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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Favourite Animals - Favourite Animals (Luminous Label, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

I’ve mentioned this before, reviewing previous releases from Cath Roberts’s quintet Sloth Racket and Ripsaw Catfish, her duo with Anton Hunter, but it’s worth pointing again to the communal ethos at the foundation of Luminous Label and its related projects. Recorded in August, crowdfunded in the fall, and released by end of year, Favourite Animals is an excellent example of this family of creative musicians embracing the DIY ethos from punk’s heyday. This carries through from players appearing in supporting roles on each other’s albums to things like a shared aesthetic for album art (Luminious and Raw Tonk covers look especially great together).

By the numbers, Favourite Animals is Sloth Racket times two: a five-piece horn section (featuring Dee Byrne on alto, Julie Kjær and Tom Ward on bass clarinet and flute, Graham South on trumpet, and Tullis Rennie on trombone) joins the core quintet (Roberts on baritone sax, Sam Andreae on tenor, Hunter on guitar, Bennett on bass, and Johnny Hunter on drums). There’s a richness to the horn-forward sound, and range of tones blends nicely on the big unison beats (see: the opening riff of “Confirm or Deny”). Roberts is adept at composing pieces that leave plenty of room for improvisation and interpretation. Mixing standard Western and graphic notation, Roberts is able to guide the players through the in/out melody of “Confirm or Deny,” which alternates clear melodic lines with improvised breaks. “Unspeakable” opens with Hunter, Bennett, and Hunter in a loosely defined trio. Gradually, the rest of the band rises out of the lush background for an improvisatory interpolation; but the spotlight stays on the rhythm section, which dominates, even with all seven horns blowing at once.

“Boiling Point” is a phenomenal showcase for the whole band and especially for Roberts, as composer and organizer/conductor. After about five minutes of free improvisation, the group coalesces around a blocky melodic line that counters some really wonderful flute and guitar solos. Roberts adds her solo voice late in the piece, alongside Rennie, and their bottom-heavy duetting creates the impression of a slight imbalance, although the group proceeds absolutely steadfast. Byrne’s alto periodically sails through, and South punctuates his restatement of the melody with his crisp tone.

The finale, “Shreds,” bursts out of the speakers, like a recapitulation of “Confirm or Deny,” with the full band firing away, until the direction shifts dramatically right around the middle. In a fantastic pivot, “Shreds” transforms into a moving, elegiac meditation, with Hunter’s almost shoegazey chords setting the stage for some excellent interplay. Andreae and South, particularly, take centerstage for a lovely duo improvisation. The group debut at the Lancaster Jazz Festival in 2016 resulted in a fine live album, but the performance and production here are amped up considerably. The finale is lush and heartfelt, resolving with something approaching optimism. Given how we’ve arrived at it, the ending feels both apt and promising.

CD and digital albums available from Bandcamp

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mats Gustafsson and John Corbett Explore the Vinyl Obsession

Mats Gustafsson’s Discaholics!: Record Collector Confessions, Volume 1 (Marhaug Forlag, 2017)


John Corbett - Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium (Duke University Press, 2017)

These two books deal with a common addiction, one that is most likely familiar to many of the Free Jazz Blog readers. This much-male-dominant, uncontrolled urge to collect musical artifacts in the shape of vinyls, far more and many than we may able to listen in our present lifetime. Swedish self-taught sax player-improviser-encyclopedic music archivist Mats Gustafsson and Chicagoan partner-in-crime critic-producer-promoter-Sun Ra archivist-gallery owner John Corbett focus on this passionate addiction, discaholism as Gustafsson coined it, or vinyl freak in Corbett’s lingo. Both by the way, need large basements in their homes for the tons of vinyl that they have accumulated. 

Gustafsson’s debut book hit a far-reaching chord. Its first edition of 500 copies became instantly a collector item in its own right and a second edition is already in print right now and a second volume of Discaholics! is promised to be published later this year. His approach is somehow therapeutic. He interviews fellow comrades about their discaholic obsessions and how they deal with it in their waking hours, compare it to other passions (mainly sex), searches for salvation (“which record can save the world?”) and learns about other strategies of hunting down lost and rare items and arranging them. 

Gustafsson describes himself as having an incurable discaholic condition, especially with first pressings. In an interview to his publisher, Norwegian noise-meister Lasse Marhaug, he says that he wanted to share “the experience,” and attempts to convince himself and his many followers that “it makes me a better person and a better artist. I need to be shaken up by what I discover.” Gustafsson even imagines his own viking burial in a coffin made of rare records. 

His partners expand on the many surprising aspects of discaholism. Guitarist Thurston Moore tells about a Japanese record dealer in Osaka who can smell a record “and tell you which country it was pressed in,” confirms that John Coltrane’s Blue Train “is a good make-out record,” and concludes that discaholism can be cured “only by replacing it with sex, dope and heaven.” The Wire’s Scottish writer Brian Morton thinks that Coltrane’s Ascension and Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun have the same chance to save/not save the world. Australian drone guitar maestro Oren Ambarchi has amassed “approximately 34 meters of vinyls” already in 2013 and advises Gustafsson to check the “pretty goddam hot” cover of Annette Peacock’s Been in the Streets Too Long. Gustafsson's long-standing musical partner, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, speaks also about other obsessions - high quality shoes and whiskey - and assures Gustafsson that Dutch reeds player Ab Baars has the best shoe aesthetics, that discaholics often have “pale skin colour, foul odour, with a desperate look in the face” and that the TRUTH is not within the grooves or in between but actually after. Gustafsson adds his own 25 TOP 10 lists of personal obsessions and a bonus: a one-sided 7” vinyl single using elements from Ambrachi, Nilssen-Love and Moore albums.

Gustafsson did not interview Corbett but Corbett mentions a few discaholic expeditions with Gustafsson, notes his great appreciation of Gustafsson’s extensive knowledge and admits that some of the most valuable and obscure items in his collection were handed to him by Gustafsson. Corbett's discaholism began as he was working at Co-op Records, when he got the debut Elvis Costello LP, hot off the shelves. “My first promotional copy. Like heroin - the first hit is free, the next one costs you your soul.”

Vinyl Freak is based on Corbett’s long-running DownBeat magazine column of the same name that ran between 2000 and 2012, updated with postscripts about vinyl that were reissued in the meantime on vinyl or discs. Corbett encyclopedic knowledge puts his own kind of vinyl freak/discaholism in a historic context and he never stops educating the reader in the many, varied histories of jazz, all over the globe.

Corbett's columns began with exploration of hidden gems - lost recordings of South-African jazz, a rare Coltrane recording, Cosmic Music, almost forgotten ones from drummers Milford Graves and Sunny Murray or of the defunct label of percussionists Paul Lovens and Paul Lytton, Po Torch. He adds a list of 113 rare LP’s from his own collection that were never reissued, all gems of experimental music and sound poetry. This spectacular list may convince even the most sane ones to sell all their belongings and begin to hunt these rarities.

Corbett shares his own obsessions: “real freaks know that Steve Lacy’s discography is one of the great challenges in jazz record collecting - acquiring all his LP's is like climbing the Kilimanjaro, and if you pile them up they might give the mountain a run for its money.” He also adds many anecdotes: “Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg once told me that he thought high-energy free jazz was a music for seven-inch singles; it’s exciting, but it often goes on too long; better to hear it for a little while only, a few minutes at a time, like a single”. And offer insights: “For Anthony Braxton, the problem in mounting such projects (scores for different star systems and galaxies) is always material, never creative - give him the means, and I have no doubt that he’s have intergalactic symphonic music happening tout de suite” or: “I remain perplexed at the number of at the number of key Cecil Taylor recordings commercially unavailable to the consuming public. Imagine if Joyce’s Ulysses or Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow had been out of print for three decades”.

Corbett concludes: “So records are like any other lover. They bring out the best in you, making you a superior citizen, lighting your way, serving as life’s benchmark. And they make you into a moronic bore humping massive boxes from one place to the next. We are these two archetypes, we vinyl freaks, for better and for worse”.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jason Stein Quartet – Lucille! (Delmark, 2017) ****

By Troy Dostert
The second release from bass clarinetist Jason Stein’s quartet, Lucille!, features more of the band’s “cool school” influences from Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano, along with some Monk, Parker, and a couple pieces composed by Stein.  With tenorist/contrabass clarinetist Keefe Jackson and bassist Joshua Abrams making return appearances after their involvement on the group’s first release, 2011’s The Story This Time, the newcomer this time is drummer Tom Rainey, who takes over for Frank Rosaly.

Marsh’s “Marshmallow” leads off the album, the group charging through the tune’s complex head with panache, then segueing into a superb solo from Stein, soon joined by Jackson on tenor for some terrific dialogue.  The intuitive conversational rapport between the two horn players is one of the album’s strengths: their overlapping, sympathetic lines always tease out new dimensions of each tune.  Although the Marsh/Tristano approach can sometimes be a bit emotionally detached and excessively mannered, the group generally manages to avoid these pitfalls, with a good deal of energy fueling Tristano’s “Wow” and “April,” the former with some excellent upper-register playing by Jackson to complement Stein’s leaps and scurries, and the latter with Rainey playing a key role in providing some crucial rhythmic fluidity.  The Monk (“Little Rootie Tootie”) and Parker (“Dexterity”) renditions are similarly engaging, with Jackson’s shift to contrabass clarinet on “Dexterity” perhaps a hair less compelling due to the deeper sonority of the instrument; the extra low end doesn’t work quite as effectively as Jackson’s tenor when it comes to maintaining the optimal tonal balance in the group.

As good as the covers are, in some ways it’s Stein’s own material that is the highlight of the album, because the looser structure of the pieces really allows the players to stretch out, putting a premium on their interactive capacities.  At almost eight minutes the longest of the record’s nine cuts, “Halls and Rooms” possesses a winding, meandering quality that gives Rainey full rein in guiding the proceedings with a variety of rhythms that alternately expand and contract, while “I Knew You Were” is a mysterious piece that utilizes Abrams’s fine arco playing to sustain an eerie and captivating mood.  These tracks also bring Abrams more directly into the mix, enhancing the quartet’s collective power; on some of the other pieces Abrams’s bass is sometimes hard to hear.

With more of Stein’s trademark mastery of his instrument and some fine contributions from his colleagues, this entry in Stein’s quartet catalog is a fine one, showcasing not only the quartet’s respectful but creative re-invigoration of the older repertoire but also Stein’s acumen as a composer and arranger.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mat Maneri, Evan Parker, Lucian Ban – Sounding Tears (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Daniel Böker

This album has been flying a little under my radar for quite some time. Actually I don't really know how I really came across it. But after listening to it two or three times it grew to one of the best albums from 2017.

Mat Maneri and Lucian Ban have been working together for almost ten years. Presenting their 2013 record Transylvanian Concert they invited Evan Parker to join them for a concert on a release show, and the trio was born (for more history, check the Clean Feed website). I don't want to say that the history of the trio isn't interesting or that it doesn't leave an imprint on their sound, but I didn't know the history when I first came across Sounding Tears and the knowledge of their development as a trio did not impact my perception of the music, and this is what I want to write about, the music.

The first track is the very short 'Blue Light' which starts with Evan Parker on the sax. He plays a melody with a certain sadness in it. Then Mat Maneri joins him with some string-picking until at the end when Lucian Ban adds a few notes from his piano. After a minute and a half the track is over. Though it is short the piece sets the tone for the album, there is a slight sadness in the melodies and the tunes. Perhaps the word melancholy fits better.

The second track 'Da da Da' opens with all three players at once. Maneri offers long streaks on the viola, perfectly accompanied by Parker's sax. Ban takes over some kind of leading role without subduing the others. Within the track the leading role moves from one to the other as the trio moves along in a slowly intensifying manner, ending in a polyphonic "moaning" after a bit more than seven minutes.

Maybe it is the sound of Maneri's viola that carries the melancholic vibes throughout the album. But in my listening the melodies, the interplay and also the polyphonic parts carry that sadness with them. The title also indicates this mood.

'Blessed', the fourth track on the album, starts with Ban playing single tones on the piano with a lot of time to breath in between. My musical knowledge is not developed enough to state as a matter of fact that he plays the tones of a minor chord, but my experience is developed enough to hear the minor sound in the sound. This goes on with Maneri and Parker joining in. This may be the slowest track on the album but with this said I also can say that it fits in perfectly.

On 'Sounding', Ban grounds the music on a groove, an almost minimalist pattern he repeats on the piano without losing the overall mood of the album.

I don't want to repeat myself over and over again. This album sits in a place not a lot of albums I have heard until now sit. In the middle of improvised and composed music. In the wonderful interplay of three gifted musicians, they create a melancholic atmosphere I enjoy listening to. I enjoy feeling while I'm listening to this album.

Years ago I heard someone describe the music of a band called Tindersticks as "the sunny side of sadness". Transfered to the world and sound of free jazz and improvised music this might be the perfect description for Sounding Tears. The perfect album for the darker time of the year.

Here you can find some excerpts from the album:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Josh Sinton - krasa (Irabbagast Records, 2018) ****

 By Eric McDowell

When International Anthem released John McCowen’s Solo Contra in early December 2017, no one would have been blamed for assuming it was the only new solo contrabass clarinet album we’d be hearing for a while. And yet just weeks later came Josh Sinton’s krasa, on Jon Irabagon’s Irabbagast label. The stubborn expectation that their both being solo contrabass clarinet albums means they should be similar, though, comes more from the relative rarity of the featured instrument than from any fundamental overlap between the way the two musicians approach their project. In contrast to McCowen’s slender disc of streamlined acoustic drones, Sinton offers a (relatively) sprawling set of improvisations that ranges a territory both familiar in places and—more often—utterly alien.

Sinton front-loads the album with its longest track, the 16-minute monster “Sound.” It’s not what you’d call a hospitable gesture, but then again just because this might be your first exposure to the contrabass clarinet doesn’t mean the album is an introduction to the instrument. (It’s decidedly not.) In fact, without any contextual information, there’s a chance you could get through the whole of “Sound” under the mistaken assumption that you were hearing—what, a guitar? “Electronics”? An archaic machine doing some kind of grimy but vital work? Like saxophonist Matt Nelson and the rest of the GRID trio on their self-titled debut, Sinton (with the help of a few well-chosen tools and effects) pushes his instrument far outside the realm of reasonable expectation, somehow prompting us to split our attention between the end result of the music and the means, one moment looking beyond the contrabass clarinet altogether, the next seeing the instrument in a new light.

This can be something of a difficult—some might say tense, even painful—experience. As Sinton tests his instrument, he tests us, too. “And,” for example, sets up a relatively stable drone that’s ruptured two minutes in by a sudden snarl, after which tortured wails, squawks, and pops dominate the piece. With “Heard,” the album ends on almost ten minutes of temperamental distortion and vein-snapping strain. It’s tracks like “{prelude to),” taking a more or less recognizable approach to the clarinet, that throw the rest into relief. What ties it all together is the underlying human quality Sinton manages to draw out of his playing on krasa, whether he’s working in a conventional mode or fraying sonic boundaries. As mechanical and unearthly as the music can sound, it never comes across as anything less than living: Hear him on “Felt” sucking sharp air to recharge—or on “Sound” or “(now}” infusing the instrument with an unmistakably vocal character. While the words may be impossible to discern, they’re not meaningless: They express a terrible sense of desperation and struggle.

The album’s title is likewise ambiguous but evocative. Does it refer to a Czech word for “beauty”? Does it refer to the Czech composer Hans Krasa, who was murdered by Nazis in 1944? Or does it refer to something else altogether? Sinton draws mixed resonances together without resolving them, leaving the sounds that result more felt than heard.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Kramer feat. Bill Frisell - The Brill Building, Book Two - (Tzadik, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Located at 1619 Broadway in the heart of Manhattan, the Brill Building was the center of professionally written pop music in the 1950s and early ’60s. It represented a specially designed division of work in which songwriters, producers and artists-and-repertoire staff cooperated to match artists with appropriate songs - it was a classic hit factory, a brand. The flagship company of Brill Building pop music (actually located across the street at 1650 Broadway) was Aldon Music, founded by Al Nevins and Don Kirshner. The most famous Brill Building songwriting teams were Gerry Goffin/Carole King, Jerry Leiber/Mark Stoller, Barry Man/Cynthia Weil, and Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman, other contributors were Gene Pitney, Bobby Darin, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka. Brill Building focused on teen pop hits, which is why they were especially successful with girl/boy groups: The Shirelles, The Ronettes, the Monkees or the Everly Brothers were regular customers. Up to today the era stands for some of the most famous songs of the American songbook.

In 2012 Kramer, a legendary alternative rock/pop musician (of Bongwater and Shockabilly fame), composer, producer and founder of the Shimmy Disc label, recorded some of the smash hits of that time for The Brill Building (Tzadik). Among others there are beautifully weird versions of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy“, sounding like Captain Beefheart teaming up with Devo, or “Spanish Harlem“, which he transformed into a country song reminding me of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Two with Nick Cave as a frontman. Kramer delivers these songs in his typical loopy, angular off-the-wall style and he wasn’t the old sound wizard if he hadn’t integrated found-sound dialogue snippets between the songs dealing with pivotal incidents of 1960s US history like President Kennedy's assassination, race riots, and the Vietnam War symbolizing the end of the cultural era the Brill Building represented.

For The Brill Building, Book Two Kramer is joined by guitarist and American songbook specialist Bill Frisell and the result is a completely different one. Again the album offers ten selected cuts from the golden age of assembly line pop, but this time the songs are much more accessible - mainly due to Frisell’s brilliant and distinctive guitar work. Kramer, who is responsible for all the other instruments except Frisell’s guitar, coats the songs with his artificial, amateurish, hazy, blurred, slow motion sound, which matches excellently with Frisell’s quivering, oscillating style. The results are surprising and sometimes really wonderful. There are spectral versions of Paul Simon’s “America“ and Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man“, the first one so timid and tender that the notes seem to vanish into thin air, the latter swinging between deep melancholy and gloomy film noir soundtracks. Other favorites are Jack Nitzsche’s and Sonny Bono’s “Needles and Pins“, here an enchanted wonderland of distorted vocals, Fender Rhodes, drum computer and guitar, and “Kicks“ (by Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil). The Kramer version is the best song Tom Waits has never recorded. But not all songs are such persuasive. The Monkees’ “The Porpoise Song“ (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King) lacks the Beatles-psychedelia of the original, and Bert Bern’s “Here Comes the Night“ is better off with Van Morrison’s sharp, soulful voice.

Many of the songs are about love-sickness, loneliness, loss and how to deal with it. However, while the originals were often from a young people’s perspective, Kramer’s view is the one of an aged man, he sings the songs with a broken voice. Separation is more bitter, loneliness feels colder, disappointment hits you harder.

Of course, this is rather a pop album that hardly fits to the music we usually review. The connecting point is Kramer’s relation to John Zorn’s Tzadik label and of course Bill Frisell. If you like his All We Are Saying collection of Beatles songs, John Zorn’s The Dreamers albums or bands like Animal Collective, you might be right here.

The Brill Building, Book Two is available as a CD, available at

Listen to “America“ here:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Norma Winstone - Descansado - Songs For Films (ECM, 2018) ***½

By Paige Johnson-Brown

Norma Winstone is a vocalist in a serious relationship with instrumental music. She learned to read and started playing piano as a kid. After becoming a staple in the London pub scene, known for her remarkable control and her pure, horn-like tone, she got called to sit in with pianist and composer Michael Garrick’s group on a gig. After they played through the songs she’d learned, he asked her to stay up with the band for a few more tunes and take over the recently departed saxophonist’s role. She agreed and looked at his parts - no lyrics, some written melodies but often endless droning on a single chord. She mustered up her reading chops and improvised, using the wordless, vowel-based style of vocalisation for which she’d become known.

Over the next four decades, she went on to release over a dozen solo records and collaborate, composing vocal lines, writing lyrics to instrumental melodies, and improvising, with Garrick’s sextet, Kenny Wheeler, Ian Carr’s group Nucleus, saxophonist Joe Harriott, and many other prominent players in the British free jazz scene.

Descansado, Winstone’s latest record, is a collection of mostly instrumental music from films, featuring songs from the works of Godard, Scorcese, Wenders, Fellini, and more. Winstone’s voice is ageless, still the same unwavering and remarkably controlled, instrument-esque voice from 1970. The band features Winstone’s regular trio-mates, pianist Glauco Venier and multi-reedist Klaus Gesing, plus guest percussionist Helge Andreas Narbakken and guest violoncellist Mario Brunello, and they sound lovely. Moments of sparseness, almost contemporary-classical-esque, are the group’s best. Her instrument still sounds its most fresh and exciting in a more open, free arrangement. “Amarcord,” from Fellini’s film of the same title, is a beautiful, misty manifestation of this. Dreamlike, spiraling piano plays the wistful, nostalgic merry-go-round melody before dying to give way to the voice’s sorrowful dance with the heavy counterpoint of the bass clarinet and the haunting sound of hollow percussion across the cymbals. The piano returns only at the very end with the original melody.

The highlight of Descansado is Winstone’s lyrics, which she wrote for all but two songs on the record. Vocalese, putting lyrics to instrumental melodies, is a delicate art. It can go wildly well or wildly wrong. Examples range from poetry (Joni does Mingus’ “Pork Pie Hat:” “I'm waiting/ For the keeper to release me/ Debating this sentence/ Biding my time/ In memories/ Of old friends of mine”) to drivel (Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross do Miles’ “Four:” “Of the wonderful things that you get outta life, there are four/ And they may not be many, but nobody needs any more.”) Winstone’s lyrics are poetry, thankfully, and they really elevate the entire record.

“Touch Her Soft Lips and Part,” from Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, stands out.

There is a mournful yet restrained and plaintive quality to her writing that beautifully reflects her instrument:

On the brow of the hill
As she sees him depart
No more sun in her sky
No more joy in her heart
All of his magic
Still lives in her mind
All the sounds and the images
Slowly rewind
And he’s out there somewhere
Skies grow dark, suns eclipse
She remembers his voice
And the touch of his lips
“Maybe in time,” as he touched her soft lips

This piece is especially moving when considering the record is dedicated “To John and Kenny,” presumably Winstone’s late husband, John Taylor, and longtime friend and collaborator, Kenny Wheeler, who passed away within one year of each other, 2014 and 2015, respectively. Descansado is a fitting tribute. The word means “rested” or “refreshed,” and that’s exactly how Winstone sounds.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Marker – Wired For Sound (Audiographic Records, 2017) *****

By Gustav Lindqvist

A key reason for why I like this years ‘Album of the year’ (per the collective), Jaimie Branch's Fly Or Die, is the way that a seemingly innocent and safe beat suddenly starts to decompose and fall apart, like walls tumbling down, just to resurrect as something completely different. I guess I just love when a simple theme explodes in front of me. I’ve been trying to find similar albums after Fly Or Die, and this is one of them. The comparison stops right here.

Marker is Andrew Clinkman on guitar (left), Steve Marquette on guitar (right), Macie Stewart on keyboard and violin, Phil Sudderberg on drums, and finally Ken Vandermark on reeds.

Guitarist Andrew Clinkman is Chicago-based and a member of the band “Cowboy Band” who’s album Cowboy songs cover cowboy songs, in a way that at least I have never heard before. Check on their BandCamp site. Full of experimental joy and energy which reminds me of Irish pub rock bands of the past... Clinkman has also released the solo-album “The Joy Of Cooking” which should perhaps have its own review. Well worth checking out anyway.

Second guitarist in Marker, Steve Marquette, was last mentioned here on FJB playing on "The Few" album Fragments of a luxury vessel. Marquette has his own quintet (Steve Marquette Quintet) and is in general a very active participant in the Chicago free jazz scene.

Macie Stewart on keyboards and violin, plays in the rock band "Marrow" and previosly in "Kids These Days", a now disbanded indie band. She’s also the second half of “Ohmme” (with Sima Cunningham).

Playing the drums is Phil Suddenberg, who’s duo with tenor saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher is well worth looking into, and he’s also part of the rock-/indieband “Wei Zhongle”. Their album Nice mask over an ugly face is brilliant. It sounds like “The Shins” but more experimental and daring!

Last but not least we have reedsman giant Ken Vandermark. Known to many on FJB of course. His new band Marker shows the constant curiosity and willingness to always develop forward, onwards, and what a debut album this is. It’s been getting so much playtime here at home that my wife’s forbidden me to whistle and hum parts of the motif from 'Okinawa Bullfight' when walking around the house.

The first track, 'Okinawa Bullfight' is in essence a 23 minute long song packed with surprises. I’m gently nodding my head to the groove during the first 3 minutes. There’s a cool vibe surrounding the melody the guitars join in I’m starting to wonder where this is going. The beat just keeps on pumping in the background, much like a machine. Then things starts to come off the wall. I open my eyes wide. Nope, false alarm, back to the smoke filled bar, a flavor of the eighties rolls in over funky keyboards. Then it happens again. It all falls apart before the beat comes back again. This is an effective way of getting my attention. The group seems to move through different emotions with ease, and I find myself being captivated by how well they work together. It’s fresh, adventurous and very engaging.

Each song is dedicated to an artist and 'Okinawa Bullfight' carries the dedication for the late Belgian movie director & feminist Chantal Akerman. Movie director and feminist feels very simplified. Perhaps extraordinary artist, pioneering feminist and bold visionary are better ways to describe Akerman. And hearing the music on this first track I’d say it’s a very nice homage to Akerman – full of life, full of energy and full of surprises.

'Every Carnation (for Pina Bausch)' – or Philippina Bausch – the late German choreographer and dance director – has a theme which, similar to Okinawa Bullfight, provides a somewhat safe haven from which Marker can choose to move into different styles. And they do! During the 23 minutes there’s room for everyone to move. Vandermark switches to clarinet and having one guitar in each channel created interesting layers. Another highly satisfying performance – again, full of surprises.

Anthony Braxton and Bernie Worrell (Talking Heads, Parliament-Funkadelic) is dedicated the last song on this album: 'Doctors In The Shot.' After a carefully crafted and extended introduction there’s a thumping post-grunge beat with 2 guitars and drums marching forward. Intensity is increased and I’m almost waiting for Dave Grohl to start singing. But it all comes to a halt and moves in a different direction – of course! Melancholic waves with violin carries the song until it’s ready for another explosion. In wave after wave Marker balance between the introvert and the furious.

Vandermark is such a creative force of today’s free and improvised music scene. I’m so impressed with this new group, and it’s clear that Vandermark is always looking for new and interesting projects. This album is putting all my other reviews behind schedule since I just want to hear Wired For Sound one more time.

I hope to hear more from Marker in 2018!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Andrew Barker/ Mikko Innanen - A wink is as good as a nod (Phantom Ear Music, 2017) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

My fondness for the rich tradition of reeds-percussion duos in free jazz has proven to be a very fortunate predilection for my ears. Through Andrew Barker’s duo with Charles Waters, I first became acquainted with Barker’s work. With a series of not so many releases on great small labels, like qbico and Earmark records during the late 90’s and early 00’s, the duo formed an extraordinary, yet underrated, body of work where free jazz blowouts, intense solos, and collective playing were followed by mellower moments. Skill, energy and pathos was woven tightly throughout all of the recordings. Now it seems, (with hope that this is a collaboration that will continue to flourish) that Barker has found again a likeminded someone to form a new duo.

I haven’t spent that much time listening to Mikko Innanen’s music, but it’s almost immediately after you start listening to his playing, when you realize that here we have a reedsman that moves easily from tradition to improvisation and back again. He is also someone who has collaborated with great musicians-practitioners of the improvisational ethos like Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, and William Parker.

This cassette, a nice edition of only fifty copies unfortunately, starts with some boppish lines from Innanen’s sax (who also plays bass clarinet) followed by Barker’s lush percussion work.

The duality of their playing is impeccable. Have they been playing for years, I asked myself. As the cassette plays on, you discover the qualities of the Finnish reedsman’s playing. Sharp tones blending melodies with improvisational gestures. He is a match, an equal to Barker’s skills, rest assured about this fact. They do not succumb to the, sometimes in free playing, easy solution of just bursting out. Their playing is a continuous line of gestures, melodies, changing easily between tonalities and improvisation. They articulate a sound that combines, or better finds a balance, between free playing and melody lines. There are only very few copies left, so go ahead and buy this one, support the artists and avoid paying, maybe, through the nose later, because this one is a great recording.


You can buy the cassette here:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Check Up! Free Jazz On Air with Tom Burris

If you happen to be in the Indianapolis area tomorrow (2/20) at 7 p.m. be sure to check out the debut of Check Up! with Free Jazz Blog's Tom Burris on 99.1 WQRT.

Tom is focusing on sounds from Chicago this time around. He says that the future may also bring the ability to stream the show online, along with some exclusive live audio content, and interviews. However, for now, if you're not in range of the station, the best we can offer is that you can try reconstructing Tom's playlist on your own.

Listen to the promo here - you may just decide it is time to head to Indiana after doing so ...

Jason Kao Hwang - Sing House (Euonymus Records, 2017) ****

By Brian Kiwanuka

The opening track of Sing House, "No Such Thing", begins with an angular melody which quickly breaks out into an entertaining chaos of rapid, seemingly free improvisation. This is a fitting introduction to the structure, though that word feels very limiting to describe much of the music here, of Sing House, Jason Kao Hwang's adventurous four-track album. Hwang has assembled a formidable quintet of past collaborators: Andrew Drury (drum set), Ken Filiano (bass), Chris Forbes (piano) and Steve Swell (trombone). Hwang is democratic in his band-leading, with each member given a moment in the limelight to showcase their talents throughout the record.  

The tracks are all extended enthralling journeys, with the shortest song, "WhenWhatCould", clocking in at just over 11 minutes. When the aforementioned chaos of "No Such Thing" subsides, after a brief, high octane drum solo from Drury, the theme is restated and leads into a second, much darker mood, which is introduced by the piano and the bass. The energy here is impressive, with Hwang delivering a fantastic solo towards the end of the fourth minute. What is key here is how the track weaves in and around the boundary between the straight-ahead and the avant-garde, Forbes' skillful solo starting out relatively tame before upping the ante.

In contrast to the often bombastic "No Such Thing", "Dream Walk" is a much more spacious affair, beginning with an abstract pizzicato-piano conversation between Hwang and Forbes. Forbes’ gorgeous piano is the highlight of the first few minutes, employing a great use of dissonance in his chords as Drury's cymbals ring in the background. Eventually a motif, which serves as the separation point between each solo, is introduced by the violin and piano before the violin rises to the instrumental equivalent of a relentless scream and starts an intense solo.

Hwang plays viola on "WhenWhatCould", a tune which, like "Dream Walk" introduces itself with sparsity. The viola and bass combine with ominous bowed notes that transition into captivating languid interplay. After the pace picks up a bit, Forbes and Filiano introduce a strong driving set of notes which form the basis of the rhythmic theme of a large portion the composition and accompany part of another abrasive and thrilling Hwang solo. In the latter half of the track, after some quality hectic work by Filiano and Forbes, the song ends on a beautifully grim note, with mournful harmonies from the strings and trombone.

Similarly to the opener, the closer, “Inscribe”, wastes no time at all. The band immediately introduces the motif and springs into life with Filiano taking the lead with a forcefully bowed solo. Forbes, whose playing is often erratic in all the right ways throughout Sing House, comps combatively behind an unhinged trombone solo by Swell. Though the track, like the rest of this album, can be quite aggressive, it also has a surprisingly catchy section. In the seventh minute, the trombone steadily oscillates between two notes to back Forbes’ foreboding descending piano lines, briefly creating an unexpectedly hypnotic atmosphere.

With a title like Sing House, it is a bit ironic that the melodies here are quite knotty and don't stay around for long. Those who come to this record expecting it to "sing" in the conventional sense - have extended periods of singable melodies - may be left cold. However, this is a consistently engaging album - a listener looking for a quality avant-garde jazz record should not hesitate to give Sing House a play.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lunar Error - Sélène (Becoq, 2017) ***½

By Stef

In the same vein as "Dans Les Arbres", the ten musicians of "Lunar Error" create a sonic landscape full of vibrating sounds that exist and evolve organically. Individual instruments mesh together in a total sound, and there is no melody or rhythm to discern, just the shimmering sounds of many instruments resonating without any sense of direction or purpose other than to exist.

The album's title, Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon, and the band's name, suggest images of endless grey landscapes, with little changes in relief, and a far omnipresent horizon against a dark sky.

The band are Matthieu Lebrun on clarinet, Mathieu Lilin on baritone saxophone, Gabriel Lemaire on saxophones, François Ella-Meyé on piano and zither, Claude Colpaert on gangsa gantung, harmonium indien, Thomas Coquelet on harmonium, vocals, mixing board, contact microphones, Léo Rathier on banjo and objects, Paul Ménard on electric guitar and effects, Pierre Denjean on acoustic guitar and gong, and Quentin Conrate on incomplete drum kit. 

Despite the size of the this band, the music is basically quiet in one endless flow of merged multiple sounds that sometimes increase in volume, density, and adding a sense of distress, then dissolving again, without ever too much disturbing the sense of calm intensity that is there from the start.

It's an EP, short but good. If you're interested in this type of music. 

You can listen and order via Bandcamp

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Susana Santos Silva - All the Rivers – Live at Panteão Nacional (Clean Feed, 2018) *****

By Stuart Broomer

This CD is a 42-minute duet between the trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and the Portuguese National Pantheon. Santos Silva is becoming increasingly well-known in free jazz and free improvisation circles, whether through her membership in the group Lama or a host of other projects made in groupings across Europe. For those who have not visited Portugal, the Panteão Nacional may be unfamiliar.

The phrase “obras de Santa Engrácia,” the construction of Santa Engrácia, is an expression in Portuguese that denotes a building project that will go on forever. The source of the phrase is Lisbon’s Church of Santa Engrácia, yes, the Panteão Nacional, located in the city’s ancient Alfama district and overlooking the Tagus River. Endless? The church’s state of incompletion was a constant through centuries of change, a symbol of upheaval. Construction of the first church dedicated to Saint Engrácia on the site began in 1568. The present church began in 1681 after previous ones on the site had collapsed. Construction proceeded for thirty years, until the building was abandoned by King Joao V, distracted by far more ambitious construction projects—an aqueduct, palaces, a cathedral, an opera house.

It was finally finished in the 20th century. In 1916, six years after the fall of the Portuguese monarchy and the launch of the First Republic, it was repurposed as a National Pantheon, a tomb for the country’s greatest figures. It was finally completed in 1966, forty years after the fall of the first Republic, four years before the death of the dictator António Salazar and eight years before the Carnation Revolution turned Portugal into a modern democracy (the “obras” and the construction dates come from the Wikipedia entry).

In recent years the profoundly resonant space—high, thick, dense stone walls; an almost circular space; a dome--has become the occasional site for concerts of a highly contemporary sort. The Variable Geometry Orchestra, a large-scale assembly of free improvisers led by Ernesto Rodrigues, has played there, and the guitarist Abdul Môimeme has recorded a fascinating solo concert there, Exosphere on Creative Sources (full disclosure: I wrote the liner note). The appeal of the space is immediate: it offers something like a 20-second time lag, making it an extraordinary medium for sustained pieces and the exploration of sonic decay.

Here, Santos Silva is literally playing the Pantheon with her trumpet, tin whistle and bells. The Pantheon takes her sounds and magnifies them, playing them back to her, extending them. When she plays succeeding tones a semitone apart, the echoes explode around her. When she (apparently) aims her trumpet in a different direction—sound (overtones), amplitude—change markedly. It would be remarkable if Santos Silva merely explored the sound of the space, its shifting echoes and durations, but she does far more. She creates a profound, subtly evolving work that engages the possibilities of the trumpet and the building as if they were paired, like the two resonators on a veena.

The music is open, the Pantheon is open, and you are invited to hear it any way you can or wish. Some selective thoughts:

At times Santos Silva will throw out a great burred, brassy blast; in contemporary terms, these are multiphonics; in architectural terms, they’re challenges to the Pantheon’s walls to respond in qualitative kind; in jazz history, these are almost rude noises, or maybe even more “dinosaur in the morning” than the sound of Coleman Hawkins thus described by the critic Whitney Balliett, in one documentary it is presented as the sound of the unrecorded Buddy Bolden. These signs point to the status of this concert as a kind of originary moment, intimately connected with multiple histories;

The Panteão Nacional has been almost exclusively a male residence. The first woman to be interred there was the great Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, in 2001. It is perfectly appropriate that a woman should make such a profound statement as All the Rivers at this site;

While the Panteão Nacional is an imposing, even intimidating space (an elevator ride to the terrace for a view of the Tagus involves squeezing into a confined space cut into one of the incredibly thick walls: the claustrophobia suggests “immurement”—to be entombed in a wall;

The CD jacket offers no images of the Pantheon, no suggestion of the power, the grandeur, the solidity, that distance that grows as you get closer. The cover of All the Rivers could not be more opposite: Santos Silva dedicates the CD to her grandparents; the front cover photograph, uncredited, presents an older woman holding an infant; pink wallpaper with an abstract arabesque suggests floral bouquets; in the photograph there is a statue on a pedestal of a boy in formal dress, perhaps from the eighteenth century, reading a book. These are intimate emblems, a personal history, a history as unlike as possible the history to which the Pantheon speaks; a history of the intimate and familial versus the history of church as state (resonating with Jose Saramago’s Memorial do Convento  [in English, Baltasar and Blimunda]);

Santos Silva’s performance in the Pantheon is a rich meditation on the nature of time, its expanse, its mystery and its construction in the moment, the necessary relationship between works and breath. If the Pantheon would seem to enclose time, to celebrate a permanence, Santos Silva opens it in a matter of 42 minutes. The strange history of the “obras,” that construction that ebbs and stops with the passage of centuries and the convulsions of politics, is scaled to the performance, the power of the transitory to find form that is lost to a stone monument.

Are time and timelessness different or the same? Is one the route to the other? Which one? Santos Silva and the Pantheon meet on the path of time’s riddle, a mobius strip. We are left blessed with these long tones, these multiphonics, these reverberant bells, these ceremonies of memory, exploration, freedom and reconciliation.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Latest Releases from Aural Terrains

The Aural Terrains label celebrates ten years of activity with several releases that affirms its mission of being “a creative space for exploratory contemporary music in its different manifestations” and “a platform for like-minded composers-musicians who navigate the different aural terrains and depths of sound with vigilance and integrity.”

Steve Noble / Yoni Silver - Home (Aural Terrains, 2017) ****

When Israeli bass clarinet player Yoni Silver relocated to London he began meeting with drummer Steve Noble for weekly sessions that lasted about two years and led to the recording of Home. The album was recorded during two session on April and July 2016 and is dedicated to Silver's newborn son Alexander Silver Schendar. Both Noble and Silver are clever and inventive improvisers, informed by free jazz but not committing themselves to any form or convention. Noble has played with innovative improvisers such as Derek Bailey, Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, Thurston Moore, and Joe McPhee. Silver plays in the Hyperion Ensemble of Romanian composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram, played with German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, recorded with Israeli metal-circus-core band Midnight Peacocks, and with composer Dganit Elyakim. Silver has developed a unique technique for the bass clarinet - instrumental prosthetics - that enables him to expand the woodwind sonic palette into the realm of electronics and noise.

The first two pieces begin as quiet rituals, almost meditative, with super-precise and hyper-detailed search of common resonating, buzzing and sustained sounds. Patiently, Noble and Silver expand and deepen their sonic palette, transforming the ritualistic interplay into an intense, tense and dense texture. The third and fourth pieces extend this quiet approach with an unsettling dynamics, still totally attentive and exploratory, but with a conflictual spirit, allowing their reserved sonic storms to intrude and clash with each other Noble and Silver conclude this sonic meditation with a full return to the to the ritualistic mode that opened this recording. But like the Zen Buddhist circle, Ensō, the return only symbolize the beauty of the transient, imperfect spirit of the moment.

More on SoundCloud.

Thanos Chrysakis / Christian Kobi / Christian Skjødt / Zsolt Sőrés - Carved Water (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***½

Carved Water brings together four sound artists - Greek, Belarus-based, Aural Terrains label founder Thanos Chrysakis who plays on laptop and live electronics; Danish Christian Skjødt (known from his collaboration with Danish guitarist Mark solborg on Omdrejninger, Ilk Music, 2017), on live electronics and objects; Hungarian Zsolt Sőrés who plays on a 5-string viola (laid on a table), contact microphone, effects, dissecting tools, sonic objects; and voice and Swiss soprano sax player Christian Kobi. These sonic explorers performed at the Sound Art exhibition ‘On the Edge of Perceptibility’ on October 2014, in Műcsarnok - Kunsthalle, Budapest.

The two pieces offer two different strategies of sound artistry. The first one, 39-minutes long, sketches peaceful, abstract textures where the weird, sparse sounds flow and and drift in a clear and quiet - almost ethereal- stream. The four musicians steer and carve this delicate, liquid kind of interplay in an economic manner but surprisingly sketch a rich and detailed texture. There are occasional, sudden outbursts of tense interplay but none lasts for long before the quartet resumes the emphatic, contemplative commotion. The second shorter piece, 12-minutes long, is more dynamic, intense and stormy. The quartet creates continuous noisy waves that keep spreading all over the space, almost tangible with its raw, disturbing substances.

Carlos Costa - Door of No Return (Aural Terrains, 2016) ****

Spanish double bass player Carlos Costa says that for a long time he was fascinated by the image of a 'Door of No Return', a symbolic title that captures the essence of his uncompromising, free-improvised solo art. A title that radiates his strong commitment, pushing through this imaginary door towards the unknown, towards freedom, and never going back. Being at the here and now and becoming “an instrument of pure sounds, harmonies of pain, rhythms of new times, melody of contemplation... chaos and harmony.”

Door of No Return is Costa's debut solo double bass album, recorded on April 2015. Costa's technique is informed by the innovative work of French classical double bass player Alain Bourguignon and American free-improvisers like Mark Dresser and Mark Helias. Each of the ten “Door”s investigates, in a highly disciplined, almost scientific manner, a certain aspect of the bull fiddle timbral spectrum - extended bowing technique, including using the bow or bows on the wooden body of the bass as a percussive instrument, resonating overtones, different kinds of harmonics, multiphonics and other weird sounds and noises. Costa plays the double bass as an observant explorer who maps meticulously uncharted, almost alien-sounding territories. His profound knowledge and understanding of the physical anatomy of the double bass as well as his sense of invention and searching spirit are highly impressive.

Edith Alonso - Collapse (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***

Spanish composer and sound artist Edith Alonso's career has encompassed many fields. She began playing classical music on the piano but soon grew interested in the guitar and saxophone and explored jazz and rock. In the early nineties she played the electric bass in a local punk-rock band. Later she studied electroacoustic and instrumental composition in Paris and discovered musique concrete with composers François Bayle and Pierre Henry. She composed music for many multidisciplinary formats - live poetry, audio-visual, dance and theater projects, improvised in a duo and trio outfits and composed music for "Docuficción en vivo" (documentary fiction - live) about the International Brigades in Aragon (during the Spanish Civil War).

Collapse is a four-part composition for prepared electric bass, recorded in May 2014, edited and mastered by Alonso a year later. Alonso transform the electric bass to an otherworldly sonic generator. She keeps producing from the prepared and mutated string instrument more and more bubbling layers of raw, industrial sounds until any conception of the electric bass spectrum completely collapses and drowns in this dense swamp. This demanding journey open with the aggressive “Collapse I”. “Collapse II” caress a distant pulse in its foray into alien-sounding terrains. “Collapse III” is more suggestive with its sinister, cinematic quality. The final “Collapse IV” mixes the distorted, processed metallic bass sound into an intense, fiery stew that threatens to erupt and melt anything on its course.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nate Wooley – Battle Pieces II (Relative Pitch, 2017) *****

By Daniel Böker

2017 is almost done (writing this review, you'll be reading it in 2018) and looking back I have to admit that Nate Wooley is one of the artists of the year for me. I discovered some of his back catalog this year for the first time, while also listening to new things like knknighgh on Clean Feed - every time I try to follow all the things he sings, talks and shouts with his trumpet. And I can't - which is amazing. And so, here is a new one: Battle Pieces II, on which, for the second time he colludes with Ingrid Laubrock on sax, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Matt Moran on vibraphone.

A quick sidebar ... I have to admit that I love the vibraphone. While it might not fit in the context of this blog but I recommend to listen to everything you can find by The Dylan Group, a band that was centered around the vibraphone. So, from the moment Moran comes in, I am no longer listening objectively. I love the sound and within this quartet, it fits perfectly.

Wooley starts of with a fine little melody in the first piece, then Moran comes along, and a few moments later Courvoisier adds some tones to it. It all starts very calm and relaxed. The four musicians take their time to start together. After three minutes already I've been taken into the music. I am tempted to stop writing (And I am not listening for the first time!) and close my eyes to just listen to what is going on - it is a lot.

With four musicians in a room, on a stage (the album was recorded live in Cologne, Germany.) almost everything is possible. If I have it right, Wooley composes a lot of little pieces, melodies or patterns for the different instruments and every one can play one of these at any time. The 'rest' is up to the improvising capability of the four. So I repeat with this concept and four musicans on stage, everything is possible and almost everything happens: there is silence and noisy outbursts. There are single voices and all four play at the same time. There is sheer power and restrain.

Having said all this I think I have to state my core impression of this album: it is lyrical and it is poetic.

For me a good poem dances on the thin line of open sound and word-play on the one hand and understandable words or content on the other. A poem needs different layers, and this album is full of layers. There are lines, melodies and harmonies I can follow easily. But theses lines carry me to places I have never been and don't understand. Just to assure me a few minutes later that I am not alone in this place and the lines I recognized return in a different mode and so on.

As it always is when writing about music, there is one sentence that comes to mind again and again: 'You should listen to it! You should listen to it to get what I mean. You should listen to it because it is worth every single minute.' Perhaps 'Battle Piece 5', the second track on the album, represents best what I am trying to say.

It starts with a little line by Wooley, who is then joined by Moran on the vibraphone. As I said before. From that point on I am not objective anymore. I am hooked!! Then Laubrock adds her beautiful sound. This is the perfect example why I think this album is lyrical. The melodic voice moves from the one musician to the next and together they take me to places I haven't been before. Six minutes in, the sound gets wilder and more vibrant. Laubrock and Courvoisier build an intense dialogue in the middle of Part 5. Then Wooley takes over with a solo part. If you have heard him play already you'll know what I mean. But before I get lost in that uncharted territory a melody occurs and "takes my ears by the hand". A beautiful piece of music.

'Battle Piece 6' starts with Courvoisier's piano, however, the first two minutes the piano sounds like a guitar as Courvoisier works inside the piano. Moran joins after two minutes with some scattered notes. This all takes place in a very calm vibe. Though all the others eventually join in 'Battle Piece 6' stays calm and ends again with the piano sounding like a guitar, joined by Wooley with an aspirated pattern.

I don't want to write about every piece in detail hoping that you start to listen to it on your own.

To end this review I only need one word, and I mean it:


P.s.: I don't know why such beautiful music is called 'Battle Pieces'. What I hear is a very respectful conversation and no battle at all. Is it exactly that? To contradict battle and all its ways? I checked the internet for a clue (as one does these days) and I found a book of poems on war by Herman Melville. Maybe that is a reference? I don't know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Udo Schindler & Ingrid Schmoliner - Blaublatt (Creative Sources, 2016) ****½

Schindler, Udo / Ingrid Schmoliner: Blaublatt (Creative Sources)

By Stef

Free improvisation is the art of close listening. It is the art of intense concentration on the part of the musicians to hear what the other one is doing, understand intentions, sentiments, pauses, room to interact, time to take a step back, time to challenge, time to encourage and expand on new ideas. The basic condition is that you, as the musician, have to know your own instrument inside out to be able to keep all these things in mind while performing. It requires openness of mind and the ability to decide.

The interaction between German clarinettist Udo Schindler and Austrian pianist Ingrid Schmoliner is exceptional in this respect. Schmoliner often sets the tone on these nine pieces that were taken from a live concert in April 2014 at the 44th Salon für Klang+Kunst in Krailling, Munich. 

Both Schmoliner and Schindler are true acoustic sound sculptors. The former uses all kinds of materials to prepare her piano, with changing percussive or scraping effects as a result, but she is as comfortable in playing the keys unaltered, and still managing to surprise us. The latter is her true companion in this. His clarinet multiphonics vibrate, oscillate and create deep murmuring sounds, sometimes accompanied by Schmoliners undulating voice, sometimes resulting in amazing effects as on the fifth track, "Münda-ichsagedir", when the clarinet manages some animal-like deep howl, amazingly enough immediately followed by a similar bending tone on a piano string.

Their pallet is broad, and single notes, silence, lyrical phrases, hammered keys, yodeling, dampened sounds, sustained notes, and well, yes, even chords on the piano. Despite all the avant-garde, and their willingness to go even beyond what that crowd expects, there is a kind of return to primitive folklore and deeper foundation of being that is brought to the surface, that is presented here, with beauty.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Permission – Sam Leak and Paula Rae Gibson (33Xtreme, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

For Permission, pianist Sam Leak ( Aquarium, Don Tepfer, Spike Orchestra, Sam Leak Trio among many more) has got together with vocalist Paula Rae Gibson (Sophie Alloway, Kit Downes and more) on this CD, released on the ever prescient 33Xtreme label.

Permission opens the CD with Paula’s vocals laying smoothly over staccato piano telling the tale of lovers giving themselves permission to do anything. The vocals are soft, sultry and oh, so, laid back with a hint of sexiness. Every word is crystal clear and backed by equally clear piano chords, responses and retorts it makes for engaging listening. There are some great chordal progressions in the latter half which blend well with the vocals over the top. ‘I’ll Catch You When You Fall’ is a beautiful track, with rich, emotive vocals over percussive piano explorations. The deep, full-throated rhythms struck out by the piano strings and echoed through the framework are amazing and their complexity off-set beautifully by the spaced out, clear vocals. Whilst Sam Leak works the piano into a frenzy, the vocals maintain their steady clarity and there are no meeting points yet this continual diversification works well. The lyrics are in perfect contraposition to the piano and the second half sees the piano and vocals both become more emphatic, the vocals introducing more breathiness and the piano ever changing rhythms, separate yet in a distinct dialogue. Sometimes the edge in the vocals is scary. Totally beautiful.

‘Deepest Down’ is about a sensual woman and the vocals about time searching for her origins. ‘She rules by seduction, this woman no man can hold on to’….’she lives to be desired’ the vocals stretch out the words over gentle chords from the piano. Just when the vocals are in the slightest danger of becoming a tad too predictable, the piano intercepts with trills and runs up the keys, in exactly the right places. This is an example of two musicians reading each other well. What is great about the track is the piano line in the second half where major and minor chords clash in the back ground under the vocal line. We are led, deep deep down before the final chords fade away. ‘Rather Make Believe Than Make Do’ begins with sonorous, deep thunking piano over which the vocal line enters. Here the caress of the vocals is answered every time by a piano which almost seems to speak in response. The vocals speak gently of tsunamis of love and intense feelings but the singing is soft, whilst the emotion of the words themselves is reflected by the piano, as if the piano itself gives voice to the lyrics. There is a lovely section where vocals and piano vie for the ears, both being so intense and engaging. Very clever and so listenable.  ‘Second Best’ begins with some open piano work from Sam Leak using the instrument to provide percussive under beats with off-set rhythms and lots of little plonks and twinks along with a thudding boom of the frame. The vocals are clear, relatively smooth against this lovely bit of xylophone-like work going on behind from the gremlin in the frame of the piano. Little by little the keys are introduced to strike the strings and the tone changes and we have chords, still over that repeated percussive rhythm. The echoes through the frame left in the recording are a stroke of genius as they add to the atmosphere.  

‘Lovely Rain’ is deep, dark and atmospheric, the piano bass notes emphasising the vocal line and slightly doom-laden lyrics. A tale of sadness and healing rain, this is poignant and an interesting track. The vocals have just the right touch of breathlessness to emphasise the sadness of the soul. ‘Full Blown Love’ is a song about being in love and wondering if it is real, the questioning, the wonderings, the healing of a broken heart. Under the vocals the piano is used to create a series of trinkling runs, rippling high strings and wonderful rhythmic interpretations, their disparity with the vocals only adding to the effect of the track. The warning ‘all of me or nothing’ in the lyrics is emphasised by a slightly manic episode from the piano, seemingly panicking and from there we go off into a delightful chase up and down the keys, never stopping, rapid fingers flitting up and down searching for perfect harmony but not quite getting there. Absolutely gorgeous. ‘Over Dark Waters’ is another number touched by the darker side in the lyrics, which sound like someone getting a good talking to. The piano supports with steady chords and rhythm which underpin and underline the vocal line. An interesting track to end the CD.

What is great about this CD is not only how the vocals and piano work together at times but also how for much of it they are in perfect contrast. The piano picks up and turns not only the theme but the lyrics in places, which is a marvellous piece of arranging. Paula Rae Gibson has a voice which lends itself to story-telling and the darker moments of life are brought alive by her interpretation.  At times there is enough of an edge to the voice to make you sit and take note, at other times she is subtle and always she is clear. There is an underlying sadness and almost an agony of the soul that appears now and again on the surface in the vocals, which is subtle but present. Tempered by the outlandish and sometimes boyish enthusiasm of Sam Leak’s playing, this is a match made by the musical gods. Sam Leak’s mastery and understanding of a piano is clear and he uses every last string and minutae of the frame which create this wonderful instrument to the full, from using plucked and brushed strings to thunking out rhythms and using the deepest corners to echo back the sounds, tempered with attractive tunes and chordal progressions.

This is a great CD – one to listen to again and again.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reverso - Suite Ravel (Phonoart, 2018) ****

Last week at the Jazz Gallery in Midtown Manhattan, Reverso served up an aural feast to a receptive crowd. The gallery space, located on the top level of an older compact five story building along Broadway at 27th street, may have been considered a loft back in the day, and still retains some rustic industrial charm, like the elevator where a sign implores that you do not dance or shake it while in motion. The atmosphere in the gallery space - which indeed hosts art shows as well - was the perfect setting for the American/French collaboration of trombonist Ryan Keberle (American) and Frank Woeste's (French) Reverso group playing the music from their debut release Ravel Suite, a set of original music that takes its inspiration from French composer Maurice Ravel’s music.

Woeste and Keberle met while working with trumpeter David Douglas in a sextet. Apparently a discussion between the two over Ravel, who at the turn of the 21st century famously remarked on the importance of American jazz, and whose influence on the modern jazz scene had not been given proper credit. Their response was to compose pieces that drew on Ravel's “Le tombeau de Couperin”, a suite for solo piano composed between 1914 and 1917. It was done more in spirit than in verisimilitude and paid particular attention to developing their music along the traditional Baroque suite style that Ravel had used. At this point, I must leave the Ravel references behind, as I am not familiar enough to speak with any real knowledge on it. So rather, while the concert featured cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Adam Cruz (both American), the album, which was recorded in France, featured Vincent Courtois (French) on cello and Jeff Ballard on drums (American ex-pat), making the album a true Franco-American collaboration.

Kicking off the concert, however, it was Friedlander who got things going. Against a wash of the drums, he began looping an arpeggiated pizzicato sequence and then bowing elongated tones over it. Woeste added a curt melody with one hand inside the piano damping the strings. Keberle then joined in with a brassy melody, helping bring on a crescendo. The cello and drums then picked up the pace, and Woeste comped uptempo and harmoniously - and the concert had truly begun. The song, ‘Ostinato’, which is also first on the album, just rockets past. The circular melody that outlines the general melodic approach is also quite an effective vehicle for improvisation.

The solo trombone melody that opened the second piece, ‘All Ears’, was rife with feeling, but it was Friedlander’s carefully plucked notes that really brought out the overwhelming sense of grounded melancholy. Woeste’s keyboard work tended towards the lush and supportive, while Cruz gave the right amount of insistence and restraint, ready to push the energy when the timing was right. The cello and piano at times engaged in lovely counterpoint, and the ballad really exemplified their music: restrained, melodic, beautifully thought out, and above all, played perfectly.

The album does not differ in terms of the principals: it too is provocative and melodic modern jazz with classical undertones. Moments of rock creep in as well, and certainly in concert some passages became heated. The last tune that they played in the first set was ‘Luminism', exemplified the creeping rock best, with strong syncopation. Friedlander and Cruz interlocked tightly into a fierce groove, and Keberle let loose with a tough and melodically strong solo.

Like Woeste and Douglas’ Dada People collaboration from last year, Ravel Suite is one of those rare albums that you could potentially play at a dinner party (for cool people), and fits in just as well as in the racks of the Downtown Music Gallery. Check it out!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018) *****

By Gustav Lindqvist

Like myself reeds player Mats Gustafsson grew up in the northern parts of Sweden, that is; the real northern parts of Sweden where, during the winter months, the sun just barely crawls over the horizon just to give you a cheeky look as to say: “did you really think I was going to shine on you today?”, before going back down. Winter months by the way means October to April. Mats and I grew up in different generations, but when listening to The Hands, I feel that he’s speaking straight to the part of my northern Swedish mind which, without being sad, depressed or melancholic states that when the horizon brightens it may very well be the deceiving light. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not have any tendencies towards seeing life on this planet as meaningless. I love the work of the late Hans Roslings ‘Gapminder’ and I think that we can build a better world together, however embracing that ‘no life without death, no death without life’ is also important. Understanding and not ignoring the darker side of life is crucial for our (my) existence.

I’m not trying to banter, but when Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin throws down the gauntlet on the title track The Hands’ I immediately feel like I understand exactly what they’re trying to say. The whole album is begging to be played at an excruciatingly high volume. I can hear a connection to Gustafsson's work on ‘A quietness of water’. Where Gustafsson/Evans/Fernandez were looking inwards to seek out sounds of an inner space full of feelings and emotions, Fire! is allowing the those sounds to come out in full bloom.

Gustafsson should be known to most readers here, having worked with…well everyone on the free jazz scene. He’s also doing regular work for the Swedish jazz magazine Orkesterjournalen, he has a vinyl trading website and a vinyl collection which carries more free jazz rarities than one can imagine. He’s touring with multiple groups and has also published a book about record collecting; Discaholics Vol. 1. Drummer and percussionist Andreas Werliin can be heard with Angels 9, Fire! Orchestra, and Tonbruket to just mention a few. Double bassist Johan Berthling is also a familiar name here and except his work on Angels 8 and 9, I’d like to recommend checking out Nacka Forum, again just to mention a few. This is indeed a very seasoned trio. ‘Supergroup’ has been said, and I can only agree.

The title track ‘The Hands’ has a thick carpet of drums and electric bass on which Gustafsson marches onwards without hesitation. He leaves it all out there. Nothings secret anymore. ‘When Her Lips Collapsed’ seems closely tied together with the first track, but at a slower pace. ‘Touches Me With The Tips Of Wonder’ allows the listener to breath and relax for a while, while the dark clouds pass by. But it of course deceiving. The manic ritual drum beat that follows to introduce the fourth track ‘Washing Your Hands In Filth’ takes us right back to where we started. This track is sure to shake a live audience in its foundations. It builds up intensity and I can only wish that it was a little bit longer. Maybe the live version is? ‘Up. And Down’ is a natural progression of the previous track and provides balance to the madness like a much-needed intermezzo. Yet half-way through, Gustafsson switches gears and increases intensity. That’s what he does. No compromises. The longest track on this album, ‘To Shave The Leaves. In Red. In Black’, is an emotional journey on which Gustafsson is given more time to tell his story. It’s very rewarding and it’s 9 minutes that speaks straight to my heart. The last song, ‘I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence’ is a naked and introspective walk on lonely streets. I’m not left exhausted, I’m left staring out the window, somehow content with the here and now. It’s all going to be alright….or it’s all going to hell.