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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Cosmic Violence

By Stef

Outer space has been an inspiration for many artists and musicians. For some it gives a cosmic unity and the need for a universal spirituality, for others it offers an exploration into the nature of nature itself, with its paradoxes, infinite un-understandability and sense of wonder. And then you have the ones who see in outer space nothing but violent energy, erupting solar flares, exploding stars and all-consuming black holes.

Two such albums are reviewed here.

The End - Closer To The Sun (Petit Label, 2017) ***½

The first one is by the French power trio Fabien Duscombs on drums, Heddy Boubaker on bass and Mathieu Werchowski on violin. Needless to say that the bass and the violin are linked to amps and pedals. The first track is still a kind introduction to the rest of the album. It's repetitive and with a reasonable level of noise, which changes with the twenty-seven minute long second track, which draws you into an incredibly violent piece of music, relentlessly, repetitively in a kind of psychedelic nightmare of increasing volume, distortion and power, alternated with a quiet moment of feedback and tiny quantum particles of sound flying about, but rest assured (or not!) but the violence and the volume return in full force, as the band ventures deeper and deeper into the blackness of the universe. And so it goes with the last track: slow start, explorative sounds, until gradually all hell breaks loose again, with heavy punk-like rhythms and heavily distorted violin.

This will surely not be to everybody's taste, and I wonder how many people stayed in the audience of this live performance, but the ones who did, definitely got their money's worth. This is not for everyday consumption, yet I can only admire the drive and the power behind it.

Marc Edwards & Mick Barr Duo - The Bowels Of Jupiter (Gaffer, 2017) ***½

The second space travel brings us to Jupiter, and is performed by Marc Edwards on drums and Mick Barr on guitar. Edwards, known from his own quartets and trios, from Slipstream Time Travel, and from his collaborations with Sabir Mateen, David S. Ware, Paul Flaherty and many more, is a great jazz drummer, seemingly more than happy here to become more hard-hitting.

Mick Barr on the other hand, is a heavy metal guitarist (sorry for the dumb description - I'm sure there's some more sophisticated name for his brand of metal), known from bands such as Crom-Tech and Orthrelm, or under his other moniker Octis or Ocrilim. The only other 'jazz' album that he's performed on is on the album "I Don't Hear Nothin' But The Blues, Vol. 2, Appalachian Haze" in a trio with Jon Irabagon and Mike Pride (on which a lot can be heard except the blues).

This duo is also high energy, full power, with a no-holds-barred and take-no-prisoners approach. The speed and the sheer intensity of both drumming and guitar are so fascinating that you really feel propulsed through the universe, and the only thing you hope is that you don't encounter a comet on your path. Luckily, some of the tracks offer some respite, a welcome break. There is also a tongue-in-cheek title with "Deep Space African Drums", on which Edwards sets the tone with some wonderful drumming over which Barr slowly improvises a chordal arrangement, yet the next "Solar Flares" brings us back to the incedible force of both drummer and guitarist to go beyond the normal. Just listening to it is exhausting, let alone perform it.

Like the other album reviewed here, it's hard to call this jazz, unless maybe in its original definition of "energy" in the positive defintion or "noise" as understood by its critics.

And again, you can only admire the total lack of compromise, the willingness to go to the extreme and keep going for it, with no afterthoughts or hesitations.

Safe travels!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Ballrogg - Abaft The Beam (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

By Stef

Ballrogg is a Norwegian trio with Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on b-clarinet and bass clarinet, Roger Arntzen  on double bass, and Ivar Grydeland on pedal steel guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo and drum machine.

They call their music "free chamber americana", and that is an apt description. The music is gentle, friendly even, yet still sufficiently creative and disruptive to keep things interesting. A first band that comes to mind as a reference is the Tin Hat Trio, because of its equally gentle and creative approach to 'americana', but then Ballrogg is a less rhythmic, more open-ended, free version.

The three musicians manage to create a wonderful and calm sonic universe, dreamlike almost, shifting between the pleasant and the dark, slowly, with precision and caution, treading lightly, beautifully. Their attention to timbral value is exceptional, with no superfluous notes or sounds.

The band's first two records were duo recordings, much more directly influenced by the music of Jimmy Giuffre and Eric Dolphy, but it is clear that guitarist Grydeland's background in "Dans Les Arbres", the minimalist Norwegian-French ensemble, adds a role to the overall sound, already on "Cabin Music", the previous album, but even more so on this one.

Vulnerable and strong-willed. We like it that way.

In the meantime, Grydeland has been replaced by David Stackenäs, and you can watch a video with the latest line-up below.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dead Neanderthals - The Depths / Womb of God / Organ Donor

By Lee Rice Epstein

A coworker recently looked over at my monitor and asked, confusedly, “What does that even say?” I replied, a bit awkwardly because we are a hip and modern office soundtracked by hip and modern music, “Uhh, it says ‘The New Wave of Dutch Heavy Jazz.’” And then, we were done. No more questions. As it should be.

The Depths (Dead Neanderthals / Skull, 2017) ***½

For so many reasons, The Depths is not the Dead Neanderthals you know and love. Of course, that’s also why you may love it as soon as you get to know it. In place of the familiar Otto Kokke and René Aquarius sax & drums duo—plus or minus their various partners, collaborators, and supporting players—The Depths emerges from literal (and possibly metaphysical?) depths. Recorded with Aquarius and Kokke at opposite ends of a 100 meter-long tunnel, there’s an organic delay that plays out over the live-take experimentation. Kokke mixes up short melodic lines with long drones, sending signals and flares down the tunnel in the hopes they’ll be returned by Aquarius. There’s a longing, pleading quality to the album. And throughout the four tracks, Aquarius performs a spartan, rolling improvisation that, while it ebbs and flows, plays give and take with the echoey surroundings. The Depths is equally successful when the duo occasionally both syncs up and misses each other completely. Dick van Aalst and Inge Hondebrink filmed a short documentary on the recording that’s worth catching, to get a glimpse of the actual space and samples of the album.

Available on compact disc and name-your-price digital album

Womb of God (Dead Neanderthals / Burning World Records, 2017) ****

Womb of God plays an entirely different game with time and space. Here, on two tracks, Kokke and Aquarius are joined by saxophonist Colin Webster, a regular addition to Dead Neanderthals. Unlike previous trio+ recordings, however, “Womb of God” parts 1 and 2 were recorded with the core duo in Netherlands, while Webster was in England. But what’s 300 miles between friends? Exploring a further separation than on The Depths, the trio expertly bridges the distance between two dots on a map, rendering those dots merely pointless. It takes a special brand of subtlety to generate effective noise, and that’s just what Kokke and Webster are up to. Like Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, or perhaps more appropriately, given the simultaneous undercutting and overthrowing of tradition, Erased de Kooning Drawing. On “Womb of God II,” a seemingly unholy sound precedes Aquarius’s bass drum and cymbal-heavy entry. Kokke and Webster’s changes are heavy, almost cyclical, until they aren’t. About ten minutes in, the melody shifts to an urgent howling plea. In the final minutes, Kokke, Webster, and Aquarius push against each other, ricocheting and colliding their way to the finale.

Available on black or white vinyl, compact disc, and digital album

Organ Donor (Dead Neanderthals, 2017) ****

Released on the final day of 2017, Organ Donor is a suitable end to that godforsaken year. Cut it out, give it away. Or, as the notes on the album’s Bandcamp page read: “You could see the panic in his eyes. What would happen if they found out he wasn't dead yet? What would happen if they found out he wasn't even human?” Kokke doubles on saxophone and synthesizer, stretching out the long drones with subtle pitch warbling. Roughly a third of the way through the single track’s 15 minutes, there’s such a slight shift in the density of Kokke’s playing, I was sure I imagined it. But it’s there, smeared like blood across the face of the track. His continual shifting throughout the remainder of “Organ Donor” clashes gorgeously with Aquarius’s crisp drums. Bright with cymbals and snares, the drums give pulsing life to the track. This track, for me, exemplifies the fundamental mix that makes Dead Neanderthals work so well.

Available as a name-your-price digital album

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tom Wheatley - Double Bass (s/r, 2018) ****

By David Menestres

Double Bass is the aptly named solo LP from Tom Wheatley, who, surprisingly, plays double bass. And he plays it very well.

The A side is a single twenty minute unnamed track that starts with a hyper aggressive almost stuttering idea that repeats over and over again, thrashing like The Stooges, until abruptly it decelerates for a brief rest stop before attacking the listener again. The trashing gives way to a beautiful moment of silence that comes before something (horsehair from the bow?) is dragged up and down across the strings produce small percussive sounds. The track descends into a bowed section (with some kind of string preparation) that recalls the stuttering opening. And that’s only the first half of the track.

The B side of the album is three shorter tracks that continue to show Wheatley’s deep ability to cox unusual sounds out of his prepared bass. Each explores a single theme, working it just as long as necessary. The ideas are economical but well fleshed out. There is a suitable cacophony of sounds being coxed from Wheatley’s bass.

The vinyl sounds lovely and is well recorded by James Johnston and mastered by Peter Walsh. The jacket design is very minimal, comprising only “schematic diagrams” by Wheatley, one on each side of the jacket, and one on each side of the label.

A solid listen, recommended to those who enjoy the more outside areas of free improvisation (and to those who don’t).

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Paul Jolly & Mike Adcock – Risky Furniture (33xtreme, 2018) *****

By Sammy Stein

Mike Adcock (Accordions Go Crazy, Lol Coxhill, Cadillac Kings, Imaginary Dance Trio, Natchez and more) and Paul Jolly (People Band, Sweet Slag, House of Five, Straight,No Chaser) have collaborated on several projects before including a theatre group ‘The Fabulous Random Band’, and bands like 'The Lemon Pop Band’ and some blues projects mixing Cajun and blues. Both are interested in improvised music and have performed as a duo at many festivals. They felt it was time to record again and the opportunity for this recording came about as a result of the London Jazz Platform Festival which I curated in June 2017. There they performed their unique form of piano and sax combinations of improvised music and later got together to make a recording – this is the result.

‘What Not’ opens the CD with soprano sax, joined by thrumming strings and percussive beats from the piano before Mike Adcock switches to the keyboard, both instruments now talking with discursive, intricate little riffs, foibles and meticulatas. The intrinsic rhythm changes and variations in tempo are picked up by each player as the track moves along, Paul Jolly one minute playing an extended trill, the next a series of pretty scale movements up and down the keys of the sax. The two diverge, come together and meld at times, forming an almost seamless and pervasive sense of continuum. The middle section involves the piano dictating pretty patterns with sax following and this is then turned on its head with sax leading the piano, which happily follows suit. This light, delicate track changes, delves deeper and then changes again to create a lovely introduction. By the 6th minute both players are lost in their own intricacies but still engaged enough with each other to make this cohesive and when the piano descends the keys in a series of chords, the sax is still off and away all of itself but picks up the chords and suddenly the two are in the same key. Brilliant.

‘An evening of Viennese Cupboardry’ begins with dolorous tones of the bass clarinet playing a repeated theme which is countered by the piano, filling in the notes of the scale and echoing the theme which is very clever because it creates a wholeness. There is a waltzy feel to the first section and it is gentle enough to make the listener relax and slowly sink into somnolence. Yet wait! There goes the piano, getting faster with bass clarinet in tow and gradually, the tempo alters and the pace is faster still with that pervading gentleness with which the piece opened. The bass clarinet is gorgeous on this track and the second part, complete with trills and stut notes is completely beautiful. The waltz time mode which runs through the entire track is gloriously enjoyed by the piano when it solos and there is a developing tune right through as well. The regularity of this piece contrasts well with the opener. ‘Our Occasional Footstool’ has piano and sopranino sax creating a dialogue where the piano offers regularly spaced trills and riffs over which and between which the sax develops answers of varying lengths. A shorter track but very sweet and the intricacies from both are beautiful. It is a pleasure to hear a sopranino sax played with such dexterity and joy. The slightly off-tuned upper piano notes at the end are a cheeky ending.

‘The Accidental Splinter’ opens with piano chords before the tenor sax enters – Paul playing in the harmonic range, creating high, pressing, almost vocal sounds whilst the piano flows underneath. Then there is a change with the tenor switching down to normal register but with a tightened reed to create some exquisite upper notes before descending and creating entertaining dips and delves over a single staccato note from the piano then occasional chords, which increase and fill the gaps along with the developing melodic lines. Then, suddenly it stops. ‘Bureau of Change’ sees the soprano sax come in forte and solo before the piano dips in with chords. The soprano sings along with melodic lines, each short and spaced but linked by a common key (mostly). The strong sax voice includes some flattened notes and frilly bits, along with some jaw clenching squeals which add to the quirky character of the piece. Then some melodic playing over some lovely disharmonic chords in minor and major keys before the all too soon finish. The intervals of the piano accompaniment are clever because whilst on one level they are in the same key as the bass clarinet but played in 7ths they jar and create the wonderful disharmony of intent. Beautiful, especially the second half.

Then we come to ‘By The Fainting Couch’ where bass clarinet enters with a trill, the piano bashes out the chords and what follows is probably the highlight piece on the CD. The two musicians use their instruments in dialogue, competition and harmony (almost) in a beautiful escapade of improvisational bliss. The clarinet switches from upper notes to deep, rich, lower notes, followed and supported by the piano chords which echo the depth and power of the clarinet. With two players both experienced in many genres as well as being improvisers, it is not too long before a themed section develops, introduced by the piano, over which the bass clarinet thunders, rolls and drives its own themes. The abyssal deep notes of the clarinet carry weight and fortitude here, contrasting at times and emphasising at others the creative and astute piano lines. There is a breathy section which, together with the piano and occasional reedy squeak, create a spacey atmosphere to finish the track – adding just one last texture to the mix.

‘L’Ecritoire’ has the piano introducing the sopranino sax – again played beautifully and singing its heart out in the higher notes, with a hint of tremolo which creates an emotive feel. The piano line is worth following because it is in itself a creative and beautiful melodic progression in many places whilst at the same time the connection between the ears of the player and the sopranino line is clear. Cerebrally clever, this track is short but very sweet. An escritoire is a writing desk and this track gives a hint at just a few of the secrets held within.

‘The Great Bed of Ware’ is announced by the bass clarinet, now in long, slow note mode and the piano follows suit but without sustain pedal implemented so the notes fade before those of the clarinet at first. Then the pedal is used and now the piano notes are extended, creating a counter to the notes from the clarinet. Clever. The atmosphere is deep, thoughtful and slow, for the first few minutes in any case, the piano line using clear classical references under the improvised clarinet line. The actual ‘Great Bed of Ware’ is a very large four poster bed, ornately covered in marquetry built by a carpenter called Jonas Fosbrooke in the late 16th century. It could accommodate 4 couples and its posts are covered in the carved names of those who used it. This piece is aptly named because it has more than one pairing of the two musicians, in different modes and atmospheres. First is quiet, calm, before a call and response, still with those classical references in the piano lines, then a bass clarinet melody over chords and next it is just piano with a gorgeous melodic section over a single note in the left hand. For a brief time the bass clarinet is on its own, before piano joins, this time with deep runs, repeated in an urgent, intense rhythm which the clarinet picks up and follows, developing its own line. The piano bass line constantly returning to the same basso note (lower G) makes it almost menacing whilst the clarinet contrasts with a tuneful air, following the pattern of the piano. Then a single note accompaniment, then higher chords adding a playful element over the profound bass clarinet and then the two instruments play off each other, each repeating their theme with the same rhythmic patterns maintained before the bass clarinet introduces a change in rhythm whilst piano keeps the same. The end section is an ascension and descending clarinet line under which the piano develops different rhythms and a melodic theme then emerges before the finish.       
Paul Jolly has run jazz clubs and played and produced music for several decades and his experience and understanding of different genres come through with this CD. Mike is a born musician and improviser and adds his considerable experience and talent. Together they make engaging and interesting listening and the pairing is enhanced by their similarities and also their different styles of delivery. What strikes as you listen to this CD is the communication and engagement of the two musicians with each other – an intuition born only out of experience of playing together. Where there are gaps, they know when to fill them and when to leave well alone. There is an intrinsic understanding of when to allow a melody to develop and when to rein it in and there is a melodic playing from both players which is so inborn it emerges time and time again, making this both attractive to improvisers and those with more classic or straight jazz preferences. A terrific and entertaining CD – Well worth more than a listen. 


Mike Adcock - Piano

Paul Jolly – Soprano saxophone tracks 1,5 Sopranino saxophone tracks 3,7, Bass clarinet tracks 2,6,8 and tenor saxophone track 4

  1. What Not
  2. 2. An Evening Of Viennese Cupboardry
  3. Our Occasional Footstool
  4. The Accidental Splinter  
  5. Bureau Of Change  
  6. By The Fainting Couch
  7. L’ecritoire
  8. The Great Bed Of Ware   (bass clarinet)

Release Date: 6th April 2018
Label: 33xtreme
Available via Amazon or direct from

Monday, March 26, 2018

Paul Van Gysegem, Chris Joris, Patrick De Groote - Boundless (El Negocito, 2017) ****½

By Stef

This review was long due. A fantastic trio album that's been listened to dozens and dozens of times during traffic jams, during smooth traffic and at home, with more time and attention. And attention and time is what this music deserves. It's a set of nine tracks of free improvisation between Belgium's veteran jazz musicians.

Paul Van Gysegem plays bass. He is a visual artist - both painter and sculptor - and a musician with roots going back to the early free jazz period in the 60s, including the organisation of avant-garde festivals. Van Gysegem released "Aorta", his first sextet album, already in 1971. He played with Lacy and Waldron, and of course also with Fred Van Hove, Belgium's first real avant-garde improv pianist. Chris Joris is a percussionist, pianist (as on some tracks on this album) and educator, incredibly knowledgeable about African rhythms and instruments. Patrick De Groote plays the trumpet. Again, he's not very well known internationally, but he was already a member of the above mentioned sextet in 1971. Together, they are around 220 years old.

Some fifty years later, they meet again to deliver this wonderful album of freely improvised pieces, four in trio format and five duets between trumpet and bass. It is exceptional for a number of reasons. First, the music is solid: determined, open-ended, sensitive, respectful, crisp, creative. Second, this is today's music, and very much so: little stories evolve with only one purpose: to co-create quality music in the moment. No need for structure or patterns, just interactive explorations that each remain focused and coherent. Third, it is so full of energy and joy: you can feel how the musicians like it themselves. There is nothing 'tired' here, quite to the contrary, it's fresh, young in spirit and approach. It doesn't sound like their zillionth performance. It sounds like they're full of enthusiasm to start something new. Fourth, it's incredibly entertaining too. Despite the limited line-up, ideas abound, and the high quality is maintained throughout. And fifth, the sound quality is also very good.

It is boundless, as its title suggests. And what a pity that their published output is so limited.

You can listen and buy it from Bandcamp.

As an addition, here is a performance by the Paul Van Gysegem Sextet, recorded and broadcasted on Belgian public television in 1971. Totally different music, but witht the same heritage. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993, Discs 7-11 (New Braxton House, 2018) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

One of the first things I think about, with any archival release is, what’s the value? Not the financial value, but the cultural one. In other words, is something revealed or illuminated by this archival release? In some cases, the answer is absolutely yes. In others, it’s a bit mixed. When it comes to Anthony Braxton, whose output is nearly unmatched, a release like Sextet (Parker) 1993 inspires similar questions. Ignore them completely. This set is vital, its release long overdue, as it absolutely contains magnitudes.

Looking back on it, 1993 was in the midst of this period of just insane turnaround times, especially for Braxton releases on Leo Records. He produced a huge amount of music, already beginning the journey from collage-based system to the emergence of Ghost Trance Music. And in the midst of this evolution, arguably the most vital of his career—the space delineating pre-GTM and GTM—Braxton recorded over 11 hours of music by or recorded by Charlie Parker. In his liner notes, Stuart Broomer writes, of Eric Dolphy’s December 21, 1960, recording of both Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and his own Far Cry, “It was as if Dolphy had just passed through something.” There is, I think, a similar passing through for Braxton in these Parker sessions. (Broomer seems to agree, as he touches on these points and more in his extended liner-notes essay “Ways of Listening to Braxton’s Bird.”)

It is an interesting time for this release. Recorded 25 years ago, the sessions came 25 years into Braxton’s recording career. And here he was, on a much larger scale than his previous Monk and Tristano projects, going deep into a single artist’s song book with true depth, verve, and skepticism. Take, for example, the sax and piano duet recording of “April In Paris,” on disc 8. The whole disc is a barn-burner, a 15-minute “Hot House,” followed by a 16-minute “Another Hair-Do,” and a half-hour closing “An Oscar for Treadwell,” with an “A Night In Tunisia” interpolation. The first two tracks feature the quintet of Braxton, Paul Smoker on trumpet, Misha Mengelberg on piano, Joe Fonda on bass, and Pheeroan akLaff on drums; saxophonist Ari Brown joins the band for the massive closing track. And in the middle of all these absolutely top-notch performances, the duet plays like a high-wire act. Braxton and Mengelberg both shine brightly in their playing throughout the whole set, but this “April In Paris” truly sparkles. It’s expressive and dissonant, both of them unpacking 60 years of jazz history and turning a standard on its head, as both had done and would continue to do throughout their careers. It takes a special kind of reverence and forward-thinking to twist and turn a classic without thumbing your nose at it. The 20 seconds of rousing applause at the end confirms what a successful take this was.

My impressions, upon hearing the original 1993 Charlie Parker Project album, seem now mostly wrong. For one thing, I didn’t realize Han Bennink appeared on only one night of the tour, and that akLaff carried the band 6 of their 7 nights. Their styles are so unique and quite different. Of course, disc 7, the Zürich night with Bennink, sounds slightly more like an ICP meeting than the rest. And Fonda seems better paired with akLaff—cue up disc 9’s “Dewey Square,” where he’s accompanied by Mengelberg and akLaff for a sense of how effortlessly they glide together (more like Dolphy’s Byard/Carter/Haynes than Parker’s Jordan/Potter/Roach).

As with any archival release, most song titles recur multiple times (although a few appear only once or twice). Some return in a more or less similar fashion, while others are incomparable recordings. Take “Klactoveedsedstene,” which was performed 6 times, including a very successful version in Zürich with Bennink on drums. After 15 seconds of melody, Smoker guides the segue into the group’s longest take on their inside-out version. Bennink is phenomenal throughout, dynamic and cracking, switching over to brushes for a double-time swing section near the end, quintessential bebop. Likewise, the second take of “Koko,” closing out disc 10, swings like mad, with akLaff a bit looser here than on the earlier take, and Braxton opening up a bit more on his alto solo. Brown sits out, and maybe because there’s more space overall, Smoker also takes a slightly more expansive solo.

In short, yes this is a highly recommended release. But more than that, it’s recommended you really listen to it. Not just once or twice, but in all the ways possible. I have a playlist that’s organized by song title, so I can hear 2 “Cardboard”s followed by 2 “Charlie’s Wig”s followed by 3 “Confirmation”s. I have another that’s just my favorite tracks under 10 minutes. Find a way in, and the set has reward after reward. In that way, it’s the best kind of archival release, one that feels sufficiently, and consistently, new.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Anthony Braxton – Sextet (Parker) 1993, Discs 2 - 6 (New Braxton House, 2018)

By Tom Burris

Disc 2   ****

Standout Tracks:  Scrapple From The Apple, Bebop, Klactoveedsedstene

So right outta the gate, here appears to be a track never recorded by Charlie Parker – at least to my knowledge.  But this sort of works as a description of what's going on with this set.  You already know – especially since this is Braxton – that these are definitely not going to be standard covers of Bird material.  You're not getting Parker covers.  You're getting the heads – but that's it.  The rest of the tracks are made of improvisations which contain the forward movement and spirit of a vintage Charlie Parker date.  In the case of “Darn That Dream,” you're getting a standard that Bird probably covered at some point – with pianist Misha Mengelberg and Braxton floating like butterflies and stinging like bees all over the place.  It's not a great starting place to be honest, but it sets you up for things to come.

It's a slow build up to the first dazzling moment, which occurs when Mengelberg becomes the first member of the band to successfully modernize a dance with Bird's hologram on “Hot House.”  Then it's onto a beautiful small group version of Bird's string-section strangled “Laura,” where Braxton proves (again) that he isn't overly intellectual about music at all – he's just brilliant, OK? - and that he has as much intuitive musical passion as anyone who ever picked up an alto.  Drummer Pheeroan akLaff and bassist Joe Fonda lock in with Misha for a spatial trio spot, featuring very hard piano key pokes that eventually run to the end of the track.  Mesmerizing and highly successful.

Originally a harmonic riff on the chords to Fats Waller's “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Scrapple from the Apple” became a bebop standard in Parker's hands.  Subbing out the piano intro, bassist Fonda & Braxton (on contrabass clarinet) go for a warm rumbling attack.  Braxton has documented this concept many times before, of course: take a standard and stretch the melody out on this ridiculously oversized horn that is the definition of lower-register.  But it works well and is definitely pliable, so why not?  When Misha enters, making it a trio, the juxtaposition between his chords and the melody are so jarring that the idea of “starting with Parker's music as a vehicle to fly into new worlds” immediately becomes fully realized.

Dizzy Gillespie's “Bebop” opens with a very faithful take on the head.  Fonda plays the melody at breakneck speed on his bass while Misha and akLaff jab accents all over the map, propelling the music upward.  Ari Brown's deep and soulful tenor is not only beautiful, but dynamic and inventive as well.  He plays “inside” the music, but with a thinking man's “outside” approach to it.  (Think vintage Sonny Rollins...)  Paul Smoker plays super-fast runs on his trumpet, but that's where the comparisons to Dizzy end.  Smoker is very much his own man and his playing can either be melodious or a smear of blurry color – often in close succession, but sometimes simultaneously.  Misha is a genius as usual, pounding out exactly the right colors, clusters, and notes nobody else would've considered.  Then enter Braxton on alto, wrapping the music with lines that surprise and amaze before the band jumps in to repeat the head with even more fervor than before.  17 minutes of bliss!

“Charlie's Wig” is kind of a generic bebop composition (written out of the chord changes for “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”), and the group scratch and plod their way through the first few minutes of it as though they aren't too excited about it either.  The melody jumps out of the muck about halfway through, collapsing into a collage of different parts of the song played over one another.  A not entirely successful experiment, but one that is certainly interesting & not without merit.  The second of several takes of “Klactoveedsedstene” in this box closes out Disc 2, opening with a blast of the theme, then careening into a drum solo by akLaff.  Smoker and Braxton wind around each other in downward tumbles toward the end; but the highlight for me is when Mengelberg bangs out clusters that wildly interpret the song's head.  God, I miss this guy.

Disc 3   ****

Standout Tracks:  Ari/Misha Duo, Klactoveedsedstene

The disc opens with a duet interpretation of “Autumn in New York,” with Fonda on bass and Braxton on piano.  Braxton's playing fluctuates between lovely arpeggios and tone clusters with lots of accidentals, except for when Fonda takes the lead.  Then Braxton plays softer and more conventionally.  “Parker Melodies” follows as a 35-minute long workout based on the song's title and is, at least for me, more of an outtake than a central piece.  A fascinating listen, but probably not one that you'll play repeatedly.

The percussion-less group takes “Yardbird Suite” at a slightly slower clip than the original version, again featuring Braxton on piano.  Fonda holds the group together admirably without akLaff, while Ari takes a beautifully soulful shot at the melody.  Braxton does his best to approximate Misha's approach, and while he doesn't exactly hit the mark (who could?), Braxton's rhythmic jabs upstage Smoker during his own trumpet solo.  This is followed by a duo between Ari and Misha, on which Ari does an absolutely fantastic set of Parker-ish runs as Misha interjects perfect commentary throughout.  Smoker appears as if by magic at the tail end with some punctuation, over which Misha can't help but throw in one last punch line.

Disc three's take of “Charlie's Wig” is almost identical to the one on the previous disc.  No better, no worse.  “Klactoveedsedstene” also takes the same approach as the previous version, but actually improves over the already great take on Disc 2.  This is largely due to the bit following the drum break, where the band leans into storm, throwing out snippets of the theme that break through the chaos.  This take pushes every aspect of the music – and akLaff is a total maniac!  Brilliant.

Disc 4   ****1/2

Standout Tracks:  An Oscar For Treadwell, Blues For Alice

Y'know that saxophone riff that plays in the background of “A Night in Tunisia”?  The one that plays under Dizzy's melody?  Well, what happens when you push that to the foreground?  Annoyance, that's what!  Turn that shit down!  Who mixed this?  OK, it's not that bad, but Brown and Braxton sure do pound this thing home bloody and limping.  Braxton's solo also approaches something grating, so I'm guessing this is at least partially intentional.

“Another Hair-Do” follows, once again taken at a slower clip than Bird's original.  Smoker blasts a very sweet solo on flugelhorn (and plunger) while akLaff throws in perfect accents underneath.  Fonda and Misha each threaten to take the next solo, but Fonda relents to the elder gentleman.  Braxton gets in some maniacal lightning runs before things wind down.  “Sippin' at Bells” was originally recorded by the Miles Davis All-Stars, of which Parker was a member.  Here Braxton plays the melody on contrabass in unison with Smoker at a snail's pace – so slow that I would never even have guessed the song without knowing what it was beforehand.  Again, an interesting experiment – and one that works on its own terms.

A faithful opening on “An Oscar for Treadwell” brings a joyful earful with every band member soloing at peak form.  Misha tears up some playful cluster jabs with angular weirdness.  Braxton flips out into the stratosphere.  Ali plays the soulful inside solo.  Fonda, melodically and rhythmically brilliant, shines here.  And akLaff's accents again propel everything forward in ways that define perfection.  “Blues for Alice” is the other perfect track on this disc, again opening with a very by-the-book (but never stodgy) reading of the theme that is followed by collective and individual intuitive genius.  Smoker's solo is a standout featuring melodic winding with occasional outbursts of blurry sound figures.  Extra credit to Misha as his accompaniment is exceptional in every way to each soloist.

“Bongo Bop” opens with a very free duet between Brown and Braxton, playing the theme slowly and tentatively, while Misha pecks wildly at the piano keys.  It takes almost four minutes before the tune is recognizable – but it is playful and enjoyable in its own right.  I think Bird himself would've gotten a kick out of this one.

Disc 5   *****

Standout Tracks:  Repetition, Quasimodo, Cardboard, Dewey Square, An Oscar For Treadwell

Braxton's soprano sax on “Dewey Square” is light and warm as akLaff's accents goad Braxton into some intense flights.  Smoker's runs during his solo are sweet and melodic, but become ultra brassy and blurry as he moves along.  Fonda's break is tasteful and precise; and he and akLaff are rock solid throughout.  “Mohawk” follows without akLaff, prompting the band to take a much slower tempo than would be expected.  Everyone plays up to his normal expectations and nothing gets broken.

“Repetition” comes from that awful Verve album Bird did with strings and is much improved by the small combo setting in which Braxton lovingly places it.  Braxton floats beautifully above the band in an odd – but PERFECT – combination of Parker's style and his own playing during the 1974-75 Arista period.  Nothing less than charming – and absolutely stunning in spots.  After this track is another take of “An Oscar for Treadwell,” of which there are nothing but stellar versions from this group.  “A Night in Tunisia” fares a bit better this time than it did before, building to an incredible intensity before the theme plays out.

“Quasimodo” actually runs a little bit faster than Bird's version.  Misha, as always, is an absolute joy to listen to during his solo; and Braxton has a thing about meandering for a few seconds, realizing it, and quickly pulling himself back into line that really works for me.  Listening to his thought process is half the fun!  Then Braxton brings out the flute for “Cardboard,” a bop tune played as a salsa in this configuration.  And it really works – especially for Misha.

The first time I ever heard a Charlie Parker track that stopped me cold was when I heard “Koko” on the Savoy Sessions Master Takes album.  It's still my go-to track whenever I want to introduce someone to Parker's music.  Needless to say, this was the one I was waiting for.  For Braxton's version, he's in a pretty rambunctious mood – which is faithful to Bird's spirit.  Smoker does admirably in the Dizzy role here as well, pulling all the stops.  As a bonus, akLaff's workout near the end is probably the most affecting drum break on this set!  Overall, nobody could ever hope to top the original version; but these guys have managed to make a spirited attack of it that works incredibly well.

Disc 6   ****

Standout Tracks:  Hot House, Repetition, Klactoveedsedstene

The original version of “Milestones” (Miles Davis All-Stars) features Parker on tenor.  Ari Brown steps into this role for the Braxton version, while Braxton himself is seated at the piano.  Brown's playing here is reminiscent of Dexter Gordon's version of the song – bluesy, soulful, tuneful.  Big and round.  Smoker does a purely “blur” solo here, which doesn't fit the setting – but kudos for giving it something different, I guess.

Arista Braxton is at it again on “Hot House,” busy-but-tuneful post-bop free playing that makes you feel good to be alive.  Misha drops some incredible chords under Braxton, who occasionally summons Pharaoh Sanders in moments of ecstasy.  Smoker brings clean bright tones to his solo, completely making up for “Milestones,” while the interplay between the rhythm section remains endlessly fascinating.  Misha plays another brilliant solo here, of course.  “Klactoveedsedstene” begins as it has before, but after the drums drop out at the1.5 minute mark it becomes a somber exploratory exercise in experimentation.  The music remains tentative and largely spatial before the sharp segue around the five minute mark brings it back alive and kicking.

Again, they take “Yardbird Suite” at a slower clip and nobody plays the melody until the second time through the chord sequence.  Braxton is at the piano and Ari Brown is the star player here, along with Paul Smoker, whose touch is much lighter than normal here – and very fitting.  “Passport” is a trio recording of Braxton, Fonda and Mengelberg.  It's a respectable take, as Fonda holds things down like a boss while Braxton and Misha do their brilliant flighty thing.

Following this is another hyper-tight version of “Repetition,” which may or may not be the superior take.  It's too close to call.  Both versions are indispensable.  Closing out the disc is another take of “A Night in Tunisia,” which finally doesn't send me running for the volume knob to turn down those two saxophones.  They finally figured out where to put those reed instruments in the mix!  Add to this an insanely free middle section and we have reached success!  Well done.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House, 2018) *****

By Paul Acquaro 

It's difficult for me to imagine 'Jazz' without Charlie Parker. He, along with the likes of Monk, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, etc. re-fashioned jazz with the advanced harmonics, intricate melodies, and asymmetrical syncopation that is typically associated with the genre today. Inventing or discovering how extended scales could be used to traverse and re-harmonize chord progressions is the foundation of modern jazz. At the time, it was revolutionary, and it was quickly taken to the next level by the likes of Ornette Coleman and, of course, John Coltrane.

For me, Parker's music was a gift from my high school jazz band director, Paul Larson. We played a chart of 'Now's the Time' and it seemed simple to my naively adolescent mind, but I did register how Mr. Larson was not letting us slide on getting it right(er). We rehearsed the deceptively simple melody again and again - I still can feel the finger patterns on my imaginary bass clarinet. Then in my unrelated guitar lessons, I tripped over the fingerings of 'Blues for Alice' until I maybe half got it, however I started seeing the connections between the melodies and the chords. My Parker experience was an torturous gateway to deeper musical thinking. 

A bit later, I discovered Phil Schapp on WKCR, Columbia University, which I could pick up from my quaint little North Jersey hamlet nestled deep in the land of the Sopranos. Schapp drilled into the minutia and importance of Parker in mind boggling detail. Session dates, sidemen, false endings ... another world captivated my mind. Parker had been seeking something with his music, and there was something to seek in it.

In 1993, saxophonist and composer Antony Braxton, who has developed his own pioneering approaches to music, assembled a group to explore Parker's music in depth. With saxophonist Ari Brown, trumpter Paul Smoker, pianist Misha Mengelberg, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Han Bennink, he embarked on a deep dive with a European tour and studio dates. A double Hat Hut CD was released in 1995 documenting the group, and now this 11 CD box set is a deep dive into the deep dive - all of the music this group recorded between October 18 and 24, 1993 in Cologne, Amsterdam, Zürich, and Antwerp. 

Here, I turn to Stuart Broomer's excellent liner notes accompanying the box set. I'd like to rephrase his opening question "How do you listen to the eleven CDs of Anthony Braxton’s Charlie Parker Project?" with my own simpler minded "how do you start listening to Anthony Braxton?" I explained my way in with Parker, but Braxton had always been more enigmatic. His discography is huge, his concepts beguiling, and his range breathtaking. I caught a large group show at the A 'Larm Festival in Berlin in 2014 and it was a difficult piece to take in at once, yet recent solo shows I've seen have featured moments of Monk and Miles quoted within these beautiful arcs of contemporaneous musical thought. Broomer captures this encompassing approach well:
At the outset of Braxton’s career in the closing years of the 1960s, there was plenty to set him apart, an iconoclast among iconoclasts. There were the unstated rhythms and episodic structures of the Braxton/Jenkins/Smith Trio, a group with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and violinist Leroy Jenkins later called the Creative Construction Company. There was the sheer challenge of For Alto, a two-LP set of solo saxophone music. And, too, there was the expanding collection of reed instruments: contra-bass clarinet, bass and sopranino saxophones and flute...
However, Broomer then notes that in the mid-70s elements of tradition began appearing in his work.

The first Braxton album in my collection was 'Duets 1976' with Muhal Richard Abrams. I loved the deep flatulent tone of the contra-bass clarinet and the adventurous takes on Dolphy's 'Miss Ann' and the 'Maple Leaf Rag'. Braxton's exploration of the past continued through the late 70s and beyond with his various Standards albums, the Thelonious Monk album, Six Monk's Compositions (1987), and explorations of the music of Warne Marsh and Lenny Tristano, and into the 2000's with the more contemporary Andrew Hill. However, it was still that '76 album that unlocked Braxton for me, I was less apoplectic to where to start and less apprehensive as to what I'd find. For what it's worth, the Parker work is just as perfect of an entrance. 

I think what's most important about the music, 25 years old now itself, is how it connects the avant-garde tradition (not sure if that's an oxymoron or not) with be-bop. The renditions are not 'Braxton plays Parker' but 'Braxton Re-contextualizes Parker in the late 20th Century'. At the time, the height of the neo-traditionalists, it seems like Braxton was saying 'you know, you can do more than just copy this stuff'. Of course I have no idea if that is what Braxton was thinking at all, and it would be such a trip to see what Charlie Parker would have said to hearing these versions. As Broomer writes, Parker has been seeking more, prevailing upon contemporary composers to help him push his music past its confines. Braxton also seems to not be one to rest easy with tradition. He explores, assimilates, absorbs, and transforms. 

Take 'Confirmation' the first track of the first disc, the opening is Parker's blizzard of notes over a tricky circle of 5ths chord progression. Braxton doesn't change the melody - it's as toe-tapping as it was in 1946 in all of its glorious be-boppiness - rather what the listener is treated to is a complete overhaul of the improvisational dimensions. The first saxophone solo begins immediately following the head and it starts Parkerishly with a quick descending line, but then it starts to smear, tonality gets fuzzy, Mengelberg's piano accompaniment, before dropping out all together, advances far beyond the confines of 1946. When the group re-groups on the theme at the end, we are delivered back on solid ground and one is left thinking "could this be what Parker was seeking?"

The next track is 'Quasimodo', Parker's rewrite of 'Embraceable You’. It swings, the head is pretty straight forward, but just wait for Smoker to enter. His solo begins with brief bursts of melodic phrases and lots of space between them, the bursts grow longer and the spaces shorter until he is delivering a blur of notes smeared across the changes. It's intense, it's searing, and when he ends, Mengelberg answers in a similar manner: starting spaciously and melodically, he then drops some lovely passages before going full on Monk with delicious shards of phrases, small clusters of sharp chords and jerky syncopation. It's a joy and a great set up for Braxton who then delivers his own jarring lead. Just when you've figured it's done, the three of them begin soloing in tandem, a colorful finale to the individual fireworks. 

akLaff is the star early on the tune 'Klaktoveedesteen'. A pulsating and rolling drum solo kicks off the track, soon the piano starts littering notes about, while Fonda's bass can be heard buzzing in the background. Here, Braxton has abandoned the original structure of the song, opting for pure deconstruction. The melody does eventually return, but only towards the end. It's uptempo, it's upbeat, and it's only ever a beat away from pure disintegration, which it does occur a few times. Interestingly, a later take of the same tune drops the early drum solo in favor of an extended passage of free playing by the horns. 

So, this is just three tracks off the first of 11 CDs. Like Phil Schapp, I've been obsessing over Parker - I mean Braxton - or whomever. What may seem like a straightforward take on the venerable Charlie Parker catalog is really something much more. This box set is a treasure chest whose depth of riches will take a long time to be revealed.

Finally, going back to Broomer's question in the liner notes: "How do you listen to the eleven CDs of Anthony Braxton’s Charlie Parker Project?", hell if I know. I haven't gotten past the first half of the first one yet!

I'm happy to say that this weekend, Tom Burris and Lee Rice Epstein will take us much further and competently into this stunning collection.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Large Unit - Fluku (PNL, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Actually, the Large Unit is a band you have to see live. At the beginning of March they were in Schorndorf, in the Manufaktur, one of my favorite venues. I set forth early to secure a seat in the front row, precisely in the middle, right in front of the horn section and the guitar amplifier, exactly between the two drum kits. In one word: In the eye of the hurricane.

Large Unit, Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 3/3/3018. Photo by Martin Schray

I’ve seen them live before and they’ve always knocked me out, which is why I’ve purchased all their albums: the Erta Ale box set, 2015, Ana, the EPs Rio Fun and First Blow, the compilation Selected Tracks as well. Even on CD/LP you can feel their intensity, their unpredictability, their outstanding soloing, and how they deal with silence. It’s the experience of something primeval, a force of nature, something that resonates in your guts. The Large Unit is about immediacy and purity, they’re like the ugly twin of comparatively high-gloss large ensembles like Fire! Orchestra or the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra (I don’t mean that in a negative way). The music reminds me of very early recordings of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, when they used to work with preconceived material (like on 1/2/3, their 1998 release on Okka Disc, for example).

Compared to its predecessor Ana, which incorporated an expanded line-up of Brazilian musicians, Fluku, Large Unit’s latest album, finds the band reduced to a 12-member core. Of course, the recording cannot quite reflect the captivating atmosphere of a show (although it was recorded live at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo), but it gives you more than just a glimpse of what the band is capable of. Like on their other albums, the Large Unit interlaces tutti riffs with free, blurred and smudgy solo passages, guaranteeing the soloists a lot of freedom by a minimum of organization, which leads to maximum effectiveness.

The title track serves as a perfect example here. It’s a 25-minute monster, from which numerous concertinos are culled. The heads cleanse the ear of the listener for the bustling and complex small ensembles battles (duos, trio, quartets) and sharpen the attention for the improvisational intelligence, the organization of freedom in the music, its brilliance and sensibility. The track begins with a typical Large Unit fanfare-like riff, contrasted by sizzling electronics, white guitar noise, and ruthless drumming. Then the first part just ebbs away and opens the door for one of these reed discussions mentioned above. With the attack of the drums the band stumbles back to the next riff making room for a solo by Mats Äleklint, one of the most intriguing moments on the album. A drum solo heralds the last part, a silent passage, which enables the piece to breathe. The sound here is translucent and quiet, drawing on the power of a chamber aesthetic rather than on unleashed emotionality, mainly when Ketil Gutvik’s guitar crawls in, rounding the piece out with reminiscences of the late great Sonny Sharrock.

Fluku is a superb album, dynamic, adventurous, colorful and innovative. If you have the chance to see the band live, don’t miss it.

The Large Unit is Julie Kjær (alto saxophone, flute), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (Bb clarinet, alto and baritone saxophone), Kristoffer Berre Alberts (alto and tenor saxophone), Thomas Johansson  (trumpet), Mats Äleklint  (trombone), Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), Ketil Gutvik (electric guitar), Tommi Keränen (electronics), Jon Rune Strøm (electric and double bass), Christian Meaas Svendsen (electric and double bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums and percussion), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion) and Christian Brynildsen Obermayer (live sound).

Fluku  is available on Bandcamp:

Watch an extract of “Fluku“ live:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Andrew Drury's Content Provider - Try (Different Track Recordings, 2018) ***½

By Brian Kiwanuka

In the sophomore album by Andrew Drury's Content provider, Try, the drummer continues his habit of being involved in quality experimental jazz. Drury, who handles all of the compositions, is joined by musicians who are also mainstays in the New York avant-garde music scene: Ingrid Laubrock (tenor and soprano saxophones, autoharp), Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone, guitar) and Brandon Seabrook (guitar). Though Content Provider can be quite abrasive, and thrives in that energy, the record also has very well played atmospheric moments. This is notable on "Cassandra", the sole track that features Krauss on guitar.

"Cassandra" is the only non-composed number of Try. Both guitars are key to the eerie atmosphere of the improvisation, Seabrook providing ominous tremolos and chords and Krauss sliding through warped waves of sound. This, plus Drury's subtle, often cymbal focused approach works wonderfully with Laubrock's long and solemn sax lines, making "Cassandra" a highlight of the record.

"Diving Into the Wreck", is another standout, but unlike "Cassandra", the track begins with intensity. The end of long, rising alto saxophone lines are met with explosions of energy from the rest of the band before Drury's powerful drumming pushes the quartet into a strong storm of instrumentation. The tenor saxophone is particularly impressive - Laubrock's ferocious soloing is a great match for Seabrook's erratic style of comping.

The Seabrook and Laubrock combination is effective again on "I'm Doing My Job. Are You Doing Yours?." The track begins with a couple minutes of a surprisingly catchy groove that forms the basis for quick spurts of improvisation from Drury's bandmates, Krauss being in top form here. The second half of the tune features a skillful conversation between tenor sax and guitar that ranges from rigid and harsh to light and spacious. As Laubrock's sax softens, Seabrook switches his guitar from its usual forceful attack to an uncharacteristically airy tone.

Throughout the album, it's clear that Drury has provided another solid example of his talent as a drummer, composer and bandleader. Those who have the privilege of seeing Content Provider live are in for a good show.


Andrew Drury - drums, compositions
Briggan Krauss - alto saxophone, guitar
Ingrid Laubrock - soprano and tenor saxophones, autoharp
Brandon Seabrook - guitar

*Note: there will be release show on April 13th at the Sound It Out series at Greenwich House in New York City.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Naked Wolf - Ahum (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

When Charles Mingus released his classic album Ah Um almost fifty years ago it was perceived as homage to the elders of jazz. In a similar way, the Amsterdam-based international quintet Naked Wolf’s sophomore album follows Mingus legacy. Not only because of its title or a song that quotes a seminal composition from Mingus’ album. More due to the untamed, creative manner that these Naked Wolf blends the free jazz spirit with catchy and open song structures, twisting the eccentric Zappa meets Captain Beefheart humor with raw, primitive riffs and balancing between free-improvisation and fragile lyricism.

Naked Wolf was formed by ex-The Ex's acoustic bass player Luc Ex, the only native Dutch in this group, and features Australian trumpeter-vocalist Felicity Provan, who also sings in a combination of commanding phrasing and a spoiled-melodic Australian accent; Finnish guitarist-vocalist Mikael Szafirowski, whose also sings but his voice sounds as surfacing from inside a dark and smoky bar; Brazilian reeds player Yedo Gibson, and Austrian drummer Gerri Jäger. All five musicians contributed songs to Ahum, two with the help of former vocalist Seb el Zin.

Naked Wolf’s versatile, open interplay enables the quintet to jump fast between different, eccentric poles. Naked Wolf feels at home with the playful and dadaist “Wugiwoo”; the urgent and dramatic “School Der Poëzie”, based on the poem of Dutch avant-garde poet and political activist Lucebert; the chaotic, punkish roll of “Trust Don’t Rye”;  the poetic, spoken-word of Provan on “Coloured Gold” or the catchy “Herrie van de Schonenberg”, where Provan shouts for and seeks a “trick to insanity”. All these pieces enjoy enough room for expressive, immediate solos, mainly by Provan, Gibson and Szafirowski.

Other instrumental pieces like “Untuna but Still Shark”, the funky “Nudge” and the title-piece stress Naked Wolf affinity for free-improvisations and experimenting with free-formed, fast-shifting settings. “Erik Wolfy” may summarize best Naked Wolf aesthetics. It borrows the catchy riff from Mingus’ “Fables Of Faubus” (from the Ah Um album), letting Gibson and Provan pay the obvious debt to Mingus’ close partner Eric Dolphy influential sound, but Naked Wolf charges the catchy theme with tons of electricity and punkish-funky rhythm.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Fukushima (Libra Records, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Satoko Fujii is a phenomenon: in 2018 she has embarked on releasing an album a month celebrating her 60th birthday, and in 2017 she released several albums with her different projects, e.g. Aspiration with Ikue Mori, Wadada Leo Smith and husband Natsuki Tamura, 如月 = Kisaragi, another duo recording with Natsuki Tamura, Neko with Gato Libre and finally Fukushima with her Orchestra New York. This ensemble has been together since their 1997 debut South Wind (Leo Lab/Libra) and has recorded ten albums so far, most of them containing excellent music like Summer Suite (2008, Libra) or Fukushima’s predecessor Shiki (2014, Libra). Fujii keeps several orchestras all over the world, in Berlin, Kobe, Nagoya and Tokyo, all of them including tremendous musicians, but the Orchestra New York is her oldest and most spectacular large ensemble. It’s a super group by any standards, it has remained largely intact over the course of twenty years - around longstanding members like Dave Ballou (trumpet), Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Herb Robertson (trumpet), Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Joey Sellers (trombone), Joe Fiedler (trombone), Curtis Hasselbring (trombone), Oscar Noriega (alto sax), Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Tony Malaby (tenor sax). New on this album are guitar mastermind Nels Cline and drummer Ches Smith, and they really make a difference.

Fukushima is a suite about the nuclear accident in 2011, the five pieces are simply named “Part 1 - 5“. “Part 1“ opens with the simple sound of air passing through instruments, resembling the sound of human breathing, creating a sense of the fragility of human life, before Nels Cline's guitar and Andy Laster’s baritone saxophone entangle each other. Then Ches Smith’s percussion crawls in, preparing the way for the other reeds, the whole piece increases in intensity. The transition to “Part 2“ is seamless, and you can immediately hear the difference to the other albums of the orchestra: With Cline and Smith there’s a greater focus on rock structures and heavy sounds. In the middle of the track, when majestic, elegiac and highly emotional themes are contrasted by litanies of dissonance, warped guitar sounds and the relentless rock grooves we become aware of the full power of the orchestra. “Part 3“ includes the use of electronics reminiscent of Geiger counters, the breathing from “Part 1“ is also back. Moanful duo performances - trumpet and trombone, sax and drums - are interspersed amid anxiety and darkness. “Track 4“ quotes the opening of the album again - just to be followed by shock. Cline shredders his guitar sounds, they are contrasted by monstrous horn statements. The tenor saxophone and trumpet dig their way out of the chaos with a melancholic melody, but their is no sweetness, the straight rock rhythm prevents it. The final three minutes of the 17-minute-track are the most structured ones. A series of fanfare-like themes emerge, Japanese folk tunes are processed, heavy metal riffs are propelled by Stomu Takeishi’s bass. Oscar Noriega is responsible for the epilogue in “Part 5“, its beauty seems to offer closure and a certain degree of hope, although we’re very well aware that the world will have to live with the consequences of the disaster for a very long time.

When the orchestra had a dress rehearsal in Brooklyn’s i-beam in May 2015, I was lucky to be there. Listening to the performance (which was a bit shorter than the ultimate recording) the music first sounded programmatic, but Satoko Fujii said that it was nothing like that at all. The music is to reflect the feelings she has about everything that happened in Fukushima that day - anger, frustration, grief, desparation, disappointment, helplessness. It took her five years to process all these emotions, the music is her internal response. The result is this hour-long-suite, moving, tight and expressive.

Fukushima is available as a CD. You can buy it from or from the label

Listen to “Part 1“ here:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cannibal – s/t (ultra eczema 2017) ****

By Daniel Böker

At the Sonic City festival in Kortrijk in Belgium I bought an album from the band Cannibal. The band consists of Dennis Tyfus, Cameron Jamie and Cary Loren. The first two did a set of 20 minutes at the festival and I was rather impressed by the intensity with which they performed.

On stage it was their voices and some electronic devices to loop and change the things they sang, said and shouted. On the album they are a trio and are more instruments: at the start there is a slide guitar, and in the middle of side A, I believe I hear percussion and flute, though they might be sampled or realized with some kind of electronics. At the center of the two tracks, simply called A and B, the voice is predominant, and electronics and sampling are used to exploit all of the possible sounds.

Track A begins with some guitar tones, no chords just single distorted notes supported by some sampled trumpet sounds after a minute or so. Then, in comes the voice: at first it is just voice, which means there are no words or lyrics to listen to. The voice accompanies the guitar as a very fine match. Single tones screamed into a microphone are changed and distorted after a few moments. As the guitar changes into an undistorted manner, the voice also gets clearer and they (all three of them are vocal artists.) start to tell a little story in a spoken word manner.

During the third part of track A, the musical possibilities of Cannibal come together: the instruments and the electronic sounds are back (as I said in the beginning, there might be some percussion or some sampled percussion and flutes.), the voices sing, shout, speak words and get changed and looped by all the electronic devices Cannibal has at hand.

Track B opens with electronic sounds. Listening to it, it might be based on vocal sounds. They almost create some kind of beat or at least rhythm with these sounds. The voices are the main instruments,  without telling a story in words. This track is the more uneasy track, there is a tension and a restlessness in the music that Track A didn't have. After five minutes the mood changes completely: A kind of piano sound comes in and the voice (again I don't know whose) starts to sing with only a little alienation.

Sounds like from a computer game of the nineties come in and the different voices sing and shout with more changes to them. Again some kind of percussion complements the sound. Change after change. It is not easy to listen to it as a "song". It is rather a kind of live compilation of a lot of different ideas. The listener is often taken by surprise. These changes create the tension I mentioned before. But while listening to it I realized that this tension finds its relief in a kind of humor the music of Track B carries with it.

So especially the second track brings something into the improvised music (and this is what it is - improvised music, recorded live in Brussels) which is, in my opinion rare to find: a solid kind of humor. It is not subtle, it is not just some kind of fine irony (you can find that more often I suppose.) That does by no means say that the music is easy or unintentional. But I found a humor in that music I really enjoyed.

Listening to the music of Cannibal on track B, I almost can see the three of them smile and laugh. Which does not mean that they don't take their art seriously. Because they do. That's what I saw on stage. But there is fun in the different ideas and the surprising turns they take.

Maybe you won't listen to it every day or in every mood. But it is a great album to listen to in a light mood. It is a great album if you are ready for some humor.

Here you can see them at work:

The Rubik's Cube is not just a forgotten toy from the 80's. The fact is that it's even more popular than ever before. You can play with this great puzzle on this link.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Terror and the Beauty

By Eyal Hareuveni

Two releases of European groups that redefine 'free-improv meets free-jazz' as a brutal and noisy genre that matches sonic terrorism with rare beauty.

FS Massaker - s/t (Interstellar Records, 2017) ***½

The origins of the Austrian trio FS Massaker (no connection to the legendary Massacre trio of Fred Frith, Bill Laswell and Charles Hayward) can be traced in the sonic terrorism of local, infamous groups Sex On The Beach and Regolith. These groups of drummer Werner Thenmayer and analog synth player and label owner Richie Herbst focused on harsh walls of noise. The current phase of FS Massaker - with the addition of sax player Michael Masen - expands the raw aesthetics of former groups and suggests dense improvised soundscapes that blend the powerful, Ayler-ian school of free jazz with dark, deep drones.

The self-titled debut full-length of FS Massaker is released on cassette with a Bandcamp download option. The first improvisation is dedicated to Nigerian visual artist and actor Masai Bolaji Badejo, best known for his role of the alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film by the same name. This 30-minutes piece stresses the new phase of FS Massaker as a unit that can shifts quickly from delicate, lyrical segments to a brutal flow of raw noises, then explore super-fast, intoxicating tribal pulse and still manages to charm the frightened listener despite the urgent, electric storms and toxic sonic bites. The second improvisation is dedicated to another cinematic hero, the late Eddie Powell, a regular stunt for Christopher Lee and an actor who played Dracula and the Mummy. This improvisation offers a looser structure that highlights the emotional, powerful sax flights of Masen above the robotic drumming of Thenmayer and the windy synth noises of Herbst. But, as on the first improvisation, FS Massaker still feels at home when it is crisscrosses some turbulent storms and fuses occasional blasts, even if it is doing it in much more civilized manner this time.

Boris Hauf / Martin Siewert / Christian Weber / Steve Heather - The Peeled Eye (Shameless, 2016) ****½

This pan-European supergroup also adopts its own aesthetics of sonic terrorism, inspired by the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock who wanted to “find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song”. This, unfortunately, only release of the doom-jazz, noise-core The Peeled Eye - first issued as a limited edition of 300 yellow vinyls, then later on disc and as a Bandcamp download option - featured four unique, experienced improvisers: British, Berlin-based, baritone sax player Boris Hauf, known from his Chicagoan group that released Next Delusion (Clean Feed, 2012) and who also runs Shameless Records; Viennese guitarist Martin Siewert, known from the groups Radian, (Fake) the Facts (with Mats Gustafsson), and Trapist, and who has played with Hauf in the minimalist electro-acoustic group efzeg; Swiss electric bass player Christian Weber, known as a double bass player who collaborates with American sax players Oliver Lake and Ellery Eskelin or Swiss Omri Ziegele but also experiments with German turntables player Joke Lenz or Viennese vocal artist Christian Reiner; and Australian, Berlin-based drummer Steve Heather who also played in efzeg and recently in Ken Vandermark’s Shelter quartet.

The interplay of the democratic The Peeled Eye is urgent, dense and heavy, bursting with impossible rushes of intensity and sheer power, as if all four musicians had tons of ideas too little studio time. Still, the frequent confrontational, violent onslaughts of Hauf, Siewert, Weber and Heather flow with great focus and tight coherence, sometimes even enjoying massive, addictive pulses, as of Sharrock’s supergroup Last Exit and often its raw interplay brings to mind the naked brutality of Sharrock’s Last Exit partner, reeds player Peter Brötzmann. But this quartet can do even more. “Heavy Quarters” suggests a threatening, enigmatic soundscape that can fit easily in a gory horror film. “Diiiiisko” matches organically skronky noise rock with screaming free jazz and “Nog” offers a delicate guitar solo between the explosive, distorted eruptions. Real shame that this is the only release of this great quartet.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ian Brighton/Henry Kaiser – Together Apart (Fractal, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

This is an interesting album, and good to see (and hear) Ian Brighton on another recording after his comeback album Now and Then from 2016 after a nearly forty year lay-off. On this release each player recorded their parts individually, sending them to one another so that they could then overdub their parts over the existing track, with Henry Kaiser being solely responsible for mixing together the final product.

For an album of improvised duets, it actually starts with two solo pieces, ‘In Memoriam – Jack and Rose Brighton’, and ‘Spoonful’. Brighton’s dedication to his late parents is a beautiful piece full of bell-like harmonics, sustained tones, ethereal sounds and sharp attacks that gradually fade away. This is followed by Kaiser’s solo contribution, the blues piece ‘Spoonful’, which I had doubts about on seeing it in the track listing and on hearing the all too familiar opening strains. However, throughout the course of the piece Kaiser juxtaposes the prominent riff against more angular and fragmented phrases that just about pull the piece in line with the rest of the album.

So to the duets, starting with the aptly titled ‘Getting Started’, a tour-de-force of string harmonics creating an intricate web of rhythmic interplay involving hocketing lines moving from one part to the other. Other highlights for me out of the nine duets include, ‘Sounds of the Soil Pt2’ (dedicated to Tony Oxley, the legendary British jazz and improvising drummer/percussionist) a piece exploring noise based materials such as scraping, rubbing, tapping, and buzzing strings, creating a very direct sounding piece. Then there’s the resonant ‘Cathedral Voices’, with a nod towards ‘The Chapel of Splintered Glass’, a track on Brighton’s first album Marsh Gas from 1977 that also exists within it’s luscious reverberations, although this time utilising studio effects to create the sustained delay and not being recorded in-situ like ‘Splintered Glass, which was recorded at Chelmsford Cathedral. Also, ‘175 & H’, (a reference to the Gibson ES 175 guitar that Brighton uses) a sparring piece that is characterised by it’s cutting attacking notes and sounds, which nearly slips into a fragmented melody with chordal accompaniment structure for the middle section.

One would think that with two very different guitarists that have highly distinctive individual styles the pieces might jar or at best be reduced to a collage only texture, especially due to the way it was recorded. But actually for most of the recordings the individual parts are sympathetic towards one another and blend well as would be hoped for within a duet context. Only the final track ‘In the Last Place’, for me, fails to work as a coherent piece, with Kaiser’s trademark distorted guitar, full of dive-bombing notes, and rock tremolo arm histrionics sitting uncomfortably against Brighton’s much cleaner, direct and honest style. Overall Together Apart is a success with it’s swirling menagerie of harmonics, dissonant fragments, volume swells, and twanging strings that have been freely utilised, mainly within an empathic and sympathetic set of pieces that work, most of the time, with each other’s playing.