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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Paul Dunmall Quartet ‎– Underground Underground (SLAM Productions, 2016) ****

By Colin Green

Between 2011 and 2013, Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone) and Tony Bianco (drums) recorded three albums as a testament to the inspirational playing, compositions and spirit of John Coltrane, all on the SLAM Productions label -- Thank You to John Coltrane, Tribute to Coltrane and Homage to John Coltrane. In 2015, Dunmall and Bianco were joined by Howard Cottle (tenor saxophone) and Olie Brice (double bass) in two performances which celebrated Coltrane’s Sun Ship (Impulse!, 1971), one of the last recordings of the Classic Quartet, from 1965, and an album which had a seminal impact on Dunmall in his youth. When it came to go into the studio however, rather than record another Coltrane tribute, he decided “to write some heads in the same vein as Sun Ship so we could still capture that intensity, and play with that Coltrane spirit, but make it our own thing”. Underground Underground -- all first takes – is the result.

In this setting, it’s usual to deploy saxophones of different registers for variety and to avoid the saxophonists treading on each other’s toes. Not so here. Rather than adjoining areas, the two tenors occupy the same space, and like Phaeton’s burning chariot, it makes for an exhilarating ride, “With flaming breath that all the heaven might hear them perfectly”.

The heads are often simple figures, such as the title track’s clarion call sounded out on overlapping saxes, and the ardent, jabbing phrases of ‘Sun Up’. As one would expect, the prevailing tone is ecstatic and jubilant, executed at a high-voltage pace, hectic yet never out of control, with Dunmall and Cottle animating phrases until they achieve a molten volatility. Over the whole album, they’re driven by and draw on the kinetic buoyancy of Bianco’s drums and Brice’s taut, gutsy bass. And when the saxophones do play together, it never feels cramped. In “Timberwolf’, the longest track, there’s a passage of jointly sustained virtuosity in which they embrace and blossom, taking the theme to the brink. There’s also intensity of a different kind. ‘Hear no Evil, Play no Evil’ is a ballad, whose yearning melody is beautifully set-off by Brice’s agile bass line. The solos have that Coltrane-esque mix of exaltation with tinges of remorse.

‘Sacred Chant’ is the closing number, with Cottle and Bianco engaged in a fiery duet before, by way of contrast, a stately theme is introduced by Dunmall. The impassioned and the dignified continue in opposition until the whole band is sucked into the whirlpool, but the melody never completely goes away, and eventually is affirmed in noble unison, repeated until the fade.

Coltrane’s music-making was so rich that, even now, just when you think you’ve pinned him down, there’s something more to be found. This album is a fitting tribute to that inexhaustible body of work and the continuing inspiration it provides.

‘Ascent’ from one of the Sun Ship gigs:

Paul Dunmall, John Edwards and Tony Marsh – To Be Real (FMR Records, 2015) ****½

A certain note of sadness accompanies the music on this record, as this was one of the last recordings Tony Marsh made before he succumbed to cancer in 2012.   A frequent musical companion of Paul Dunmall during the last couple decades of his life, Marsh’s sprightly, energetic style was the perfect complement to Dunmall’s own jaunty explorations—which somehow always manage to stay rooted in rhythm and an element of the blues, even while venturing into more abstract and remote territory.  On the first cut of this four-track release, they are joined by bassist John Edwards, another legend of the British free jazz scene, on a live recording from the Vortex in 2010, while the other three tracks consist of duos between Dunmall and Marsh.  The undeniable rapport between Dunmall and Marsh is one of the great strengths of this release, as their familiarity forged over years of collaboration creates a coherent, shared musical vocabulary that is richly engaging.

The trio piece from the Vortex, “To Be Real,” is the centerpiece of the record, extending just over 30 minutes in length, and featuring all three musicians in fiery, spirited interplay.  Dunmall plays tenor here, and his Coltrane-esque cascades of notes are a recurring feature; but one can also hear the ways in which Edwards’ percussive technique helps tease out the more rhythmic aspects of Dunmall’s playing, bringing Sonny Rollins to the surface easily as much as Coltrane whenever Dunmall and Edwards exchange punctuated phrases.  It doesn’t take much effort to hear the implicit language of bebop throughout the recording: an instant of a walking bass line from Edwards, or Dunmall’s working (and reworking) of a phrase with just enough swing that we are reminded of his debt to that tradition.  There is explosive power in abundance—let’s not imagine for a moment that this is a “straightahead” jazz record—but nevertheless, one can always hear the echoes of jazz in Dunmall’s playing, and his partners here certainly help to give voice to that quality of his music.  Especially in those moments when things simmer down a bit, Dunmall’s soulful side really comes through and provides a striking counterbalance to his more demonstrative statements.  Marsh’s presence is also essential: although he never settles into a steady pulse, his dynamic creativity provides the momentum that keeps the music moving, never allowing things to settle and stagnate.  With three masters of free improvisation at work, this track alone makes the record an achievement.

The duo tracks with Dunmall and Marsh were recorded a few years earlier in the studio.  Dunmall’s done a lot with this format over the years—Tony Bianco being an especially frequent duo partner.  “TM” offers perhaps the fullest glimpse of Dunmall’s debt to the bebop tradition, as his engaging licks and phrases spill out in endless succession, with various levels of abstraction, with Marsh’s propulsive flourishes following him every step of the way.  On the last two cuts, “Sea Air Colours” and “Blackbird,” Dunmall switches to soprano sax, and he transitions into a less frenetic mode, exploring longer, more expansive phrases, especially on the former track.  Marsh too pulls back a bit here, making room for Dunmall by relying more heavily on cymbals and punchy toms, as opposed to the rolling waves of percussion more characteristic of “TM.”  But by “Blackbird,” the mood will shift once again, as a piece that begins with an air of mystery and wonder gradually builds into a torrent of tremendous power, Dunmall’s careening phrases taking things into the outer regions, and Marsh eagerly following him there with a thundering tempest.  It’s a cathartic and fitting conclusion to a terrific record, as well as a bittersweet celebration of a wonderful musical partnership.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Deep Whole Trio ‎– Paradise Walk (Multikulti Project, 2016) ****

By Colin Green

The Deep Whole Trio comprises Paul Dunmall (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, bagpipes), Paul Rogers (A.L.L. seven string bass) and Mark Sanders (drums). Their name is a nod to the Deep Joy Trio – Dunmall, Rogers and Tony Levin on drums – who were also three-quarters of Mujician, a much-loved quartet of the Brit Improv scene. Sadly, both combos came to an end with the death of Tony Levin in 2011. The Deep Whole Trio have produced two previous albums, the first before Levin’s passing. (Just to confuse matters further, there’s also the Dig Deep Trio – Dunmall, Rogers and Tony Bianco (drums) – with two albums to date.) Paradise Walk was recorded at the Birmingham Conservatoire in November, 2014 and although the title evokes something idyllic, it’s taken from the entrance to the Conservatoire, a building set within a network of walkways and heavy traffic lanes, which is anything but, and is currently in the process of being rebuilt.

Dunmall’s improvising is characterised by a clear sense of movement and progression. He develops material using additive or subtractive rhythms and phrasing, melodic figures, harmonic cells, specific scales (western and non-western), and a textural flexibility – on occasions even referencing distinct genres – in a purposeful blend, so that that although his train of thought is never predictable, it’s always coherent.

The trio setting seems to bring out some of Dunmall’s most extended and intense playing, providing a platform to undertake what for him, amounts to a spiritual exploration through music. As he put it concerning this trio’s first album: “Great players inspire you and drive you ever upwards. Sometimes to places you thought not possible”. But up is not the only way to go. The album contains a number of lower-keyed, reflective passages played quietly, focussed but without the previous, more typical, fervour. That’s still present, but on occasions the music’s about something else.

This is clear in the first piece: ‘Mema’ (Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean and African), a set of musical associations reflected in Dunmall’s rapid alternating figurations on soprano; Rogers’ bowed bass, arpeggios and trills; and Sanders’ percussion, supplying emphasis more than pulse. These are subtle effects dependent on slight modulations in tone and niceties of texture, which might be lost with raised voices.

Rogers’ custom-made A.L.L. bass extends his range to the high notes of the cello and in addition to the seven fingerboard strings has twelve sympathetic strings running the length of the body under the fingerboard. It opens ‘A Road Less Travelled’, with notes drawn out across the range, deep-toned resonances and high-pitched chirrups, creating a faint afterglow and provoking cymbal scrapings from Sanders. He switches to pizzicato and Dunmall plays a brief motif they share before the saxophone takes flight in a succession of surges, each built from the last, in which the melodic germ continues to make its presence felt. Urged on by increasingly dense drumming and more bowed gestures on bass, when we reach the summit the trio slows to a graver pace as a fully-formed melody is proclaimed by Dunmall, in celebration of this new vista

On ‘Involuntary Music for Others’, after Sanders’ ceremonial introduction on metal percussion, Dunmall picks up the bagpipes. He prefers the Northumberland or Border pipes, softer and sweeter in tone than the better known, stentorian, Highland pipes with their wheezing drone. After a while, the bagpipes move from an oriental to a folkish feel – a significant strain in Dunmall’s music (try he and Rogers’ album Folks History (DUNS, 2009) – continued on arco bass, with an almost bluegrass hue to the glissandi, suggesting a common ancestry for so much music. Dunmall’s gruff, unaccompanied tenor sets the scene in ‘Absorption’. When his colleagues enter, the material is worked through with fresh vigour, building from within, rising and then dropping back down, giving way to a songlike solo from Rogers.

The title track, lasting some twenty six minutes, is a display of the accumulation and dispersal of energy. At the outset, each instrument becomes more distinct as they emerge from the bustle, for Dunmall and Rogers to play not so much in duet, as parallel streams. Rogers is the musician with whom he’s recorded most frequently, an empathy heard in how they support, augment, and even anticipate, each other’s shifts, however slight. Dunmall signals an increase in tension by his line becoming simpler and sculpting phrases, and Rogers absorbs shock waves as his bow skitters across strings, speckled with glassy notes from the top of his range, accompanied by lightweight percussion. Unsurprisingly, there’s something of everything from Sanders, who has an unerring sense of how a drama evolves. (I remember watching him perform with Ken Vandermark and Olie Brice at the Vortex a few years ago, and was mesmerised by his dexterity and the sheer range of his playing.)

The piece draws to a close with a return to the contemplative world: throbs and gentle ripples until imperceptibly, only a still surface remains which the trio stirs briefly, one last time.

The Deep Whole Trio from last year:

Paul Dunmall, an Introduction

On the occasion of a week of reviews dedicated to British saxophonist Paul Dunmall, Bruce Lee Gallanter, proprietor of the Downtown Music Gallery, provides a personal introduction ...

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Ever since I heard UK sax colossus Paul Dunmall with Keith Tippett’s Mujician quartet, I knew that there was something special, spiritual about his (tenor) sax playing. Nobody has a sound like him, he is in a class of his own! Keith Tippett has long been my favorite pianist and selecting Paul as a member of Mujician (1990- 2010) was indeed an honor. I had heard of Paul before this since he was a peripheral member of the Canterbury Scene, having worked with Elton Dean, Evan Parker and Robin Williamson, but wasn’t to hear him at length until Mujician appeared. I had the great opportunity to hear Mujician live at the Victoriaville Festival, the performance reminding me of the John Coltrane quartet of the early sixties. The same instrumentation and the same fire-breathing intensity and spirit.

Besides being a master tenor saxist, Paul also plays bagpipes, soprano sax, saxello, flute and wind synthesizer, actually anything he can get his hands on. Thanks to a number of great labels like FMR (50 CD box set), Slam, Emanem and Cuneiform, as well as his own self-produced CD-R label, Duns, Paul can be heard on upwards of 200 CDs. No matter what instrument that Paul plays, he is able to work wonders. The majority of discs that have appeared under his own name are improv sessions featuring a large cast of greats: Evan Parker, Hamid Drake, Alex Von Schlippenbach, William Parker, Tony Malaby and so many others. There are a handful of great musicians that Dunmall has developed an evolving musical relationship with over many years: Paul Rogers (custom made 7-string bass), Mark Sanders (drums) and Trevor Taylor (electronic & acoustic percussion). Ever since starting his own limited edition (of around 50) CD-R labels, Duns, Paul has gone out of his way to discover many new, mostly British players and that list keeps growing every year: Bruce Coates, Percy Pursglove, Matthew Bourne and Olie Brice, to name but a few. Since Paul ended the Duns label a few years back with number 65, the FMR and Slam labels have picked up the slack with occasional releases on ESP, Porter and Clean Feed. As of 2006, when Manny Maris and myself curated a month at The Stone in December of that year, I have helped get Paul get gigs at The Stone, the Vision Festival (twice) and the Living Theatre, as well as a playing great duo with Matt Welch on bagpipes at DMG when we were on the Bowery. The last time I spoke with Paul at Cafe Oto in London a couple of years ago, he said that he might not make back to US anytime soon due the hassles and costs of flying over here. In the meantime, I look forward to each and every disc on which he appears since his playing remains consistently inspired, creative and is often filled with those cosmic spirits.

- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery, January 12th, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Sun Ra Arkestra - Cafe Oto, November 2016

Marshall Allen leading the Arkestra (not from reviewed concert)

By Fotis Nikolakpoulos

By arriving really early at the Dalston Junction area, a neighbourhood in the process of gentrification, I had time to think how unaffordable the city centre of a big European city can become for their working class citizens. I also caught the Arkestra rehearsing, which provoked many more thoughts, about music this time.

Staying on the outside of Cafe Oto and listening to them, I realised how deep those guys were in what was initially called great black music. The long story of blues, soul and, especially, jazz - what was jazz back in the day and how it developed into something totally different-unveiled in front of my eyes and ears even before the gig started.

The music of this - at least at Cafe Oto on that night - ten piece band was the history of post-war jazz, probably reflecting its leader's, the great Marshall Allen, own path in jazz. They took the blues and soul traditions and infiltrated them through free jazz and improvisation. And to add to our satisfaction (I'm speaking for the whole of the audience here...), they had a lot of groove.

Clearly, since the commanding presence of Sun Ra is no longer here, the Arkestra is a different, more collective organization. Off course Allen's presence and guidelines form the shape and aesthetics of the Arkestra's live sound. But, thankfully, Sun Ra's vision of catharsis through music and playful sentimental exploration is ever-present.

The musicians have more room to breath artistically than you 'd expect, even time to solo. They are all great performers and showmen (and women) at times, and they definitely looked like they enjoyed it, passing this feeling to all of us attending. That night they seemed, to my untrained ears, that they have bonded as a band through the good old way of playing together and playing a lot.

The balance they have managed to achieve, by incorporating free jazz's improvisational ethos into blues and, as a result, making your thighs move, is the one that forces a smile on your face while leaving.

Job well done, Mr. Allen.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

John Dikeman, Gonçalo Almeida, George Hadow - The Creature (CylinderRecordings, 2016) ***

By Stefan Wood

Cylinder Recordings is a contemporary artist run label, based in the Netherlands, run by bassist Gonçalo Almeida, focusing on experimental and free improvisation. The Creature is a live trio album featuring Almeida, along with John Dikeman (tenor sax) and George Hadow (drums). It is an explosive affair. 

The title track, “The Creature,” finds the trio in full attack mode, Dikeman playing with Brotzmann like aggression; Hadow committing assault to his drums. As it evolves for over fifteen minutes, the trio weaves and bobs like a prize fighter; trading off sonic punches and jabs as they move from one tense moment to another. Sax bleats and wails, then bass provides a firm repetition of notes that the others play around with, drummer moves from low key but active percussive sounds to all out thundering beats. 

On “Foam” they move towards dead silence, interrupted by delicate and lyrical playing by Dikeman. Then joined by the others, the trio moves into a ballad like mode, building momentum until they proceed towards a more aggressive stance. “Tryptic” is a ten minute work that features Almeida as he stretches his notes as if to create a platform for the others to play on, with Dikeman and Hadow keeping things at a medium tone so not to overpower the bass. Slightly reminiscent of artists like Noah Howard or Frank Wright, the aggression comes into play full bore halfway through the track as sax and drums move across the sonic landscape like a hurricane. Upper pitch notes and machine gun beats reign as if to seek a form of catharsis. 

Overall, The Creature is a solid effort, worth checking out for those seeking new works on small, independent labels.

Free Jazz Blog on Air - Listen Now!

This week (now through Feb 3), check out Martin Schray and Julia Neupert's Free Jazz Blog on Air on southern Germany's public radio station SWR2.

The show covers the 'top ten' list and features music by Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quintet, the Mary Halvorson Octet, Anna Högberg Attack!, Fire!, Ingrid Laubrock, the Peter Evans Quintet and Michael Formanek/Ensemble Kolossus.

Listen now!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Nathan Hubbard/Skeleton Key Orchestra - Furiously Dreaming (Orenda Records, 2016) ****

What better way to end a week of big band reviews than with a two-disc release featuring a total of 49 musicians? Californian drummer and composer, Nathan Hubbard and his Skeleton Key Orchestra's Furiously Dreaming is a sprawling mixture that features in all 49 musicians and encompasses many styles and approaches over its two hours of playtime. It's a lot to take in, and the breadth of musical styles is, well, breathtaking. Picking just a couple tracks to talk about hopefully is enough for a good introduction.

The opening track, 'Crows on the Roof', begins with a mash-up of Crimsonesque power and Soft-Machine sax work, which eventually leads to a mix of electric guitars, electronically processed percussion, and reed and horn sections revelling in juicy counter melodies -- by which all I really mean to say is that it is pretty damn intense! There is even a spoken word passage lending an air of intrigue and mystery. The second track, ‘Mirror Forget’, is more a free playing session. Accompanied by a chattering electric guitar that seems to bind the group together, they rise and fall in swells of large group improvisation and smaller improvising units. The follow-up, “sleepsdreamsilence’ is an abrupt change of pace, in which a string section creates a lush, tense, soundtrack like atmosphere, just right for a spoken word passage delivered by Roger Aplon and Sister Rez. Finally (for this review), title track 'Furiously Dreaming' begins as an angular piece - guitar, piano, drums and strings scratch, skitter, and pluck but ends with a composed melody underscored by a chorus of voices.

There is a lot more to hear, as the album is a showcase of Hubbard's expansive musical concepts. The eight tracks of the album are a diverse set that was recorded over the space of three years (2007 - 2010). While a mix of styles, each generously portioned track stands on its own. It's a really interesting recording that beckons for repeat listens, and I've only just begun!

For a full list of the musician's, please see here.

To listen, click play!

Leap of Faith Orchestra - Supernovae (Evil Clown, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

When you invite 21 musicians onto a stage, with probably two to three times the number of instruments between them, you better have a plan! Boston-based musician and band leader David Peck (aka PEK) certainly does.

PEK's reinvigorated Leap of Faith quartet came out of hiatus a few years ago and since they have been busy creating music - and in the case of the orchestra - expanding rapidly. In addition, several  Leap of Faith offshoot projects have also formed, and when the time it right, they come together as the orchestra. For a bit of background, Leap of Faith's Bandcamp site is a rich archive, where many of the Leap of Faith quartet, orchestra, and side-project gigs are meticulously recorded, packaged, and made available for a very reasonable price.

Now back to the plan. The large ensemble does not follow a traditional score, rather what PEK has developed is a scripted sequence of events, where he has blocked out the passages and envisioned collaborations, but relies on the individual musician's improvisational prowess to fill in the details. The secret weapon here is time, as the script's movements are synced with a large digital timer that dictates the shifts. With PEK's direction and the clock's ruthless advance, the music is made (dig in a little deeper and check out a sample of the notation). When the orchestra convened this past November at The Somerville Armory in Somerville, Massachusetts, and embarked on bringing PEK's score to life, they created some highly engaging and unique music, generating layers upon layers of sound and texture. The overall feeling is organic and vital, balancing space and density.

It's best to describe this music as an experience, as there is little to suggest what will happen next, and no repeated melodies or extended themes, rather it's a sequence of improvised events that culminate into a greater whole. An earlier orchestra recording reviewed here possessed a certain dark and turbulent nature to the music, however, Supernovae, while still packing a punch, exudes a more subdued approach - at least for the first 49 minutes. Then, the storm arrives, and the instruments begin to howl, voices rise from the orchestra, and turbulence builds.

Each visit with the Leap of Faith folks reveals new ideas and revised approaches. Supernovae strikes me as a milestone in PEK's vision and his group's cohesion - less aggressive, more nuanced and spacious. A neat addition to an expanding musical universe.


Buy at Downtown Music Gallery

The full Leap of Faith Orchestra
  • PEK - clarinet, contraalto clarinet, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones, oboe, dulzaina, contrabassoon, bass trombone, sheng, daxophone, flex-a-tone, rachet, plate gong, aquasonic,fog horns, taxi horn, wind siren, metal 
  • Glynis Lomon - cello, aquasonic, voice 
  • Yuri Zbitnov - lead gong, drum set, daiko, festival drum, balafon, metal, wood
  • Andria Nicodemou - vibes, crotales, metal 
  • Bob Moores - trumpet, large temple bowl 
  • Forbes Graham - trumpet, Tibetan bowl, flex-a-tones 
  • Dan O’Brien - clarinets, bass clarinet, alto & tenor saxophones, flute, Tibetan Bowl
  • Zach Bartolomei - soprano & alto saxophones, clarinet, rachet, melodica 
  • Kat Dobbins - trombone, Tibetan bowl, plate gong
  • David Harris - trombone, tuba, rachet 
  • John Baylies - tubas, flex-a-tones 
  • Mimi Rabson - violin, flex-a-tones 
  • Matt Scutchfield - violin, Atlantis gong, flex-a-tones
  • Helen Sherrah-Davies - violin, flex-a-tones
  • Brendan Higgens - bass, rachet
  • Tony Leva - bass, rachet
  • Drew Wesley - guitar, rachet 
  • Grant Beale - guitar, flex-a-tone
  • Peter Cassino - piano
  • Kevin Dacey - drum set, vibes, timpani, metal, wood
  • Sydney Smart - electronic percussion 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society - Real Enemies (New Amsterdam, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Somehow, I discovered Darcy James Argue not through his music but through a blog post of his about the death of author David Foster Wallace in September 2008. This was a few days after my birthday, and my wife was weeks away from giving birth to our first son. Wallace was, for me (as well as for Argue, it turned out) a massive influence, a thoughtful, curious light who seemed to be leading a way forward. I had (again, like Argue) consumed Wallace’s Infinite Jest upon its publication, reading it twice within a year and writing a portion of my senior thesis on some of its familial themes. It must have been through Facebook or Twitter, but someone had shared Argue’s blog post about Wallace, and it stuck with me, partly for the similarities in our experience (not that unique, among Wallace acolytes, if I’m being honest) and partly because I was suddenly curious about this so-called Secret Society. This was still several months before he would release his debut, Infernal Machines, and promptly rock my world.

I’ve been an avid, vocal fan of Secret Society for nearly ten years, playing the albums on loop, streaming and downloading live recordings from Argue’s old website, and eagerly anticipating any new album. The third, Real Enemies, was released last year and really pulled off an interesting trick of sorts. Similar to the previous album, Brooklyn Babylon, the premiere of Real Enemies featured a multimedia program that augments the music. Unlike its predecessor, however, Real Enemies is so fully realized that I’m not sure I ever care if I experience fully.

For those unfamiliar with the Secret Society, on the surface it looks like a traditional big band, with 18 members plus Argue as composer and conductor. Secret Society includes some names who have appeared on the blog, but most, I think, may be new to readers: The winds are Dave Pietro, Rob Wilkerson, Sam Sadigursky, John Ellis, and Carl Maraghi; the brass section is Seneca Black, Jonathan Powell, Matt Holman, Nadje Noordhuis, Ingrid Jensen, Mike Fahie, Ryan Keberle, Jacob Garchik, and Jennifer Wharton; and the rhythm section is Sebastian Noelle, Adam Birnbaum, Matt Clohesy, and Jon Wikan.

As with Wallace’s writing, Argue’s music is both reverential and referential, a knotty collection of highly original compositions, comprised of themes and callbacks that build successively, creating a wholly unique sound world. Conceptually inspired by modern conspiracies (the cover art suggests one of those conspiracy walls that keeps popping up in TV and film), Argue takes a series of ideas and pursues them musically, pairing titles and samples with ideas that chase down the effect of both actual conspiracies and the threat posed by imagining webs looming larger than what we comprehend. It’s something of a mix between a meditation and a thesis.

“The Enemy Within” opens with a funky bassline that recalls ’70s political thrillers, which only fully comes to fruition on the opener of “Dark Alliance,” a jazz dancefloor single begging to hit the jukebox nearest you. With samples of Nancy Reagan intoning “say yes to your life” and one of the most, yes, addictive melodies I heard all year, “Dark Alliance” is winking and delirious. It leads into the cloistered, tense “Trust No One,” a theme that continues to resonate and deepen far beyond what Argue could have intended. “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars” features a lengthy group improvisation, lead primarily by Noordhuis and Garchik, with Birnbaum’s tense piano line threading its way through the background.

The midpoint of the album, “The Hidden Hand” opens with JFK, in 1961: “We are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.” This sets of a dark, introspective sequence that leads from “The Hidden Hand” through “Casus Belli” and “Crisis Control,” into the lengthy “Apocalypse Is a Process.” There’s an ethereal, space-age vibe to the opening of “Never a Straight Answer,” which slowly morphs from a Birnbaum solo into Clohesy’s bass synth-driven funk dirge. The finale is a pleasingly chaotic group improvisation that leads directly into James Urbaniak’s excellent narration on “Who Do You Trust?” The album is bookended by “You Are Here,” which features excellent solos from Sadigursky and Jensen in both parts, as well as a piercing narration and chilling samples.

Real Enemies is a striking and wildly successful work of art. In the final minutes, Urbaniak narrates, “When citizens cannot trust their government to tell the truth, they become more susceptible to that dread disease, conspiracism. They become less likely to trust their government to do anything, to conduct fair elections, say, or spend their tax money, or protect their children, or their planet.” The tone is urgent, a warning of sorts against slipping into paranoia. But hearing it today, Argue’s work also seems to ask both “why are you paranoid?” and “are you paranoid enough?” In the world we’ve woken up to today, Real Enemies serves as both fierce polemic and critical analysis, both a call to action and a call for reflection.

“The Enemy Within”

Behind the scenes:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Taylor Ho Bynum - Enter the Plustet (Firehouse 12, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

I’m going to get into this review from a slightly odd angle, which is to say that, as a tremendous fan of Taylor Ho Bynum’s music and writing, one of my favorite of his projects remains relatively undocumented, his acoustic bicycle tour. It’s a solo project, very much aimed at pushing oneself to a physical limit, both in the distance and time spent bicycling and in the range of performances. There are clips on Soundcloud and a video documenting the West Coast tour, but the project itself was never fully and formally recorded, probably because much of its beauty stems from its inherently transitory nature. Enter Enter the PlusTet.

At the PlusTet’s core is Bynum’s sextet: Jim Hobbs, Bill Lowe, Ken Filiano, Mary Halvorson, and Tomas Fujiwara. That group is magnified by trumpeters Nate Wooley and Stephanie Richards, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Steve Swell on trombone, saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Matt Bauder, violinst Jason Kao Hwang, cellist Tomeka Reid, and vibraphonist Jay Hoggard.

The PlusTet isn’t Bynum’s first foray into big bands, but at 15 members with three lengthy, massive pieces, it is easily his most realized project since his sextet. Positive Catastrophe, a ten-piece “little big band” was co-led by Bynum and Abraham Gomez-Delgado. A few years ago, Bynum put together an octet playing his eclectic arrangements of Prince’s music (featuring a Prince-meets-Prime Time rhythm section anchored by Stomu Takeishi and Pheeroan akLaff!). Some clips surfaced on YouTube, but he seems to have moved on. It seemed like a loss, at first, because it’s clearly a passion project for Bynum. He’s written about his love for Prince, and the group brings together a lot of different threads of interest that hadn’t surfaced previously, until the PlusTet.

“Sleeping Giant” calls upon Bynum’s work with Braxton, using some of his orchestral signifiers and theoretical concepts. But the sound and structure of the piece is so identifiably Bynum. After an throat-clearing interlude, the rhythm section lays out an interlocking rhythm for Swell and Reid to solo over. Meanwhile, Bynum conducts the group in ebbs and flows, with melodic lines rising and falling in way that reminded me of Navigation, where the same piece was assembled and reassembled. Filiano takes the lead, following a duet with Hwang, and guides the group towards an extended collective improvisation that resolves with a lovely, robust take on Bynum’s Prince ensemble, while suggesting Sam Rivers’s RivBea Orchestra. The melody soars, and Bynum, Wooley, and Richards all shine during this section, with Reid and Halvorson shading effortlessly throughout.

“Three (for Me We & Them)” opens with a grand Halvorson solo set over Hoggard, Filiano, and Fujiwara’s throwback swing. Bynum layers on horns and winds, before quickly peeling them away to expose a thick groove. It’s textbook big band; the dedication is to James Jabbo Ware’s Me We & Them Orchestra, and the song was originally written for that group. The early sections call to mind Positive Catastrophe before turning towards the bluesier end of the spectrum. Throughout, Filiano and Hoggard are superb, moving from unison lines to gentle plays off each other’s walking rhythms. Fujiwara steps mightily into a late solo that resolves with a rousing statement of the theme.

Bynum explains the title “That Which Only… Never Before” is a reference to something Bill Dixon said just before their final concert together, “Play that which only you could do, but that you’ve never done before.” Bynum was an integral part of Dixon’s outstanding, late-career ensemble albums, and Dixon’s influence is one of the strongest on Bynum (perhaps second only to Braxton). The piece opens with a pointillist improvisation that rapidly builds in both pitch and intensity. Fujiwara and Bynum drive for the first several minutes; their longtime collaboration has been one of the most fruitful in modern jazz. As the full PlusTet assembles itself, Bynum and Fujiwara’s foundation supports the layered improvisation that coalesces around them. Remarkably, this track is the shortest on the album, though it’s packed with ideas that could easily spawn further compositions. One concept from Braxton that echoes through Bynum’s work is the notion of subgroups operating within a larger group. That structure leads the group towards the final section, with its multiple lines drawing together towards a powerful, elegiac finish.

A dense, rousing, and emotional album, Enter the PlusTet feels, beyond just its size, like a culmination of Bynum’s many projects and ideas. The album is highly recommended, and those in
New York can check out the band live at Roulette this March.

Available at Bandcamp:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra - Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Whenever I approach a new Eve Risser project, I’m reminded of an old William H. Gass line, “Let me make a snowman and see what comes of it.” There’s a sense of open-ended experimentalism to her approach. Like setting a Rube Goldberg machine in motion, if half the machine was unassembled at start, and the project consisted of Risser assembling the rest in front of our eyes. Each time I play Des Pas Sur La Niege, a part of me expects it’ll sound completely different, such is the strength of her improvisation. The same is true for En Corps, her trio album with Benjamin Duboc and Edward Perraud. Naturally, for an artist with such a pronounced, singular voice, this begs the question, what happens when you multiply Risser by ten? What does an Eve Risser big band even sound like?

One notable thing about Eve Risser’s tentet White Desert Orchestra is that it succeeds in sounding like much more than Risser writ large. I was familiar with about half the members of White Desert Orchestra before hearing this album. In addition to Risser on piano and prepared piano, the lineup includes: Sylvaine Hélary on flutes, Antonin-Tri Hoang on alto and clarinets, Benjamin Dousteyssier on tenor and bass sax, Sophie Bernado on bassoon, Eivind Lønning on trumpet, Fidel Fourneyron on trombone, Julien Desprez on electric guitar, Fanny Lasfargues on electro-acoustic bass guitar, and Sylvain Darrifourcq on drums, percussion.

I’ve cited many times a notion of democracy within an improvising group, of any size, and here Risser succeeds tremendously. The project is very much hers, from concept through execution, drawing on inspiration from a visit to Utah’s Bryce Canyon. But moment-by-moment is clearly, definitively guided by the members of group. It’s a very delicate dance between the two, beginning with the opener, “Les Deux Versants Se Regardent.” Following 30 seconds of an echoey piano preparation, the group begins a steady, careful introduction of notes, phrases, and ideas. The first several minutes elliptically called to mind Olivier Messian’s own monument to the American southwest, Des Canyons Aux Étoiles. And yet, about six minutes in, at the moment of intersecting counterpoint between horns, guitar, and winds, the project comes vibrantly alive. Lønning, and Hélary each take restrained, heartfelt solos during the latter half, and long textural interpolations are buttressed by improvised conversations between Risser’s prepared piano and Darrifourcq’s percussion.

Truthfully, I expected the title track to preview the album in miniature, and I was unprepared for Desprez’s urgent, staccato solo that opens “Tent Rocks.” The horn section responds with a quick call and response. Then, Darrifourcq enters on drum set, and the whole group is jumping and swinging on a bright, fluttering melody. This is one of two big showcases for Risser, who takes a long solo near the middle and plays some phenomenal runs near the end. This is followed by “Eclats,” which is an intriguing rock/chamber hybrid of sorts. There’s a strong electro-acoustic current here, tipped just to the edge by Risser’s piano preparations. It’s a fantastic piece, with strong playing by Lønning and Fourneyron. As a side note, I’d be interesting to hear a further exploration of this direction with someone like Birgit Ulher on trumpet (n.b., can we crowdfund a Risser/Ulher duo album?).

“Fumeroles” again features Desprez at the start, but in a much different mood. Slower, more contemplative, this is something of an act break for the album. The remainder of the album is a sustained, full-throated showstopper. Framed by the miniatures “Homme-Age” and “Homme-Age, Pt. 2,” three tracks make up the back half of the album: “Shaking Peace” (originally a John Hollenbeck composition, dedicated to Risser), “Earth Skin Cut,” and “Jaspe.” On “Shaking Peace,” Risser goes for broke, taking several long solos. It’s really delightful having her come to the fore, mainly for the sheer joy in her playing. “Earth Skin Cut” romps forward on an augmented march, with strong playing from Hélary, Bernado, and Hoang.

In many ways the opposite of the opener, “Jaspe” opens with a somewhat restrained, mellow air that gradually cedes to a heavy funk-rock rhythm from Desprez, Lasfargues, and Darrifourcq. The track builds for several minutes before the three, along with Risser, smash the hell out of the thing. It’s another unexpected yet wildly satisfying, dynamic stretch. The rest of the tentet returns for a unison line that suddenly drops out to make way for Risser’s extremely brief solo, “Homme-Age, Pt. 2,” which abruptly ends the album. The effect is dramatic and welcome, for an album as packed with surprises and discoveries as this one. Highly recommended, of course, but just as highly recommended is listening to it multiple times. The group packs the album with intricacy and detail, I’m rewarded each time I listen again.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus: The Distance (ECM, 2016) ****½

We're working our way through the combinations - recently we had solo, duo and trio weeks, and this week we check out some larger than average bands, starting with one that has been waiting far too long for a review on the Free Jazz Blog...

By Paul Acquaro

Baltimore-based bassist and composer Michael Formanek has a concise but impressive list of recordings as a leader, including Rub and Spare Change (2010) and Small Places (2012) on ECM, and a very impressive list of recordings as a sideman. He was most recently mentioned on the blog with the group Thumbscrew, with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, who also are a part this powerful big band recording from early 2016. The Distance is not only a new notch in the bassist's discography, but an incredible showcase for his compositional prowess, and a sumptuous listening experience for the rest of us.

This review is nearly a year late - The Distance was released around this time in 2016. As winter turned to spring, summer, and fall, it continued to 'ripen' on my harddrive. When I finally cleared away all the other music to give the Ensemble Kolossus due listening, it somehow was winter again. While I kick myself for waiting so long, I can only say the music is timeless. This album is a gorgeous big band recording that embraces a sound that only a large ensemble can bring to life with its orchestral voicings, imaginative solos, unusual song structures and clever references to the big band genre.

The album begins with the unhurried title track. Formanek displays the rudiments of his sound - long flowing chords that move gracefully from phrase to phrase. There are few individual voices here to start, instead, we hear a flowing and dramatic melody delivered by the ensemble (see a list of all participants below). A lovely saxophone solo emerges from the soothing waves and then is subsumed again. Next, we move into the 'Exoskeleton' suite ...

The prelude begins with a similar gentleness but soon reveals a deeper pathos. To start, Formanek is out front with a plucked solo passage which is then joined by a flute and clarinet playing a legato refrain. Tension is built out of austere sonic surroundings. 'Exoskeleton (parts IV - V)' take a different approach. A cool jazz introduction states the melody and loops along at a comfortable gait, the score interweaves the horns nicely, and the first solo a trumpet takes the lead in ramping up the intensity. The melodic interlude between soloists, the guitar comes to the fore next ushering in a high tide of activity, musical waves cresting, overlapping each other, and then receding. When the guitar solo begins, the approach has changed, and for a bit the large group mostly drops out, leaving it to just the drums and piano to underpin the staccato guitar lines.

The piano takes the lead spot in 'Exoskeleton (parts VI - VII)'. The ocean has grown choppy, too. The accompaniment comes in short urgent bursts, and soon the clarinet moves into the solo spot, dropping in quick melodic lines. The final movement, 'Exoskeleton (part VIII)' is a short but effective summation of the suite. Its start is almost chaotic, the many voices in the group playing freely, but they're power is soon directed into an intense swirl of color and texture.

Formanek's The Distance is a delight, so easy to get caught up in and swept away. It begins with a deceptive gentle swell but the undertow will drag you into its heaving and churning depths.

The Kolossus Ensemble:
  • Saxophones/Woodwinds: Loren Stillman (alto saxophone); Oscar Noriega (alto sax/ clarinet, bass clarinet); Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet); Brian Settles (tenor sax, flute); Tim Berne (baritone sax)
  • Trumpets: Dave Ballou, Ralph Alessi, Shane Endsley, Kirk Knuffke (cornet)
  • Trombones: Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik, Ben Gerstein, Jeff Nelson (bass trombone, contrabass trombone)
  • Marimba: Patricia Franceschy
  • Guitar: Mary Halvorson
  • Piano: Kris Davis
  • Double-bass: Michael Formanek
  • Drums: Tomas Fujiwara
  • Conductor: Mark Helias

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Meet the experimental vocalists

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three distinct female vocalist who have developed their own highly personal languages - Israeli Anat Pick, Austrian Agnes Hvizdalek, and Norwegian Eldbjørg Raknes.

Anat Pick / Jean Claude (JC) Jones - Sick Puppies Inlove (Kadima Collective, 2016) ****

Anat Pick is one of the most experienced vocal artists working in the small and familiar Israeli scene of free music. She has developed a poetic aesthetic, mixing phonetics from imagined Oriental and Western languages, dadaist syntax and colorful sounds. She has collaborated before many times with Jean Claude Jones, when his MS disease still allowed him to play the double bass, but Sick Puppies Inlove, is the first document of their work.

Pick connected immediately with Jones and liberated him from any need to attach his instincts as an improviser to any instrument. The two recorded seven free-improvisations in Jones' living room using whatever was at hand, mundane objects, their voices and even sudden coughs, a Spanish guitar that was used to generate weird sounds and Jones' computer to process some of the live sounds. These improvisations sound urgent and fresh, flowing with joyful, anarchist inventions. Pick and Jones tempt each other with strange, colorful stories, articulated in a secretive lingo full of ridiculous pathos. These improvisations stress their rare, telepathic affinity. Both sound happy as innocent, playful puppies.

Demi Broxa - Zakeri (Listen Closely, 2016) ***½

Demi Broxa is the experimental duo of Oslo-based Agnes Hvizdalek, the newest member of the experimental Norwegian group Nakama, and fellow-Austrian bass and electronics player Jakob Schneidewind, member of the avant-techno trio Elektro-Guzzi. Hvizdalek brings to this duo her “abstract vocal music”, an idiosyncratic delivery of minimalist and quiet, alien-sounding percussive utterances, later developed by the subtle electric bass pulses of Schneidewind and enhanced by his clever usage of assorted effects, extended techniques and preparations.

Zakeri, the duo's debut album, suggests different strategies of merging Hvizdalek's delicate vocal art with Schneidewind's multi-layered, detailed rhythmic patterns in a manner that transcends both sonic norms. On “Fetida,” Schneidewind mirrors and resonates Hvizdalek's vocals in the recording space; “Brikka” melts their aesthetics, encrypted and distorted as sonic transmissions from faraway, extraterrestrial origin; “Habit” offers an hypnotic-minimalist outline for a dance act, while “Konstrukt” cements this vein in a skeletal, abstract, techno-dance pattern; The title-piece and “Clinch” flirts with sounds that imitate talkative birds and “Gyng” sketches an atmospheric, cinematic soundscape. These improvised pieces often sound as imagined in a very vivid daydream.

Eldbjørg Raknes - Hitchhike (MY Recordings, 2017) ***½

Eldbjørg Raknes is one of the most creative artists in a scene that keeps offering more and more innovative vocalist every year. She is a singer-songwriter, free-improviser, musicians who writes songs for children and performs before babies and an associate professor at the NTNU University in Trondheim. Her new EP, Hitchhike, continues her work from last year live album, Possibly In Time, with the collaborative trio of fellow vocalist and former student Kirsti Huke and guitarist Nils-Olav Johansen, known from the group Farmers Market. All add electronics to their arsenal.

Each of the four new songs offers a distinct sonic experiences. The vocals of Raknes and Huke are only one ingredient in the urgent and noisy “Kaedeåværlik?” soundscape, distorted, processed and multiplied. Raknes' dark, evocative delivery is at the center of the gentle, suggestive “Did you hitchhike with an eagle?”. “I need new fingerprints to could call me me” 's highlight is Raknes' and Huke's chanting the song title as kind of cryptic mantra amid an electric, disturbing storm. “Do you have something nice to tell me?” expands this vocal strategy, this time as an innocent, touching plea. Provocative and beautifully strange.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Aram Bajakian – Dolphy Formations (s/r, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

What to expect when Aram Bajakian puts out a new album? While fans of the shape-shifting guitarist should know better than to be surprised, little of Bajakian’s work—whether with his groups Kef and Abraxas or on recent albums like there were flowers also in hell, music inspired by the color of pomegranates, or Dálava—predicts the direction he takes on Dolphy Formations, self-released late last year. In place of the rhythmically energetic virtuosic playing I often associate with Bajakian’s playing (not to mention Eric Dolphy’s), on his latest album he presents an hour-long meditation built of overlapping long tones, rich textures, and patiently sustained sonic tension.  Low on pyrotechnics, high on nuance, Dolphy Formations is one of those magic albums that warp the listener’s sense of scale, turning details as tiny as a single plucked guitar string into surprising, centering events.

It’s hard to discuss Dolphy Formations without invoking themes of meditation. Indeed there’s an element of ritual or ceremony to the album. For me it starts with the process of clearing some time, finding a place to sit still, and setting up my headphones—all this necessary, I think, to appreciate the subtlety to the music. The regularity and duration of the three Variations, with each coming to rest between 19 and 20 minutes, suggests a calm, measured exercise of attention. The improvisations themselves are based on Dolphy’s “synthetic” scales, passed from their originator to Yusef Lateef to Bajakian in a lineage of masters.

If meditation extends into the actual listening experience—I won’t try to speak for all listeners—it may be in the way the playing leads the ear without really taking it anywhere. Despite its three-part structure, this isn’t music of beginnings, middles, and endings, but a perpetual present continually refreshed. In achieving this remarkable effect, Bajakian is aided by cellist Peggy Lee and trumpet player JP Carter (together forming the Handmade Blade trio). Unlike more stereotypically monolithic drone music, here each instrument slides into prominence in relatively short cycles, creating gently sinuous patterns of rise and fall. While timbral intensity and tonal complexity make for moments of great tension, terms like climax and resolution don’t apply. Each new color, texture, or micro-event in the slowly unfolding process is just enough to occupy the attention without keeping it from letting go. None of this is to say that Dolphy Formations can’t bear a whole other, purely musical perspective of appreciation. Bajakian is a dedicated educator, and however you like to look at it, his music has plenty to teach.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Where darkness, doom and despair reign ...

By Stef

Music is about mood. And some music is designed by its composers/improvisers to create dark atmospheres or to reflect emotions of deep sadness and agony. This may be soothing at times, to know that others share the same sentiments and are even able to express it in a way that you never thought possible. It can also create the mood and drive the listener into deeper despair than before. We go a little beyond our usual "jazz" influenced genres in our review, illustrating some strong likeness in other areas of avant-garde music.

If today, for one reason or another, you might feel depressed, this is the best music to emphasise your sense of total desolation and despair. But it's comforting to know that there is beauty to accompany you.

Totenbaum Träger - Ouverture Du Cadavre De Sade (Tour De Bras, 2016) ****½

To be honest, I had never heard of either Dominic Marion (guitars & effects) or Philippe Battikha (trumpets & effects), both from Canada, but what I hear is really strong. The music is hard to qualify. They themselves call it post-rock, noir ambient melancholia, noise art, with lots of drone elements. The atmosphere is darker than dark, with a band's name that means as much as "the coffin carriers", and the music is inspired by a work by the French Marquis de Sade, the man who gave his name to the word sadism, and then especially his book "Cent vingt journées de Sodome" (The 120 Days Of Sodom).

The music accompanies a book with illustrations by Mivil Deschênes, and I can recommend the over 18-year-old among our readers to visit his website to see the illustrations.

As you might expect, the music is not very uplifting, yet it is carefully crafted with arpeggiated guitar chords, sad trumpet and eery effects, and it must be said, the overall result is quite a listening experience. Especially the longer pieces "Dies Irae" and "Agnus Dei" are hair-raising and terrifying.

Can be purchased from Bandcamp.

Im Wald - Orion (Wide Ear Records, 2016) ****½

One of my favorite albums of last year is short, only 35 minutes worth of music, but what kind of music! The liner notes guide us to music history, through concepts of beauty and form and boundaries. This Swiss quintet brings their vision of music, and it is a compelling one.

The band are Tobias Meier on alto, Matthias Spillmann on trumpet, Frantz Loriot on viola, Nicola Romano on cello and Raffaele Bossard on bass. Their approach to music is quiet, deliberate and organic, it flows out of the initial few sounds and spreads out with precision as each musician adds tones and withdraws, creating an eery tension that stays for the entire album, a tension that seems to be living from the paradox of the minimal and the universal, the tiny and the grand, the single note and the total experience. Why is it dark? Because the sound is mysterious. It could be the soundtrack for space travel as much as it is for dark woods in a horror movie. You cannot grasp what's happening, no quite the opposite, the music grabs you and does not let go. It's easy to be hooked on this one.

Listen and buy from the label.

Jeremiah Cymerman's Bloodmist - Sheen (5049 Records, 2016) ****½

I know the album has already been reviewed before. As Dan wrote "abstract ... suggesting an ominous narrative—it has a cinematic quality that’s easy to imagine driving a moody storyline". Bloodmist are Jeremiah Cymeran on clarinet and electronics, Toby Driver on bass, and Mario Diaz de Leon on guitar. They call their genre "dark experimental" music, working with effects and electronics to create total listening experiences that go beyond genre, or that is a genre by itself. The sound is slow, relentless, with single voices of agony multiplied in various layers, with electronics and bass adding arrhythmic counterpoint. 

Almost exactly three years ago, I gave "Pale Horse" a 5-star rating for the total devastating and destabilising listening experience. Here we have the same sense of desolation, a whole musical universe created by three musicians who share a common vision and maintain the same high quality throughout the album. This is not uplifting music, it's terrifying. And that's why you should listen to it. 

Listen and buy from the label

Alex Zethson - Pole Of Inaccessibility (Thanatosis Produktion, 2016) ****

The only reference I have for Swedish pianist Alex Zethson is his participation in Martin Küchen's "Angles 8" and "Angles 9" bands, but that is possibly the most misleading reference possible from a musical perspective: this music is as slow and as dark as the music of Angles is dynamic and infectious.

On this album, Zethson creates gloomy piano soundscapes, exclusively played in the lower registers and with a slow, insistent repetitiveness. It is full of drama and the resulting effect is somber and strange at the same time ... and you get almost two hours worth of this, on two lengthy improvisations. This will not cheer you up, yet it's aesthetic power is unmistakable.

Zethson describes his art as "generated by the conventional connections fingers-keys-hammers-strings. however, the piano of pole of inaccessibility appears as a multifaceted sound source, rather than as a distinct, exterior instrument, easily identified. the synthesizer, piano and the listeners are moving within the same cloud of sound, within which they reshape and expand the sounds in the specific (sound)rooms. which also means that their boundaries seems flexible. the pianoness of the piano appears and disappears".

Listen and buy from the label

Torstein Lavik Larsen & Fredrik Rasten - Pip (Creative Sources, 2016) ****

On "Pip", we get another fabulous performance, now by Norwegians Fredrik Rasten on guitar and Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet. Their acoustic music is minimal, repetitive, slow and with an eery intensity.  It is less dark than some of the other albums, with Lavik Larsen's trumpet once in a while, as on "Park", even giving joyful phrases somewhat reminiscent of Rob Mazurek, yet these are more contrasts that do not change the overall tone of inevitability, doom and agony that permeates the music. Dissonance is searched for at other times, as in the weird "Habitat", sounding like animals screeching in the bush, more in distress than enjoying nature.

It isn't cheerful music, but the simple quality of the compositions/improvisations and the control in the delivery are absolutely excellent. It's amazing what you can do with two acoustic instruments. That by itself is part of the listening experience.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.

Nate Wooley - Polychoral (Mnóad, 2016) ****½

In April 2015, Nate Wooley created an 8 channel installation, and invited fellow trumpeter Peter Evans to join him. They made their improvisation loop and return and amplify in almost endless layers of sound, for one piece of fourty-five minutes, once in a while recognisable as originating from a trumpet, but mostly not, as if one tone was split to deliver several polyphonic voices gliding in different timbres along each other. Things start shifting after ten minutes when additional sounds converge, the strange and powerful deep rumbling, over which a beautiful, and almost jubilant trumpet solo sings in the distance, like a ray of light piercing through the complete darkness, accentuating it, until indescribable noises dissipate the beauty, but some feeling remains, a feeling of brightness, high-pitched but turned into a haunting and apocalyptic sonic wave, accompanied by weird electronic oscillations and industrial noise. The trumpets resonate in the distance.

It is fascinating, bewildering, extraordinary. Even if Nate Wooley and Peter Evans are "jazz musicians", there is no jazz to be heard here. This is ambient music, dark and horrifying, solemn, majestic and overpowering. And uncompromising.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Abdul Moimême & Antez - Basalto (Creative Sources, 2016) ****

Aptly called "Basalto", the black rocks resulting from lava, the music is hard, organic, ungiving, harsh and structured around a tonal center without much variation except for the timbral shifts grinding like tectonic plates under severe pressure, yet without any hope to get release from the relentless tension. Ernesto Rodrigues plays octave viola and baritone viola, Abdul Moimême is on electric guitar and Antez plays percussion, although it is hard to identify what sounds come from which instrument on the two long tracks. The music creates a sonic universe that is broad and deep, giving something fundamental and strange, like the status of our planet even before life came to be, when only rocks and water and air and fire were fighting slowly and majestically and unavoidably for their own space.

Rodrigues has become a real advocate for his kind of music, creating exceptional listening experiences to open-eared audiences, working to give other musicians the chance to release like-minded electroacoustic and avant-garde music on his Creative Sources label.

Lustmord ‎– Dark Matter (Touch, 2016) ***½

Dear jazz friends, bear with me for a moment. This is not your genre. This is music from the master of "dark ambient", British sound sculptor Brian Williams, who later changed his name into Lustmord (almost Dutch for "lust murder"). He has been working on this project for decades, collecting material from the audio library of cosmological activity collected between 1993 and 2003. It was gathered from various sources including NASA (Cape Canaveral, Ames, The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Arecibo), The Very Large Array, The National Radio Astronomy Observatory and various educational institutions and private contributors throughout the USA. Yes, I thought there were no sounds in outer space because sound doesn't travel in a vacuum, but that does not appear to be true. 

Anyway, Lustmord brought all these sounds together into one flowing movement of multilayered noise, without any other instruments or voice. The effect is perplexing. It is foreboding, immense, bounderless, and it's easy to imagine that you're travelling alone through endless dark eternity, for ever. 

MMMD - Pekisyon Funebri (Antifrost, 2016) ***

Formerly known as Mohammad, the Greek chamber doom trio, consisting of Nikos Veliotis on cello, Coti on bass and Ilios on oscillators, has reduced its name after the departure of Coti. The hearse on the cover already sets the tone, as does the title. The two musicians create deep endless sonic laments with deep reverberations and resonance. The low-toned dark sounds shift quietly and ominously, without apparent change and chance of relief or redemption, and it is especially that heavily concentrated approach, without compromise that gives the album its strong unity and listening experience, as the press texts says, "unfolding earthly murmurs and ghostly chants over their distinctive seismic diapasons". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Orthodox - Supreme (Utech, 2017) ***

'Orthodox' are Marco Serrato on bass and Borja Díaz on drums, two Spanish musicians whom we know from their duo album "Arconte", and from the Hidden Forces Trio with their albums "Topus" and "Crows Are Council". Already on these albums, doom and despair are the key ingredients, and now they are joined by Achilleas Polychronidis from the band Skullfuck (yes, Skullfuck) on sax, who adds some further rage into the madness. They categorise their own music as 'doom jazz' and this is very correct. 'Supreme' consists of one 37-minute track that starts from the deepest abysses of this earth, with eroded rumbling and unidentified growls, gradually shifting in the soundtrack for armaggeddon, or the accompanying track for a guided tour of hell, or any other place where compromise and silken sentiments are unheard of. I am not familiar with all the various subgenres in death metal ('death doom', 'death core', 'core grind', ...) but it will certainly appeal to fans of the genre.  

And even if you're no fan, which can be excused, you can only admire the single-minded vision of the three musicians to go that far and to really shy away from any concept of compromise. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ben Zucker - Confluere (No Art Records, 2016) ***½

The Ben Zucker's album 'Confluere' is a light desert in this series. Zucker is a multi-instrumentalist, playing trumpet, piano, vibraphone, percussion and several other instruments, and he describes himself as "sound designer", active in many genres, from classical over songwriting to acapella groups and jazz. With "Confluere", he actually brought several improvisations on his various instruments together on one album, without editing them, which results in quite some unexpected changes in the build-up, although it is obvious that there is a common vision behind all. The album clocks at a little over half an hour. Its slowness, the eery interaction and the shifting focus between foreground and background sounds give the feeling of foreboding and dread.

Free Jazz on Air - January 27th

Free Jazz on Air, co-hosted by our very own Martin Schray, returns next Friday, January 27th at 11 p.m. CET to German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

Martin will be joining host Julia Neupert on air for another hour of Free Jazz talk and music, this time on the phenomenon of the top ten list and trying to figure out if they really matter!

A link to the show is available for on-demand listening for a week after the broadcast.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Motif - My Head Is Listening (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

By Derek Stone

Scandinavian group Motif released their last record for Clean Feed, the wonderfully-titled Art Transplant, around five years ago; their newest release, My Head Is Listening, sees them expand from a quintet into a sextet, thanks to the addition of clarinetist Michael Thieke. As for the older players, there’s Ole Morten Vågan on double bass, Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums, Håvard Wiik on piano, Atle Nymo on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and Eivind Lønning on trumpet. Like their previous effort, My Head Is Listening strikes a fine balance between knotty, obtuse moments of improvisation, and more structured segments that display the group’s tight interplay and excellent melodic sensibilities. In short, there’s something for everyone!

The title track brings both of these elements together in a magnificent way, with Håvard Wiik’s jaunty piano lines suggesting a kind of art-damaged swing. The piece keeps the listener on his or her toes, swaying wildly between bursts of melodicism and dark, meditative stretches that are largely lacking in percussion - Atle Nymo tackles both of these with gusto, employing his tenor saxophone for the wilder moments and his bass clarinet for the more pensive sections. On the next piece, “Beams, Dreams, and Automobiles,” newest member Michael Thieke has his time to shine, with a frantic, forward-tumbling solo on the clarinet that belies the instrument’s rather staid reputation. Here too, Motif show just how well they can adjust and manipulate the intensity of the music - from the breakneck pace of the opening, to the roiling disquietude of later parts, this track reveals a group with a firm grip on the sonic pressure-valve.

Motif seem to be at their best when they take this chiaroscuro approach; at least one of the pieces, “Little Cage,” relies almost completely on skeletal, shapeless atmospherics - this track, while somewhat interesting, fails to capture the controlled chaos that the group excels in, and is too monochromatic for its own good. Thankfully, Motif never get stuck in that mire for too long: tracks like “Jazz Composition XKY53” are slow-moving without being slogs to get through, and “The Guns of Amarone, Episodes 1 & 2” is a ten-minute exercise in excitement, with drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen and bassist Ole Morten Vågan pushing the piece ever-forward with restless, shape-shifting patterns that help ground the serpentine movements of the soloists. As with fellow Scandinavians Cortex, the best moments on My Head Is Listening are those during which the raw physicality of the rhythms meets the brain-melting abstractions that the reeds and brass conjure up.

My Head Is Listening is a great record, and one that fans of Cortex or Friends & Neighbors, or even similarly hard-driving free jazz like Ornette Coleman’s first quartet, would be wise to pick up. Available now via Clean Feed!