyer and in Danish bass player Richard Andersson quartet ImmerGrün. One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure is the their debut duo recording.

The witty and playful duets experiment with structures, shifting dynamics, timbral qualities of their instruments and fresh textures. Both Christiansen and Mahall sound as enjoying challenging themselves while attempting to explore new improvising strategies and uncharted sonic territories. Still, even in their most conflictual modes, as on “Totart” or the Dolphy-tinged “Die Flexitarier”, they improvise with an engaging sense of melody. Their immediate, profound understanding enable both to charge such intense improvisations as “Drummer Queen” and “An der dünnen grauen Odense Å” with fast-shifting moods - fiery and muscular, playful and polyrhythmic or minimalist and intimate. “Frühaufsteher” stresses the duo sonic searches even deeper. There Mahall's inventive multiphonics and overtones assimilates within Christiansen's exploration of the cymbals spectrum.

Fiil Free - Everything Is A Translation (Fill Free Records, 2016) ***

Pianist Lars Fiil's previous projects for a quartet (Reconsideration, Gateway, 2011) and for a trio (Frit Fald, Fill Free, 2015) suggested fragile intimacy. On his third solo album, Everything Is A Translation, he experiments with a more expansive course, employing a new septet that explores his original compositional ideas, delicate sonic searches and collective improvisations. In this septet Fill plays on a “crackling” piano, accompanied by vibes player Martin Fabricius, Swedish guitarist Henrik Olsson (leader of the Penumbra Ensemble), double bass player Casper Nyvang Rask and drummer Bjørn Heebøll - focusing on “soft bow strokes” on their respective instruments - and Polish, Copenhagen-based trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski and sax and clarinet player Henrik Pultz Melbye (from the free-jazz-noise Svin), both add “streams of air that whirls in and out of bended brass and clarinet”.

The new, experimental course emphasize Fill unique language as a composer and improviser, but at the same colors his new compositions in less substantial lights and shades than the ones featured on his previous albums. The minimalist, lyrical textures - highlighting the caressing vibes of Fabricius, with the delicate, almost silent searches for ethereal tonalities, light grooves, disciplined interplay and fragile, collective improvisations do not add up to convincing, moving compositions. Only when the septet fleshes its interplay with a tough, Monk-ish rhythmic motive, as on “Progress In The Name Of”, and later on in the slow-cooking version of the final ,title-composition, the music finally takes off and employs the full potential of the the seven musicians original voices.

The Hum - TheHumTheSong (2016) ****

The Hum is Copenhagen-based quartet that changes the rules of the game. No need to market its music with nostalgic artifacts as limited-editions of vinyls or cassettes; in fact there are no physical object at all and no downloads. Just an accessible to all, audio-visual experience on the quartet website: Olsson and Pultz Melbye return with electric bass player Nicolai Kaas Claesson and drummer Rune Lohse. Swedish visual artist Tina prepared the suggestive animations and videos and Anders Skouboe programmed all.

The five short, improvised songs are meant to be experienced as “short stories about the undefinable loneliness of traveling into the unknown”. These songs correspond beautifully with the suggestive images and videos of barren, lonely scenery created by Damgaard and vice versa. The Hum music may sound simple, even innocent, on first listening - layers of repetitive, rhythmic riffs spiced with delicate noises that slowly gravitate into an infectious soundscapes. But actually this kind of repetition prepares you best for the sensual, meditative situation of being drawn into this mysterious audio-visual experience, wishing it lasted much longer than 14 minutes.

Horse Orchestra's Four Letter Word (Barefoot Records, 2016) ****

“Barok, Sydeuropæisk Begravelsesmusik, Traditioneljazz og Fri Improvisation” (in Danish: Baroque Music, Southern-European Funeral Music, Traditional Jazz and Free Improvisation in Danish), one of Horse Orchestra new pieces on its sophomore album, sums best this Copenhagen-based, Nordic Septet spirit. You can also throw hip-hop and a bit of noise to the recipe, close your eyes and imagine Benny Goodman dances a martian waltz with Sun Ra, while Charles Mingus and Merzbow cooking together the rhythm.

Pianist-composer Jeppe Zeeberg leads the Orchestra, known as the leader of his own quintet and collaborator in experimental projects dedicated to the music of Moondog, Dada movement and music played on bicycles. The Orchestra featuring Norwegian trumpeter Erik Kimestad Pedersen, Icelandic sax player Ingimar Andersen, Swedish trombonist Petter Hängsel, Norwegian tuba player Kristian Tangvik and bass player Claesson (from The Hum) and drummer Rune Lohse.

Four Letter Word was recorded live on June 2016 in Copenhagen. Zeeberg's compositions irreverently mixing eclectic elements from different genres and styles, cleverly arranged for the Orchestra. His sharp sense of humor and the musicians passionate playing and impressive improvising skills save all from sliding into total chaos. The only cover, a soulful version of James Last theme from the film “Morgens um sieben ist die Welt noch In Ordnung” (1968) proves that that sometimes you can find treasures in the work of this corny composer. More important, Horse Orchestra is an excellent live band. My only complaint is about its length, only 36 minutes, too short for a decent party.

Anders Vestergaard - eel (Insula Jazz/Abstract Tits, 2016) ***½

Eel anatomy, as reflected in the implicit cover artwork, may parallel the anatomy of the music, being skeletal yet intricate in structure. This title of drummer Anders Vestergaard's debut solo album also refers to his unique set-up - part electric, part non-electric - as and this album atmosphere, intriguing and grotesque, playful and eerie.

Vestergaard is known as the drummer of free-noise-improv trio Yes Deer, founder of the Abstract Tits label and half of the Laser Nun duo with guitarist Lars Bech Pilgaard. This limited-edition, 12’’ Vinyl - only 200 copies and no download (a CD-R version is distributed by the Japanese OOO SOUND label, featuring a bonus re-interpretation by modular synthesizer player Naoki Nomoto) - documents four pieces executed on a self-made set-up of acoustic percussion instruments connected with electronic feedback-chains. This set-up forces Vestergaard to adapt itself to its unpredictable nature, adding a repetitive, industrial sense to the improvised drumming, as a kind of twisted-distorted perspective of electronic dance music. The opening piece “ojo” captures best the dynamic spectrum of Vestergaard's unique set-up. He disciplines white noises, electronic blips, fractured acoustic rhythmic patterns with alien sounding rustle and buzzes into a disturbing but totally arresting aural experience.