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Monday, December 31, 2018

Clayton Thomas, Burkhard Beins - Rhythm Complication (Remote Resonator, 2018) ****

By Keith Prosk

Berlin’s Splitter Orchester is a goldmine of great musicians that make great recordings. I enjoy the orchestra’s recordings, particularly 2016’s Creative Construction Set™ with George Lewis, but the real treats are the recordings of its members in smaller formats. Matthias Müller’s Solo Trombone was one of the albums I listened to most last year; Blurred Music from Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Thieke is in my heavy rotation for this year. Many of the Splitter musicians began recording well before the orchestra did, in 2016, or even before the orchestra established itself, in 2010, but the orchestra provides a convenient reference as well as a roster of musicians with a similar sound. That sound can be characterized by a quieter, pensive exploration of the timbral nooks and crannies of an instrument that is often achieved through heavy use of extended technique, prepared, constructed, and/or tailored instruments, and a process-based approach; it often teeters on the edge of feeling over-intellectualized or sanitized, but more often than not comes across as organic sonic wanderlust.

Rhythm Complication continues in the vein of that sound. It is 69 minutes across 4 tracks. Each track is a collage cutting from six live duo sets from Burkhard Beins (percussion, Splitter member) and Clayton Thomas (bass, ex-Splitter member) and from eight live solo sets performed by seven musicians before each duo performance. Those seven musicians are Splitter members Liz Albee (trumpet), Robin Hayward (tuba), Matthias Müller (trombone), and Magda Mayas (piano) as well as Hilary Jeffery (trombone), Thomas Meadowcroft (organ, tape machine), and Chris Abrahams (piano, DX7 synthesizer, most famously of The Necks). The brass solos (and four bass/percussion duos) were recorded in 2010 and are collated in the first two tracks; the keyboard solos (and two bass/percussion duos) were recorded in 2012 and are collected in the last two tracks. Despite the sonic puzzle, the pieces’ lines are blurred and each track usually seems as if it was performed together, all at once, organically.

On the first track, “Rhythm Complication & Brass I,” Albee and Jeffery join Beins and Thomas, but not for some time. The first minute or so showcases a tight call and response between Beins’ bass drum and clanging metal and Thomas’ striking and bowing. This transitions into Guyesque extended techniques and scraping and tapping percussion that recalls a ball rolling in a roulette wheel. With some stops and starts that include some beautiful bell and gong accents from Beins, the rolling ball gets faster and louder, an accelerating pulse is added by the bass drum, and the duo climaxes into a kind of primitive bashing before retiring to a spacious call and response. At which point Jeffery comes in sounding like a deflating balloon moaning and Albee answers with a line like a stuttering clock hand. The brass ebbs in a couple times each before the conversation between Beins and Thomas fills the space and closes out the track.

“Rhythm Complication & Brass II” starts out with Albee, Hayward, and Jeffery ambling around each other until they arrive to an undulating drone over which Albee repeats a three-tone statement. Shuddering cymbals and chimes come in with a faint bass drum pulse and a metallic drone that sounds like rimming a crystal glass. They are eventually joined with some breathy gurgling by Müller before Thomas’ abrupt sawing kicks out the brass. For some time, Beins works with the crystal drone while Thomas comes back to the roulette technique and some tapping until an abrupt clash brings the brass back in, another clash summons two more brass solos, and another dispels the brass. Beins and Thomas engage in a chaotic jam until they are again joined by Hayward’s droning and Müller’s breathy work, then by Jeffery and Albee’s moaning horns. Everyone is eventually silenced by Hayward’s tuba turned fog horn, which turns melodic as the track ends.

“Rhythm Complication & Keys I” begins with two overdubbed Abrahams solos: (1) his characteristic piano of Reich-like canons that move forward like an ascending spiral and even seem to expand and contract in space like a spring; and (2) a beeping synthesizer that occasionally works itself up into sputtering distortion only to return to a metronomic bleep. After some building, Abrahams is joined by the scraping cymbals of Beins and bowed accents from Thomas. Eventually, Abrahams reaches an ominous, deep rolling thunder on the piano, which is complimented by an earthquaked bass and some high tension metallic shimmers cutting through it all. Abrahams is drowned out by a righteous percussive racket and bowed bass as the track comes to a climax before an abrupt end.

“Rhythm Complication & Keys II” first features Meadowcroft recording, rewinding, and creating tape screeches out of a warm organ chord (perhaps at different distances from the mic) while Beins and Thomas demonstrate the most driving rhythm on the album yet. Meadowcroft drops out to rapid bowing and a circular drum beat. With a hefty drum hit, the track transitions to a melancholy melody from Mayas while Thomas slaps the body of his bass and Beins scrapes his cymbals. Meadowcroft’s now humming, spiritual organ edges in under screeching cymbals. Soon Mayas can be heard inside the piano, and her guitar-like strumming is complemented by flute-like scraping from Beins. Meadowcroft’s tape screeches return along with an organ vamp and Mayas’ melancholy melody from earlier returns too. A woody racket from Beins and Thomas increases in volume and space but fades, as the album ends with Beins almost keeping time with his sticks, Mayas’ hammering on a note, and Meadowcroft’s rewinding organ sounding further and further from the mic.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Latest from Norway

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three distinct Norwegian composer - guitarist Kim Myhr, tenor sax player Hanna Paulsberg and double bass player Ole Morten Vågan, released this year their most ambitious and best albums so far.

Kim Myhr / Quatuor Bozzini / Caroline Bergvall / Ingar Zach - pressing clouds passing crowds (Hubro Music, 2018) 


“The question of change is in the nature of clouds. The nature of clouds is in the nature of passing, hanging on until something breaks”.

Guitarist Kim Myhr was commissioned to compose pressing clouds passing crowds for the 2016 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec, Canada. Myhr was inspired by a meeting with French-Norwegian poet-visual artist Caroline Bergvall in 2015 and the music of American contemporary compose Robert Ashley (who passed away in 2014, known for his multidisciplinary, operatic work) and wanted to compose a slow-moving piece centered around a speaking voice.

Myhr composed the music before he received Bergvall’s text, just by imagining her delivery. She has written the text, based only on the general character of the music, as Myhr told her in their meeting. She described this poetic text as: “something suspended in air, personal yet universal, a sort of sensual confusion of the subjective and the objective”.

The poetic theme of fragile, slow transformation captures perfectly the sonic essence of pressing clouds passing crowds. Myhr, playing the 12-string acoustic guitar - with the Montreal-based string quartet Quatour Bozzini, fellow-Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach and the voice of Bergvall, trading her own text - created minimalist yet strongly lyrical and quite intense soundscapes. These delicate soundscapes bring to mind the work of innovative minimalist composers as Morton Feldman and Steve Reich.

But the lingering power of pressing clouds passing crowds lies in its suggestive, emotional intimacy and even sensual warmth. Myhr’s modest, dreamy harmonic language intensifies and engulfs wisely the dramatic delivery and the hypnotic phrasing of Bergvall. Bergavall’s own poetic images draws the listener deeper gently into her free-associative universe, linking the personal to the political and the universal, and offers a universe of constant-shifting states of mind. Zach clever percussive language on the grand casa narrows the the tonal distance between Bergavall’s voice, Myhr’s guitar and Quatour Bozzini strings. All is magically connected in fascinating layers of sounds and senses, discourse and narrative.

“Things are never equal to themselves. From one point to the next a cloud is always another cloud. A shape always leads another shape… We’d draw our best lessons from that. And wouldn’t be so violent, confused or fearful about our own and one another’s passing form, or pressing cumulative nature”.

Hanna Paulsberg Concept + Magnus Broo - Daughter of the Sun (Odin, 2018) **** 

Daughter of the Sun is described by tenor sax player Hanna Paulsberg’s label of as a passionate, warm answer to the chilly, emotionally detached school of Nordic sax players, mainly of the ECM school and on top of them local hero, Jan Garbarek. Not that Passborg’s music lacked passion or warmth before, but the colorful-seductive cover of Daughter of the Sun, as well as her recent, cheeky songwriting in the local GURLS trio, add to her musical persona hot, spicy colors.

The fourth album of Paulsberg Concept - with pianist Oscar Grönberg, double bass player Trygve Fiske and Atomic’s drummer Hans Hulbækmo - augments this tight unit by Swedish master trumpeter Magnus Broo, one of the founding members of Atomic and a musician generation older than the ones of the Concept. The album is dedicated to the Ancient Egyptian second female pharaoh Hatshepsut “and all other women who have had to fight harder for recognition because of their gender”. This album alters the Afro-American aesthetics of Paulsberg Concept towards sunny Africa, and especially the townships jazz of apartheid-era South Africa, with notable references to pianists Chris McGregor’s Blue Notes and Dollar Brand, aka Abdullah Ibrahim’s early bands.
Broo fits organically into the Paulsberg Concept vision and his personal sound, rich imagination and quiet yet charismatic presence deepens and expands the subtle interplay of the quartet. The lyrical, opening piece “Scent Of Soil” establishes the new course of the augmented Concept. It slowly builds its beautiful, spiritual theme and when Broo ‘outside’ solo blends with the brief, ‘inside’ melodic solo of Paulsberg, both already sound as the most natural musical match. This kind of joyful and open interplay continues on the freer “The Big Saxophone”, the most free jazz piece in the Concept repertoire, and on “Hemulen Tar Ferie”, titled after a character in the Swedish TV’s animated fairytale series Moomin. Grönberg’s playful “Serianna” cements the South-African connection with Grönberg own references to Dollar Brand rhythmic language and Broo solo that pays respects another South-African innovative musician, trumpeter Mongezi Feza. Paulsberg shines on the elegiac title-piece, where she patiently builds a powerful, emotional vibe, enjoying the support of Broo who encourages her to dare more. The last, brilliant “Bouncing With Flower Buds”, an obvious reference to the Bud Powell’s standard “Bouncing With Bud”, shoots the Concept to Atomic skies, with an urgent energy and engaging passion and groove . Broo and Paulsberg sound again as a musical match that was bound to happen.

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan - Happy Endlings (Odin, 2018) ****

The twentieth album of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO, that hosted before Myhr as its composer, In the end his voice will be the sound of paper, with Jenny Hval, Hubro Music, 2016, and Paulsberg as a player) offers a schizophrenic experience. An apocalyptic-adventurous concept album yet a highly playful and joyful one. TJO teamed this time with double bass player Ole Morten Vågan, who has played in several TJO projects in the past and is known from his genre-bending, Frank Zappa-informed quintet, Motif. In a way, Happy Endlings, transforms Motif music to a bigger canvas and justifies Zappa insightful, even prophetic political observations.

Happy Endlings, according to Vågan, plays - literally - with the idea of Norwegian mythological battles, the cataclysmic ragnarök, or the towering darkness awaiting us around the corner, and the concept of the Endling, which we are experiencing throughout nature at this very moment and which gives us the extra sense of end time. The cover art of illustrator Flu Hartberg stresses that these Endlings may be humans, or that humankind might be the Endlings. “It’s obvious that most people are aware of the doom just ahead of us”, says Vågan. “But we seem totally unable to deal with the threat. Every time we do something good, we elect a tangerine psychopath the next day or someone decides to showcase their new Doomsday Machine.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to subscribe to the dark concept of Happy Endlings to enjoy the music of Vågan. This album often sounds as a party that ends all parties, or as Vågan’s label suggests, a thrill packed, roller-coaster ride but with a friendly King Kong. Until the end of times arrives you can enjoy the fine company of Swedish vocalist Sofia Jernberg (of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra) and Atomic's reeds Fredrik Ljungkvist, as well as local heroes as Supersilent’s keyboards player Ståle Storløkken, Cortex’ drummer Gard Nilssen and Motif’s drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen, Paulsberg Concept’s pianist Grönberg, trumpeter Eivind Lønning and violinist Ola Kvernberg.

TJO under the guidance of Vågan acts as an hyperactive incarnation of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, but equipped with an eccentric kind of Nordic sense of humor. This version of TJO is informed by György Ligeti’s aggressive musical response to WWII and inspired by the rhythmic drive Afro-American free jazz of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the orchestral projects of Carla Bley, with some sparks of the seventies prog-rock. These diverse, complex elements keep revolving in every composition, offering deeper and often ironic perspectives of this colorful musical feast. There are plenty of tasteful nuggets to bite on such epic, ecstatic compositions as “Me Tar Sand, You Jane”, “Disco Dreams” and “Slob Rock”, from the one-of-her-kind, wordless vocalizations of Jernberg, the celestial organ flights of Storløkken, the wise solos of Grönberg and the strong rhythmic basis of Vågan with drummers Nilssen and Johansen.

More on Soundcloud.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda – Mizu (Long Song Records) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

A long time ago, a friend introduced me to the music of Satoko Fujii. He loaned me a few albums and, at first listen, I immediately realized I had been missing out on something special. Fujii is thoroughly contemporary in her mastery of styles. She combines and configures influences unpredictably and seamlessly. And, she does so not for the sake of novelty, but, it seems, because she perceives some common emotive or harmonic thread uniting the musical forms. Accompanied by the venerable Joe Fonda, Fujii is as nimble and inspired as ever on Mizu, a live recording capturing two nights – one in Belgium and one in Germany – in 2017.

The first track, “Rik Bevernage” (an homage to the late Belgian music promoter), begins with isolated piano and bass tones that quickly gather into a tempest of wild, running melodies and abstract pizzicato. Around nine minutes in, Fonda steers the song into bluesier territory as Fujii supports the pivot with a soft, loungey melody that soon tangles into an angular flourish of augmented scales. As she finishes this statement with a prolonged, dark chord, Fonda lays a tapestry of delicate plucks and bowing to which Fujii responds with her own exploration of the piano’s interior. By the 20-minute mark, the track really begins to pick up steam. Fujii returns to her keys and Fonda adapts in kind, drawing a solo into a distorted harmony with the piano. The track ends in a prolonged crescendo and intensification, then a walking bass groove over which the piano, for the first time, waxes jazz.

The second piece, also from the Belgian concert, is equally engaging, though quite unique. This track is shorter and seems more directed than the first. It is founded on the gradual realization of an emergent, driving rhythm repeatedly traded between and reinterpreted by Fujii and Fonda.
The third track, “Mizu” (Japanese for “water”) is a different beast altogether. It starts quietly and contemplatively. Fujii takes the lead, teasing potential melodies as a Fonda plays intermittent arco. As much as “Rik Bevernage” was about rather skillfully combining musical languages and generating an immediate and lasting impression, “Mizu” seems focused on the process of musical creation. The track builds then retreats as water ripples (hear the ripples six-and-a-half minutes in) when touched by the wind or any other minor disturbance. The piece gathers speed as Fujii plays a glistening melody and Fonda, rather than simply following, out-paces her at points. Fonda continues with a stunning solo as Fujii deploys some percussive scrapings and rattles in support. Then, Fujii steps up again. At later points, Fonda contributes howling vocals and flute, adding the wind and air that had hitherto been only hinted in the rippling. And it is here, as the wind finally reveals itself, that the water stills and the track slowly fades.

This album is characterized by this type of give and take, this frequent exchange of the lead, this strikingly even balance rarely struck in a duo and even more rarely achieved between a bassist and pianist. This is beautiful music not just because of Fujii and Fonda’s virtuosity, but because of their delicate interplay and mutual responsiveness, their raw intimacy, and their almost frenetic creativity. I have not followed Fujii as closely as I should have during this past year of relentless performances and releases. Nevertheless, I am certain that this album holds its own among the others. Whether you are new to Fujii (or Fonda, for that matter) or a seasoned listener, Mizu will not disappoint.

MoE and Marhaug – Capsaicin (Utech, 2018) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

Lasse Marhaug, the Norwegian noise-extraordinaire, has been covered on this blog numerous times before, usually through his collaborations with Paal Nilsen-Love. MoE was more of a mystery to me. Also from Norway, MoE consists of Guro Sklumsness Moe on bass and sound processing, Håvard Skasett on guitars, and Joakim Heibø Johansen on drums. The former two are core members of the acoustic group Sult who collaborated with Marhaug on the 2017 Harpoon (FJB review here). The latter, meanwhile, plays in the noise-rock band Ich Bin N!ntendo (FJB reviews here and here). Ok. So maybe MoE are not such unknowns, at least in terms of their membership. The music they produce with Marhaug, however, is eminently curious, dark, and antic.

Capsaicin begins with a single, heavy bass tone held for lengthy irregular intervals. The resonance builds and bleeds into an underlying low drone. After six and a half minutes of incremental development, Marhaug contributes a quavering static first riding atop Moe’s plodding bass, then interweaving with Skasett’s haunting guitar. At the fourteenth minute, the track begins to come apart. The bass and guitar wend as they have before, but the electronics become frenetic. As the strings and amps fade out, Marhaug transforms his staticky squeaks and hisses into a deeper, Merzbow-esque explosion of sound evocative of a flag fluttering in a gale, or the muted and extended detonation of a bomb. This begins track two, which has a similar flow of guitar feedback, churning bass, and electronic chaos. At times, I hear dampened, groaning voices, distorted bowed cymbals, muffled crashes, and, briefly around the eight-minute mark, a metronomic on the hi-hat, but these are sometimes too processed and fleeting to properly decipher. Such faint and feinted sounds only lend additional enigmatic atmospherics to an already dense and unnerving soundscape.

Track 2 lightens briefly with one of the only melodies detectable on the record. It sounds like a demented merry-go-round tune. The track then dissolves into a pulsing drone and cymbal ride that leads into the third track, another weighty meditation on the constructive and entropic possibilities of harsh, layered sound.

Track 3 ends with a cavernous howling that bridges into the final cut. The rest of the track merges shrieking guitars, relentless bass, restive drumming, and gales of electronic rumblings and manipulated wailing, corroborating that the burgeoning cacophony of the earlier pieces really did point to some impending collapse. This is heavy, blood-curdling stuff. It is also cathartic. About half-way through, the track peaks and the chaos abates. The individual layers slow and separate themselves. The wind rustles and howls. The bass returns to its single-note thuds. And the cymbals carry the track to its eerily restful conclusion.

Now for some points of clarification. This album is better taken as a single-track in four movements than as four discrete “songs.” Each movement resembles the others in effect, but a close listen reveals little repetition and many unique explorations of the boundaries between coarse dissonance and a mucky, mired consonance. As the Utech Records website explains, Capsaicin explores “the fissures left by minimalist drone metal. Those places not yet stepped on, where strange sound textures produced by DIY machines, low frequencies and electromagnetic transductions fit.” This characterization is fitting. This is harsh noise but is also much more musical than that. It plays with and transgresses boundaries of musicality and sound, diving headfirst into the interstices between notes and noise, and the insufficiently-trodden paths between free jazz/improvisation and metal as well as between instrumentation and electronic manipulation and fabrication. And the result is indeed strange, and profoundly so. Clearly, this is not easy listening music for the masses. Still, it is highly recommended for those interested in the more nuanced strands of harsh noise, the less percussion-heavy strands of noise rock, and the darker potentialities of progressive music.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Trumpet Trios

By Stef

Always worth sharing: some new trumpet trios. One from a new international trio, one from some of the leading Polish musicians, one from a totally unknown Finnish trio and one from last year by three icons of free improvisation, and music to everybody's taste: from lyrical and accessible to uncompromising sonic explorations. 

Ramon Lopez, Percy Pursglove, Rafał Mazur ‎– Threefold (Not Two, 2018) ***½

Percy Pursglove, a British trumpeter and double bass player from Birmingham, is probably most known from his collaborations with Paul Dunmall, Barry Guy and recently with Alexander Hawkins. Spanish percussionist Ramon Lopez has performed extensively in free improvisation ensembles, including with Agustí Fernandez, Barry Guy and with Rafał Mazur, including a recent album with Guillermo Gregorio. And Rafał Mazur, well, the Polish acoustic bass guitar virtuoso must be known by now to our readers.

For the beginning tracks, the playing is relatively 'cool', without agitation or even nervousness. The atmosphere is relaxed and calm, without falling into the abyss of sentimentalism. The playing is also excellent: Pursglove's tone is warm and velvety, Ramon Lopez' drumming is restrained and complex at the same time, while Mazur is his usual self on the acoustic bass guitar, again demonstrating why he is so much in demand. Yet, most tracks are performed with too much self-respect, and too much respect for the others.

It is only half-way the album that things get more exciting, either because there is more energy, as in "Musical Party", or because they start colouring outside the lines (but not very far), as in "Pintura 10", "The Daughters Of Catula Mende", and "The Garden Of Earthly Delights", offering a welcome change in tone. The overall result is good, but it would have been better if the approach in the second half of the album had received a stronger presence or deeper elaboration. But that's a subjective appreciation of course.

Wojciech Jachna, Jacek Mazurkiewicz, Jacek Buhl - God's Body (Audio Cave, 2018) ****

Wojciech Jachna, Jacek Mazurkiewicz and Jacek Buhl have performed and recorded before in meny contexts and ensembles, and this is their sophomore album as a trio, after their "Dźwięki Ukryte" (hidden sounds), released in 2016. Their music is very eclectic and mysterious, enhanced by electronics, and the first track "Galapagos", does not sound like a trumpet trio at all, more like an extended bowing piece with little psychedelic sounds added to the process. On the second piece, the trumpet gets a more prominent role, with Jachna's soft and warm tones being challenged by the rattling and clattering bass and percussion. "4 Riders" may allude to the apocalypse, and indeed its mood is ominous and dark, sad and resigned, in essence one long moaning solo trumpet piece adorned by the rhythm section. "Peking Duck" is - despite its title - even more somber, with muted horn and bowed bass playing long stretched tones in sharp contrast to the clanging and quadruple-paced inventive percussion. The title track, "God's Body", is more adventurous, more intense and energetic, with Jachna's trumpet shifting between despair and jubilation over an unleashed rhythm section that gradually falls into place with a steady rhythm.

The great thing is that the interaction between the three musicians arises like a spontaneous and natural event, without constraints or artificial efforts. Despite the completely different angle of attack by trumpet, bass and drums, they all three sing with the same voice. This is very welcoming and creative music.

Alf Forsman, Tapani Varis & Eero Savela - Atmosfärg (Art First, 2018) ***½

This band is less known and their debut is well worth listening to. The Finnish trio are Alf Forsman on drums, Tapani Varis on double bass and Eero Savela on trumpet. The trio's music is free jazz, but like its Polish counterpart very welcoming, taking the genre as a given, without further exploration, with clear-toned trumpet as the lead voice, and with again very clever and contrasting bass and drums, instruments that emphasise, give depth without really organising the rhythm or giving the beat. Alf Forsman is possibly best known as a member of fellow countryman and guitarist Raoul Björkenheim's Krakatau band and the alternative rock band Sielum Veljet, as well as performances with the more internationally known prog rock band Kalevala. Forsman and Savela released a duo album last year, called "Affe Ja Eero". Tapani Varis is a multi-instrumentalist, a session musician performing on many folk and pop albums, but at the same time also active in free jazz ensembles such as the Riko Goto Trio. The same can be said of drummer Eero Savela, who's played in the horn sections of reggae, afro, soul and funk bands. All three musicians have played on dozens of albums, yet all three of them can count their own albums on two fingers.

Regardless, the playing is excellent here, with the three musicians enjoying their freedom to play as they please, creating their sound on the spot. The overall quality is excellent, even if in the production bass and drums are sometimes pushed too far in the back. Forsman's drumming deserved better audio care.

I don't think the title means anything in Finnish: it's possibly just a pun on the English word "Atmospheric".

The full album can be listened to on Youtube:

TIN - Uncanny Valley (Confront, 2017) ****

This album was already released in 2017, but somehow came to my attention recently. The trio are some of the most avant-garde musical improvisers on their respective instruments, with Axel Dörner on trumpet, Dominic Lash on double bass, and Roger Turner on drumset and percussion. The six tracks were recorded at three different locations in the UK: at Cafe Oto, London, in Portland Works, Sheffield, and at St James' Church, Midhopestones, all in April 2015.

As you can expect, the music is an intense physical exploration of sound, very granular and crisp. The results is a somewhat innocent, open-ended conversation with lots of open space, excited reactions, surprises and question marks, intimate and natural, and the latter in an almost zoological sense, like animals responding to each other in the most basic way. And that is a compliment, because it brings music to a much more foundational, organic level, stripped of all conventions and plans, and maybe even of reason and rationality. Is pure sonic interaction possible? Maybe it is. At least they give it a try. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Ingrid Laubrock - Contemporary Chaos Practices (Intakt, 2018) *****

With Contemporary Chaos Practices the celebrated saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has provided a conclusive highpoint of creative music in 2018. The album combines Laubrock’s excellent orchestral scores with improvisations from soloists Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis, Nate Wooley, as well as from the composer herself. I didn’t have the chance to listen to this album properly before I submitted my year end list, as it should certainly have been included (it would have been an impossible task though, to choose one to drop, what a year!). According to Steve Smith’s excellent liner notes Vogelfrei was written for the 2014 second Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Reading, while Contemporary Chaos Practices was written for the 2017 Moers Festival, making both of recent vintage. Smith writes that Laubrock’s initial inspiration for writing orchestral scores came from seeing Anthony Braxton and Walter Thompson at The Irondale center in Brooklyn. The trifecta of composition, improvisation, and conducting was a natural progression for Laubrock, who was already mixing composition and improvisation in her smaller ensembles and had been exposed to the creative functions of conducting via the London Improvisers Orchestra. On Contemporary Chaos Practices her combination of inspirations is seamless, drawing from classical, jazz, and experimental streams of expression and weaving them into a wonderfully strange and multifaceted whole.

'Contemporary Chaos Practices (Part 1 and Part 2)' begins with Halvorson’s hiccupping, pitch shifted, guitar psychedelics bookended by powerful orchestral forays and resonant brass figures. Hovering over this are flute and woodwinds that flutter in quickening runs like dragonflies over the surface of a pond. The strings become more assertive, pushed along by the brass and the liquid guitar playing, culminating in the rapid arco of the contrabass, slowly dimming and taking on gravity as it goes silent. Laubrock takes skirting runs at the edges of the icy string playing, stirring up drama on soprano saxophone. At around nine minutes there begins a wonderful passage of orchestral dialogue that is quite cinematic in spirit, that slowly dissolves into almost pure texture over the second half, utilizing a broad palate of sounds to spectacular effect. 'Contemporary Chaos Practices (Part 3)' begins as the previous track finished, with high pitched textures from the instrumentalists that simultaneously suggest wind chimes, distant playground swings, and insect calls. Around the midpoint, the jaunty contrabass clarinet and trombone precede the return of the orchestra, which delivers powerful galloping passages interspersed with short colorful responses of strings. The shortest piece, 'Contemporary Chaos Practices (Part 4)', begins with a somber introduction from the brass and woodwinds, which carefully builds and grows into something large, dark, and slightly menacing before fading back into the silence. Vogelfrei begins probingly over bowed string harmonics, combining gorgeous orchestral swells with more pointillist playing from the soloists. A little after 7 minutes the orchestra is augmented with vocalists, who provide choral underpinnings for the piece. Kris Davis comes to the fore, dueling with the strings as Josh Sinton makes use of amplified contrabass clarinet to provide a dissonant and subtle counterpoint. The finale utilizes driven percussive statements with chorale accents to establish a churning undercurrent over which the brass and woodwinds combine in a discordant commotion that peels away and leaves a lone scratching fiddle bow.

What I enjoy the most about this album is its ability to surprise, as none of these songs evolved in a manner that was obvious to me. The soloists are also incorporated in a unique way as well. Rather than being provided a break to solo over, they’re generally left to their own devices over specific portions of the arrangement, making them feel less like solos and more like organic outgrowths of the whole. This is a brilliant record in both concept and execution, and the recording quality is vivid, catching all of the subtleties furnished by the musicians across a large dynamic range. Perhaps the most exciting revelation of all is that Laubrock is just getting started with orchestral compositions, leaving a wake of excitement for what’s to come.

Contemporary Chaos Practices Teaser:


Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love live at Underflow record store, Athens. 12-1-2018.

Paal Nilssen-Love (dr) and Ken Vandermark (sax, cl)
Paal Nilssen-Love (dr) and Ken Vandermark (sax, cl)
By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love are sitting right there on the small stage of Underflow’s basement, chatting casually like two friends during the half hour interval of their two sets. Which is true because they are friends. They have known each other for quite a while and have collaborated in various groupings with other great artists, and as a duo as well.

I write "collaborated" but that sounds too professional, too formal if you wish. It’s the freedom of intimacy, of friendship, of people getting together and producing things that matter. This is what I’m looking for and this is what these guys delivered. I’m not talking about the mannerism of amateurism but the real bonds that develop in any human relationship. And friendship, collective thinking, playing music together can produce those bonds.

This Norwegian-American duo has produced some fine examples, in the form of albums, of a fine balance between, rhythm, melody and the joys of improvisation. In their two sets (clocking on one hour and a half) they presented to us this balance. Paal Nilssen-Love is, probably, one of the two finest drummer-percussionists of his generation (the second being Chris Corsano). He can switch from rock drumming to a free polyrhythmic barrage and then indulge in unpredicted non-rhythmic improvisations using all kinds of percussion. I was lucky enough to have caught him live a few years back, so I knew what was coming to me. On the other hand I saw Ken Vandermark for the first time and I must tell you that he is a powerhouse with the saxophone. Even after a thirty minutes continuous track, he blew notes and quarter notes with impeccable technique and force, letting us know that the physical endurance that a sax needs is not a big of a deal for him.

As Ken put it, the eighty people crowd were really energizing for them. There was way too much enthusiasm among us indeed. It might seem odd to you people living in western Europe or North America, but for us here in Greece this might have been the best gig of the year. It seemed to me that this energy transformed into the, sometimes, bluesy Chicagoan sound of Ken’s sax and the ever energetic, sometimes frenzied, drumming of Love. Their sax-drums duos were muscular and more melodic. Ken sometimes reminded me (and I might be falling on the slippery road of clichés here) of his fellow reedsman from Chicago the great late Fred Anderson, while Paal was his impeccable self (well, you know I’m a fan by now…)

When Vandermark switched to the clarinet, the mood was less melody and more improvisation. I guess that this was the idea Nilssen-Love had imagined for the set, but Vandermark’s playing was paving the way to a more rhythmic – you could even say jazzy – performance. Switching form the clarinet to the sax and vice versa, there was a clearly audible choice from Vandermark. He was aspiring to present a sound both melodic and full of energy and, at the same time, leaving enough room for his fellow artist to present his own vision. I really enjoyed the fact that they surpassed the tradition of long solos by putting together their ideas (clearly understanding each after so many years of playing together) and, sometimes, confronting each other at the moment. As I mentioned on the beginning, this is a duo of both artistic and personal relationship and not a “collaboration”. So, you know, relationships tend to provoke those involved to explore new territories. That’s exactly what they did that night.

P.S. If we agree that for all of us the goal is the same, which is for this music to reach a bigger audience, then a 20 euros ticket is many steps towards the wrong direction. At the same time I must sing praise to anyone who pays money to bring those musicians to this very edge of Europe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Solo Percussion - Twelve Albums Overview

By Stef

In September, we already reviewed Chad Taylor's Myths & Morals, and Lucas Niggli's Alchemia Garden, but there is more percussive power that requires our attention. Amazingly enough, a lot of solo percussion works were released this year. An overview.

We will add a lot of improvised material, ranged from complete free form to composed modern music, from jazz to techno, from intimate to exuberant, from minimalistic to expansive. Whatever the style, genre or subgenre, the percussionists often feel free to let us hear music and angles of approach that are totally impossible in ensemble settings or in the presence of melodic or harmonic instruments. Because of the vast differences between the albums, I won't rate them, except for the first one.

Carlo Costa - Oblio (Neither/Nor Records, 2018) ****½
Italian and New York based percussionist Carlo Costa has been working for years on his own sound, primarily with his bands "Natura Morta" and "Earth Tongues", moving percussion deep into realms of sonic landscapes, but then preferably the ones that are rugged, unpredictable and with a dramatic edge. On 'Oblio', he offers us two pieces of around twenty minutes, using "an assortment of instruments and objects such as drum set, concert bass drum, singing bowls, bells, triangles, wood blocks, tiles, styrofoam, cymbals, violin bows, marbles, chains, knives" and probably more.

The pieces are built around structural composed parts, which offer a sense of direction for the improvisation. The first piece amazingly enough creates a broad sense of space too, with instruments that almost dialogue like human voices in a wide and empty realm full of resonance. The second piece completely breaks that effect, offering a different side of the same coin, but now more intimate, with less resonance, as if every sound is absorbed by the carpets in the room, and with a more prominent role of his drum set. Despite the clear outside-inside distinction, both tracks equal each other in intensity and narrative power. Like percussive innovators such as Eddie Prévost, the instruments are no longer used for rhythmic purposes, but are played in such a way to allow for stretched notes, scratching and scraping sounds, hollow reverberations, overlaid with rumbling and pealing noises.  In stark contrast to Prévost, Costa is not a minimalist, quite to the contrary even: a lot is happening, with very frequent variations in the use of instrument and sonority, creating tense and even dense listening experience.

If you ever thought that solo percussion is boring, and only of interest to percussionists, think again.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ingar Zach & Speak Percussion - Before Nightfall One (Sofa, 2018)

Without a doubt, Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach is one of the most creative musicians in modern music. In his own way, he redefined with bands such as "Dans Les Arbres" and "Mural", as well in the various ensembles he's set up over the years. Percussion instruments exist for story-telling.  They can create a world of abstract meaning and felt emotion, resulting from the careful and precise use of the full sonic possibilities of instruments.

On "Before Nightfall One", he is accompanied by Speak Percussion from Melbourne, Australia, represented by Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Schack-Arnott, both also on percussion, as you might have guessed. A one-day rehearsal led to these thirty minutes of a percussive soundworld. The trio offers a constantly shifting sonic narrative, which at times comes across as the backdrop noise of a very active industrial environment, morphing into the soundtrack of a horror movie when desolation and anxiety take over the energy and the feelings, then morphing even further into piercing and scraping and intrusive layered sounds that result in the tingling skin sensation better known as "autonomous sensory meridian response" (ASMR), a kind of addictive noise reaction on the human nervous system which can become highly addictive.

Zach turns this into art.

Gerry Hemingway - Reality Axis - For Solo Percussion The music of Sarah Weaver (SyncSource, 2018) 

From the very first touches on the cymbals, you can feel that there is tension in the air, of the kind that grabs your attention and invites you to keep listening, fascinated by what's happening. Gerry Hemingway needs no introduction anymore, with more than a dozen of his albums reviewed on this blog. Hemingway plays a structured composition by Sarah Weaver, a New York-based contemporary composer, conductor, technologist, educator, and researcher working internationally as a specialist in Network Arts. She has been very active in creating network performances, using the internet as a connector to unite performances in different locations. Events take place over very high- bandwidth internet utilizing specialized network audio and video technology for low-latency, multichannel, performance-quality experience.

The composition and the performance are complex, yet also light at the same time, in the sense that the music is focused on limited parts of Hemingway's kit, and not all over the place, even to the contrary, silence and quiet moments give a sense of space to the improvisations which the performer is allowed to create around the graphic score. Hemingway is a versatile performer, and the end result is a crisp and inventive. On the last track a single note is electronically sustained as a linear beacon for the brisk and supple drumming. Weaver explains her concept as: "The works utilize pluralism structures such as multiplicity, polyrhythm, and simultaneity, together with nodal intersections, alignments, and attention strategies, to result in multidimensional resonance through integral synthesis". Regardless, the music can be enjoyed also by non-percussionists, although may find even more to savour.

Tim Daisy - Configurations (Relay, 2018) 

Two years ago, Tim Daisy released "Relucent" on his Relay label, and now, two years later, the Chicagoan offers us a new solo percussion album. The drummer has been reviewed on a few dozen albums in the last few years already, so he needs no further introduction.

On "Configurations" he further explores the possibilities of rhythm, timbre and sound, using selected instrument alone or in combination: drums, marimba, Califones, metal percussion, bass xylophone, transistor radios, bells, chains, sticks, mallets and brusheds.

The artist emphasises that no overdubs have been used. When listening to the music, this is possibly one of the most amazing features, especially on "Sonic Feels". But I think the most amazing feature is that Daisy seems to enjoy himself, as he is also not shy to share moments of fun with the listener, as on "The Echo Song" or "The Wobbly Insect". Most tracks are very focused and relatively short. Because of the use of marimba, melodic parts give the listener some variation from the pure percussive parts.

The solo format clearly allows Daisy to tell some different musical stories than would be possible in an ensemble setting. And from the quality and the pleasure that is to be heard on this album, we can only encourage him to keep doing this in the future.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

João Pais Filipe - João Pais Filipe (Lovers & Lollypops, 2018)

Of all the albums reviewed here, João Pais Filipe starts with the most rhythmic and energetic intro you can imagine. No frills, just straight and fast drumming, starting to bifurcate and ramify to other toms and bells and gongs, without ever relinquishing the basic beat. He call his own music "ethno techno" and you can understand why. Even if the drumming is acoustic, the core beat is so immaculately regular that it sounds like the repeat button on a rhythm software, but then it doesn't, because minor changes start happening, and the whole piece keeps evolving and expanding on the beat in a wonderful polyrhythmic techno fest.

João Pais Filipe is a Portuguese percussionist, and we know him from the recently reviewed "Space Quartet", but also from other bands such as "Pedro Contida" and "Fail Better!". Again a Portuguese musician who changes the boundaries of what is expected from a musician. Or even stronger, when most solo percussion albums turn their instrumental skills into timbral explorations and away from rhythm, Pais Filipe does the exact opposite.

As the liner note say: "he took the machine's place in order to understand if androids do dream of electric sheep ... only to find out they started with ethno techno".

More than worth listening to, and possibly of great interest to drummers. A more than trance-inducing hypnotic experience.

Listen and download from Bandcamp or watch one of the tracks in the nice video below.

Sarah Hennies -  Fleas (Ultraviolet Light, 2018)

Sarah Hennies is a composer of modern music, writing for theater and film, but also a vibraphone player herself. On Fleas, she is joined by Leslie Brack, Bubba Crumrine,  Doug McLaren,  Anna McCormick, Matthew Saccuccimorano,  Benjamin Torrey and Brian Wilson who all perform the music with bells that were found in thrift stores and flea markets (hence the title). The first part starts chime-like, creating a friendly and familiar atmosphere that is interrupted by heavy banging near the end. The second part gives a kind of mirror image. The beating drum leads the track, but then gradually the bells take over and lead us into near silence. The end result is interesting, welcoming and disorienting at the same time.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

In Quattro - In Quattro (Floating Forest Records, 2017) ****

"In Quattro" is unique. It is a percussion quartet. They bring us two lengthy improvised pieces, one of thirty-six and one of twenty minutes, giving themselves - and the listener - time to build and develop their musical concept. In contrast to some of the other albums reviewed here, rhythm is very high on their agenda, as is sound colour, and the shifting levels of density as the pieces progress. 

All four percussionists have a different angle of attack: Francesco D'Auria's drumming is more jazzy, Brian Quinn only plays on a bare drumkit, Andrea Cocco adds some electronics to his playing, and Davide Merlino plays prepared vibraphone next to his drums. The result is a fascinating listening experience of subtle and intense low-density interaction. These are not four machos fighting to be heard - these are not rock drummers, but four artists co-creating a common musical language. The self-restraint, the discipline, the common sense of pace and subtlety of execution are proportional to the four musicians' creativity and freedom. That doesn't mean that there are no moments of violence and high volume beats - there certainly are - but they are used to good dramatic effect, to contrast with the more silent moments or to give a break in the more complex parts. 

The end result is clever, smart, creative and entertaining, combining mesmerising and tribal moments with nuanced and precise rhythmic landscapes, and it could only have been created by musicians who understand each others' instruments and each other completely. 

And it is great fun too. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Patti Cudd - Eos (Innova, 2017)

Even if already a year old, it is also good to mention this album by Patti Cudd, percussionist and educator. For this album she commissioned new compositions or used existing material from 16 composers: Cort Lippe, Brian Ferneyhough, Christian Wolff, Per Bloland, Jeff Herriott, Barry Moon, Margaret Schedel, Christopher Howard, Christopher Burns, James Dillon, Eric Lyon, Paul Elwood, Konstantinos Karathanasis, Brett Wartchow, Scott Miller, Chapman Welch, Morton Feldman and Pamela Madsen. 

Most of the pieces also use real-time electronics, enhancing, repeating and changing some of the sounds, even if acoustic percussion stays the main sound to be heard. The music is both challenging and interesting, mainly because of the huge variety of approaches, their singular line of attack and character of each track. It is a triple CD, so listening to the whole album in one go may be a challenge for anyone time-wise, but listening to it in bits and pieces does not really reduce its attractiveness. The performances were recorded between 1996 and 2015. The CD has a very extensive booklet explaining the concept of each piece. 

Listen and download from the label.

Otzir Godot - Texthead (Eppato, 2018)

Based in Helsinki, Finland, Godot calls himself a "drum poet", and in a way that describes his music well. On "Texthead", he explores the sounds of his instrument in relatively short pieces, more interested in overall timbre and resonance than in actual drumming. The end result is one of silence interspersed with dramatic effects.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Matt Hannafin - John Cage - Four Realizations for Solo Percussion (Notice, 2018)

More "classical" percussion by John Cage and performed by Matt Hannafin. The percussionists selects to early pieces by Cage, "Variations II" and "Variations III", both from the early sixties to figure centrally on this album. Two later works from the 90s, "cȻomposed Improvisation for One-Sided Drums with or without Jangles" and "One4", bookend the album. As you can imagine from Cage compositions, the focus is about sound as an element of space and silence, as if a reflection of noise from the street or from nature re-arranged in a more abstract and aesthetic way.

Hannafin's playing is both very contained and explorative, disciplined and inventive. Interestingly enough, even the earliest works of Cage for solo percussion would still hold their ground in today's avant-garde. A real treat.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Mark Fell - Intra (Boomkat Editions, 2018)

I am not too familiar with the work of Mark Fell, but from what I read about him, it appears to be complex and multi-faceted. He's a techno man, an electronics composer, with clear ideas about the role of music, and the potential of music in society. Like us, it makes him sick how music often gets mistreated in popular TV and radio environments and sacrificed on the altar of commerce.

But regardless of the philosophy, on "Intra", his approach is explained by the subtitle "computer-generated rhythm for microtonal metallophones", and that is what you get, even if you have no inkling what it might mean sonically. According to the liner notes, "Making use of a kind of conceptual future-primitivism, Fell probes the perceptive difference between ideas of simplicity and complexity by sending instructions to acoustic drummers via electronic triggers relayed through headphones".

The quartet performing the compositions are João Dias, Miguel Bernat, Pedro Oliveira and Saulo Giovannini.

This is music that will certainly appeal to afficionados of Ingar Zach, Dans Les Arbres, and other quiet percussion ensembles. Listening intently to it will bring you in a dreamlike state, surprised at the multitude of pleasant and intimate pointillist little beats that collectively sound like rhythmic rain, or orchestrated chimes. Highly unusual, and relatively accessible too.

Dane Rousay - Neuter (Self, 2018) 

Dane Rousay is an American-Canadian percussionist living in San Antonio, Texas. Like so many other drummers in free improvisation, Rousay wants to move away from the time-keeping role, and create sounds herself, and as a consequence, a solo album makes sense, and risky for a young musician with limited recorded output, even if this release is a cassette with only twenty minutes of music. In two years of recording, this is already her sixth solo album, and the fourth this year, after "Divide", "IMP/ENV" and “An Inevitable Solution (To)”. It shows a lot of determination to find her place in improvised music, and she has a story to tell, especially on the traditional drum kit as on this album. At the same time, developing a personal voice and musical vision are equally important. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

For more "solo percussion" albums, check the "Topics" button in the right column.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

New Ears 2018 Vote: Happening Now

We invite you to vote on the "New Ears Award" for 2018. Please enter your choice below.

If you are running into trouble using this poll, you may also access it here.

Free Jazz Blog's 2018 Top 10 Lists

From: It's OK to Like Free Jazz

Today we present the Collective's top 10 albums of the year and invite you to vote in the annual New Ears Awards.

The contenders for the award were drawn from the lists below and can be found here. The collective also votes on the same list, but in a separate poll. The award winner for both polls will be announced on January 1st.

As you know, it's not so easy to come up with a top 10 list. There is teeth gnashing, tears of frustration, and sleepless nights over the difficult decisions that must be made, and then there is the haunting thought that these decisions will never be perfect. This of course is stacked up against all of the albums we didn't get to even listen to throughout the year. Requests for album reviews topped 2000 this year - even more than last year. Regardless, it is exciting that music making is alive and well and to be entrusted to give our opinions on the music.

Thank you all for being a part of the Free Jazz Collective and supporting improvised music in general. The creative music community is  small and everyone plays a part, whether it is as musician, promoter, writer/critic, listener, concert-goers, consumer, or a bit of each.

List are presented in alphabetical order by reviewer's last name: 

Paul Acquaro

  • Paul Rogers, Olaf Rupp, Frank Paul Schubert - Three Stories About Rain, Sunlight And The Hidden Soil (Relative Pitch)*
    It all came together for me when I saw this trio play live. With Rupp’s textural guitar, Rogers unbelievable 7 string acoustic bass, and Schubert’s wide-ranging sax work, the output is daring and completely captivating.
  • Duck Baker - Plays Monk (Triple Point)
    Hot on the heel’s of his 100th birthday, there have been many Monk related releases, from the historical to the obsessive, like guitarist Miles Okazaki who covered all of Monk's compositions on  "Work (Complete, Volumes 1-6)". Here, I chose Duck Baker's wonderful interpretations, but it was not an easy choice.
  • Momentum - Brüllt & Monster Roster (Audiographic)
    A milestone for Ken Vandermark as a composer. I'm still working on it as a listener.
  • Cataclysmic Commentary - Audience Participation (Eschatology)*
    Pianist Eli Wallace is a dynamic player and this recording, with saxophonist Ben Cohen and drummer Dave Miller is a great album debut for the fierce, but nuanced, trio.
  • Henry Threadgill -14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings)
    A large big band triumph, the music on Dirt and More Dirt carries the distinction of sounding both thoroughly forward thinking with its angular and twisting themes and complex harmonies, and at the same deeply rooted in tradition.
  • Angelika Niescier, Christopher Tordini & Tyshawn Sorey -The Berlin Concert (Intakt)
    This 'classic' free jazz album, recorded at the Berlin Jazzfest, as my colleague Lee writes "Balances tenderness and vibrancy with ease."
  • Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan Records)
    Drummer Gray leads a group of fantastic musicians through a series of tunes show casing his ever growing compositional prowess.
  • Andrew Cyrile, Wadada Leo Smith & Bill Frisell - Lebroba (ECM)*
    Lovely lines, fragile melogies, and muscle when it's called for. I am submitting this in lieu of  Jakob Bro's Bay Of Rainbows (ECM), which I would say similar things of.
  • Jon Irabagon - Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (Irrabagast)
    It's not exactly free jazz, but the saxophonist's quixotic composition sensibilities and unbelievable technique are on full display on this gem.
  • Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog ‎– YRU Still Here? (Yellowbird)*
    He's pissed and he's political. This is a monster album full of hard-charging proto-punk/funk tunes and snarling lyrics.

    *reviews forthcoming

Stuart Broomer

These are organized not by merit or alphabet but family resemblance—music that’s jazz in the most richly traditioned sense (including musicians with laurels of resting dimension who choose not to use them); music that at once stretches musical possibilities and the scale of the public dialogue; works of pure vision that highlight the alchemical nature of all these works. The list is bracketed by two musicians appearing together 50 years apart.

  • Dave Holland/ Evan Parker/ Craig Taborn/ Ches Smith: Uncharted Territories (Dare 2 Records, 2018)
    Multiple associations from the SME to Rocket Science come into play.
  • Rodrigo Amado/ Joe McPhee/ Kent Kessler/ Chris Corsano: A History of Nothing (Trost: 2018)
    This band’s first recording was the 2015 reader’s choice of this site for record of the year. This one extends the dialogue.
  • Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House, 2018)
    The only thing that could make this better is if Parker, out of time, out of space, out of and into all sorts of stuff, en route with his unpawnable Grafton to Edgard Varèse’s apartment, happened by one of these sessions, thus meeting his legacy coming the other way (mea culpa, full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes).
  • Matthew Shipp/ William Parker/ Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light (AUM, 2018) 
    Three musicians test the limits of continuous improvised melody.
  • Veryan Weston/Element Choir: The Make Project (Barnyard Research, 2018).
    20 years in, the great English pianist/composer continues to develop his Tessellations project, in which every pentatonic scale is present, moving from one to another with one pitch change at a time—this time in Toronto with seven other musicians, Christine Duncan’s 45-voice conduction choir and sung texts from women writers ranging from 13th century mystics to 20th century anarchists, all most compatible.
  • Christopher Fox: Topophony. WDR sinfonia orchester; conductor: Ilan Volkov; soloists: John Butcher; Thomas Lehn; Axel Dörner; Paul Lovens. (HatArt, 2018)
    The world needs more large-scale orchestral compositions with space for Butcher, et al.; Ilan Volkov is making a habit of expanding the territory sighted by Giuffre in Mobiles 59 years ago with a different German Radio symphony orchestra.
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Pillars (Firehouse Twelve) 
    Eight musicians. 4 ½ hours of music, Pillars plumbs the depths of pitch and meaning.
  • Cyril Bondi/ Pierre-Yves Martel/ Christoph Schiller: tse (another timbre, 2018)
    Three musicians from Switzerland, Canada and Germany make new music out of old instruments: improvisations on starkly limited pitches with harmonium, viola da gamba and spinet.
  • Common Objects (John Butcher/Angharad Davies/ Rhodri Davies/ Lina Lapelyte/ Lee Patterson/ Pat Thomas): Skullmarks (ftarri, 2018)
    Distinctions among ear, eye, mind, object, time, space, individual and group (and everything else) either clarify or disappear.
  • Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Karyōbin (are the imaginary birds said to live in paradise) (Emanem, 2018)
    Music that’s been stretching the possibilities of the contemporary for 50 years, now sounding better than ever.  

Tom Burris

We are living on this planet in a strange time. Earth is determined to be rid of us all through one catastrophe or another if one of our madmen “leaders” doesn't do the job first. I don't have any answers. But for fuck's sake, don't go out without a fight! Vote. Let your voices be heard. Take to the fucking streets. Fight the good fight, people. Don't forget this simple fact: we still outnumber the assholes. Unfortunately, when it comes to music we are painfully outnumbered. However, the albums on this list are intelligent, hopeful, soulful, optimistic, original, beautiful & crucial. All are 5-star caliber recordings. Bundle up and put some music on. Happy Holidays!

  • Matthew Shipp – Zero (ESP-Disk)
    A solo piano masterwork. Absolutely essential in every way.
  • Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt – Brace Up! (Palilalia)
    Not only the face-melter you expected, but also a fucked-up visionary work of stunning beauty & power.
  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon – Leave No Trace: Live in St. Louis (Family Vineyard) / Kuzu – Hiljaisuus (Astral Spirits)
    Dorji and Damon released two of the finest records of the year, with new project Kuzu adding saxophonist Dave Rempis to the brotherhood. The FJC gave both of these records well-deserved 5-star ratings. Is it cheating to put them both into one entry? #sorrynotsorry
  • Tyshawn Sorey – Pillars (Firehouse 12)
    Seemingly influenced by every possible form of introspective music in existence, Sorey takes his time luring you into his Tibetan Feldman cave. You'll never want to leave.
  • Satoko Fujii – Solo (Libra)
    Another solo piano masterwork. Absolutely essential in every way.
  • Frame Trio – Luminaria (FMR)
    Frame Trio knock out a brooding, drone-based work more reminiscent of Cale-era Velvet Underground than anything jazz-based, making it an excellent driving companion.
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg – Dirt & More Dirt (Pi Recordings)
    I probably could've put both of Threadgill's 2018 Pi releases on here, but didn't wanna push it after that Dorji/Damon entry. These albums push Threadgill's group compositional concepts forward yet again, this time with a larger band mostly made up of the maestro's former ensembles.
  • Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble – Animation (Relay)
    Daisy renames his Celebration Sextet and throws down his latest (and greatest) compositions with the all-star group. Amazingly executed and over far too soon. More!
  • Locksmith Isidore – After Caroline (Northern Spy)
    Another artist I could've doubled up entries on this year, Jason Stein also released an excellent second album by his alternate trio Hearts and Minds on the unbelievably prolific Astral Spirits label. The band gels so well on After Caroline they make impossible things sounds easy.
  • Rodrigo Amado / McPhee / Kessler / Corsano – A History of Nothing (Trost)
    Can this ridiculously stellar lineup possibly deliver on its promise? Why yes son, it certainly can – and does. There is a goddamn Santa Claus.
Reissues / Unearthed recordings:
  • Anthony Braxton – Sextet (Parker) (New Braxton House)
    Professor Braxton re-interprets Bird's catalog on this extended-to-boxed-set reissue that leaves no idea shelved. Like all of Braxton's best, it's both exhausting and indispensable.
  • John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!)
    As essential as anything the man ever recorded, so buy the deluxe version & thank Naima's family as you hand over your cash.   

Troy Dostert

  • Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1: The Embedded Sets (Pi)
  • Mary Halvorson - Code Girl (Firehouse 12)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D’Agala (Intakt)
  • Angelika Niescier, Christopher Tordini and Tyshawn Sorey - The Berlin Concert (Intakt)
  • Susana Santos Silva - All the Rivers: Live at Panteão Nacional (Clean Feed)
  • Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi with Masahiko Satoh - Proton Pump (Family Vineyard)
  • Ingrid Laubrock - Contemporary Chaos Practices (Intakt)
  • Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret - The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)
  • Marty Ehrlich - Trio Exaltation (Clean Feed)
  • Here’s to Us - Animals, Wild and Tame (Hoob)

Alexander Dubovoy

  • Cecil Taylor – Poschiavo (Jazzwerkstatt)
    An important reminder of whom we lost this year and of the sheer power of his solo playing.
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton - Music for David Mossman (Intakt)
    Not only is this one of my favorite Evan Parker albums, it pays homage to David Mossman. He was the founder of the Vortex Jazz Club in London and an extremely decent, kind human being, and he passed away this year.
  • Daniel Carter, William Parker & Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light (AUM)
    Of all the albums this year, this was the one I just couldn’t stop listening to. There’s something deeply addictive to it.
  • Mahobin - Live at Big Apple in Kobe (Libra Record)
    This was some of the most interesting music to come out of Japan this year, and I absolutely love Ikue Mori’s work with electronics. A beautiful exploration of timbre.
  • Matthew Shipp – Zero (ESP-Disk)
    A stunning solo piano album. Shipp’s approach to harmony and touch is unparalleled.
  • Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Craig Taborn, and Ches Smith - Uncharted Territories (Dare2 Records)
    The “super group” free jazz album of the year, and it lives up to its pedigree. I particularly love the references to Conference of the Birds and the amazing communication within the ensemble.
  • Christian Lillingers GRUND— COR (Plaist Music)
    Lillinger has a unique voice and is an amazing contributor to the Berlin scene. I just love this album.
  • Henry Threadgill - Double Up Plays Double Up Plus (Pi Recordings)
    Of the two stellar Threadgill albums released this year, this is the one I keep on listening to. It is a work of sheer compositional genius.
  • Cory Smythe - Circulate Susanna (Pyroclastic)
    A radical and gorgeous rethinking of American culture—something we desperately need at this time in history.
  • Miles Okazaki - Work (The complete compositions of Thelonious Monk) (2018)
    A painstaking and beautiful compilation of Monk’s compositional oeuvre.

Lee Rice Epstein

  • Stephanie Richards - Fullmoon (Relative Pitch, 2018)
  • Mary Halvorson - Code Girl (Firehouse 12, 2018)
  • Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12, 2018)
  • Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK - Wet Robots (ESP-Disk’, 2018))
  • Okkyung Lee - Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird) (Tzadik, 2018)
  • Han-earl Park, Catherine Sikora, and Nick Didkovsky - Eris 136199 (Buster and Friends, 2018)
  • Kira Kira - Bright Force (Libra, 2018)
  • Henry Threadgill - Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (Pi Recordings, 2018)
  • Ben LaMar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun (International Anthem, 2018)
  • Kuzu - Hijaisuus (Astral Spirits, 2018)

Stef Gijssels

  • Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12, 2018)
    A wonderful album with a very unique vision on music : captivating in every possible sense.
  • Daniel Carter, William Parker & Matthew Shipp - Seraphic Light (AUM, 2018)
    A grand and majestic album by three musicians who trust each other blindly and dive into their musical heritage
  • Barre Phillips - End To End (ECM, 2018)
    The inventor of the solo bass album produces his last solo album, and he surpasses himself.
  • Chaos Echoes & Mats Gustafsson - Sustain (Utech, 2018)
    A wonderful collision between genres and a great unity of horrifying terror.
  • Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Berlin - Ninety-Nine Years (Libra, 2018)
    It could have been another album by Fujii, but just to show that I changed my mind about her orchestral works.
  • Frame Trio - Luminaria (FMR, 2018)
    Anything these guys do is fresh, inventive,clever and moving.
  • Jeremiah Cymerman - Decay of the Angel (5049 Records, 2018)
    Headstrong, visionary and deeply emotional. A personal story by one of today’s more adventurous musicians.
  • Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall - The 49 Trumpets of Jericho (Bohemian Drips, 2018)
    A strong political and musical statement.
  • Susana Santos Silva - All the Rivers – Live at Panteão Nacional (Clean Feed, 2018)
    A solo trumpet album, explorative, expressive, sensitive.
  • Peter Jacquemyn - Fundament (El Negocito, 2018)
    One of the best concerts I ever saw bundled in an excellent album. Ambitious, unique and rewarding.

Colin Green

  • Anthony Braxton ‎– Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House)
    New takes on bebop classics, freshly oxygenated.
  • Ingrid Laubrock – Contemporary Chaos Practices / Two Works For Orchestra with Soloists (Intakt)
    Featuring a stellar cast, this album reinforces Laubrock’s status at the interface of composition and improvisation.
  • Martin Blume, Tobias Delius, Achim Kaufmann, Dieter Manderscheid ‎– Frames & Terrains (NoBusiness)
    Nervy and buzzing with intensity, yet strangely elusive.
  • Spectral – Empty Castles (Aerophonic)
    A fascinating collection of dialogues between Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston, Larry Ochs and a 12,000-square foot concrete bunker.
  • Assif Tsahar, William Parker, Hamid Drake – In Between the Tumbling a Stillness (Hopscotch)
    An inventive saxophonist who deserves greater exposure, and a rhythm section that provides it.
  • Cecil Taylor – Poschiavo (Black Sun)
    A reminder of what we lost, and an opportunity to digest the achievements of quite possibly the most important free jazz musician thus far.
  • Rodrigo Amado, Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler, Chris Corsano ‎– A History of Nothing (Trost)
    Maintains the standard set by This Is Our Language, the previous studio album, and the good news is that a live set has been recorded.
  • Kaze – Atody Man (Circum-Libra)
    So much to choose from in Satoko Fujii’s 60th anniversary year, with a quartet that displays her talent for diversity and synthesis.
  • Barry Guy@70 - Blue Horizon - Live at Ad Libitum Festival 2017 (Fundacja Słuchaj!)
    Another anniversary treat celebrated in Warsaw last year – Guy with Agustí Fernández, Marilyn Crispell and Paul Lytton, and his first duo performance with Joëlle Léandre.
  • Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Craig Taborn and Ches Smith ‎– Uncharted Territories (Dare2)
    A welcome return to improv for Holland, teaming up with his old friend and two musicians from a later generation in a delightful set of duos, trios and full quartet offerings.

Eyal Hareuveni

  • Extra Large Unit - More Fun, Please (PNL)
    Just imagine a session of Nino Rota, Cecil Taylor and a Korean royal music and you may begin to understand the great fun potential of this piece.
  • Chesterfield - Consuelo (Mikroton)
    Austrian experimental guitarist Burkhard Stangl and and sound artist-composer Angélica Castelló poetic meditation on the ballad “Bésame Mucho”.
  • Kim Myhr / Quatuor Bozzini / Caroline Bergvall / Ingar Zach - pressing clouds passing crowds  (Hubro Music, 2018)
    The most emotional work of the Norwegian guitarist, inspired by the work of French-Norwegian poet Caroline Bergvall and the music of American composer Robert Ashley.
  • Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh - Sparrow Nights (Trost)
    German reeds titan and American pedal steel guitar play sketch most comprehensive overview of their turbulent, chaotic and complex love relationship.
  • Mahobin - Live at Big Apple in Kobe (Libra Records)
    It is almost impossible to pick only one album of the twelve, excellent one that Satoko Fujii released this year, celebrating her 60th birthday, but this free-improvised performance with Danish sax player Lotte Anker, electronics wizard Ikue Mori and partner-trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is my favorite.
  • Tania Giannouli | Rob Thorne | Steve Garden - Rewa (Rattle)
    Deep listening, spontaneously improvised meeting of the Greek pianist and New Zealand, Māori exponent of the traditional ngā taonga pūoro instruments, with some subtle treatments.
  • The End - Svårmod Och Vemod Är Värdesinnen (Rare Noise)
    Two baritone sax heavyweights - Mats Gustafsson and Kjetil Møster, Deerhoof’s powerhouse drummer Greg Saunier, avant-noise-metal guitarist Anders Hana and great vocalist Sofia Jernberg. You don’t need more.
  • Johan Lindström Septett - Music for Empty Halls (Moserobie)
    This Swedish guitarist-multi-instrumentalist finally released his debut album and it is  a beautiful lush melodies, playful jazz sensibilities, breezy blues riffs and eccentric art rock edges performed by an elite unit.
  • Hilde Marie Holsen - Lazoli (Hubro Music)
    This Norwegian trumpeter-electronic player compares her work process to the one of painter, meticulously laying sonic colors and shades and painting with sounds. 
  • Biliana Voutchkova / Michael Thieke - Blurred Music (Elsewhere)
    Three hours of exemplary creativity, mutual trust and intimacy by these Berlin-based violinist and clarinetist. 

Chris Haines

  • Bill Frisell – Music IS (Okeh)
  • Nels Cline 4 – Constellations (Blue Note)
  • Ian Brighton / Henry Kaiser – Together Apart (Fractal)
  • Santiago Quintans & Ramon Lopez – Espadas Como Labios (Creative Sources)
  • Kaoru Abe / Sabu Toyozumi – Mannyoka (NoBusiness)
  • Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Craig Taborn & Ches Smith – Uncharted Territories (Dare2)
  • Louis Beaudoin-de-la-Sablonniere, Eric Normand, Louis-Vincent Hamel – Brulez Les Meubles (Tour de Bras)
  • Miles Okazaki – WORK: The Complete Compositions Of Thelonious Monk (self-released)
  • Samuel Blaser with Marc Ducret & Peter Brunn – Tatklos Zurich 2017 (Hatology)
  • Juhani Aaltonen / Raoul Bjorkenheim – Awakening (Eclipse Music)  

Gustav Lundqvist

  • Miles Okazaki - WORK: The complete compositions of Thelonious Monk (Self-released)
    I don't know if it's because it's such a monumental project or because it's Monk or both, but regardless of which, Okazaki just offered this to all of us to enjoy for years and years. Any follow-up solo guitar work of Monk's will have to stand up against this.
  • Anthony Braxon - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House)
    This release is to have, to hold and to cherish for years and years to come. I'd go so far as saying this is as essential as having Parker's releases. They will forever be side by side in my collection. Bird and Braxton.
  • Ben LaMar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun (International Anthem)
    Accidental finding, shocking first listen! This got to me the same way as Fly or die (Jaimie Branch) from the same label.
  • Peter Brötzmann, Heather Leigh - Sparrow Nights (Trost)
    It's almost dark became the track that I probably heard the most times this year. Peeled off, full of anxiety and darkness.
  • Johan Lindström Septett - Music For Empty Halls (Moserobie)
    Run is the track in which I envision myself walking down the street in a fur coat with a cane and a top hat, feeling like a million dollars and with no more fucks to give. Back to reality I walk the streets of Barcelona smoking a H. Upmann Magnum 46, listening to Sleepless Lapsteels and I feel less of being misplaced in this world and more a part of it. This is indeed a real feather in Jonas Kullhammars hat!
  • Marker - Roadwork 1 / Roadwork 2 / Homework 1 (Catalytic Sound)
    Marker. Love at first listen. Vandermark return with Marker and does it in such a creative way! He's such a giant, and I can't wait to hear what comes next.
  • Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore ‎– After Caroline (Northern Spy)
    This is always what I listen to before, or after, Marker. There's a companionship between the two albums, and when I hear the passive aggressive build-up in Walden's Thing I smile and enjoy.
  • Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon)
    Darkness, oh lovely darkness. I keep finding new layers with every listen.
  • Martin Küchen - Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben (Sofa)
    Yes, released in 2017 - but reviewed in 2018 so I'll include it here. I had it in my list for 2017 as well, but perhaps it wasn't fair - given that my review wasn't published until 2018. Fantastic album that I wish would reach more listeners.
  • Anguish - Anguish (RareNoiseRecords)
    Not reviewed on blog yet, but I'm hoping it will be before the end of the year. Chaotic, industrial, free!

David Menestres

  • Ingrid Laubrock - Contemporary Chaos Practice (Intakt)
    I mostly wanted to focus on small group recordings, this is the large exception to that. My brain cracked open wide during the first listening. More fissures appear with with each spin.
  • Miles Okazaki - WORK: The complete compositions of Thelonious Monk (set-released) Okazaki should add alchemist to his list of accomplishments. Turning Monk’s piano compositions into guitar compositions is no easier than turning lead into gold, but here it is. A massive accomplishment.
  • Barre Phillips & Motoharu Yoshizawa - Oh My, Those Boys! (No Business)
    A live recording from 1994 finally seeing the light of day. An rare document from two uniquely different masters of the bass.
  • Discovery Festival 2017 - Channel (Weekertoft)
    Over six hours of music documenting the 2017 Discovery Festival featuring a wide variety of musicians from across Ireland and the UK in all manners of combinations.
  • Ensemble Grizzana - Early to Late (Another Timbre)
    This album was my introduction to the music of Magnus Granberg. Last month we gave the US premiere of his piece included on this album. I couldn’t write an EOY list that didn’t include this album.
  • Biliana Voutchkova, Michael Thieke - Blurred Music (Elsewhere)
    One of a handful of excellent releases from the new label Elsewhere, this three CD-set features live violin and clarinet improvisations interacting in unexpected ways with pre-recorded material.
  • Ben LaMar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun (International Anthem)
    A white hot greatest hits set culled from seven albums that havev’t previously been released, though IA is in the process of releasing them now.
  • Séverine Ballon - inconnaissable (All That Dust)
    My favorite solo cello album of the year, and there were several that were beyond excellent.
  • Shanna Sordahl - Radiate Don’t Fear the Quietus (Full Spectrum)A beautifully inward-looking solo album featuring cello, voice, and electronics, that has been haunting me since early this summer.
  • Charles Mingus - Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden (BBE Music)
    So many dead musicians suffer from reissues that are nothing but endless cash grabs for their estates, but this previously unavailable live set from February of 1973 is an essential addition to the Mingus catalog.

Nick Metzger

  • Assif Tsahar, William Parker, Hamid Drake – In Between the Tumbling a Stillness (Hopscotch)In my opinion it's the single best album by a saxophone trio this year. The almost perfect interplay is shaded with a colorful inventiveness rarely heard as vividly since Ayler's trio with Murray and Peacock.
  • Bad Luck - Four (Origin)
    Their skillful combination of atmosphere, unconventional rhythm, and blazing free jazz fire prove to be a winning combination for this reviewer.
  • Dave Holland – Uncharted Territories (Dare2)
    This spent the summer in my car stereo, fantastic variety from some top notch improvisers. I especially enjoyed the multiple combinations of players.
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg – Dirt . . . And More Dirt (Pi)
    I had a lot of trouble choosing between this and Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus, both should really be on here, but my device shows that I listened to this album more so I’ll go with it. You can’t go wrong with either, brilliant stuff from a living legend.
  • Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings (International Anthem)
    McCraven takes his ‘organic beat music’ to new heights with four different bands in four different cities across two continents. A truly ambitious album executed to perfection by one of Chicago’s (via France and the NE US) finest. Pick up McCraven’s Where We Come From while you’re at it, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Marker - Roadwork 1&2/Homework 1 Boxset (Audiographic)
    There is so much music in here and it’s all so satisfying. This is an amazing collection from one of Vandermark’s most exciting ensembles, not to be missed!
  • Matthew Shipp - Zero (ESP-Disk)
    Again, this is a close one. Sonic Fiction is a special record, but I feel that Shipp is at his most remarkable when he plays solo. Removed from distractions and left to do his own thing he astounds with his inventiveness. Pair this with hatOLOGY’s reissue of his solo debut Symbol Systems.
  • Szilárd Mezei Vocal Ensemble - Hotel America (Not Two)
    Mezei's brilliant tribute to the victims of post-WWII atrocities committed in Vojvodina is one of his most moving, demanding, and exciting works yet. Szilárd is making some of the most important music out there and is quickly amassing a vast back catalogue.
  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon – Leave No Trace (Family Vineyard)
    Two words: Hot Fire. We’ve come to expect the incredible from this duo and they don’t let us down here. The telepathy and ability to push boundaries that these two display is really special.
  • Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12)
    When I first got this I had it on repeat for a week just trying to absorb everything. Sorey’s brilliant epic is unlike anything I've heard, he’s making his own myth right now.

Gregg Miller

  • Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams (ECM)
    With Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Django Bates. In 2018, I have been listening over and over to this one record, both when I want to listen to it, and also when I want to do other things but have something on in the background. I've probably listened to it 200 times. So good, I sent it to my mother-in-law. Try it!
  • Lori Goldston - The Passion of Joan of Arc (Substrata)
    Slow-moving cello silent film score. I challenge you to concentrate on it the entire time -- can't be done! It puts you in a dream state.
  • Jack Wright - You Haven't Heard This (Spring Garden Music)
    The first group improvisation (30 minutes) manages to be completely inventive every single second, an astonishing feat. This disk accompanies Jack Wright's incisive theoretical treatise, The Free Musics, well worth your time.
  • Dave Holland -  Uncharted Territories (Dare 2 Records)
    Easy listening, Evan Parker is especially good here, of course.
  • Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12)
    So much patience, so many sounds!
  • Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Frisell - Lebroba (ECM) 
    Trumpet, guitar, drums, just doin' it the way it should be done (on the mellow side of free).
  • Bad Luck - Four (Origin Records) 
    An energetic sax/drums duo with electronic washes. Uplift meets downdraft.
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet - Sonic Fiction (ESP)
    With Mat Walerian, Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey. Walerian's bass clarinet is noteworthy. The disk is a close mate to Shipp's outing from 2017 on ESP with Walerian and William Parker (under the band name, Toxic). If you liked that one, this one is cake.
  • Triptet - Slowly, Away (Engine)
    Tom Baker on fretless guitar can do no wrong. Greg Campbell finds melody in percussiveness wherever it is. Ambient, but frothing with arresting sonic textures.
  • Burrows/Campbell/Goila/Reed - Tales from the Zoo (Third Rail)
    I am delighted by this record-- a superior outing of clarinets, cornet, guitar, bass and percussion. Clarinet's in the lead mostly. They play the range: soft as whispers to energetic runs over bass throbs, to noisy guitar to searching cornet/clarinet interleaving. 

Fotis Nikolakopoulos

This year started with the loss of Mark E. Smith so it was supposed to be weird. And it was. While our societies continue to consume products and keep destroying the planet, I try to find solace in music. I say music and not jazz because 2018 was a year i tried to listen more to new musics
and less to jazz related sounds. So, only seven new albumss that go along with three blasts from the past that came out in 2018.

I hope you enjoy them, until then let's all keep supporting non-corporate free thinking music.

  • John Coltrane Quartet - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
    1963 was an important year in John Coltrane's evolution just before his music took off on to another spiritual level. This album is another document of this transition made by the best jazz quartet of all times.
  • Kaoru Abe / Sabu Toyozumi ‎– Banka
    Kaoru Abe's presence on this planet was short, but his music is eternal. Here, along with master percussionist Sabu Toyozumi in a never heard before live reording. A big praise to all those involved to make this happen and especially to NoBusiness records, maybe the best label in jazz right now.
  • Catherine Sikora /Christopher Culpo – The spectral life of things
    A constant flow of notes, melodies and collective improvisational ethos. Check the small feature of Catherine Sikora's recordings, one of the most important jazz voices of this year.
  • Birchall / Cheetham / Webster / Willberg - Plastic Kneecap
    Raw Tonk is building a catalog of very fresh and strong free jazz recordings while these four musicians never stop exploring their music. First release on vinyl from the label.
  • Paul Flaherty / Chris Corsano ‎– The Hated Music
    Some 18 years after it came out, this release, first time on vinyl from the ever weird Feeding Tube Records, reminds us why this duo is maybe the most important in free jazz for the last two decades.
  • Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi featuring Masahiko Satoh - Proton Pump
    Like the legend of King Midas, whenever Akira Sakata is involved, gold comes out.
  • Jack Wright, Dylan van der Schyff ‎– ... Two In The Bush
    Jack Wright is a true maverick of free thinking-no borders music. Here in a more conventional drums-sax duo both musicians achieve a balance that makes the cd a must to buy.
  • Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt - Brace Up!
    Not exactly the typical jazz (or even free) album but their need for exploring and taking risks is on the spot.
  • Marco Colonna, Agustí Fernandez, Zlatko Kaučič - Agrakal
    Maybe it's Fernandez's magic, maybe the interplay between the three is the most crucial factor. Not sure why i really enjoy and cherish this album. Maybe because it is just a masterpiece.
  • Dave Rempis, Tomeka Reid, Joshua Abrams ‎– Ithra
    The warmness of their playing goes along with high energy and pathos.

Nick Ostrum

  • Assif Tsahar, William Parker, Hamid Drake – In Between the Tumbling a Stillness (Hopscotch Records)
    Spirited, Ayler-inspired free jazz at its best.
  • Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh – Sparrow Nights (Trost)
    I love Brötz, but this still came as a very welcome surprise.  Wow!
  • Chaos Echoes and Mats Gustafsson – Sustain (Utech)
    Wild, cacophonous stuff.
  • Salim Washington – Dogon Revisited (Passin’ Thru Records)
    At once looking back to the 1970s and addressing its legacies a half-century later.
  • Jürg Frey and Magnus Granberg/Ensemble Grizzana – Early to Late (Another Timbre)
    Two incredible contemporary composers.  Eminently entrancing.
  • Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda – Mizo (Long Song Records)
    I have not kept up with Fujii as much as I should especially during her sexagenarian celebration.  This release, however, gripped me.  It is slow, winding, intimate, and endlessly creative.
  • Anthony Braxton-Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House)
    This is a lot to digest at once (and I am still digesting a couple of the later discs).  That said, this collection is absolutely superb.
  • Gabriela Friedli Trio – Areas (Leo)
    I still cannot put my finger on exactly why this release impressed me as it did, but I keep coming back to it.  Captivating.
  • Canadian Composers Series Part II (Another Timbre)
    This series/boxed set of contemporary Canadian composers is absolutely incredible! It includes discs dedicated to the work of Linda Caitlin Smith, Alex Jang, Cassandra Miller, and Lance Austin Olsen. Formal review to follow at the beginning of the new year.
And, a noisy outlier that merits greater attention:
  • MoE and Marhaug – Capsaicin (Utech)
    Electronics, guitar, bass, percussion.  Largely improvised (I think), deeply textured, abrasive droning noise.  Pays increasing dividends with each additional listen.

Antonio Poscic

  • Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh - Sparrow Nights (Trost Records)
  • Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12)
  • Ingrid Laubrock - Contemporary Chaos Practices (Intakt Records)
  • Joëlle Léandre / Elisabeth Harnik - Tender Music (Trost Records)
  • Nicole Mitchell - Maroon Cloud (Firehouse 12)
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings)
  • Rodrigo Amado / Joe McPhee / Kent Kessler / Chris Corsano - A History of Nothing (Trost Records)
  • Dave Holland - Uncharted Territories (Dare2 Records)
  • Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House)
  • Biliana Voutchkova / Michael Thieke - Blurred Music (Elsewhere)

Keith Prosk

  • Marker - Roadwork 1/Roadwork 2/Homework 1 (Audiographic Records)
    From one of the most exciting composers and improvisers right now, this one expertly showcases his developing modular compositional technique and I can't get enough of it.
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings)
    I typically shy away from larger ensembles because I feel they're overcrowded (and often bogged down by tradition), but this one gains the timbral diversity without losing the space (and is subject to no tradition but Threadgill’s own).
  • Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House)
    Braxton's upcoming GTM (Syntax) 2017 boxset and impending ZIM recordings are what I'm really excited about and would be a shoe-in for this type of list, but more presently I've consistently returned to this great archival boxset with an ear to how one of my favorite musicians treats and transforms the influence and compositions of Parker.
  • Okkyung Lee - Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Tzadik)
    I have a soft spot for both strings and free music that incorporates folk music, so I've really enjoyed this release from one of my favorite cellists around, on which she embraces her ethnic roots and incorporates traditional Korean percussion and singing (not to mention the other stellar improvisers present).
  • Barre Phillips/Motoharu Yoshizawa - Oh My, Those Boys! (NoBusiness Records)
    Phillip's melancholy, ominous environments are perfectly complimented by Yoshizawa's electric counterpoint.
  • Denman Maroney/Leroy Jenkins/Rich O'Donnell - Unknown Unknowns (self-released)
    Leroy Jenkins' Driftwood's The Art of Improvisation is among my five most-listened-to recordings from the violinist, so it's been a real treat to hear a couple of long sets further documenting the language of the core trio from that recording.
  • Peter Jaquemyn - Fundament (El Negocito Records)
    An awe-inspiring inquisition into the effects of the low end on the mind, body, and soul as well as vibrations, not just from the strings on an instrument's neck but in the throat too.
  • Biliana Voutchkova/Michael Thieke - Blurred Music (Elsewhere)
    Process-based music that's not just interesting but addictively listenable, playing with time and identity.
  • Brandon Lopez - quoniam facta sum vilis (Astral Spirits)
    A powerful, physical solo statement. Conjures up the darker side of emotions - anger, sadness, fear - with diverse and masterful technique.
  • Elisabeth Harnik/Joëlle Léandre - Tender Music (Trost Records)
    A contested spot, but I have been too frequently drawn back to the magic of this intimate recording.

Martin Schray

  • Christian Lillingers GRUND— COR (Plaist Music)
    Lillinger was my favourite musician last year, and he has released even more exciting stuff this year. Complex, yet intriguing music at the interface of jazz, improv and new classical.
  • Kuzu - Hiljaisuus (Astral Spirits)
    Energy, tightness, blind understanding. The way they catapult their improvisations from staccato patterns is breathtaking.
  • Kammerflimmer Kollektief - There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us (Bureau B)
    A band who has created their own planet - free ambient. Their darkest album so far.
  • Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger - Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Intakt)
    What I said about GRUND goes for this spectacular trio as well. Here Lillinger shows how precisely he can use musical quotes. And Draksler is someone we should always have on the screen.
  • Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Craig Taborn, and Ches Smith - Uncharted Territories (Dare2 Records)
    The reunion of Dave Holland and Evan Parker plus two of the best musicians of the next generation. A band that has raised high expectations …. and fulfils them all.
  • Spring Heel Jack and Wadada Leo Smith with Pat Thomas and Steve Noble - Hackney Road (Treader)
    The return of one of my favourite projects. John Coxon’s and Ashley Wales’ drum’n’bass past shines through and collides with Smith’s lyrical trumpet and Thomas’s clusters.
  • Cecil Taylor – Poschiavo (Jazzwerkstatt)
    The saddest news in 2018 was the one about Taylor’s death. This recording reminds us what we have lost. There will never be one like him again.
  • David S. Ware Trio - The Balance (Vision Festival XV +)  (AUM Fidelity, 2018)
    Ware’s Onecept trio plays a set moves you to tears, his death is still a horrible loss for the free jazz community.
  • Rodrigo Amado/ Joe McPhee/ Kent Kessler/ Chris Corsano - A History of Nothing (Trost)
    Traditional free jazz, existential, soulful, spiritual, straight to the point, played by an all-star band.
  • The End - Svårmod Och Vemod Är Värdesinnen (Rare Noise)
    Sofia Jernberg vs. a free rock monster. She’s trying not to get crushed …. and actually makes it.

Sammy Stein

  • Thibault Gomez - La Grande Reveuse ( Parallel Records)
  • Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh - Sparrows Nights
  • Paul Jolly and Mike Adcock -  Risky Furnitue (33xtreme records)
  • Han Bennink, Steve Noble, Alexander Hawkins - 11-8-17 (Otoruko)
  • Ivo Perelman - The Art of Perelman-Shipp (Leo)
  • Fire! - The Hands (Otoroku)
  • John Edwards, Mark Sanders, John Wall - FGBH (Entr'Acte)
  • Sam Leak and Paula Rae Gibson - Permission (33xtreme)
  • Lars Fill - Frit Falt 11 (Fiil Records)
  • Binker and Moses - Alive in The East (Gearbox)