Click here to [close]

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dominic Lash Quartet - Extremophile (Illuso Records, 2017) ****

By David Menestres

Extremophile is new album from the Dominic Lash Quartet. Their previous album, Opabina, also featured the core group of Lash on bass, Javier Carmona on percussion, and Ricardo Tejero on saxophone and clarinet. For Extremophile the pianist Alexander Hawkins has been replaced by the guitar and clarinet of Alex Ward, providing an additional burst of vitality to the group sound. Ward also recorded, mixed, and mastered Extremophile and it sounds beautiful throughout.

The first track “Puddle Ripple” is a short group improvisation leading straight into one of Lash’s tunes “Mr. S.B.,” which starts as a rather swinging groove tune. An unaccompanied bass solo in the middle of the piece leads to an exciting guitar solo from Ward, joined by the ensemble before a short reprise of the head.

Most of Extremophile is comprised of original tunes or group improvisations, but there are two interesting covers. The first, “Fumeux Fume,” is a rondeau from the late 1300s for three voices composed by the French composer Solage. Today, Solage’s work is mostly known through the “Chantilly Codex,” a collection of one hundred and twelve compositions, many of which are notated in a highly illuminated style, at least ten of which have been attributed to Solage. The medieval polyphony lends itself well to being interpreted by the group. The simple, spare opening of bass, sax, and guitar is soon joined by Carmona’s slowly growing percussion, eventually becoming an assaultive showcase for the percussionist.

The other cover on the album comes at the end, and is the longest track on the album by a good bit. At close to fourteen and a half minutes, “Mixed mixed” is a cover of Cecil Taylor’s “Mixed,” originally released on The Gil Evans album Into the Hot (Impulse! 1962). The Lash Quartet version is slowed down a bit, providing a more meditative and lyrical opening before careening off a cliff down into a wild pit of seething beautiful madness.

Extremophile is an adventurous album that manages to walk the line between improvisation and composition, producing an album with just enough form for your ear to lock unto and just enough freedom to keep your ears and your mind interested. The packaging also has nice artwork by Shea Walsh, worth the few extra dollars for a physical copy over the download.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

STAUB Quartet - House Full of Colors (JACC, 2017) ****½

By Antonio Poscic

When listening to and thinking of abstract music, it’s not rare to fall into states of faux synesthesia. Our subconscious selves, faced with a lack of context and fixed familiar forms, surreptitiously take over and translate sounds into images and sensations, creating associations through atmospheres and memories of touch, taste, and smell. Thus the music takes the appearance of films, paintings, and moods, while individual sounds are transformed into still frames, fuzzy brushstrokes, and granules of emotion. In the case of Portuguese STAUB Quartet’s debut record, House Full of Colors, the tables are turned on the listeners as the group shapes the music in an impressionistic manner, their playing mimicking the dispersion of light through prisms, breaking into colors and projecting hidden imaginaria.

The album opens with Miguel Mira’s cello striking gently and followed only by restrained rushes of Hernani Faustino’s double bass. Soon, they are joined by Marcelo dos Reis’ fragmented guitar chords, accentuating rather than dictating, while Carlos “Zingaro” Alves’ violin dances spastically, fleshing out an abstraction of a tuneful melody in the background. “Quiet Arcs” is a bright, vibrant piece with a sense of optimism in its notes and improvised percussion emanating from the bodies of the stringed instruments. In contrast to this calm cut, what follows becomes all the more striking. “Red Curtains” whirls nervously, leaving behind a heavy taste, both material and ethereal, of light filtering through thick, dark drapes. It’s a sparse and deep song that explodes and subsides in waves of cello, violin, and double bass pandemonium, supported by dos Reis’ repetitive, droning guitar plucks.

Comprised of prominent members of the bustling Portuguese free jazz and free improv scene, STAUB Quartet presents music imbued with Mediterranean passion and joviality which is channeled into improvised patterns that are both spontaneous and cleverly thought out. The intro of “Opacity Rings”, the longest piece on the record, is a good example of such an approach. The movement starts muted and quiet, opaque even, in dark overtones, resembling the soundtrack of a Carlos Reygadas movie, encompassing all that lust and grief of life that the Mexican director tries to capture. Carlos Zingaro’s violin bows densely but freely, while counterpointing percussion and bass twangs sit opposite to it, almost stuck in place. Unlike what the title of Reygadas’ masterpiece Stellet Licht suggest, the light here is anything but silent.

The final three pieces, “Knots of Light”, “Resonant Shades”, and “Discrete Auroras” dispel the heaviness brought on by “Opacity Rings”. The musicians chase each other hastily yet patiently, creating structures that are knotted in one moment, forcefully dynamic and bright in the next. “Knots of Light” is markedly aggressive, with the four stringed instruments clashing over each other. Dos Reis’ guitar devises another bulbous but undulating loop, Carlos Zingaro’s violin screams fiercely, while Mira and Faustino find themselves confined in the space between them. With such a musical accompaniment, the idea of tangles of luminous matter exploding and flickering becomes vivid, almost palpable. In contrast, “Resonant Shades” reigns in the chaos brought on by the previous track as dos Reis settles in a liberated role, dominating the track with his playing, simultaneously euphonic and serpentine. “Discrete Auroras” closes the circle with a surprising cyclical melody leading back, through an imaginary connection, to the record’s opening piece.

As expected, the meeting between four forces of the European creative music scene, which Miguel Mira, Carlos Zingaro, Hernani Faustino, and Marcelo dos Reis undoubtedly are, results in a seemingly fragile and volatile—as the light it is inspired by—yet vigorous experience. Permeated by a sense of frolic and obvious camaraderie, House Full of Colors explores the material through the immaterial, lighting everything with its inner luminescence as it fleshes out concepts that we thought were somehow confined to our mental spaces.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trio Heinz Herbert - The Willisau Concert (Intakt, 2017) ****

By Derek Stone

Though it may seem like a relatively recent development, free jazz musicians have never shied away from integrating electronic elements into their work; think of Bob Ostertag’s synthesized explorations on Braxton’s monumental Creative Orchestra (Köln) 1978, or Evan Parker’s ElectroAcoustic Ensemble, formed in 1990. One thing that has been lacking, however, is an incorporation of more varied electronic idioms - most free jazz artists are content to simply let the sounds act as accents or atmospheric overlays. Trio Heinz Herbert, consisting of Dominic Landolt on guitar and effects, Ramon Landolt on keys, synth, and samples, and Mario Hänni on drums, is a Zürich-based group that seems to be pushing for a fuller, more wide-ranging fusion of the worlds of free jazz and electronic music. The Willisau Concert documents a performance at the Jazzfestival Willisau in September 2016, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of the intriguing and idiosyncratic approach taken by the Trio.

The first piece in the set, “Granular Liebe / LEI,” opens with tentative guitar tones, a bubbling synth, and drums that rattle cautiously underneath. One’s first impression is of just how much physicality is present here - in particular, Ramon Landolt’s sound manipulations are akin to those created by groups such as Autechre; whether he’s releasing dense, bone-rattling surges of bass or skittering rhythms that recall chiptune in their manic relentlessness, his productions always seem to be carefully toeing the line that exists between “artificial” and “organic.” As the second half of the track unfolds, we get a taste of the ambience that Trio Heinz Herbert can create. Dominic Landolt’s guitar pushes along with locomotive persistence, Hänni steadily increases both the tempo and complexity of his drum-work, and Ramon Landolt bathes the piece in swirling, subdued sine-waves. As its title suggests, “Fragment Z” is an extended, yet skeletal, soundscape that finds the group flirting with free-form abstraction. As such, it’s the perfect palette-cleanser before “Bruggada” brings the three musicians back into the realm of structure and straightforward melodicism. Just as the next track, “Hyper Down,” seems like it will collapse back into formlessness, Ramon Landolt unveils an impressionistic and oddly affecting chord progression on the keys that sends the piece in another direction entirely. Dominic Landolt’s now-familiar guitar chug is a key component here, adding as it does a kind of textural glue to the composition.

The next two tracks, “Heinz Steps” and “Planet Cita K” offer a refreshing change of pace. The former is a foray into sinister psychedelia, one that dips its toe into several sonic pools: slippery shapelessness, funk-indebted strut, and, most surprisingly, blistering punk rock. The latter sees the return of Ramon Landolt’s soft washes of synth, in addition to introducing a series of evocative chants that call to mind New Age music - if it’s been radiation-fried and left stranded on the barren surface of an alien world, that is. Trio Heinz Herbert’s The Willisau Concert is one of the more inspired blends of electronic and improvised music that I’ve heard recently, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes their free jazz on the “freer” side. No, there are no wild, skronking outbursts here - it’s not that kind of free. On the contrary, Trio Heinz Herbert are more interested in the liberation that results when the dividing lines between genres are shaken up, blurred, and (in some cases) discarded entirely.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Agustí Martínez / Eduard Altaba / Quicu Samsó – On the Nature of Will (Discordian Records, 2017) ****

By Rick Joines

On the Nature of Will seems to begin in media res: a slow drum fill from Quicu Samsó, a few mournful saxophone notes that quickly become an insistent plaintive murmuring from Agustí Martínez, and a repetitive, thundering pizzicato and arco from Eduard Altaba on bass. “Vital Fluidity” opens the album illustrating the virtuosic range of this trio. Just past the midpoint of this short piece, the band reaches a crescendo when Samsó dominates, overwhelming the sax and bass, until all three fall nearly silent. Martínez breathes through his sax, emitting an occasional squeak, Altaba rubs something—a wooden rosary? a handful of dominoes?—around his bass, and Samsó thwaps the metal bits of his kit. This opening track asks for our attention if we are to follow this trio’s mercurial shifts of tone, rhythm, and volume.

“Anesthetic Dreams” begins much the same way as “Vital Fluidity,” only slower, sadder. Samsó rattles around the drum kit, the toms echoing from unconscious depths. Martínez plays a deep, husky, and emotive melody that evokes the smokiness of a Lester Young or Ben Webster ballad. Then Samsó’s wonderfully languid drum solo introduces a new tack from Martínez. Accompanied by brushes and a low cycling arco from Altaba, Martínez merely breathes, fluttering the stops. If we’re not paying attention, we might think the song has ended, but Martínez returns with a turbulent authority that draws Altaba and Samsó into the melee. Like the dreams of its title, the song tosses and turns from a gentle somnolence to confused agitation before curling up into the comfort of a wooly blanket.

“The Sand People” hovers as if over a Tatooine landscape, with Altaba “silent” fingering the neck of the bass, striking it, bowing the tailpiece, plucking, tapping, and emitting a few warping gull sounds here and there. After Samsó enters, brushing the snare, gradually adding to the steady percussiveness of Altaba, Martínez quietly peeks through the rubble until they’re all chasing a rhythm like a runaway landcruiser disappearing as night falls on the desert. The playing of Martínez on “Rusty Bones” is a melancholic as John Coltrane’s on “Alabama,” and on “Vulcanization,” the trio plays in the vein of the Ornette Coleman Trio, picking up the pace—bass and drums frantic, Martínez’s sax articulating lines adamant on its point. “Ruby Eye” begins with a disorganized field of metallic and wooden sounds from Altaba and Samsó. Martínez’s hollow breathing echoes, then prompts Altaba’s bowing; viola-like overtones rise between them. “Ruby Eye” is as forlorn as it is tangled in the trio’s agile interplay.

The passion exhibited in the next to last track, “Lust for the Sun,” is of a more playful, randier variety. The phrase “lust for the sun” occurs as a coda to Sappho’s Fragment 58, the shred of papyrus found in 2004 on a winding sheet of an Egyptian mummy. Sappho bemoans the fact of aging—black hair turns white, knees no longer nimble as fawns. Though she sighs, she knows that to be human is to age. Even the mortal Tithonus, she says, after whom the god of Dawn lusted, and then married, was subject to the ravages of time, but Sappho, like him, luxuriates in the bright embrace of the sun. Like Sappho, Martínez, Altaba, and Samsó express the eternal craving that mourns its inability to reach satisfaction.

On the Nature of Will ends with the subdued “A Tiny Green Fire in the Limelight.” While Altaba draws a heavy bow across strings and Samsó brushes and tinks anything in reach, Martínez plays what is, essentially, a breath solo, only now and again tightening his embouchure enough for a note to sound, and for us to notice him shivering the stops.

This trio of Martínez, Altaba, and Samsó are heirs to a lineage of free improvisatory interplay heard, notably, on The Ornette Coleman Trio’s live recordings from 1965: The Great London Concert and At The "Golden Circle," Stockholm. Like those records, the style and tempo of On the Nature of the Will moves back and forth from the solemnitude of Coleman’s “Morning Song,” to the puckishness of his “Happy Fool,” and to the vehement pace of “The Riddle.” Martínez, Altaba, and Samsó contribute to the evolution of this tradition with their arsenal of extended techniques, which complicates not only the emotional core of the music but increases the range of technical possibilities for a sax, bass, and drums trio.

On the Nature of the Will was released by Discordian Records, which says it is “a label and recording studio that promotes Barcelona's underground avant-garde music scene.” I am grateful to them for introducing me to a scene of free jazz of which I was ignorant, and a little put out that now I need to figure out how to finance a plane ticket so I can wander the jazz clubs of Barcelona. The only quibble I have about this record is its brevity (44 minutes) and the brevity of individual songs (average length: a bit more than 5 minutes). Obviously with this trio, “less is more,” for they often play sparsely and quietly, but like Sappho, I am left lusting for more.  This is an enthralling record that makes me want to listen to each of the back catalogs of Martínez, Altaba, and Samsó, and I am eager to hear their future releases.

Available here:

Agustí Martínez:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Introducing Slovenian Drummer Zlatko Kaučič

By Eyal Hareuveni

Slovenian drummer-percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, one of the most prolific musicians the Slovenian as well as the Italian scenes, began to gain well-deserved international recognition in the last decade due to his collaborations with some of the most innovative European musicians. Kaučič recorded with reeds players Peter Brötzmann (Tolminski Punt, Splasc(h), 2007), Evan Parker (Round About One O’Clock, Not Two, 2011), Ab Baars (Canvas, Not Two, 2015), double bass player Joëlle Léandre (A Woman’s Work, Not Two, 2016), and pianist Agustí Fernández (Sonic Party, Not Two, 2014). In all of these free-improvised meetings, Kaučič presented his own highly personal language. The following, recent releases of Kaučič, suggest other sides of this unique musician-composer-improviser.

Daniele D'Agaro / Giovanni Maier / Zlatko Kaučič - Disorder at the Border plays Ornette (Not Two, 2016) ***1/2

Joe McPhee tells an insightful story about Ornette Coleman in a poem he dedicated to both Coleman and bass player Dominic Duval:

“Roy Campbell Jr. asked the great man,

‘In what key would you like to play?’

To which Mr. Coleman replied,

‘The only keys I have are the keys in my pocket”.

Disorder in the Border, the trio that gave Coleman Hawkins' tune a prophetic, political meaning - Italian reeds player Daniele D'Agaro and double bass player Giovanni Maier with Kaučič applies Coleman's lesson. The trio interprets Coleman's tunes as if these ones were their own music, clearly not attempting to follow Coleman's highly personal delivery of these tunes. Disorder in the Border's acoustic instrumentation is different from the groups who recorded on the six Coleman tunes covered here, most of them from the middle to the late sixties, enabling the trio to stress its own voice.

The trio's sophomore album was recorded live - like their live self-titled, free-improvised debut album (released on Maier’s Palomar Records, 2014) - on October 2015 at the Jazz & Wine Festival in Cormons, Italy. The live setting commands the album's urgent, organic atmosphere. “New York”, which opens the album, and “Comme Il Faut”, which closes it, are based on the complex polyrhythms of Maier and Kaučičm but both pieces are deeply rooted in the European legacy of free jazz: more nervous and muscular, less lyrical and not bound by any rhythmic pattern. The intense performance of “The Garden of Souls” and the abstract interpretation of “Him & Her” cement Maier's dominant role in this egalitarian trio, alternating brilliantly between fast bow work, extended bowing techniques and tough pizzicato work, while D'Agaro and Kaučič outline the basic motifs. Only the ballad “Faithful”, the only tune originally played by a Coleman trio (The Empty Foxhole, Blue Note, 1968), covered here in a quiet and delicate arrangement, and the brief “Mob Job” (played by Coleman and Pat Metheny on Song X, Geffen, 1986), are close in in spirit to the lyrical, rhythmic side of Coleman.

Zlatko Kaučič Cerkno Jubileum Orchestra ‎– Zvočni Sejalec (Klopotec, 2016) ****

Zvočni Sejalec (Sound Shower in Slovene) is dedicated to the memory of the founder and long-time director of the Slovenian festival Jazz Cerkno, Boštjan Cveka. Kaučič conducts a 12 Italian and Slovenian musician orchestra, formed especially for the 20th edition of Jazz Cerkno, featuring double bass player Maier and sax player Cene Resnik (his quartet album, From The Sky, was released by Clean Feed, 2014) . Zvočni Sejalec was recorded live on on May 2015.

The orchestra's emotionally-charged performance is a wild journey through many colorful sonic universes and modes. This orchestra encompasses spacey ballad form on “To Paul”; contrasts Sun Ra Arkestra-tinged, fusion freak-out with guitar riffs that echo the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” on “Kozmično Doživetje” (Cosmic Experience), with a wild guitar solo by Vitja Balžalorsky; exploring gentle folk motifs on the abstract, collective improvisation “Bombarduon” and popular film themes on “Na Svoji Zemlji”; suggesting its local Mediterranean interpretation to the New-Orleans-ian funeral march on “Kekčeva Pesem” (Kekčeva Song) and concluding with “Srečko Lesica” that deconstructs Balkan themes and then weaves them again until the propulsive, folk dance-like coda.

Orchestra Senza Confini / Orkester Brez Meja ‎– Schengen (Dobialabel, 2016) ***1/2

The Orchestra Senza Confini/Orkester Brez Meja (Borderless Orchestra in Italian and Slovene), is a joint project of Kaučič, who led before the Slovenian Kombo B Orchestra, and Maier who has played in the Italian Instabile Orchestra and founded the Italian research-improvisation collective Dob Orchestra. The orchestra was founded in 2011 for the first edition of the Slovenian Brda Contemporary Music Festival. Schengen, titled after The Schengen Agreement that led to the creation of Europe's Schengen Area, in which internal border checks have largely been abolished, is meant to symbolizes and reaffirms the European values, especially in times of tension and hatred towards foreigners. It is the orchestra sophomore album after a self-titled debut (Dobialabel, 2015). The orchestra was recorded at the Italian Le Nuove Rotte del Jazz festival in Trieste on June 2015

Kaučič and Maier act as simultaneous conductors of this expanded form of the orchestra, including students from Trieste jazz conservatory, and featuring all together 23 Italian, Slovenian, and Croatian musicians. The sonic scope and varied instrumentation of the orchestra - including vocal artist and live electronics player - enable Kaučič and Maier to sketch a colorful, kaleidoscopic and multifaceted textures. These textures alternate immediately between contrasting dynamics, from contemplative and serene segments to chaotic and energetic, often even eccentric ones, highlighting the commanding contributions of vocalist Elisa Ulian, clarinet player Clarissa Durizzotto, and flutist Paolo Pascolo. Kaučič and Maier, who keep exchanging “sections” of conductions, succeed to keep the eager musicians focused and to maintain a delicate, always engaging coherence.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Aki Takase and David Murray – Cherry-Sakura (Intakt, 2017) ****

It’s been hard to figure David Murray out during the last decade.  After being so prolific and consistently inspired during the 1980s and 1990s—helping to put the Black Saint label on the map with iconic records like Ming, Sweet Lovely, The Hill, and Body and Soul, not to mention his countless titles for DIW and other labels, productivity that continued well into the early 2000s—his recent output has been relatively sporadic, without a clear trajectory.  He went from releasing at least one record a year (and often more like three or four) to one every couple years, and only a handful since 2009.  It’s also been a strange mix of repertoire and concept since then: a Cuban-styled tribute to Nat Cole; a funk/fusion disc co-led with Jamaaladeen Tacuma; and a vocalist-driven record with Macy Gray and Gregory Porter.  None of these recordings were slapdash or poorly made; it really seems hard to conceive of David Murray ever making a bad record.  But at the same time, it did seem as though something was missing—a lack of fire or sustained sense of purpose, perhaps—and some wondered if Murray’s best years were behind him.  Then last year, he made a heck of a record with Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington (Perfection), a scorching tribute to Ornette Coleman that earned its way onto a number of critics’ best-of lists for the year and suggested that a revitalized Murray was on his way. 

And now, further evidence: he’s gone back to an old friend, pianist Aki Takase, with whom he first made a duo record back in 1993 (Blue Monk), during one of his most fertile recording periods when both he and Takase were charging ahead with their mutual commitment to breathe avant-garde life into classic repertoire.  That record included a bunch of standards (five by Monk, along with “Body and Soul” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Mr. Jelly Roll”), but with the outward-leaning touches that made their engagement with the tradition seem fresh and invigorating.  So after almost twenty-five years since their first meeting, how does this one sound?

Quite good, as it turns out.  Although not perhaps in the manner one might expect.  There are fewer of Murray’s upper-register flights and nimble acrobatics, and more of a gravitas, a measured delivery and soulful voice that might represent the perspective of an older Murray, or maybe a deeper engagement with the spiritual center of the music.  From the first few bars of Murray’s rich tenor on the haunting, gorgeous opener, “Cherry-Sakura,” one senses that this music will involve the search to find a deeper emotional resonance than mere technical brilliance could offer.  (Even so, anyone wondering whether Murray can still deliver the goods should check out Takase’s “A Very Long Letter,” the second cut on the record, for proof that he can still head into the stratosphere whenever he wants to do so.)  Takase also sounds less aggressive, seeking the substance of each tune and drawing out its essence rather than relying solely on technique (although like Murray, she has a few adventurous departures of her own on the record—note her punchy, tempestuous surges on Murray’s “Stressology” as an example). 

Subtle gospel and blues-based flourishes appear from time to time, and there’s a stately elegance to a lot of the playing that is very compelling, even though some listeners might want a bit more fire and flash.  With four of the tracks credited to Takase and three to Murray (and just one cover: Monk’s “Let’s Cool One”—yes, it seems appropriate that there’s a Monk cover), it’s not at all fair to characterize this as a David Murray record.  It’s a true partnership, and both players seem equally keen to abandon theatrics in favor of a humble quest for beauty.  Fortunately for the listener, they manage to find it more often than not.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Filosofer and Nakama: Christian Meaas Svendsen at Work

By Paul Acquaro

Filosofer - landet er gitt oss (Nakama Records, 2016) ***½

'Planet earth is about to be recycled ... your only choice to survive is to leave with us,' so says the omnipotent voice that begins 'vi er universitet'. A loopish sequence of plucked strings follows, sounds rise and fall, explosions, synthetic drum beats, and waves of electronic noise. Short phrases repeat and layer, and a Celtic-like drone appears as the sound accretion becomes music drawn from the sonic chaos. Soon, the layers whip to a frenzy, then break down, and a sample of a woman's wailing voice raises the tension. The sounds of the strings and the synth blend into one and give way to electronic chirps and eventually a melodic refrain. Next track, 'den end i forandering' takes a more rhythmic approach, the percussive sounds conjure a hypnotic beat that cuts through dissonant drones, pointed attacks, and spiritual imbued singing, until finally dissolving into a dark refrain from the piano.

The textural leaning quintet, Filosofer, possesses an uncanny ability to hypnotize. The group features bassists Christian Meaas Svendsen and Erlend Albertsen, violinists Håkon Aase and Adrian Løseth Waade, and DJ/synth player Bendik Baksaas.

Nakama - Grand Line (Nakama Records, 2016) ****

While Nakama shares some of the same players as Filosofer, namely violinist Waade and bassist Svendsen, the opening 'plink' of the piano signals a much different sound. Replacing the electronics and sampling with piano and drums, the approach is more traditional in some sense, but in the same instance, unique in its musical combinations.

On the long opening track, 'Doremigo + Taiko', The strings generate a buzz while the piano plays an elliptical theme that underpins the following 30 minutes of music, in some shape or form. The drums play the parts of rhythmic driver and musical partner in reacting to both the set forms and spontaneous ideas. As the track unfolds, the instruments change roles, overlap in sound, and trade off lines in a seemingly effortless flow.

Nakama is:

Adrian Løseth Waade — violin
Ayumi Tanaka — piano
Andreas Wildhagen — drums
Christian Meaas Svendsen — double bass

Nakama - Most Intimate (Nakama Records, 2016) ****

Most Intimate came out at the tail end of 2016, in the same busy year for Svendsen as Grand Line. The album is certainly a continuation of the lithe and effective work they began on the previous album, but a more assured urgency drives the music on Most Intimate as the group explores with acoustic intimacy. Opening track 'Intimate' is a quiet but insistent greeting, the strings gently demand action, while the piano tried to calm things down. We then proceed into the cycle of 'Dedication I', 'Gratification I', and 'Unification I', a pattern that repeats itself four times until finally reaching the resolute calm of 'Most Intimate'.

'Dedication I' is forlorn and longing, a melody is eeked out of the violin, lost in a percussion-less haze of melancholy. 'Gratitude I' is an exploration of textures on a solo instrument, this time the drums, and 'Unification I' see the group together in a free improvisation that slowly conceals. Each time through the cycle, the intensity ratchets up a bit and the instrumental combination of change.
A truly beautiful and exploratory album from a fascinating group.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Orenda Records: 3 Years and Counting - In the Studio

By Lee Rice Epstein

DR. MiNT - Voices In the Void (Orenda, 2017) ****

The latest from DR. MiNT marks another step forward in their ongoing experiment with instant composing and fusion-inspired jazz. Now in their tenth year as a band, the bi-coastal quintet consists of trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, saxophonist Gavin Templeton, and guitarist Alexander Noice from LA, and bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Caleb Dolister from NYC. Voices In the Void was recorded over two days during the summer of 2016 and reflects a science-fiction optimism in a boundless future. Minaie and Dolister’s interlocking rhythms and Noice’s spacious guitar present a funky, futuristic canvas for Rosenboom and Templeton’s bright, melodic improvisations. In a close listen, you can hear the different ways each member of the quintet is both responding to and urging on every other player. Running just over half an hour, Voices In the Void is a brisk, addictive entry in DR. MiNT’s catalog of space-time explorations, revealing its many connected ideas upon repeat listens.

Available on Bandcamp (in digital and red vinyl edition)

Cathlene Pineda - Passing: A California Suite (Orenda, 2016) ***

A brief suite, running about 30 minutes total, Passing is Cathlene Pineda’s second quartet album for Orenda. Supported by bassist David Tranchina and drummer Paul Kikuchi, Pineda again paired her piano with Kris Tiner’s expressive trumpet. The two move in unison throughout the record, reflecting on the poetry of Eloise Klein-Healy, the City of Los Angeles’s first-ever poet laureate. The suite, commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society for the Angel City Jazz Festival, is saturated with a California aesthetic that’s not often heard on LA-centric albums. A relaxed and open atmosphere hints at the complex beauty of the city, and Passing plays as both a tribute and elegy. Maybe it’s the coastal association and similar voicing, but Pineda’s quartet reminded me somewhat of Myra Melford’s The Same River, Twice ensemble. She has a similar knack for wringing a great deal of emotion from light gestures.

Available on Bandcamp

Alexander Noice - Music Made With Voices (Orenda, 2016) ***½

Known for the avant-punk of Falsetto Teeth and his sextet, both driven by his incredible guitar work, Noice’s solo debut goes in practically every direction I never expected. Music Made With Voices is exactly that, an album crafted from a single note sung by eight people. The notes were then chopped, screwed, twisted, and processed in every conceivable way to create a set of sonic portraits. Each track is named for, and comprised solely of, one person: Karina Kallas, Frank Noice, Masatoshi Sato, Ihui Wu, Dorian Wood, Argenta Walther, Charlyne Yi, and Noice, himself. Throughout the song cycle, Noice infuses areas of the different works with suggestions of breath, beating hearts, and firing synapses. That the cast is made up of friends and family gives the music an underlying intimacy that grounds this experimental work.

Available on Bandcamp

Burning Ghosts - Burning Ghosts (Orenda, 2016) ****

Recorded in mid-2015 with a focus on contemporary issues like racism and economic inequality, Burning Ghosts’s debut has only become more vital and necessary in 2017. A new quartet, led by Rosenboom, and featuring Jake Vossler on guitar, Richard Giddens on upright bass, and Aaron McLendon on drums. The performance is less electro-acoustic and more metal-jazz. Giddens and McLendon pivot effortlessly from swing to thrash, and Vossler’s guitar playing is phenomenally expressive (he and McLendon also have a fierce duo album, Versus). And Rosenboom is, simply put, one of the best trumpet players alive right now. He can play seemingly any style, and no matter the band or project, his passion for justice and creative expression shine through. As with DR. MiNT, this group feels very much like a collaboration, albeit one that’s driven by Rosenboom’s personal vision. Burning Ghosts’s follow-up is due out on Tzadik’s Spotlight series later this year, which, if nothing I’ve written here swayed you, should be recommendation enough.

Available on Bandcamp

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Orenda Records: 3 Years and Counting - Live at Blue Whale

By Lee Rice Epstein

Earlier this year, the LA-based independent label Orenda Records celebrated its 3rd anniversary with a massive night at Blue Whale. The night featured three sets of music and a gorgeous installation by artist Eron Rauch (who designs many of Orenda’s album covers). Founded by trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom Orenda’s name comes from an Iroquois term meaning “a mystical force present in all things that accounts for all human attainment.” The aim of the label is to promote music that pushes boundaries, sonically and philosophically.

Hall of Fallen Empires

Rauch’s installation The Hall of Fallen Empires featured imagined flags from dozens of fictional empires from any time in history and anywhere in the universe. Many of the flags were printed and hung around the room, and there was a thick binder near the entrance with hundreds of pages on various fallen empires. The installation was visible for this one night only, and I spent a good half hour just walking around the room taking in the flags, and at least another 20 minutes flipping through the binder. Rauch’s brilliant project, which featured work by him and several of the musicians performing that night, complemented Orenda’s boundary-less aesthetic and set a tone of radical experimentation that continued throughout the night.

Snow Nerds

Snow Nerds

First up was Snow Nerds, a relatively new quartet with guitarist Jake Sucher, saxophonist Ted Taforo, bassist Anna Butterss, and drummer Jesse Quebbeman-Turley. Their debut album, Gup Life, is coming soon on Orenda, and their set served as a decent preview. Snow Nerds has a bright, zippy sound and a warm sense of humor (see: band name and album title), but the sound mix wasn’t kind. Quebbeman-Turley’s drums were heavy for the room, and the various textures and effects were often lost. That said, Sucher and Taforo have an excellent rapport, and Sucher’s knotty melodies leave plenty of room for some excellent improvisation.



Celebrating a decade of playing together as DR. MiNT, the quintet of Rosenboom, saxophonist Gavin Templeton, guitarist Alexander Noice, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer Caleb Dolister don’t often get to tour together. Notably based half in LA and half in NYC, DR. MiNT plays a style of jazz-fusion defined by their approach to spontaneous composition. This was absolutely thrilling to see live, as Rosenboom and Templeton were constantly signaling to each other and collaborating on melodic lines in real time. Their voicing is so utterly in sync, with a dense middle provided by Noice, who doubled on guitar and electronics. Noice sometimes reminds me of early-2000’s Nels Cline. And playing an acoustic translation of electronic jazz-funk, Minaie and Dolister are an unbelievably adept rhythm section. Dolister, in particular, is amazing to watch in person.

Orenda Anniversary Orchestra, led by Daniel Rosenboom

For the closing act, Rosenboom conducted a partially improvised orchestral piece for roughly 16 players, including Christine Tavolacci, Gavin Templeton, Michael Mull, Jonathan Rowden, Andrew Conrad, Brian Walsh, Ryan Dragon, Stefan Kac, Cathlene Pineda, Joshua White, Alexander Noice, Max Kutner, Sam Minaie, Caleb Dolister and Trevor Anderies. With layered horns, piano and keyboards, two guitarists, and DR. MiNT’s Wonder-Twins rhythm section of Minaie and Dolister, the anniversary orchestra gamely navigated Rosenboom’s conduction. A former student of Wadada Leo Smith, Rosenboom expertly guided the large group, highlighting each player in solo and signaling ad hoc countermelodies for winds and brass. It was the kind of performance I’d really love to return to, since I surely missed about half of what was going on. And yet, in so many ways, that was the point. Like the Hall of Fallen Empires, the Orenda Anniversary Orchestra existed wholly in the moment, a grand celebration of everything that’s great about Rosenboom’s Orenda Records.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Olie Brice / Achim Kaufmann - Of Tides (Babel Label, 2017) *****

By Rick Joines

The art critic Clement Greenberg, who championed the paintings of Jackson Pollock, argued that the value of a work of art depends on the artist’s realization of the virtues of the medium, which in “each art is unique and strictly itself.” Using his concept of “medium specificity,” Greenberg judges a painting by how well it actualizes the possibilities inherent in its materials. A painting is made of paint, thrown, dripped, or layered on canvas. The art is “about” nothing so much as the materiality of its making. A painting fails if it relies on specificities from other media to create an illusion of space, or dimension, or to tell a story. “A painting is not a picture of an experience,” says abstract expressionist Mark Rothko; “it is an experience.” Avant-garde art is inscrutable, indescribable, and its effect on its audience is visceral. If it triggers ideas or emotions, they unfold as ungovernable connotations peculiar to each of us.

Jackson Pollock, “Lavender Mist
Olie Brice and Achim Kaufmann make avant-garde jazz with a similar intensity, movement, and spontaneity to Jackson Pollock painting. They play aggressively, percussively, with a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners approach. Their music does not rely on coaxing an audience’s emotional reaction out of familiar themes or mere technical skill. Instead, they rely on the material bodies of the piano, the bass, and of themselves. Like Mola Ram in the Temple of Doom, they reach into the chests of their instruments and rip out their beating hearts.

Olie Brice

Olie Brice plays bass as if he’s jumped onto a bear’s back to throttle it but then tries to Greco-Roman wrestle it to the ground. It is mesmerizing because there is no way to predict who will win. His pizzicato pounds like a battering ram knocking down doors, or taps like a hammer on notes like nails. His bowing bounces and stutters, then soars and dives to rip open space. Few bassists leave me as awestruck as Olie Brice.

Grünen — Achim Kaufmann, Robert Landfermann, Christian Lillinger

Achim Kaufmann’s body of work demonstrates a pianist constantly exploring the possibilities of his medium. His two Grünen albums (with Robert Landfermann and Christian Lillinger) are especially fantastic. Kaufmann plays outside and inside the piano. Like a bowerbird’s nest, his piano is filled with an odd assortment of objects used to make the piano scream like an overdriven guitar, tinkle like a harpsicord or autoharp, or ring like a bell or glockenspiel. He is always moving up and down, reaching inside the piano, adjusting foreign objects, scraping, tapping, or strumming strings. Sitting before the keys, Kaufmann invents clusters and lines like a classical avant-garde pianist.

There are five tracks on Of Tides. “Moss Grows in the Cracks” slowly accretes out of a slow droning. Kaufmann works inside the piano tapping, scraping strings like a guitarist doing a pick slide, echoing Brice’s arco. About half way in, Brice’s bass buzzes and vibrates so resoundingly, it’s a wonder it doesn’t fly apart. “The Rumble of Constant Adjustments” starts like a minor blues and becomes a twenty-three minute tour de force painted with everything on Brice and Kaufmann’s palettes. Brice’s walking bass lines wander behind Kaufmann’s rhythm and his dissonant, atonal chording. It is a showcase of the possibilities of their instruments and of the experience their playing can be. “Cogitations,” the short center piece, is meditative, contemplative, gentle and unhurried. It is the loveliest track and the one least likely to frighten the dog or cause your friends to call you “weird.” “To Heap,” as the title suggests, is an accumulation of sounds from Brice’s bass and Kaufmann’s piano that perhaps the instruments weren’t aware they were capable of making. It begins with Kaufmann’s heavy left handing and Brice’s throbbing pizzicato piling together in a scrum. Kaufmann’s prepared piano dopplers in and out of tune like an old juke joint vertical or the music on a slowly unwinding gramophone. He taps and plucks strings that ring like cymbals, or sing like violins, or drip like water on pipes knocking in an echoing underground tunnel. “To Heap” also features a three-minute sui generis bass solo. “Of Tides” closes out the album with Kaufman and Brice like the sea and wind contending. Brice’s bow bounces and skips across strings. Kaufmann’s piano peeks up, sounding like tubular bells that mutates into deep notes conjured darkly by his left hand. Half way in, waves of sound crash in stormy interplay. The song culminates in muted percussive chording from Kaufmann, playing the keys and inside the piano, reminiscent of both Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Like the tide, the music then recedes and washes out.

I am inordinately fond of Brice and Kaufmann’s Of Tides, and I am in utter admiration of Brice and Kaufmann’s playing. I have listened to Of Tides dozens and dozens of times, and it keeps yielding new things. Hearing it is, to me, like standing in front of a large-scale Pollock or Rothko. The effect is overwhelming—physically, intellectually, emotionally—yet without my being able to describe exactly why. Of Tides is by far the most compelling album I have heard in 2017.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Latest From Lasse Marhaug

By Eyal Hareuveni

Israeli-Swedish musician Dror Feiler, a frequent collaborator of Norwegian sound artist Lasse Marhaug (they performed recently in the United States though their latest documented work is the vinyl No More Drama, No Fun Productions, 2008), described the transformative power of noise in music: “The abrasive raucousness in the music is an attempt to alter how people hear. Noise is confrontational, affective and transformative. It has shock value, and defamiliarizes the listener who expects from music an easy fluency, a secure familiarity, or any sort of mollification. Noise, that is, politicizes the aural environment.”

Feiler further claimed that noise forces the listener to adopt a more active and concentrated listening, “the most acute attention to simultaneous multiplicity of movement, forces and expression, the renunciation of the customary crutches of listening which always knows what to expect and the intensive perception of the unique, the specific and the general”.

Marhaug is often labeled as a noise artist and his aesthetics embrace Feiler's ideas about the role of noise in music. But this description misses his many qualities as a highly original, versatile, and imaginative sound artist-free-improviser who has developed a unique language, using wide range of electronic devices with turntables, often characterized by a sharp, sardonic sense of humor. Marhaug is also in-demand sound engineer and producer who runs his own studio (“the best studio in Oslo”), label owner (Pica Disk and Prisma Records), editor and publisher (his Marhaug Forlag publishes the magazine Personal Best) and a graphic designer.

Kim Myhr / Lasse Marhaug - On the Silver Globe (Sofa Music, 2017) ****½


On the Silver Globe originated as a commission from the MetaMorf art biennale in Trondheim for the experimental Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr and Marhaug. Their first ever collaboration was a 8-channel piece for the biennale 2016 edition. Soon after the performance version of this piece Myhr and Marhaug headed into the studio to record a stereo-version of the piece.

The 30-minutes On the Silver Globe borrows its title from the 1988 sci-fi film by Polish director Andrzej Żuławski (1940-2016), a story set on a distant planet but can also be read as a political allegory about the struggle against totalitarianism. This film was stopped, mid-production by the Polish authorities and was not released until ten years later, with unfinished scenes replaced by unrelated, realist footage. The piece also references Andrew Smith’s Moon Dust book, about the astronauts of the Apollo program who walked on the moon and how their lives changed after this extraordinary experience.

Myhr and Marhaug used many instruments in the studio version of this piece - guitar, vintage analogue and modular synthesizers, oscillators, granular synthesis, digital processing, acoustic objects, and a wide range of studio trickery. The outcome is a fascinating, almost psychedelic trip of atmospheric sounds. These rich sounds come and go in all kinds, colors and shapes, always on the move, keep resonating, shifting and morphing into new sonic entities, alternating between sudden, delicate dynamics and textures. This cosmic flow of sounds reaches patiently its inevitable conclusion, in which all cosmic matter - including sounds - is sucked gently into a black hole.

Sult / Marhaug - Harpoon (Pica Disc/Conard Sound, 2017) ***½

The free-improvising trio Sult features Oslo-based guitarist Håvard Skaset and double bass player Guro Skumsnes Moe with Oakland-based percussionist Jacob Felix Heule. Sult has been working since 2007, focusing on exploring the “hidden sounds” of their acoustic instruments, magnifying these sounds and transforming them into silent cacophonies. The trio collaborated before with such innovative improvisers as cellist Okkyung Lee and guitarists Fred Frith and Bill Orcutt.

Marhaug produced an album for Skaset and Moe's other trio, MoE (It Pictures, Conard Sound, 2011), and designed the covers for this trio album, but this is the first-time collaborative work of Sult with Marhaug, released as a limited edition of 200 vinyls (plus download option). It was done in two phases. The source material was performed by Sult and later constructed and produced by Marhaug. He transformed the raw and dense, often even primitive and chaotic attacks of Sult into a maelstrom of layered sheets of scraping noises, moving in powerful yet nuanced waves. On the first side these rising waves sounds still search for their course but slowly these sounds gather into a resolute stream. On the second side these waves of sounds are already carving their own course in a persistent manner that only gets more intense, still varied in their noisy colors and shades.

Lasse Marhaug & Ken Vandermark - Close Up (For Abbas Kiarostami) (Audiographic, 2016) ****½

Marhaug has collaborated extensively with Vandrmark since 2005. He played in Vandermark’s Norwegian-Chicagoan group (((Powerhouse Sound)))’s two albums (Oslo/Chicago: Breaks, Atavistic, 2007 and Overlap, Laurence Family Records, 2010), with the Territory Band, versions 4 to 6 (Company Switch, New Horse For The White House and Collide, all on Okka Disk, 2005, 2008, 2007) and in the trio Fire Room, with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (Broken Music, Atavistic, 2008, Wels 2008/11/08, Pica Disk/PNL, 2011, and Broken Music, Bocian, 2013).

Close Up, dedicated to the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is their first duo recording, captured live at Oslo’s MIR club on May 2016. It is a 40-minutes free-improvisation that alternates instantly between abstract sonic searches and timbral exploration, extended breathing techniques and aggressive but sometimes even comic noises, weird percussive pulses - when Vandermark picks the clarinet - and ecstatic, explosive - literally - dynamics. Their interplay is telepathic, immediate and uncompromising as if both Marhaug and Vandermark are totally possessed by the sheer suggestive power of this stream of alien-sounding meeting. Both burst with eccentric ideas, always ready to explore new, uncharted sonic avenues, without repeating themselves or settling even for a second. This piece concludes with a surprising slow and elegiac coda, with Vandermark breathing gently into the clarinet while Marhaug surrounds him with sparse, minimalist noises.


Kristoffer Alberts / Lasse Marhaug ‎– Organistskolen (KBA Records, 2015) ***½

Lasse Marhaug / Kristoffer Berre Alberts - Generasjon Lindemenn (KBA Records, 2016) ****

Sax player Kristoffer Berre Alberts is known from the free jazz groups Cortex (the quartet's fourth album was released last year, Live in New York, Clean Feed, 2016), Saka (The trio third album, Rasaka, is a collaboration with vocalist-electronics player Maja S.K. Ratkje, KBA, 2016) and Starlite Motel ( its debut album was released last year, Awosting Falls, Clean Feed, 2016). Alberts recently joined Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit, a group that Marhaug played with in its earliest incarnation.

Alberts and Marhaug's first collaboration, Organistskolen, was recorded while Alberts was still completing his master degree at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo in December 2014. It features two pieces. The first one, “Ludvig Mathias”, refers to composer Ludvig Mathias Lindeman (1812-1887), founder of the Organist School in Oslo. The biggest concert hall at the Academy is named after him. It is a series of brutal, immediate collisions and crashes between Alberts' intense blows and shouts and Marhaug's loud and stormy static noises, hisses and blips. The second piece, “Peter”, perhpas a nod to the seminal uncompromising aesthetics of Peter Brötzmann, contrasts Alberts' extended breathing techniques with Marhaug's clever interferences that keep pushing Alberts to explore more edgy, abstract terrains.

Generasjon Lindemenn, recorded on spring 2016 in Marhaug’s studio and is more varied and ambitious. It begins with the nervous “Salmodikon”, an ironic play on the sound of the pslamodicon, a Scandinavian, single-stringed instrument, developed for simplifying music in churches and schools. Marhaug methodically crashes any attempt of Alberts to outline contemplative, church-fitting blows. The following “Generasjon Lindemenn” suggests even a more combative, dense and super-fast interplay and is linked to “Neste Generasjon” that opens the second side, where Marhaug, again, challenges Alberts' patient exploration of extended breathing techniques with persistent attacks of thorny, brutal sounds. The two conclude with the short, ironic piece, “Thomissøns salmebok”, after a popular Danish psalms book from the 16th century, that surprisingly do sound like a hymn, but a totally disturbed and quite noisy one.

Okkyung Lee / Lasse Marhaug - Jukebox Series #6 (Trost, 2016) ***

Cellist Okkyung Lee collaborated before with Marhaug in a trio with experimental violinist-vocalist C. Spencer Yeh (Wake Up Awesome, Software, 2013). This 7’’ single was recorded at Marhaug’s studio, with “no overdubs” and “minimal editing”. The two brief pieces, “Silver stain” and “One, one, one”, collide Lee associative bowing with Marhaug rattling, metallic sounds and noises that function as a kind of bizarre, out-of-control rhythm section, but with a commanding, wild cartoonish humor.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lisa Mezzacappa – AvantNoir (Clean Feed, 2017) ***½

By Chris Haines

Avant Noir is Lisa Mezzacappa’s new album based on the noir crime fiction of authors Dashiell Hammett and Paul Auster. Those familiar with the works of these authors will recognize characters and scenes from the novels in the titles of the pieces, unfortunately wasted on myself, as I’m completely ignorant about these authors works. However, you don’t have to be a fan of their writings to appreciate the compositions that are contained within the album. Even though you may not be a fan of film noir or crime fiction writing, the sounds and clichéd images of this genre are immediately conjured up and recognized in the music. It could well be a film soundtrack for an unmade film such is the strength of the imagery, which is borrowed from the literary fiction, translated and then encapsulated into the sounds that still retain there avant and contemporary edge.

Written for the sextet of tenor saxophone (Aaron Bennett), electric guitar (John Finkbeiner), percussion & sound effects (William Winant), bass & samples (Lisa Mezzacappa), electronics (Tim Perkins) and drums (Jordan Glenn) the sound offers both the expected and the unexpected with regard to the range of timbres on offer. As well as the imagery of the overworked detective hard-up on his luck, standing in the shadows of a street corner at night in the rain we also get the blips and swirls from Tim Perkins electronics. These add a futuristic element to the music in the way that Dr. Patrick Gleeson’s use of the ARP synthesizer brought to Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band on Sextant. As well as the excellent orchestration of the instrumental timbres, Mezzacappa also introduces some concrete sound samples that really brands the film noir intention clearly into the music, with telephone sounds, screeching car tyres and typewriters to name a few.

There’s a good consistency to the album, which contains a cinematic feel due to the inherited literary thread, so each track feels equally important as another chunk of the storyline, so to speak. However, just to pull out a few tracks, at the centre of the album is 'Medley on the Big Knockover', a medley of three tunes, with the first part being 'Green St.' This starts with a rat-a-tat machine gun rhythm complete with car horns and electronic sounds evoking wayward and multiple police sirens, which breaks down into a folk-like melody that sets the scene for 'At Larrouy’s Bar' with it’s scampering and country-esque hoedown, a more blatant siren sound, chinking of glasses and background sounds of people mingling, before erupting into the free jazz blow-out of  'Montgomery St.'  This one track seems to distill the essence of the whole album into its structure and is like a paraphrase for the whole project. 'A Bird in Hand' starts with a distinctive descending melodic phrase on the guitar accompanied by a march-like rhythm on the drums before being joined by the sax, vibraphone, and bass. The rhythm drops out to reveal a soundscape of bowed and struck cymbals, vibe trills, electronic envelopes, fragmented interlocking guitar and sax phrases that accompanies a sampled dialogue which builds into sampled syrupy strings, bells, buzzers and what sounds like a musical saw, before revising the initial opening material. The first track 'Filmore St.', maybe not as overtly cinematic in its construction and material, contains a brusque angular melody before settling into a fragmented guitar solo, which flirts with the spiraling electronic sounds that take their own solo over the top of a group led punctuated and syncopated ostinato, before returning to a brief but developed version of the opening melody, phew! Events come thick and fast on this album but they are also carefully structured and organized.

Having not heard either of the authors’ writings, after listening to this album I feel like I’m missing something - maybe it’s time to hunt down some old books!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Eivind Opsvik - Overseas V (Royal Label, 2017) ****½

Bassist Eivind Opsvik, originally from Norway but living in Brooklyn for a number of years, has been slowly releasing a series of albums with the title 'Overseas'. Now on volume V, the group refines the more rock oriented sound that emerged on Vol IV, this time with a distinctive New Wave/No Wave intent. 

So, no better place to do this than in New York City, home to the nearly mythic Downtown scene that spawned groups like Talking Heads, Material, Naked City, and - going a bit further out on the limb - Prime Time. While Opsvik's group is mostly a generation or more younger than the originators of the scene, the cast is replete with the current crop of downtowners (or mostly outer borough-ers, as downtown ain't what it used to be): saxophonist Tony Malaby, drummer Kenny Wollesen, keyboardist Jacob Sacks, and guitarist Brandon Seabrook. 

The New/No Wave reference isn't meant to be taken literally, rather it's a jumping off point, and it's most prominent on 'Brapps!', a joyously avant-funk romp replete with a jerking repetitive rhythmic figure, a tight disco beat, and explosive horn playing - it gets my track of the year vote! Other places where the vibe can be felt is on opener 'I'm Up This Step', which is less funk inspired and more a fragmented melodic collage overlaid on a strong rhythmic foundation. 'Extraterrestrial Tantrum' takes on a different aesthetic, with what seems to be a vintage drum machine sequence at its heart. The group encircles it with thick open ended block chords from the piano, atmospheric guitar drones, and splashes of percussion. 'First Challenge on the Road' is a bit more of a rocker, but with a taught submerged funk rhythmic motif in place. Here, as on many of the tracks, the musicians serve the songs, as the layering intensity and melodic shifts is the focus, rather than individual soloists. 

It's not all snappy rhythms either, for example the evocative 'Shoppers and Pickpockets' is an atmospheric piece whose diffuse melody slowly comes together only to break down into a textural piano passage. 'Katmania Duskmann' polishes things off with a final romp in the rhythmic playground - this time more metal than funk, the guitar finds itself deep in skronk mode. 

Opsvik's Overseas collection is certainly an excellent chronicle of his journey and tenure in NYC, and volume 5 is deeply satisfying examination of some less explored avant-garde niches.

Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas will be celebrating their album release at Sound it Out, Greenwich House Music School, Wednesday, April 19, 8:00 p.m.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Stephan Crump, Ingrid Laubrock and Cory Smythe – Planktonic Finales (Intakt, 2017) *****

When three world-class musicians gather for a freely improvised encounter, the usual question isn’t whether they will excel individually (unless, perhaps, one of them is simply having a bad outing); the real uncertainty is whether the whole will somehow exceed the sum of the individual parts. When the magic of the finest free improvisation happens, it’s the collective nature of sound that ultimately should come to the fore, as the players generate musical power through their mutual interactions, receptive listening, and collaborative spirit of being willing to go wherever the music leads. On this record, the first involving bassist Stephan Crump, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and pianist Cory Smythe, that magic is absolutely present in astonishing ways.

Laubrock and Crump have a long-established track record of working with cutting-edge groups in a number of guises. Laubrock’s compositional strategy has become especially intriguing of late (note her recent path-breaking releases Ubatuba and Serpentines), but her chops as a free improviser are similarly well-developed, as she can seemingly work in any context. Her command of tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophone is prodigious (although here she sticks to just tenor and soprano), and she has an uncanny knack for finding just the right technique to match the mood and direction of the piece she’s playing. Crump is perhaps best known for his pivotal role in Vijay Iyer’s trio, where his rhythmic and stylistic fluidity are essential for Iyer’s genre-spanning fusion of jazz, classical and pop idioms. He’s also worked with Mary Halvorson (in Secret Keeper) and with Steve Lehman, among others. Smythe, on the other hand, won’t be as familiar to most of the readers on this blog, as he travels first and foremost in classical circles, especially as part of the International Contemporary Ensemble. Even so, his recent work on Tyshawn Sorey’s Inner Spectrum of Variables and Nate Wooley’s Argonautica has garnered accolades and recognition of his willingness to seek compatriots from far and wide.

According to the valuable liner notes by Christoph Wagner, Crump, Laubrock and Smythe played only once previously, for an informal private jam session initiated by Laubrock; it went so well that they decided to record together soon thereafter. And it is readily apparent from the opening moments of the record that these musicians have an extraordinary rapport. On these eleven cuts, some short (six are under four minutes) and some longer (the lengthiest of the pieces, “Sinew Modulations,” runs over 11 minutes), beauty is to be found through the players’ careful, precise, and exceedingly generous ability to respond fruitfully and sympathetically to each move the other makes. Because they are so intent on following each other so closely, there are few over-the-top moments on the record where they fully let loose (the one exception being the explosive, fiery “Bite Bright Sunlight,” although at under two minutes it’s almost over before it starts). Instead, patiently explored ideas are the guiding concept, with each piece being remarkably cohesive and focused, developing its own logic as it unfolds. While it’s not composed music, one could easily be forgiven at times for assuming otherwise, as the quality of musicianship on display here is so compelling. Wagner insists that all that happened was a general, agreed-upon direction before the outset of each piece, after which the music took over. This makes the cohesiveness of the pieces all the more striking.

Although he doesn’t rely on it exclusively on the record, Crump’s bowed bass is an essential ingredient to the music. He’s able to provide essential musical direction on a number of the pieces by way of oblique passages that Laubrock builds upon, sometimes by following them directly and in other instances by winding in and out of them. (Yes, he can also do a mean walking-bass line: just listen to him on the last portion of “Sinew Modulations” for evidence.) Laubrock’s playing is typically dexterous and varied, with long, languid, dusky tones and phrases alternating with nimble flourishes and ecstatic flights. But as vital as Crump and Laubrock are, Smythe is a special revelation. Whether in long, impressionistic flurries or in shorter bursts of percussive power, or sometimes just a few delicately placed isolated notes, his role here is equally indispensable for producing this wonderful music. His expressive range on “Through the Forest” alone, with rapid single-note hammerings and cascading lower-register waves of sound, is captivating, especially as Laubrock offers her own fluttering commentary alongside him. One can only hope he continues to work within the improvised music community, as he clearly has a lot to offer.

Credit must also go to the folks at Intakt for the superlative sound quality on the record. With terrific instrument separation, it’s possible to hear all the nuances and subtleties of these musicians, each of whom relies as much on texture and feel as the notes themselves for expression. It’s obvious that this music was recorded with care, as is entirely appropriate given the unmatched artistry on display here. One of the highlights of 2017, to be sure.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Arthur Blythe (1940–2017)

Arthur Blythe photo from SRF.CH

By Lee Rice Epstein

My first response, after seeing the announcement of Arthur Blythe’s death, was “In or out? Get you a genius who can play both.” In my mind, that sums up Blythe entirely, not a chameleon but a master, someone who excelled at every aspect of jazz, effortlessly stepping from standards to free, contemporary to retro.

One could say Blythe’s breadth is most plainly visible in the years 1978–1979, when he released both Lenox Avenue Breakdown and In the Tradition for Columbia Records. On the surface, the two albums couldn’t be more different. One a rousing free jazz masterpiece, the other an equally masterful tribute to jazz past. By that time, Blythe had already released a trio of energetic albums on India Navigation and Adelphi, which raised his profile considerably, bringing in a somewhat ill-fated deal from Columbia. Blythe’s tuba trio paired his alto saxophone with Stewart’s tuba, in something of a sister group to Sam Rivers and Joe Daley’s tuba trio work. But, as a kind of theme that would continue throughout Blythe’s career, he and Rivers came at the same group from radically different directions. And when they eventually came together for Roots, with Chico Freeman, the result was fantastic.

Although his time at Columbia is generally seen as a missed opportunity, in the 10 years Blythe recorded for Columbia, he released nine albums, including the stellar Illusions and Light Blue, a tribute to Thelonious Monk featuring an unorthodox quintet with Stewart on tuba, Bobby Battle on drums, Abdul Wadud on cello, and Defunkt guitarist Kelvyn Bell. Four of these (In The Tradition, Lenox Avenue Breakdown, Illusions, and Blythe Spirit) were compiled on a recent BGO reissue. His final Columbia release was a Blythe-with-strings style album, Basic Blythe, which is an oddball album, certainly, but serves to demonstrate his incredible range as player and composer. The group’s take on his classic “Lenox Avenue Breakdown” is textured and restrained where the original is rough and hard-charging, yet, in each, Blythe’s saxophone is bright and piercing, his tone crisp and soulful.

Blythe, a native Angeleno, first appeared as the lone horn on Horace Tapscott’s The Giant Is Awakened. And his discography is filled with seminal records on which Blythe played a supporting role, including Julius Hemphill’s ‘Coon Bid’Ness, Lester Bowie’s The 5th Power and African Children, and Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition. He put in a stint with the World Saxophone Quartet, stepping in for Hemphill, and was a member of both The Leaders and Roots, along with Chico Freeman. All three are somewhat in/out groups, on their own quite different terms, but they reflect, as does every album he recorded, Blythe’s generous, warm spirit.

And then of course, there are several concerts available on YouTube. Here you can see him in action, with some of his most vital groups and collaborators.

Blythe, Wadud, Stewart, Battle quartet live in Berlin, 1980

Blythe, Stewart, Bell, Wadud, Battle quintet live at Montreux, 1981

Blythe, Stewart, Ed Thigpen trio live in 1995

Blythe, Stewart, Cecil Brooks trio live in 2003