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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Lands of the Electric Ladys

Five exceptional, experimental female improvisers (plus one male improviser) - The Berlin and Vienna-based quartet The Elks and the Oslo-based duo Propan, offer new intriguing approaches to integrating electronics into the field of minimalist, free improvisations.

The Elks - This Is Not The Ant (Mikroton, 2017) ****

The Elks insert their dirty antlers into some deep, hidden regions of your consciousness, offering in return a sonic trip to some troubling yet mind-opening terrains. These Elks embrace an independent DIY aesthetics when it comes to the audio and visual experience. Abandon all conventions, common techniques, even typical instruments, and never play easy-to-decipher sounds or narratives. Welcome the strange, careless and the clueless, but in The Elks own elegant and very expressive way.

The Elks unite four busy improvisers from the Berlin and Vienna experimental scenes - American trumpeter Liz Allbee, who adds here some sonic preparations and often likes to extend her palette of sounds with everyday objects, and high and low technologies, a member of the Berlin-based Splitter Orchester; Italian Marta Zapparoli that plays here on tapes, reel-to-reel tape machine and devices, and usually works with radical technology, another member of the Splitter Orchester; Austrian audio-visual artist Billy Roisz plays here on electronics and e-bass. Roisz works with video feedback and audiovisual interactivity exploring the ways sound and image coalesce to form a sprawling experience; and German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, who plays in The International Nothing duo and the Splitter Orchester.

This Is Not The Ant is the quartet's second release after the self-produced, limited-edition of 100 cassette, Bat English (2017), that offered live recordings from the 2016 edition of the Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf and later that year in the Cave 12 in Geneva. Both releases reflect The Elks DIY aesthetics. Roisz did the photo collage for the cover, Allbee completed the artwork, Fagaschinski contributed the typing, cutting and gluing and all four mixed the recording, captured in Berlin in April 2014.

Each of the four pieces suggests a different imaginary, dream-like journey. “Gremlins In Space” sounds like the Gremlins mother-ship was lost in some deserted place in deep space, but still communicates its whereabouts to some friendly travelers. “Noise For Slugs” has an elusive, seductive pulse, hidden beneath delicate, unintelligible calls of alien birds. “Oceanic Bathtube” may be the sonic equivalent for a free dive with fast-talking whales. The last, “Scuba Diving Elephants”, sound as if The Elks traded their antlers with elephants trunks, later modified these trunks as otherworldly, meditative and deep-toned wind instruments.


Propan - Baby (Va Fongool, 2017) ****

Baby suggests that The Elks’ hyperactive, spacey gremlins have returned to planet Earth, eager to share their colorful experiences. Baby is the long-anticipated, debut album of the Oslo-based Propan - vocal artists Ina Sagstuen and Natali Abrahamsen Garner, released after a long gestation that lasted almost three years. Sagstuen and Garner have been active in the vibrant Norwegian improv scene in the last decade. Sagstuen sang in the art-rock group Karokh, in the singer-songwriter duo GIRL (with Monkey Pilot and Ich Bin N!ntendo’s guitarist Christian Skår Winther) and with the free-improv ensemble Skadedyr. Garner performed with the improv groups Juxtaposition and Antler. Both participated in vocalist Susanna Wallumrød’s Hieronymus Bosch-inspired, Brotherhood of Our Lady cycle of songs performances.

Sagstuen and Garner have developed the distinct aesthetics of Propan since 2012, melding their vocals with electronics and vice versa, until it is impossible to differentiate the individual voices from the electronics. Propan has performed countless times in Norway, Europe, Japan and United States. Baby was distilled from almost seven hours of materials recorded in 2014. Propan have gone through a tasking introspective process of cutting and mixing it to 13 pieces, insisting on incorporating pop elements into these pieces, though quite wicked and weird ones. Producer Erlend Elvesveen, who have produced many albums of local alternative groups, helped Propan to to reach the final mixes.

Propan offer an arresting deconstruction of the human voice. The feminine voices are extended, manipulated by different effects, becoming an unintelligible, alien lingo. Still these voices radiate nuanced stories and textures, sometimes even playful ones in their own weird, noisy way. The 13 pieces suggest a spectrum of emotional state-of-minds - wild and chaotic on “Tizz Ditzz”, seductive on “Indisk Badeball”, quiet, hymn-like trance “Strekk med tekst”, ironic on the peaceful “Marching Song” and funny with its choir of chatting gremlins on “Jippi Woopi”. Unlike its name, Propan aesthetics are far from being volatile. On the contrary, it is much more optimistic and shiny than the dark one of The Elks.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mike Caratti / Rachel Musson / Steve Beresford - Hesitantly Pleasant (Iluso, 2017) ****

By Antonio Poscic

A saxophone crackles and yelps in short breaths. Unusual sounds are found within the womb of a piano, its strings assaulted and ground by fingers and gizmos. In the opposite corner of the soundscape, drums are similarly, cleverly mistreated, producing scratchy and tingly noises. These are the first few shambolic yet unnervingly appealing minutes of Hesitantly Pleasant during which the players establish rules of communication. The album, a collection of seven freely improvised pieces, was recorded live at The Vortex in London in January 2017 and documents the meeting of British improvising stalwart, pianist Steve Beresford, and two younger voices: UK saxophonist Rachel Musson and Aussie drummer Mike Caratti.

The introductory, eponymous track soon rises from this spasmodic exchange and gains body while traversing into an urgent colloquy, only to melt into the first of a number of brooding and wistful patterns led by Musson’s crooning saxophone. Even if one comes to expect for the opening piece to set the stage and narrative for the rest of the record, Hesitantly Pleasant remains an utterly elusive conundrum with many different threads striking through its existence. Take the two subsequent cuts, for example. “Complex Footwork and Violent Movement”, as suggested by the title, is aggressive and surprisingly concrete. As Musson’s sax twinkles nervously, Beresford plays spastic but firm chords, stroking and striking the piano keys, while Caratti’s drums rumble deeply and rhythmically, dancing in vertigo-inducing motion.

The spontaneous composition breaks suddenly and morphs into the gentle, ballad-like “A Unique Haircut”. Here Musson blows long, sustained tones, revealing her lyricism and love for faux bluesy licks. Similarly, Beresford entertains a delicate melody while the percussion is restrained and minimal, reduced to rustles and hushes. While the tune gains in tempo when Musson returns to more abstract figures, screeches and blurts, “A Unique Haircut” remains an almost melodious post-bop tune.

Meanwhile, the three central tracks, “Geel”, “Psychic Fair”, and “Still Horrible” create a triptych for themselves as cohesive interplays make way for antagonistic counterplays, and calmer bopish phrases are drowned within energetic click-clack exchanges. The ability of the trio to switch from loud, brash clashes to playful, zesty bridges reveals a deep chemistry.

The album is closed by the quirkiest of quirky tracks. On “Nunc Pro Tunc”, Beresford reaches for his electronic effects, turning the cut into a psychedelic and abstract electroacoustic affair. The song is populated by subdued silhouettes of sounds, synthetically generated tones, and random thuds. Even Musson’s always bustling lyricism is completely obliterated here. Having lived with the record for a while, “Nunc Pro Tunc” remains the most complex and puzzling, yet most rewarding of the seven pieces on the record. A compelling tune that closes an equally compelling record.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sonic City Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium, November 12.

By Daniel Böker

I had the chance to attend the final days of Sonic City Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium this past month. The festival itself went from Friday to Sunday and was curated by Thurston Moore.

As you might expect when hearing this name, the line-up was quite diverse.

My train was late so I missed the first half of the first act. Which was sad because it was Keji Heino with Teun Verbruggen & Jozef Dumoulin. The part of the set I had the chance to hear and see was full of energy. The drums were at full speed, Heino was going crazy on his guitar and the keyboard and electronics joined them eagerly. Then, Heino started to sing or shout or tell something. With all the words he uses his voice to me is just another instrument he uses quite elaborately. In all his collaborations, I like these parts a lot and on Sunday it was no exception. This trio was his trio. He conducted Verbruggen and Dumoulin and showed them with his hands what he expected of them.

A fine beginning for a fine day.

Dennis Tyfus and Cameron Jamie

The next interesting show came from two guys I never heard of before: Dennis Tyfus and Cameron Jamie. Together with Cary Loren the form the trio Cannibal. On Sunday it was only the two of them but it was a fantastic intense show nonetheless. Their set took only 20 minutes but the people around me seemed to be either awestruck or annoyed, which I think is a good place to be in for improvised music. They built their sound with their voices and several electronic devices, for example the smartphone of Cameron Jamie. Great!

The next act was The Ex and I have to admit that I didn't expect much. But they were suprisingly good. The sound and the songs were tight and they seemed to enjoy themselves.

The next artists are well know to be difficult and their shows and sound to be hard to swallow.

The New Blockaders brought an old piano, an old record player and a concret mixer on stage. And they filled the room with an almost hurting wall of sound. Through the show the destroyed the record player and, of course, the piano. But how often can you destroy a piano as an act of no-art? Richard Rupenus and Philip Rupenus walked the stage under their ski caps as if they were lost. The whole show didn't quite resonate for me at all. They seemed to be bored while they destroyed the piano and so was I.

Moor Mother was something completley different!

Camae Ayewa, performing under the alias Moor Mother, from Philadelphia had all the intensity The New Blockaders lacked. The set was a mixture of Spoken Word, Hip Hop, Electro-Noise and some other genres I have no name for. But it wasn't the genre that made the set so interesting, at least not that alone. It was the presence and intensity of Moor Mother. The first minutes I thought she will just play some songs and sounds out of her laptop to get the show done. But over the course of the next minutes and the rest of the show she filled the whole room with her sheer power and underneath the music here message was very clear. This is probably the source of her anger and power: The discrimination of people of color and of women in America and around the world. I have to admit this show blew my mind.

The next trio was one of the reasons I made my way to Belgium: Stephen O'Mallev, Thurston Moore, and Mats Gustafsson.

They started off with Gustafsson on electronics and the two guitars adding a few feedback sounds. But all in all it didn't take long till we all got what we expected a fierce wall of sound. After they built that wall I had to retreat in the back area of the room because in the front their was no distinction possible of the different sources of sound. I blame that on the venue.

In the back the sound was better and I enjoyed the noise I signed up for by attending the show. But I have to admit, though I am a huge fan of Mats Gustafsson's style of playing the reeds, this set was better with him on electronics.

The saxophone couldn't keep up with the two guitars. All he did or could do was "utter" a few "statements" with long and fighting high tones. The duo of Thurston Moore and Mats Gustafsson is capable of more diverse sets as you can hear on Live at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter.

The next set was the second reason I made the trip and it was worth every minute of the ride: Joe McPhee with DKV-Trio.

Joe McPhee with DKV-Trio
It was pure joy to see and hear them play. On their faces and in the music was a lightness and a joy that infected the whole room. I can only guess that the audience wasn't an explicit jazz audience (at one point in the set I was not sure who ended the improvisation, McPhee or the audience because the rock-educated listeners thought it was over and started to clap.) But Vandermark, Drake, Kessler and McPhee took the room by storm. The improvisations were rather short and full of little melodic parts. Hamid Drake gave the set the groove. It was a great pleasure to listen to these four excellent musicians in such a good mood.

I guess the last act "This is not This Heat" was also worth a listen but I left the venue smiling and full of nice impressions.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Matthieu Donarier/Santiago Quintans – Sun Dome (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

Sometimes an album comes along that takes you completely by surprise, as with this one from Matthieu Donarier (tenor saxophone & clarinet) and Santiago Quintans (electric guitar). Having not heard any of either musicians’ music before, Sun Dome came as a refreshing and fascinating listen.

In some respects it reminds me of the Fred Frith and Darren Johnston Everybody’s Somebody’s Nobody that came out last year, and not just because that was also a set of duets consisting of a guitar/wind instrument relationship. It’s more to do with the communicative nature of the music, either through the interplay of musical gestures or through the empathic blending of sounds, which is what Donarier/Santiago do particularly well throughout this set of fourteen pieces. The majority of the tracks are improvisations, but there are also tracks that have been composed by either musician. Due to the playful nature of the pieces, especially the composed pieces (which I suspect have an element of improvisation at their core) they also remind me of some of John Stevens Search and Reflect pieces, which also have a simple but effective structural principle that sets the music in motion in a particular way. Examples of this include the track ‘Itch’, which could be a sister piece to Stevens’ ‘Scribbling’, and the long drawn out tones of the title track and ‘Lucid Red’ being reminiscent of a piece like ‘Sustain’. However, these pieces are not academic exercises and both Donarier and Quintans bring their musicianship and creativity to the music. The tracks are generally short, sharp and concise, not outstaying their welcome with most coming in around the three to four minute mark. There is no extraneous playing on this album and every note feels that it has been carefully placed and thoughtfully determined.

Other tracks worthy of a mention are ‘Warm Fog’ an improvisation working with eerie, glassy tones that in a programmatic way captures the essence of the title. ‘A Line’ starting with a unison melody before both instruments gradually embellish the line by circumscribing and moving around the idea of the initial statement then coming together again at the end. Also the joyful delight of the bouncy and hocketing rhythms of ‘Puzzle’ and the consistent execution of them by both performers.

What we have in Sun Dome is a set of extremely well worked pieces that form an interesting and exceptional album. It is also a ‘real duo’ album with neither musician dominating over the course of the set and the balance of musical hierarchy being kept tastefully within check.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Akio Suzuki / John Butcher - Immediate Landscapes (Ftarri, 2017) *****

By Stuart Broomer

In June 2006, Arika, an Edinburgh arts group, organized Resonant Spaces, a tour through various isolated sites in Scotland and the Orkneys where sound artist Akio Suzuki and saxophonist John Butcher, individually and together, would interact sonically with some highly unusual environments, both natural and human-made: a cave, a windy beach, a reservoir, a mausoleum, an oil tank. John Butcher released a CD of his own pieces in 2008 as Resonant Spaces (Confront 17), one of the most remarkable documents of improvising in strange places. It’s just been reissued on vinyl (Blume 006, available through Butcher’s web-site [], a tremendous resource for his work). I wrote about it when it was first released in an extended essay on site-specific improvisation. The piece is still available on-line, so I won’t go into detail here.

Immediate Landscapes presents five pieces from the 2006 tour by Butcher and Suzuki together, as well as a piece from the 2015 Ftarri Festival in Tokyo. Each of the tour pieces is a kind of complex sonic diagramming, the musicians interacting at once with the shifting possibilities of each site as well as one another’s materials. Each site is complex: an “event,” an instrument struck or blown (pitch, duration, etc.), will assume a different form depending on where it is directed. While Butcher employs his saxophones, Suzuki brings a host of devices, often common objects treated as sound producers: pebbles, glass plate, sponge, pocket bottle, brass plate, cardboard box, wood screws, bamboo stick, metal plate, noise whistle and his “voice analapos,” an echo instrument constructed from a coil spring and two iron cylinders functioning as resonating chambers.

These are examinations of emerging detail, materials reshaped, in some sense created by the environments, which have become musical instruments and unpredictable performers for these occasions. Even Suzuki’s instruments—those glass, brass, and metal plates—seem like elemental presences. Smoo Cave, near Durness, is a strange geological formation that includes both salt water and fresh water pools and a waterfall. In the recording, Suzuki’s sounds seem brightened, Butcher’s slightly muffled by the environment, as if they were being treated by different filters. In the Wormit Reservoir, with Butcher’s saxophone amplified, the musicians work with the different decays available in the abandoned underground structure. Butcher is the saxophone’s most intrepid sonic explorer (even playing saxophone in the Oberhausen gasometer on The Geometry of Sentiment), and Suzuki is an ideal partner, his whistles, rattles and scraped materials sometimes crossing into the same zones occupied by the saxophonist. The Lyness oil tank is a vivid percussion exchange, and perhaps the Scottish piece most resembling a traditional duet in the way in which the sustained collective response seems most independent of its environment.

The 33 minutes of strange Scottish places is balanced by the 27-minute duet from the SuperDeluxe night club (Suzuki’s instruments include swizzle sticks), with the two intently focused on developing an improvised duet in which the focus is on their own sound production. Butcher’s sense of development and Suzuki’s powers of invention come further forward in a wealth of detail that can verge of narrative, at times suggesting an extended dialogue between Australian fowl and particularly inventive human infants. Adjacent passages of pitch-shifting clicks can only be attributed with assurance when another instrument entering is definitely not a saxophone or a rudimentary percussion instrument. It’s a witty and mysterious collective adventure in which two masters create their own space.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ribbons of Euphoria, Music Unlimited 31 Festival, Wels, Austria, Nov. 10-12, 2017 (Part 2 of 2)

Mary Halvorson, curator of Unlimited 31
By Eyal Hareuveni

Saturday, Second Day, November 11

American viola player Jessica Pavone, who collaborates with Halvorson in an art-song duo, began the second day’s afternoon solo concerts at the ancient, church building of Minoriten, playing the viola with a set of effects. Pavone used wisely the huge and tall, resonating hall of Minoriten and experimented with with space and time. She transformed fleeting, lyrical folk-songs themes, into minimalist, repetitive drones, and then into rich textures full with overtones and sparse, alien sounds, as if she was performing a modern-day ritual in this hall that once was hosting sacred rituals. The following performance “Shabby Metal Radio Rap” by Wels-born Raumschiff Engelmayr (Spaceship Engelmayr) -  the guitarist of the local alt-rock trio Bulbul (in which drummer Didi Kern of Vandermark’s DEK trio plays), at Kornspeicher was a stand-up comedy. It meant more to the ones who fully understood the dialect of Upper Austria but had its share of funny moments.

The evening program began with the Swiss Trio Heinz Herbert, the only non-American or non-Austrian group in this edition of the Unlimited Festival - the brothers, guitarist Dominic Landolt and keyboards player Ramon Landolt and drummer  Mario Hänni. The Trio's recent, third album, The Willisau Concert (Intakt, 2017) was praised in this blog and the Trio's performance gave plenty of reasons to reaffirm these praises. Trio Heinz Herbert knows how to create infectious, hypnotic grooves that float freely between the sonic universes of free jazz, art rock, techno and noise, without losing the tension for a minute and with strong senses of form, adventure and humor.

Susan Alcorn
American pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn followed with a magical solo set. Alcorn played on Halvorson’s recent album, Away With You (Firehouse 12, 2016) and her set was in a way an antithesis to the roaring performance of another pedal steel guitarist, Heather Leigh, who performed in last year’s edition of the festival with reeds titan Peter Brötzmann. Alcorn's subtle, poetic set connected seamlessly her abstraction of French composer Olivier Messiaen’s enigmatic “I Await the Resurrection of the Dead” to Argentinian nuveo-tango composer Ástor Piazzolla’s emotional homage to his dead father “Adiós Nonino” and to a beautiful song of fellow-Argentinian folk singer Mercedes Sosa with sparks of country gospel. Alcorn evocative stories between the pieces deepened the mysterious, almost spiritual atmosphere, of this untimely music.

The only performance that disappointed many, included me, was by the American quartet Seven Teares - vocalist, synth and harmonium player Amirtha Kidambi, vocalist-guitarist Charlie Looker, guitarist, portable organ player Robbie Lee, and drummer-percussionist Russell Greenberg. Seven Teares’ mediaeval-like Power Ballads, which is the title of the quartet's debut album from 2013, sounded way too dramatic and lacked the charm and humor of such songs, as performed by the wave of British folk-rock groups from the seventies or the more intricate, poetic versions of ECM’s The Downland Project (with double bass master Barry Guy, reeds player John Surman, and tenor vocalist John Potter).

But soon enough, the first-ever acoustic guitars duo of Mary Halvorson and Deerhoof’s John Dieterich compensated the audience. Halvorson has followed Deerhoof and Dieterich for many years and he has collaborated in recent years with jazz musicians as clarinet player Ben Goldberg, drummer Scott Amendola, and pianist Thollem McDonas. This set bridged between the rough, direct playing style of Dieterich and the more subtle, angular lines of Halvorson. There were times that it was clear that Halvorson’s language is far richer than Dieterich’s but she articulated with a remarkable generosity. She challenged Dieterich to explore and experiment her ideas, interacted with his hesitant thoughts with gentle attention and humor and turned this set into a joyful meeting, full of innocent adventures and dreams that came alive .

The second evening was concluded with an explosive set of local heroes, the trio Radian - bass player John Norman, guitarist and electronics player Martin Siewert and drummer and samples player Martin Brandlmayr. It was the only set in this festival that matched the level of massive energy and volume of previous editions of the Unlimited Festival. Radian played pieces from its recent, excellent On Dark Silent Off (Thril Jockey, 2016) where its music juxtaposes contrasting approaches. There are times that the trio sounded as tripping in psychedelic, abstract clouds and then, in an instant Radian transformed into a tight, wild beast erupting from a huge volcano, flowing with a noisy lava of manic rhythm, embraced by dense walls of nervous guitar, electronics, and bass sounds. Brandmayr injected drum machine like incessant grooves, Norman anchors it in a tight, distorted envelope, and Siewert swirled it all into alien stratospheres with concise symphonies of sinister riffs, waves of ecstatic feedback and suggestive, electronic noises. Radian operated as a super-coordinated unit even in its most noisiest, wildest moments, always close to a verge of a spectacular meltdown, but just in the last second changes course and builds the tension methodically, again and again, leaving the excited audience demanding more of this addictive stuff.

Sunday, Third, Last Day, November 12

Robbie Lee, who performed the night before with Seven Teares, proved that he is a much more interesting musician when he is on his own. He played on the first afternoon set in the ImPavillion Baroque flutes and no-cables electronics boxes. Lee and Halvorson are at work now on an album where Halvorson plays the banjo. Lee investigated wisely the timbres of the flutes in the acoustically-shaped building,  sketching delicate overtones and microtonal ideas coupled with the buzzing sounds electronics boxes, somehow sounding like twisted Indian ragas.

Following Lee, in another afternoon set, BAG - Christof Kurzmann on vocals and the ppooll software and Swedish alto sax player Anna Högberg, known from Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra and her groups Attack and Doglife, Both are half of BAGGER quartet but trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and turntables master Dieb13 could not make it. BAG offered a dreamy, intimate set that began in a melancholic note, when Kurzmann referred to the the recent Austrian election and the dark, stormy weather outside the MedienKulturHaus, but soon moved to an emotional  soundscape that featured an ironic interpretation of “Lazy Sunday Afternoon”. Kurzmann and Högberg connected so naturally and there were times that both sounded as one, extending and expanding each other ideas and sounds, in a kind of poetic talk of close, loving friends.

The evening concerts began with a free-improvised solo guitar set from Joe Morris, from whom Halvorson took private lessons from while she was a student at Wesleyan University. Morris demonstrated masterfully how a spontaneous improvisation can turn into a coherent composition. Morris has a unique sound of his own and throughout the improvisation he played with with distinct themes and developed complex rhythmic patterns, later shifted and then were reintroduced again, suggesting a fragile backbone of this one of its kind, uncompromising piece.

The next set changed the atmosphere completely. The local trio Gabbeh - Golnar Shahyar on vocals and berimbau, Mona Matbou Riahi on clarinets (she played in a duo with guitarist Golfam Khayam on ECM’s Narrante, 2016) and Manu Mayr on double bass (who plays on the local Kompost 3), is titled after the art of Persian carpets made by nomadic women. Gabbeh adopted the ancient tradition and weaved evocative and highly personal arrangements of Persian folk songs with strong, contemporary sensibility. Gabbeh performance was intensified by the captivating, theatrical-dramatic delivery of Shahyar and the imaginative, colorful playing of Matbou Riahi. Viola player Jessica Pavone joined Gabbeh for the encore and added to the hypnotic intensity of these enigmatic songs.

The Liberty Ellman Trio performed next - Ellman on electric guitar, Stephan Crump on the double bass and Kassa Overall on drums. This set offered iconic pieces that highlighted the brilliant, refined guitar work of Ellman. The Trio began with a majestic cover of Sonny Sharrock’s “Promises Kept” (from Ask The Ages, Axiom, 1991), moved to an emotional reading of Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” and concluded with an impressive interpretation of an Andrew Hill composition. Ellman played with no effects or pedals, building his potent solos meticulously and economically with not even one note that sounded redundant.

Unlimited 31 Festival was concluded with the third of Halvorson’s groups - Illegal Crowns - with French pianist Benoît Delbecq, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and flugelhorn and cornet player Taylor Ho Bynum. The quartet performance at the festival was the first in its European tour in which it recorded the follow-up to its self-title debut (Rogue Art, 2016). The title of this highly creative quartet, suggested by Halvorson, captures the essence of this collective quartet. An irreverent, thoughtful but always playful experiment with new sounds, dynamics and complex textures, borrowing ideas from jazz and contemporary music. Ho Bynum's new composition that offered variations on Duke Ellington and French composer Olivier Messiaen stressed the depth, imagination and the unique poetics of this excellent quartet. A great conclusion to another great edition of the Unlimited Festival. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ribbons of Euphoria, Music Unlimited 31 Festival, Wels, Austria, Nov. 10-12, 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

Mary Halvorson’s Sound of Love 

Mary Halvorson. Photo by Cristina Marx.
By Eyal Hareuveni

The 31st edition of the Austrian Unlimited Festival, curated by American guitarist Mary Halvorson, was titled Ribbons of Euphoria, a quote from the Jimi Hendrix song “Bold as Love”. But after fellow-guitarist Liberty Ellman began to play on the last night of the festival the first notes of Charles Mingus’ classic “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” I thought that this edition of the Unlimited festival may be have been called as easily as Mary Halvorson’s Sound of Love.

The program of the Unlimited festival is curated every two years by a guest musician. Two years ago it was local hero Christoph Kurzmann and four years ago cellist Okkyung Lee curated the program. This year it was the turn of another female musician, as Unlimited festival is one of leading festivals when it comes to featuring women musicians in leading roles.

Halvorson’s program represented beautifully her musical persona - bold and opinionated, modest and shy, generous and humane. When the festival ended with a standing ovation for one of Halvorson’s most forward-thinking groups, Illegal Crowns, she simply smiled and covered her head with a hoodie, clearly embarrassed by the love of the audience. Besides, she is one of the very few guitar heroes who needs not more than one guitar to express their full, rich vocabulary.

Halvorson’s program for Unlimited 31 focused on guitar-oriented groups, mainly groups of Halvorson’s close circle of collaborators and a surprising selection of local outfits. All of them presented a more composed and quite different aesthetic in comparison to the more eclectic and wilder spirit of recent editions of the Unlimited Festival. But this is the beauty and the strength of the festival. Its audience, with many happy returning guests, trusts the festival’s artistic director Wolfgang Wasserbauer and the curators choices.

Friday, First Night, November 10

The first night of the festival, Friday, opened with the first of three Halvorson’s outfits that played in the festival, drummer Toms Fujiwara’s Triple Double, featuring another drummer, Tom Rainey (who replaced Gerald Cleaver who played on the Triple Double album (Firehouse 12, 2017)), two guitarists - Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, and two trumpeters Ralph Alessi and Taylor Ho Bynum (who played the flugelhorn and the cornet). The Triple Double musicians have been working closely in many formats and groups in the recent years. Ho Bynum, Halvorson, Fujiwara and Rainey have been working with Anthony Braxton; Fujiwara and Halvorson work together in the collective Thumbscrew trio and the Illegal Crowns quartet, in cellist Tomeka Reid quartet, and in double bass player Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus and many of their own groups. The close rapport between the six musicians enabled all to form multiple and multi-layered combinations. Fujiwara and Rainey created a percolating rhythmic basis, sometimes referencing to the electric-funky groups of Miles Davis and on other times locked in such a powerful groove, almost as the one of the Grateful Dead’s Rhythm Devils - Mickey Hart and Bill Kerutzmann; Halvorson and Seabrook deepened and colored the rhythmic ideas - Halvorson in more subtle, brief manner and Seabrook with more condensed, eruptive solos, on top of this, Alessi and Ho Bynum soloed. Alessi playing more ‘inside’ the themes while Ho Bynum clearly enjoyed soloing with completely ‘outside’ sounds. The addictive rhythm did not stop for a minute and Triple Double showed how modern jazz can be witty, powerful, and most of all fun.

Pianist Kaja Draksler and trumpeter Susana Santos Silva
As it happens often in this festival the second performance offered a totally different experience. The extroverted tone of Fujiwara’s Triple Double was replaced by the intimate, cryptic duo of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler and Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva. These classically-trained musicians have been playing together for about ten years and recently recorded the beautiful This Love (Clean Feed, 2015). Their set explored adventurous ideas when both Draksler and Santos kept investigating the sonic spectrum of their instruments, inside the piano and with assorted objects on its strings and without the trumpet mouthpiece, close to each other and throughout the stage space. Their intimate, conversational duos suggested provocative thoughts, fond memories, delicate and fragile sounds and profound, rich languages.

The first local group - the trio Schmieds Puls, featuring vocalist-songwriter-guitarist Mira Lu Kovacs, double bass player Walter Singer, and drummer Christian Grobauer - was the first of many surprising choices of Halvorson. The trio has released two albums and Lu Kovacs has collaborated with local jazz group Kompost 3. Schmieds Puls’ songs are somehow influenced by the music of Tom Waits, dealing with themes of lost feelings and troubled relationships, brightened by the touching, emotional delivery of Lu Kovacs and her personal playing on the acoustic guitar which she named ‘trixie’.

The first night was closed with the quartet of American double bass player Stephan Crump’s Rhombal, that released its debut album last year (Papillon Records, 2016). Rhombal is Crump, who collaborates with Halvorson in the Secret Keeper Duo, tenor sax player Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and drummer Richie Barshay (replacing Tyshawn Sorey who has played on the Rhombal Album). Rhombal convened to explore Crump’s body of work dedicated to his late brother Patrick and the performance in the festival was in the middle of their first European tour. This set was the most jazz-oriented one of the festival, structured along clear storylines and coherent development of the strong rhythmic themes by Eskelin and O’Farrill, both choosing a reserved, contemplative tone that fitted the emotional, mourning spirit of Crump’s compositions.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ikue Mori – Obelisk (Tzadik, 2017) ****

By Daniel Böker

On first listen, I'm reminded of Adam Butler. His electronic sounds, tracks and later even songs published under the alias Vert had a huge impact on my experience with electronic music. Unlike say the berserk electronic music of Merzbow (though I also like the berserk ones), Vert developed his music toward the pop-song format. The first track on Ikue Mori's new album Obelisk reminds me of theses sounds and it makes me feel 'at home', setting the tone for this record.

Mori recorded her last album In Light of Shadows with her electronic sounds alone. The pieces were at least in part composed beforehand and it was a new step in her musical development. For Obelisk she took some of her pieces from In Light of Shadows, composed new ones, and arranged them for a quartet of herself on electronic, Jim Black on drums, Okkyung Lee on Cello and Sylvie Courvoisier on piano.

The album lingers between rhythmical melodic and more open parts. Both fit together well and the album keeps it's warmth in the more free parts as well.

The first track, the one reminiscent of Vert, is called 'Quicksilver' and starts as duet between Black and Mori. The beginning is open as if they were trying to find to one another. Half a minute in the Courvoisier joins and the track develops a groovy structure. Courvoisier adds a short melody on the piano that moves through the track sometimes answered by Mori's sounds. This first track is Mori's version of funky jazz.

The second piece 'Blue Moon and Yellow Dune' gives Lee a lot of space for long cello tones. The voices of the other three instruments accompany this tune in a fine and mellow way until at two minutes in when the piano breaks the structure and takes over, and the groove that also had carried this one along, breaks up. This track, also with a strong groove in the beginning makes way for the next few tracks in which the sound gets more polyphonic.

The change between grooves based on Mori's electronics or Blacks' drums and the surprising breaks in between makes the album interesting and the different cuts worth listening to. The third one 'Mozu (The Shrike)' is a fine example of that. There is a strong and clear groove for the first 3 minutes of the track. Then the drums leave their own rhythm behind to jump to a short solo. After that the music goes on in that more open arythmic pattern and all four musicians take the chance to jump right in. The short piece 'Invisible Fingers' proceedes in this free manner.

'Hotaru (Firefly)', the fifth composition, takes its time to get started. It's a very quiet track. The electronic sounds make it easy to imagine fireflys in the air. The track could work very well as the soundtrack for a night at a camp fire.

In other cuts the groove returns but never again as defining as they were in the first few tracks. The last piece 'Koya Hijiri' is the longest of the ten tracks. It is a adaption of the first track of Mori's last solo album In Light of Shadows.

I've been listening to both versions lately and they are quite different. But I can't say which version I would prefer. Beautiful as it is to hear what Mori does with her laptop alone, it is also a great experience to hear her work with different musicians together.The interplay of the four musicians conducted by Mori is a great joy to listen to especially in the case of this track.

I wrote a lot about groove thinking about this album and this groove is also part of 'Koya Hijiri' but it's a groove that is held loosely so it can jump away and explore the area, returning when the time is right. Within this last track you can find everything that is fascinating about this album comprised in one track: The different voices respect each other in their own value, each one takes its part and together they create a fine sound covering the whole area between melody and groove on the one hand and open interaction and free sounds on the other without getting lost on the way.

So in the end it might not be a freejazz album. It is more an album of electronic chamber music composed by a free mind. And the result is a warm fine listening experience.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

David Douglas & the Westerlies - Little Giant Still Life (Greenleaf Music, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Everyone knows Dave Douglas, right? The prolific trumpeter was a member of the original Masada in the early 1990s and has amassed an astounding and diverse discography over the years. One of his latest is the brass heavy Little Giant Still Life. His partners on the recording are the The Westerlies, whom we last encountered when they were playing the work of a different (ex)Downtown NYC composer, Wayne Horvitz. Here they lend their voices and talents, along with drummer Anwar Marshall, to a set of new brash and colorful Douglas penned compositions.

What is so striking about Douglas' work - whether it is with this brass quartet, his electronic leaning group High Risk, or in the tribute work with his group Riverside which recently released The New National Anthem (arrangements of Carla Bley's music) - is his balance between lyricism and texture. The opening track on Still Life is a good example, 'Champion' begins with a fanfare, the mix of the horns is rich and their syncopation is punchy, and a perfect set up for Douglas's energetic and fluid runs. A breakdown towards the middle of the track turns into collective improvization, which also reveals all the distinct voices.

The title track 'Little Giant Still Life' begins with a memorable theme that simply envelops and carries the whole piece. The Westerlies' strong comping and accompaniment provides a gripping balance of tension and motion. Douglas' humor also shines through on tracks like 'Bunting', where a somewhat traditional introduction is subverted by dollops of the blues and low horn blats. It's not slapstick however as the moments of levity are couched in some serious music.

Little Giant Still Life is a nicely balanced and vivacious album, and seems like it would easily appeal to the casual as well as the most voracious and demanding, listeners. A definite stocking stuffer for the music fan!

The Westerlies are:

Riley Mulherkar - Trumpet
Zubin Hensler - Trumpet
Andy Clausen - Trombone
Willem de Koch - Trombone

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Boneshaker – Thinking Out Loud (Trost Records, 2017) ****½

By Gustav Lindqvist

Boneshaker is a small yet very powerful group in which drummer and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love is involved. Nilssen-Love who’s playing with ‘everyone’ on the free jazz scene (The Thing, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Large Unit, Pan-Scan Ensemble) seem to have a bit more hours in a day than the rest of us. In addition to being part of an impressive number of small and big groups, he’s also running his own record label; PNL Records and is a co-organizer of the annual All Ears festival in Oslo, Norway.

In Boneshaker PNL is joined by Mars Williams on reeds and toy instruments and Kent Kessler on bass. Mars who’s impressive CV reveals a grammy nominated musician with collaborations spanning across a broad range of genres and artists. On the free jazz scene he has played with Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark just to mention a selected few. He can be heard with the Vandermark 5, Chicago Reed Quartet but also with the grammy nominated group ‘Liquid Soul’ who’s 20+ years history is well worth considering.

Last but definitely not least bass player Kent Kessler who can be heard on many highly regarded albums reviewed here on FJB (DEK Trio, Rodrigo Amado, and Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet) and who I must admit I haven’t paid enough attention to.

The album kicks starts with PNL leading the way on the 14 minute song ‘Brain Freeze’ and then it just takes off. Boneshaker truly makes the bones shake. This is full throttle free jazz right from the start. Variations in tempo, short improvised melody lines with the trio traveling together with sudden bursts of energy, all comes together in an intense mix. But suddenly they seem to run out of notes and Kessler is left alone. Slowly but surely he’s painting a relaxed picture of sounds up and down the scale. Then Nilssen-Love and Williams joins in. They’re tip-toeing carefully through the soundstage as to not awaken the beast. I’m like a cat on hot bricks waiting for things to explode. I’ve heard these musicians before. They’re not afraid of waiting for just the right moment for the hammer to fall. But I’m left wondering if this was their intention. The song stops. Baffling!

The second song, ‘Puffy Fluffy’ brings me back to reality immediately. Kessler, Williams and Nilssen-Love gives me an exhausting 6 minute show-down. It’s like three trains going full speed ahead as a unified whole, yet each on its own track. During the last minute they ascend to the surface and slowly come to a halt.

The third track; ‘Salty Fruity’ is a different creature entirely. It starts off dark, with bells, cracks and chirps. Kesslers bow provides a dark foundation beneath it all. Then there’s suddenly what sounds like a dentist drill (scary!) and more trills, cheeps and warbling. We’re taken to a very dark place and I’m left alone waiting for what will come next. A sad melody line from Williams travels through thin air but only briefly. Nilssen-Love takes the song into a different direction. Williams joins back to the changed scenery. And then the trio are all dancing together. I’d say this is free and improvised music when it is at its very best. Unexpected turns, changes in tempo, intensity and in character.

The fourth and final song on this album is the 5 minute ‘Wabi-Sabi’. This has Williams presenting questions or perhaps statements over the first minute. PNL provides both structure but also dissonance yet without disturbing Williams who comes into full bloom half-way through the performance. Boneshaker ends this great album vibrating and shivering at a calmer pace. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Charles Rumback - Threes (ears&eyes Records, 2017) ****

By Eric McDowell

There are no drum solos on Charles Rumback’s latest album as a leader. No, Rumback isn't that kind of drummer, and Threes isn't that kind of album. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following the Chicago scene fixture’s recent work under his own name. Of course it's not that Rumback isn't up to the task of showing off chops, but as both drummer and composer, his sensibility is marked by taste and restraint. He plays, as drummer and educator John Riley might say, with a fair amount of “headroom” or excess capacity—at any given moment he's playing what's best for that moment, even if it's only a fraction of his technical capability. Listeners with sharp ears—and drummers, certainly—will not only sense the depths that underlie the surface of his playing but will also understand that suggestion, in Rumback’s hands, has more power than demonstration could.

This approach affords the music on Threes a wonderful elasticity, and Rumback is lucky—or wise—to have built relationships with musicians like pianist Jim Baker and bassist John Tate who can adapt so well to this mode of playing. Together, the trio is a loose-limbed unit, relaxed and mellow, graceful and nimble. But elasticity isn’t synonymous with freedom. Indeed, while the set isn’t completely without “free jazz” moments—see the first half of the centerpiece suite “Three Storey Birdhouse/Right Reasons”—it won’t rank among the most adventurous shows that Constellation, the great Chicago venue where the album was recorded live, has seen. Rather, it’s against stated or implied reference points that the group thrives. Elastics only work, after all, if they snap back toward the center.

On opener “Salt Lines,” for example—a smokey, limber 3/4 swing—listen to how the trio toys with the pulse, Rumback stretching metrical subdivisions across the kit, Tate departing from quarter notes to add melodic touches, Baker unfolding the simple melody just behind the beat. The effect is thrown into relief when Baker sets off on his solo, busy but delicate against the roiling rhythm section, with just enough sour notes thrown in to maintain the right balance of flavors. This kind of roomy interplay is possible only because these three musicians have a deep knowledge of how to play together—and of what they’re playing (or playing with).

Consider that before its appearance here as part of a 20-minute suite, “Right Reasons” appeared in both a bass/drums duo version on Daylight Savings (with Tate) and a quintet version on In the New Year (Tate was there, too), and you start to grasp Rumback’s flexible relationship to his material. Like wearing in a new pair of shoes, putting compositions through these kinds of push-pull paces can make them comfortable enough that at a certain point you can all but forget they’re there, freeing you up to think more about where you’re going than how you’re getting there. If I suggest that playing someone else’s compositions might be the shortcut version of this idea, it’s only to illustrate my point; the group’s version of Andrew Hill’s “Erato” is anything but superficial. Like the album as a whole, it shows the trio inheriting tradition and making it their own. It’s a form of mastery, of course—but a mastery, perhaps paradoxically, entirely in service of the music.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Daniel Carter, Watson Jennison, William Parker, Federico Ughi – Live! (577 Records, 2017)

By Tom Burris

577 Records has released a set of recordings from a Carter/Jennison/Parker/Ughi 2015 North American tour in a three volume edition. The extremely limited discs are available separately or together directly from the label. Downloads are also available from Bandcamp.

Also of interest: This year's installment of 577's Forward Festival is on Dec. 7th & 8th. For details, see

Volume 1: Erie Live!   ***1/2

Daniel Carter (reeds) is a player whose whole demeanor shouts Openness. In his longtime duo with Federico Ughi (drums) – or in the monster trio with Ughi & William Parker (bass) – Carter is the shaman, acting as a conduit between the natural and spiritual realms. The Ughi duo can become a bit unhinged at times, veering wildly into space as a result of a perceived inability to control the unseen forces it summons. This is not in any way undesirable, of course – but with Parker involved, the music becomes more grounded. If Carter is the shaman, Parker is the wise Master whose experience with otherworldly spirits tames the unpredictable wildness – and allows for a more solid union with the material world. My confession is that this is my introduction to pianist (and multiple instrumentalist) Watson Jennison, and my first impression isn't great, as he rains down clusters on the top of the group & manages to almost drown out Carter on “Before Six.” No real worries, however, as balance is achieved by the end of the second track, “West,” with Ughi pounding prairie rhythms that accompany a moonlit ghost dance over wooden flutes.

Sunrise at “Square One.”
The ghost dance has gone on
all night.
Parker squeezes out
tuba farts as a New Orleans
rhythm from Ughi
inspires Carter to ride hard.
There is etouffee for breakfast as
Jennison lightly tickles the keys.
OK, Jennison is cool.

Parker & Ughi form a solid alliance on “Smoke” but the piece comes to an abrupt ending – an edit that is obvious.

Fifteen minutes of Opus performance closes the set. Ughi and Carter lock in and propel the beast upward. And outward. Jennison hides for awhile until the group coaxes him into soloing. Carter and Jennison fill out the space up top with a friendly battle – and the whole group slows the music to a magnificent ending.

Volume 2: Toronto Live!   ****

“Wondering” opens with an unusual lineup for the quartet: Carter on trumpet, Jennison on flute, Parker on tuba (and, of course, Ughi on drums). The music settles into a solid New Orleans shuffle after one mere minute. Carter's trumpet lines are solid melodic bleat fragments – and the whole groove becomes circular. The music fades out at the end. Parker and Ughi drive the funk groove of “Telephone Choice” on bass & drums, while Jennison's piano touches bring enough color to the proceedings that the music begins to glow from the inside. Another fade-out happens at the end of this track.

Parker and Ughi remain on their main instruments on “No Need,” but Carter switches to piano while Jennison continues to splatter paint on the overall sound via spatial marimba mallet drops. Parker opens the track with melancholic arco strokes. Beautiful autumnal melodic phrases from Carter dance across the top. A gorgeous mood piece.

This disc is the most eclectic of the bunch; but the successes found on this particular recording are the gems of the entire series. It clocks in at under 25 minutes but costs the same as the others. I say Quality Over Quantity. Dear consumer, if you can only spring for one of these discs, this is the one to get.

Volume 3: Rochester Live!   ***1/2

Carter's trumpet bleats ride on top of rolling waves of groove and sound as Jennison's piano / action / paints around them. Great as this is, the rapport between Ughi and Parker continues to be the main source of fascination to my ears. The forward propulsion is constant as they push the music onward, never in the slightest disagreement about where Forward is located. But when Parker switches to tuba on “You Think So?” he leaves Ughi to drive alone, preferring to punctuate the rhythm with bleats and blasts. Carter ceases on the opening and locks down with Ughi, the music intensifying right up to the end, which comes too soon (in the form of another fade-out).

A strange forced intensity prevails throughout the first half of “I Told” but things pick up more naturally once Parker puts down his horn and starts pumping the bass. “Casamef” fades IN as a chaos track that moves into a free, slow groove. “Noodles” features great interplay from Parker, Carter and Ughi while Jennison offers up counterpoint like it's his duty to do so. It's aggressive almost to the point of parody, but stay with it. It leads to the Cecil-like clusters of the intense “Always Nice,” featuring Parker on tuba (again). A strong ending to one weirdass ride.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Marco Scarassatti - Casa Acústica (Fragments From An Improvisation Diary) (Creative Sources, 2017) ****½

By Stuart Broomer

Marco Scarassatti is a Brazilian sound artist and improviser who is active in both European and South American circles. Casa Acústica (Acoustic House) literally refers to his home, most specifically a music room. He writes, “Between the years of 2014 and 2016 I maintained a regular routine of daily improvisations using objects, conventional musical instruments, as well as instruments invented by myself. This daily gesture coincided with the desire to register these improvisations in the form of a diary.

“During this time, approximately 100 hours of improvisation were recorded, which reveal aspects of this daily gesture, in the form of snapshots: listening to the environment, choosing the instruments, microphone positioning within the context of improvisational performance.

“The spontaneous visits and meetings of fellow musicians were also an integral part of the recordings; and an important characteristic of the diaries is that they reflect the daily occurences and events that happened to parallel them, such as the improvisation on the day of Ornette Coleman’s death.”

Eventually Scarassatti sent 18 tracks to fellow Brazilian musician Henrique Iwao, who made the final cut, resulting in the eight pieces that make up the hour-long Casa Acústica: fragments from an improvisation diary.

Listening repeatedly to Casa Acústica, one senses keenly that these excerpts were not chosen because they are particularly spectacular, but rather because they are somehow generally representative of what occurs in the original 100 hours. This is not a criticism of what’s here, but a commendation, for what the document presents has an extraordinary naturalness, both an immediacy and a lack of artifice. For various reasons, including the sense of actually sharing space, I seem to have spent far more time with it than I would usually spend with a recording, recalling repeatedly listening to John Cage’s Variations IV (Everest) virtually as background music fifty years ago.
This morning I put it on again, a moment later I was involved in a conversation, and as the first track began, I thought the distant barking dogs were the newly arrived dogs of a recently returned neighbor. As one goes through the cycle of these excerpted pieces there are episodes that reveal Scarassatti’s different activities and instruments. He is interested, for example, in simple home-made instruments (Walter Smetak, a Swiss composer who lived in Brazil, is an inspiration), including trumpets constructed of mouthpieces, hoses and bell-like objects that are used for both blowing and tapping, evident in the opening “Breath” as well as other pieces. Scarassatti also plays the viola de cocho, a three-fretted Brazilian folk instrument, with a cellist’s virtuosity, mixing plucked runs with percussive taps. An extended baritone saxophone solo recorded on the day of Ornette Coleman’s death reveals a range of delicate, airy and obscure sounds that one would rarely assign to the instrument.  

The range of Scarassatti’s explorations becomes evident with the sheer mystery of a track like “How to walk around a house blindfolded,” in which the musician’s percussion performance foreshadows our own disconnect from the visual world in our experience of the CD, drawn at once to two sonic worlds, the improvised and the environmental. Other pieces are duets in which he uses assorted sound sources with violinist Guilherme Antonio or shares various instruments with Mateus Dantas. A “subdued” violo de cocho—evidently struck—accompanies a “background mass,” along with what seems like a truck, suggesting Cage’s germane question: “What’s more musical: a truck driving past a music school or a truck driving by a factory?” The final track, “Decomposing panning – panning for gold, marble ball and interference noise” is a complex of liquid sounds and resonant, flexing metal, as well as struck and scraping sounds.

What is most beautiful about this documentation is that Scarassatti’s improvisations become inseparable from the sonic texture of life itself. His combination of spontaneity, chance, homemade instruments and the home environment ultimately open the process to the sounds and the experiential rhythms of the listener’s world, the tapping keys of my computer keyboard themselves seeming to join with that concluding metal pan.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Bones - Haberdashery (Leo Records, 2017) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Haberdashery is the sophomore album of the Israeli Bones trio - Amsterdam-based bass clarinetist Ziv Taubenfeld, Berlin-based drummer Nir Sabag, and still-in-Israel double bass player Shay Hazan, all close friends since their childhood in the Northern Israeli town of Karmiel. Taubenfeld collaborated recently with renowned Dutch improvisers as Han Bennink, Ab Baars and Guus Janssen; Sabag collaborated with Polish reeds player Mikołaj Trzaska, and Hazan works closely with Israeli sax players Albert Beger and Stephen Horenstein and has more recently began performing with pianist Anat Fort.

Taubenfeld is the leader of the trio, credited as the main composer and also the producer of this recording from the Amsterdam club Bimhuis in October 2016. His compositions contain hints of chamber, haunted atmospheres, and contemplative moods, based more on loose, fragmented ideas than on coherent narratives. Maybe this is the reason why the album is dedicated to those who “surrender to the mystery and follow their hearts”.

Bones offer much more than intimate, abstract mysteries though. The strength of this trio has always been the immediate, intuitive connection between all three musicians, the democratic, balanced, and spacious interplay and the manner that all can weave and color patiently - in a “Snail’s Pace” as the first piece is titled - separately and collectively, a nuanced, profound textures out of a simple chord or even a sound. These qualities only grew stronger and deeper since the trio released its self-titled album last year, and followed the release with several European tours.

Haberdashery sounds like a series of free-associative, labyrinthine walks where you keep crossing and exchanging sonic reflections of your own and your associates. Only “No Name Letters” suggests some degree of rhythmic playfulness that may be associated with jazz. The last piece, “Cello” is the most impressive one here. A quiet meditation on delicate, fleeting sounds - whispers and breaths, distant, ringing bells and deep-tones arco touches.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lisa Mezzacappa - Glorious Ravage (New World Records, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Glorious Ravage is an ambitious multi-faceted undertaking by Bay Area bassist and composer Lisa Mezzacappa. The work is organized around women, who late 19th and early 20th century,  transcended the stereotypical roles of the era and pursued their passions in science, travel, and more. On the recording, Mezzacappa works with a frighteningly talented large band (see personnel listing below) but cedes the spotlight to vocalist Faye Victor who transforms the words of the protagonists into song, and with four filmmakers, she developed accompanying visuals for live performance.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to see the work performed, complete with video, by a slightly different 15 piece ensemble at Roulette in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Playing against the projections of the films, the full scope of the composer's vision was on display. In fact, the performance was sometimes near sensory overload - taking in the music and the movies in which surreal collages and sometimes metaphorical imagery followed the narratives of the women, who were botanists, mountain climbers, intrepid explorers, and more.

While the live performance and video added additional layers of experience, the music was robust enough to stand quite well on its own. In fact, it has taken me many listens, on the iPod through headphones, in the car, and on the stereo, to feel like I am getting my ears around the music. Easily digestible moments are interspersed with intense improvisation, and vocally, peculiar turns of phrases and near words can be thorny at times - all the makings of a challenging work that takes time to reveal itself fully.

The opening tune 'Veta' accompanies the story of Ida Pfeiffer, a world traveler from Austria in the mid-1800s. The music begins with patter from the percussion and plinks from the guitar. Victor is in from the start, singing the words that Pfeiffer penned about her experiences in the high altitudes of Peru. The vocals follow the contours of the words and their sounds, shaping them around the musical accompaniment. The title phrase jumps out from the track, and along the way, the vocals become more textural than meaningful. The second track, "Make No Plans" begins with a stilted marimba-laced looping rhythm. Victor comes in with a mix of scat and lyrics, while a chorus of deeper voices lays down a counter melody from time to time. Darren Johnston's trumpet solo, vibrant against the the guitar's textures and the swelling accompaniment, is a highlight of the track.

The mid-point in 'Heat & Hurry' is an orchestrated high -- the thick harmonies and alluring rhythm invite the listener into a lush and exotic soundscape. After a seductive interlude, sounds begin bouncing off of each other, and wordless vocals meld with a composed lines weaving through electric and acoustic gurgles and blips. This is all after the be-boppy intro shared by Victor and the band, which is followed by a moment of free interplay between the woodwinds.

I'd be remiss to not mention the scintillating introduction to the track "For the Dusky Mourner" featuring pianist Myra Melford and bass clarinetist Vinny Golia. The two, along with the percussion, create a forlorn but expectant atmosphere. As the track progresses, the bass clarinet continues to thrill - especially in a passage where it digs in over the guitar and pinched notes from the sax. The harmonium laced ending of the track is a mesmerizing feature (there is a fleeting moment that reminds me of the introduction on the Band's 'Chest Fever'). This only represents a few of the songs on the album, each one being quite interesting and different.

I possibly should have disclosed at the start of the review that I'm not that into vocal jazz. This is in no way meant to be disparaging, it's just an admission of my current philistine tendencies. That being said, I can honestly say that Glorious Ravage transcended my hangups. The work and joy that Mezzacappa took in researching the women's stories comes through, and is compelling in and of itself. However more so, that Mezzacappa, who says that she herself is not a trained composer, is able to make such an arresting and - at times - difficult music work so cohesively is a noteworthy accomplishment. Plus, the band is top notch, making the music even better. This is an album and story that is well worth digging into.

The band:
  • Fay Victor, voice
  • Nicole Mitchell, flute
  • Kyle Bruckmann, oboe
  • Vinny Golia, woodwinds
  • Cory Wright, woodwinds
  • Darren Johnston, trumpet
  • Michael Dessen, trombone
  • Dina Maccabee, viola
  • John Finkbeiner, electric guitar
  • Mark Dresser, acoustic bass
  • Lisa Mezzacappa, acoustic bass, conductor
  • Myra Melford, piano and harmonium
  • Kjell Nordeson, vibraphone/percussion
  • Tim Perkis, electronics
  • Jordan Glenn, drum set/percussion

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pan-Scan Ensemble ‎– Air and Light and Time and Space (Hispid Recordings / PNL Records 2017) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Pan-Scan Ensemble is a brand-new nonet, assembled by Paal Nilssen-Love and Ståle Liavik Solberg for a December 2016 Blow Out performance in Oslo. Thankfully, the group’s performance was captured and released, as it’s a superb example of free improvisation. Nilssen-Love’s creativity and talent has been well-documented and celebrated on this blog, and somehow he seems to raise the bar with each new release. For Pan-Scan Ensemble, he and Solberg, co-founders of Blow Out, brought together a improvising supergroup of sorts: Lotte Anker, Anna Högberg, Julie Kjær, Thomas Johansson, Goran Kajfes, Emil Strandberg, and Sten Sandell. One of the most interesting things about Pan-Scan Ensemble can’t be gleaned from this recording. The band sets up with Nilssen-Love and Solberg out front, Sandell on one side, and the horns lined up behind the drummers, alternating winds and brass. Judging by the videos linked below and the overall vibe of the album, the result is a kind of “wall of sound” that blends the individual voices into a multiphonic stream.

Air and Light and Time and Space captures 45 minutes of the ensemble, on “Air and Light” and “Time and Space.” In one sense, I was reminded of Susana Santos Silva’s Life and Other Transient Storms, which also featured Anker and Sandell. That album was also a 2-track supergroup improvisation, with big ideas in the titles and evocative playing in the music itself. In this case, “Air and Light” kicks off the album in a brief 12 minutes, and “Time and Space” takes up the remaining 33 minutes. (Although this is only available digitally and on CD, I imagine it’d make a really nice 10” double-vinyl release).

Nilssen-Love and Solberg open “Air and Light” with a spacious, percussive duet with echos of Han Bennink and Don Moye. After about four minutes, trumpet and piano punch through a space in the playing, and it’s not long until the six horns engage in a melodic call and response. Drawing on their experience in a half dozen assorted improvising groups, the players call out themes that recall blues, chamber music, and more traditional acoustic free jazz. Towards the end, a chorale section opens up, with the three trumpets in rotation around Anker. Drums and piano lay out for a long stretch, letting the section develop and flow in a few different directions. It’s a nice counterpoint to the drummers’ duet early on, and the entire group’s use of silence helps give the performance a nice sense of drama.

“Time and Space” wastes no, uhh, time getting started (forgive me). Clashing staccato blasts come flying from the entire group, an effect that works particularly well on headphones. Johansson, Kajfes, and Strandberg start to fill in space with some muted soloing, guiding the group over the course of several minutes, as Högberg, Anker, and Kjær re-enter with driving force. In its closing section, “Time and Space” transforms into a foot-stomping, synchronized powerhouse, with Nilssen-Love and Solberg keeping time, as the remaining seven players gradually peel away from the group and settle into their final solo improvisations.

Lastly, I just want to call out Lasse Marhaug, who mixed and mastered the album, and also created the album art. A talented designer, Marhaug’s album art for Nilssen-Love has become integral to the aesthetic of each one. The emphasis on “time,” the doubled band name, and the almost cellular backdrop give a rich impression of the music within, even before you’ve clicked play.

Live at Blow Out, Mir, Oslo December 20, 2016

Live at Kongsberg Jazz, July 7, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lean Left – I Forgot To Breathe (Trost, 2017) ****

By Martin Sekelsky

Eyal Hareuveni’s recent e-interview with Paal Nilssen-Love revealed the release of Lean Left’s new record ‘I Forgot To Breathe’. The line-up features the same quartet of stellar musicians featured on their previous outings. The tandem of Paal Nilssen-Love and Ken Vandermark pair up once again with The Ex Guitars consisting of Terrie Ex and Andy Moor for some raucous free music. The album and track titles hint to a fascination with lung anatomy. Indeed, their music has raw, breathtaking beauty and physical intensity. They do not disappoint.

The album opener 'Costal Surface' immediately seizes the ears of the listener. The quartet’s audacious opening takes no quarter. Soon, the explosivity makes way for Vandermark’s deep baritone and tenor saxophone on a background of guitar-built abstractions before extending into silence.

'Margo Inferior' features a unit in search of common ground with Vandermark’s clarinet and Nilssen-Love’s drums inviting the guitars to play. Following a noisy discussion, they conclude in silence.

'Groove For Sub Clavian Vein' is the longest and most enjoyable track on the album. It features the quartet starting out slowly. They level soon, build towards an untenable climax, find the promised groove and pull up an impressive curtain of sound. The track also showcases Nilssen-Love’s love for otherworldly rhythms. Following the percussive intermezzo, the unit settles in a new, funk-like crescendo groove driven by Vandermark’s tenor sax. Following the climax, the track extends into electrical abstractions on a background of brushwork before Vandermark’s clarinet takes the track home.

'Oblique Fissure' starts of nervously with muffled saxophone joined by impatient guitars, causing reeds to squeal and bleat before drums join in. The discussion heats up and builds to a climax with the different voices making their points clear. They conclude in mutual agreement, then silence.

'Pleural Lobe' paints abstractly with guitar and clarinet leading the dance, followed closely by cymbals. Drums join the busy color communication in between the musicians before the track extends into abstract beginnings.

'Cardiac Impression', the final track and a direct reference to the artwork, starts off with Vandermark’s deep baritone sax and The Ex Guitars supported by frame drums. The quartet take the listener into a hold one last time with saxophone squeals and distorted chords before sounding farewell. Impressed indeed.

I forgot to breathe is a varied and intense effort by a stellar quartet that still has a lot to say. Recommended.

Addendum: This is a review of the CD version as appreciated through an audiophile system for best quality. The LP version contains one additional track entitled ‘Carnassials’. This reviewer never heard the LP version. Nevertheless, both versions come recommended.