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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Tomasz Stańko (7/11/1942 - 7/29/2018)

By Martin Schray

Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko, the great stylist and one of the founding fathers of Polish (and European) free jazz, passed away in Warsaw last Sunday after suffering from cancer and a pneumonia.

The then 20-year-old Stańko appeared on the Polish scene in Krakow in 1962 with his band Jazz Darings, allegedly the first group to play free in Poland at that time. His rough, full, dark and ripe tone had already given him a good reputation, his sound was said to be hot and cool at the same time, which is why he was invited to the fifth “Jazz Jamboree“ festival. There he met pianist Krzysztof Komeda, who hired him on the spot for his gig on the festival the following day. In January 1965 he was part of Andrzej Trzaskowski’s quintet that recorded Polish Jazz Vol. 4, the official booster detonation for free jazz in Poland. However, apart from Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Don Cherry, Komeda, one of the most famous Polish jazz musicians at that time, was to become Stańko’s main influence and supporter. With Komeda's quintet, he recorded the 1966 classic Astigmatic, an album which foreshadowed Stańko’s later music using melodic motives and formal structures as a basis for long improvisations. When Komeda went to Hollywood with director Roman Polanski, Stańko followed him and they recorded the famous soundtracks for Rosemary’s Baby and The Fearless Vampire Killers. After Komeda’s tragic death in 1969, Stańko developed his own style, based on melodies but still free when it comes to harmony and rhythm. He released his first album as a bandleader in 1970 and called it “Music for K.“, a homage to his friend Komeda. The music seems to float but is very down-to-earth at the same time.

In 1976 he started his collaboration with Manfred Eicher’s ECM label and released Balladyna featuring Tomasz Szukalski on tenor sax, Dave Holland on bass and Edward Vesala on drums, an album presenting everything which is so great about Stańko’s music in a nutshell. Also, ECM albums worth mentioning were Matka Joanna and Leosia, with Bobo Stenson (piano), Anders Jormin (bass) and Tony Oxley (drums) since they tried to combine Stańko’s and Stenson’s tender tone with Oxley’s free play. The fruitful collaboration with ECM has lasted until today, the last release was December Avenue (2017), his New York quartet consisting of David Virelles (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Once again the album proves why Stańko was such an great musician: he was interested in new experiences until the end, his music has always been explorative. Ekkehard Jost said that Stańko was one of the few exceptions who was never interested in popular trends and whose music still conveys the atmosphere of departure of early 1960s Polish free jazz.

I’ve always liked Tomasz Stańko for his contribution to large ensembles. He was part of Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra and Cecil Taylor’s Orchestra of Two Continents and his European Orchestra. In all these ensembles full of alpha dogs, his distinguishable voice stood out.
Before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had to cancel his gigs earlier this year he was looking forward to touring in a new quintet with his soul mate, trumpeter Enrico Rava, pianist Giovanni Guidi, Reuben Rogers and Gerald Cleaver. His death is a major loss for the jazz community.

Watch him playing “First Song“ from Balladyna with Pekka Sarmanto replacing Dave Holland on bass:

See NPR's tribute here.

The writers from the Free Jazz Collective will present a tribute to Tomasz Stańko with a personal and selective review of his discography this coming weekend.

Emanuele Maniscalco / Francesco Bigoni / Mark Solborg - FOIL (Ilk Music, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Copenhagen-based trio of Italian pianist Emanuele Maniscalco and reeds player Francesco Bigoni and Danish (but with deep Argentinian roots) guitarist Mark Solborg calls itself a “potentially-folk project”. This trio has developed a chamber interplay that allows all the three musicians to react instantly and freely to each other and create beautiful songs that reflect their strong personal voices. You can always trace the constant, circular-conversational attitude, a seamless flow of sounds and delicate melodic motifs, that is the essential mode of this trio.

The trio's self-titled album (Ilk Music, 2015) already established the poetic and highly melodic attitude of this trio, contrasted by subtle textures, preparations and microtonality. The sophomore album of the trio, FOIL, following many European performances, perfects its unique architecture of sounds and melodies. FOIL recorded at the beautiful and one of the best preserved old renaissance opera house, Teatro Grande in Brescia, Italy (the hometown of Maniscalco).

The 11 short pieces are original compositions from all three musicians, but there is a very thin line between the compositional ideas and the improvised output or between modern jazz elements, free-improv strategies and contemporary music language. The trio plays these pieces as an intimate, three-voices choir that sings folk-like, melodic motifs as contemplative hymns, with great attention to detail and dynamics, making full usage of the great acoustics of the recording space.

But Maniscalco, Bigoni and Solborg do not attempt to adopt a reverent-spiritual language. They spice these pieces with some dirt, raw sounds that may sound out of place in the patient flow and architecture of sounds. The resonating guitar sounds of Solborg on Maniscalco’s “May Be Simple,” corresponding with the hall’s acoustics, and Bigoni’s tensed breathing on the same piece, or Maniscalco ethereal, sparse playing on the title-piece, may sound at first as interfering with the subtle, organic flow. But the investigative-conversational attitude of this trio cherish these delicate, raw interferences as an integral part of its intricate palette of colors and shades, another motif that enhances its nuanced, fertile landscapes. Eventually, the trio embraces and integrates these raw sounds into its open, architectural playground.

Solborg’s two-part “Voices From The Ground” is the most complex piece here. This composition stresses the distinct voices of Maniscalco, Bigoni and Solborg, now sketching a tensed and distant, confrontational dialogue, an exception within the set of meditative textures.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Jason Moran - MASS {Howl, eon} (Yes Records, 2017) ****½

By Alexander Dubovoy

Jason Moran has long been immersed in contemporary art, as well as music. Fortunately, as Moran recently founded the record label [Yes Records] with his wife and fellow talent Alicia Hall Moran, his work in the art world is increasingly reflected in his prodigious record output. MASS {Howl, eon} comes out of a fascinating collaboration with artist Julie Mehretu. The result is a timely, important work, with deep resonances to the history of the American West, as well as a highly enjoyable listen.

Just a few days after the 2016 presidential election, Mehretu began painting the massive murals that now stand at the entrance to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Due in part to their scale, she painted these works at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Harlem, NY. Moran composed the music there while Mehretu painted. The album, furthermore, was recorded inside the church, with Moran on piano, Fender Rhodes, and percussion, Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics, and Jamire Williams on drums.

The space is immediately present, almost as a fourth musician, on the album. Its scale and acoustics are beautifully apparent from the first note, as is its sacred nature. Many of Moran’s compositions gravitate towards the key of Ab because it is the resonant frequency of the church. The pieces, furthermore, take on religious topics in their titles and subject matter. The first track, “Benediction”, begins with Graham Haynes on a beautifully-constructed melody accompanied by pounding piano chords from Moran and march-like drumming from Williams. This tension between a soaring melody and an almost-military backing is fascinating and, I believe, important to the structure of the album. It is a perfect opener because it encompasses the dual instincts which drive the music: idealism and conflict.

In the second composition, “Confession,” Haynes’s cornet playing becomes softer—quite literally confessional. The listener may ask to what Haynes is confessing? I believe the answer lies in the philosophy of Moran’s and Mehretu’s work here, as well as in its relationship to San Francisco. In the American psyche, the West is as much an ideal as it is a real place. Until the 20th century, the West *was* the future. Underlying these lofty ideals, however, was a concerted operation of ethnic cleansing, one which decimated Native American tribes and consequently perpetuated American systems of racial inequality on new land. In the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle as well as now in the entryway to SFMoMA, these artists have created a sacred space for examination—and confession—of this fraught history.

On “Creed”, the music reaches its densest point, characterized by a driving ostinato from Moran, who switches from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes. Here, perhaps more than elsewhere on the album, is the point of greatest conflict, in which the forces of history convalesce most directly. In the subsequent compositions, Moran’s writing fluctuates between extreme density and moments of exquisite space, a technique which mirrors the construction of Mehretu’s paintings. Moran plays most with concepts of compositional erasure on “Responsorial,” a beautifully produced recording in which free jazz fans will feel particularly at-home. At times, it seems he is almost using Mehretu’s works as a graphic score.

As Mehretu expressed in an [interview with Art21], landscapes are always politicized. The Hudson Valley school’s paintings were embedded in the DNA of the Manifest Destiny movement. Similarly, Ansel Adams’s photography is the visual embodiment of the conservation movement. Indeed, the history of land in the American West is characterized by destruction and conquest followed paradoxically by rapid development and conservation. Works that “document” landscape have a direct relationship to and influence on human behavior.

Mehretu, consequently, aims in these works to develop a contemporary mode of representing landscape, one which is cognizant of the sedimentary layers of history and conflict that shape the land. To do so, she began by taking images out of California history, particularly of race riots and injustice, and blurring them. Overlaying these images are a panoply of graffiti-like marks, technological allusions, and erasures. She presents a complex exploration of the impulses that shape present-day San Francisco—a dream of frontier colonization turned into the center of the technological world and a hotbed of rapid gentrification. She, consequently, examines how erasure and omission can shape landscapes just as much as conservation and idealism.

*(Image Credit: Matthew Millman Photography, courtesy of SFMoMA Press Office)*

MASS {Howl, eon} concludes with “Summon”, a beautiful 18-minute piece. It begins with spacious electronic notes and develops organically into improvisations that demonstrate the interactive cohesion of this ensemble. The shifting textures, as well as Moran’s particularly sublime playing around the 12-minute mark, remind me of the structure of Mehretu’s paintings. Eventually and miraculously, it all subsides into a a final melody which feels like the natural counterpart to the initial one in “Benediction.” It is a fitting and satisfying end to a powerful listening experience. This album is a musical treat, a document of a fascinating creative collaboration, and a pertinent examination of historical memory—highly recommended.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Evil Genius - Experiments On Human Subjects (Orenda, 2018) ****

If I’m asked about a jazz trio with tuba, I’m likely to think of Sam Rivers and his tuba trio with Joe Daley and either Sidney Smart (on the Black Africa! releases) or Warren Smith (on The Tuba Trio set). There just aren’t a ton of tuba trios that I’ve come across, so Rivers is more or less my touchstone, which is partly why Evil Genius blew my mind when I heard their 2015 debut, Bitter Human . Now, the trio of Max Kutner on guitar and bass, Stefan Kac on tuba, and Mike Lockwood on drums is back with their sophomore release. Experiments On Human Subjects is everything I heard on Bitter Human amplified by two years of touring, composing, and experimenting.

Evil Genius is one of several bands at the forefront of an emerging LA scene, coming mostly from the extended Orenda Records family (in other words, if you like Burning Ghosts , you will like Evil Genius). Like some other young groups, there’s a driving post-punk rhythm, mathematical prog-like complexity, and wailing free improvisation. But one thing that makes this scene so important right now is their sharp take on the modern world.

Album opener “Skateboarders Versus Security Guards: Double Agents in a Proxy War Between the Forces of Good and Evil” announces its intention in both title and a three-pronged, syncopated opening. As noted in the liners, both this and the comparatively breezy “An Iron Post In a Velvet Footing” grew out of Kac's work as a security officer in the San Fernando Valley. In short, Evil Genius is looking at the world from the bottom up, rather than top down, and seeing us mucking around, fighting each other over meaningless transgressions and missing the bigger forces at work.

But just when that threatens to get too heady, “Tour de Stadt” breaks the mood with Lockwood on a mock-disco hi-hat and Kutner and Kac doubling on a circusy, Braxtonesque melody. When Kac takes a solo, he jumps up at least an octave above Kutner’s bass and extends the range of the trio substantially. It’s an extension that continues to reverberate throughout the album, as on “Asterisk” when Kutner and Lockwood drop a ’90s ska beat under Kac’s solo or on the head-banging middle section of “Colonel Karl Marx and Keenan McCardell.” These are moments when I would swear Evil Genius is at least a sextet, their sound is so impressively large.

The album ends with an appropriately delightful and humorous ode to the inimitable jazz sweater : “The Great Pilling of Pat Metheny's Sweaters.” Kutner’s sound is open and airy, and Lockwood brings a light touch to a song that coasts gently to a close. Evil Genius is remarkably dexterous when it comes to mixing and swapping styles, very much in the vein of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and their music is a great reminder that humor is a potent ingredient, one that’s too often left out of the mix.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Binker and Moses - Alive In the East (Gearbox, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

Saxophone player Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd have a new release on Gearbox records called Alive In The East. My first real contact with their music was when I reviewed their album Journey to The Mountain of Forever after seeing them on Jools Hollands’ BBC Later show. Shortly afterwards when I curated the London jazz Platform festival in London their management and I were discussing them playing. Logistics defeated us then but the interest was born. They have continued to not only continue on their jazz journey but develop different projects and are now one of the forefront duos of the new jazz movement which merges street music, high energy driven power with traditional jazz roots and free improvisation. Many stalwarts of the free jazz scene willingly play alongside these young guns, as the wheel spins full circle and a new breed of strong jazz musicians is coming into their own.

Binker and Moses have collected a wealth of awards including the 2015 MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act, Jazz Fm 2016 awards for UK Jazz Act Of The Year and Breakthrough Of The Year and the Parliamentary jazz Award in 2016 for Jazz Newcomer Of The Year. Binker Golding graduated from Middlesex University and completed his master’s degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has played with Jason Yarde, Denys Baptiste and Gilad Atzmon among many. Moses Boyd was the 2014 Worshipful Company of Music’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year and won the John Peel Play More Jazz Award at the 2016 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards. He has played alongside Ed Motta, Denys Baptiste and Gilles Peterson and leads his own outfits The Exodus (which includes Binker) and Solo Exodus, which infuses jazz, grime, and electronica. He runs Exodus Records label.

Their debut album Dem Ones featured just the duo. On their second CD, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever (Gearbox), they added guests including legendary UK free form saxophone player Evan Parker, trumpeter Byron Wallen, harpist Tori Handsley and drummer Yussef Dayes. On Alive in the East all these are back again. The CD was recorded live at the Total Refreshment Centre in Hackney. The title reflects the East London stronghold of UK jazz. Total Refreshment Centre offers varied spaces for music, recording and other arts projects and has been a valued community-based asset since 2012.

Of the album, Moses comments, “To be able to get all these musicians in a room at the same time is almost impossible, Alive In The East is a rare moment that captured how fun and special it is when we’re able to get together and play on home turf.’

‘Birth of Light’ opens the album and announces in no uncertain terms the energy and fervour of the music on this CD. It is a dialogue between Moses Boyd on drums and Yussef Dayes on drums and percussion and features rapid exchanges with a backwards and forwards motion of each passing the rhythms over and back, including a beautiful fast-delivered tok-tok section, interspersed with Yussef’s inimitable percussive interjections. This is a great piece to open with and it sets up the forward moving direction for the rest of the CD. Just over 3 and a half minutes passes in a flash.

‘How Land Learned To Be Still’ is wonderful, the sax creating colourful music over the percussive and rhythm change laden drums. A mesmeric beat drives this onwards with the percussion and saxes vying for dominance yet never over riding each other. This is great interaction and improvised music rarely sounded so good. ‘The River’s Tale’ is another track which encapsulates the energy and ferocity of this music. The trumpet of Byron Wallen is relentless in its dominance, idiosyncratic in delivery and the speed at which the lines are delivered is both scary and extremely listenable as each note is also somehow crystal clear. The support from the rest of the musicians is beautiful with the rolling rhythm of the drums accentuating the walking motion. Until that is, the final minute when everyone fades away and we are left with fast travelling saxophone over percussion which gradually fades out to end the track. Spontaneous as it feels, this is a contrasting and delightful ending. ‘How Fire Was Made’ features sax playing virtually free, dictating the tempo, under which the percussion comes in to emphasise and support, again showing how this group of musicians pick up and tune into each other’s mood and delivery. The drumming is manic; furious and kinetically challenging to keep up with, the two drummers tracking each other just a half beat apart at times, giving the effect of more than two players here, the rhythms vying with the energetic full throttle sax. Relentless on the ears, yet somehow utterly satisfying. A great track.

‘How Air Learned To Move’ is just over a minute and a half of Evan Parker doing what he does best; freely improvising and clearly mesmerising the young audience and fellow band members. Complete enjoyment, total indulgence, there is nothing more to be said but wonderful. Evan simply showing how he learned to move air.

‘Children of The Ultra Blacks’ is a great track. Over 7 minutes of indulgence. Yussef delivers a wonderful drum section with harp to begin and then the track just builds and grows, a reggae infused beat developing one moment, merging into calypso and then dismantling itself seemingly at will to develop into an off-beat rhythm over which the bop style of the sax (and it is) emerges. The rhythms and echoing of the trumpet, harp and sax get inside your head on this track and the whole unity of it is really beguiling.

‘Mishkaku’s Tale’ has beautiful, whimsical sax over a variety of percussion and drumming riffs and trinklets. The sax works its way to become an exploration of various playing methods, from scale ascensions to strong modal and bop influenced deliveries. Binker demonstrates here perhaps why he is one of the most sought after new guns on saxophone, yet there are plenty of references to players he has clearly studied and listened to – Coltrane, Brotzmann, Coleman and, I might add, Mr Evan Parker. The harp section on this track is beautiful too and takes over from the sax, underpinned by the occasional drum thud initially but then the music develops around the harp until the final flourish involves all the musicians.

‘The Discovery of Human Flesh’ is a spiritualistic track, explorative and interesting because you can hear the very different sax lines, trumpet initially in the background, feeling its way and the drums and percussion varying in intensity, providing a veering to and away from the noise walls. Soon a more rhythmic section is developed with the drums and lead sax creating an almost Caribbean feel around which the rest improvise in their own way until the drums forcefully emphasise a ¾, rest heavy beat and the trumpet emerges as the dominant sound. Reading each other and feeding but the track suddenly ends, clipped off just as it develops which is a shame. ‘Beyond The Edge’ begins with a distinctive sultry feel and the slow grooves set up by the drums and percussion for the first minutes of the track before the rest of the musicians enter around the 2 minutes thirty mark and then it takes off, away and out of the restrictive zones of any kind of genres boxes, this is simply the musicians present listening, feeding and feeling when and where to enter, still and play. The ending is just beautiful. A very engaging listen.

‘The Death of Light’ ends the CD and the harp entry is beautiful, atmospheric and sensual. Then sax enters, gently, sensitive to the aura created before the trumpet too enters, equally sensitive to the atmosphere, the energy level for once below frantic. The musicians create a delicately balanced, sax-led but equally supported by everyone, esoteric musical picture of light. Exquisite.

Binker and Moses and captured something special here, a moment when good free thinking and playing music makers came together in a creative place and made excellent music. Binker and Moses play well and the direction of this recording is different than that of their previous releases, yet with enough references to mark it clearly as their own. The sax particularly shows its well-trained background but this has changed since early days with less imitation and more individuality coming to the playing, helped in no small part I don’t doubt by being around players like Evan Parker who have rarely, if ever (and we are so grateful for this), shown any signs of conformity. This is a great CD. The music is wired, powerful, accessible, energetic yet so strongly linked to many jazz playing styles, it creates the perfect seamless merging of past and present.

A great musician once told me that young people tend to want to see young people playing. Jazz recently has lost some of the young people because there were few young people playing jazz. In the 1960s and 1970s if you were found playing jazz at one of the music colleges, you might even incur a short-term ban. Now, things are different. Here are young people playing, watched by other young people – and this, is jazz!

Binker and Moses are part of the change in jazz which is happening. Though centred around London, the change and energy is spreading like wildfire – and it is a good thing. The first sparks were felt a few years back when young faces began to replace the bearded jazzers at venues and gigs began to be filled, first with a few, then with hordes of younger people. In January 2017 I covered a gig for BBC Jazz on 3 and though the free form band were in their 60s and 70s, over half the audience were young people and were more than willing to give interviews for the radio. They told me they loved the music – this movement has grown with musicians like Kamasi Washington, Binker and Moses, Moon Hooch and many more bringing jazz infused pop, hip-hop, street and blazing music trails, blending jazz into genres seamlessly and with an energy level set at high level by default but as they develop they are also introducing different styles and references into the music. Who can forget Leo Pelligrino taking Mingus’ Moanin’ to a new level at The BBC Proms? Many older players support these new musicians and play with them, actively encouraging the new guard to take over from the old or to merge styles and play alongside – generations melting away- but with an infusion of energy not seen for a long time.

Venues like Total Refreshement Centre in London have been vital in providing spaces where musicians can develop, record, rehearse and meet – and there are others like Café Oto space and others dotted around the capital. These spaces are important for the development of the new wave of artists and musicians and have proved this in no uncertain terms. Unbelievably the local authority in Hackney are considering closing Total Refreshment Centre - this valued community asset. On this, harp player on the CD Tori Handsley says, ‘I believe in the importance of these issues. Venues, promoters , musicians working together is vital especially in our times. We had a ball at the Total Refreshment Centre! The band were on fire and it was an amazing vibe- it just went somewhere. The audience were going wild for it too and that always makes you go the extra mile! TRC, as it’s known on the scene, is such an incredible place and hub for both players and audience. I've played there also with my band Tori Handsley Trio, and it has such a positive, creative buzz. For me it’s all about musicians, promotors and venues working together, and these venues are places we urgently need in society in our current times, to bring people together.”

Evan Parker told me once that ‘when you come to a new place a musician should find local places and go and play in them’ but we need to have these places and venues like TRC must continue to provide spaces for creativity to happen. Gearbox, the label for this release say, “Everything that’s different about this jazz renaissance is encapsulated in Total Refreshment Centre. The audience are people that ‘get’ loads more genres, like grime, hip hop, electronic music and so on. I think the venue oozes that. It’s epoch-defining and one of the spiritual homes of the current London jazz movement.” 

When Binker and Moses first began to make waves, they were a dynamic drum and sax duo. They made an album, it did well, they added guests and played with more and more people. They continue to head the new fusion/jazz/street/high energy movement which is part- just part - of the new renewed interest in jazz music, not only the high energy music of which the pair are one of the key promoters but also deeper, developed jazz, where genres blend and mix effortlessly. Binker and Moses and bands like them, afforded respect by those who went before and also those coming behind are vital in the re-emergence of jazz in the UK.

To go with the release there are 500 limited edition clear vinyl copies available for fans via the Gearbox store and Bandcamp pages.

Bands such as Moon Hooch, Binker and Moses, musicians like Leo Pelligrino, Kamazi Washington – they are all merging seamlessly the music of the streets with the music of the people – jazz , and it is proving a winning formula, though if you are looking for smooth relaxing music you need to be searching elsewhere. This music is wired, powerful and energetic yet the standard classical jazz roots still emerge.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Chrome (Playscape, 2017) ****½

By Derek Stone

For me, 2014’s Blue Dialect was one of those releases that, merely by virtue of the players involved, absolutely insisted on being heard. In particular, two names grabbed my attention: Tyshawn Sorey (on percussion) and Matt Mitchell (on piano). Both of these musicians have carved out an important place for themselves in the world of contemporary jazz - Sorey has achieved this by way of increasingly complex investigations of various modes of expression, from relatively straight-ahead jazz to contemporary classical and, in the case of pieces like “Permutations for Solo Piano,” stark minimalism. While perhaps best known for his astounding work with Tim Berne, Mitchell too has gone on to prove himself as a one-of-a-kind compositional talent, most recently brewing up an mesmerizing, electronics-infused stew on last year’s A Pouting Grimace. Admittedly, though, up until hearing the stunning Blue Dialect, Mario Pavone’s music had eluded me. A few of his works have been glowingly reviewed on the Free Jazz Blog, but I just, well, never got around to hearing them. That’s all in the past. Having spent the last few weeks familiarizing myself with Pavone’s output, I can now count myself as a fan. Chrome is another fantastic entry in Pavone’s discography, and it offers yet more proof that he is one of the finest composers/bandleaders around.

Structurally speaking, many of the pieces on Chrome seem fairly straightforward and traditional; for instance, there’s often a head to which the players can return, an anchor that keeps some of their flightier impulses at bay. The music here is not so much free, then, as it is intoxicatingly loose. “Cobalt,” for instance, finds Matt Mitchell riding lightly on the dense and robust waves stirred up by Sorey and Pavone. Rather than attempt to match Mitchell’s dizzying capers, Pavone prefers to punctuate and undergird them - that is, until he too engages in his own fascinating elaboration of the main melody. Throughout all of this, Sorey is relentless. While some of his other projects find him exploring the intersections of noise and emptiness, here he seems eager to be as densely rhythmic as possible - the result is a giddy sense of movement that injects even the more abstract moments with a joyful, swinging rush. The successfulness of this combination - Pavone’s steadfast approach, Mitchell’s light-footed explorations, and Sorey’s knotty, yet danceable, rhythms - is perhaps largely due to the compositions themselves. In pieces like “Ellipse” and Beige,” extraneous matter is boiled away and we’re left with bare-bones repetitions (often courtesy of Pavone) and, as things develop, slightly mutated restatements of the theme. Within that space, however, the players explore their own avenues of interest, whether those explorations involve unrestrained romps (as is often the case with Mitchell) or focused outpourings of energy (Sorey). It’s a wonderful formula that the group wisely sticks to on most of the tracks.

Not every piece is a high-octane explosion, of course. The aforementioned “Beige” moves at a decidedly relaxed pace, the various elements unfolding in languid, outward-expanding ripples. Instead of the rhythmic bursts he releases on some of the other pieces, Sorey conjures up airy exhalations, each cymbal crash landing like a sign on the dust-blown terrain that Mitchell and Pavone sketch out. The brief and surprisingly tender “Bley” is an elegy for its namesake, and one that likely has a particular resonance for Pavone - the two worked together on 2007’s incredible Trio Arc (with drummer Matt Wilson). Coming as it does between between the breakneck “Conic” and the jagged rhythmic phrasings of the title track, it very much feels like a “moment of silence” for the late, great pianist. The album concludes with “Continuing,” a piece which, fittingly, continues on with the modus operandi found on the rest of the album: Pavone’s supple bass-work, Mitchell’s exploratory cascades, and Sorey’s limber and responsive rhythmic flurries.

For those, like me, who have overlooked Pavone’s past work, Chrome is as good a chance as any to get your feet wet. If you like what you hear, it’s highly recommended that you move on to this trio’s other release, Blue Dialect . Pavone, Mitchell, and Sorey are absolutely electric together, and their combination of influences and styles makes for some of the most inviting, yet adventurous, jazz today.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Z-Country Paradise - Live in Lisbon (Leo Records, 2018) ****

The Berlin-based quintet Z-Country Paradise was conceived by reeds player Frank Gratkowski who has dreamt about such an experimental project for many years - a dream band that will explore dreams interspersed with nightmares, visions, and passions. A band that will flirt with the compositional and improvisational techniques of iconoclastic composers as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti; the intensity of Jimi Hendrix and the electric groups of Miles Davis; the hardcore avant-punk of guitarist Thurston Moore and the experimental performance art of Laurie Anderson.

Gratkowski found a perfect partner-in-crime for this project - Serbian vocalist-actress Jelena Kuljić . She intensifies the mischievous-rebellious spirit of Gratkowski and Z-Country Paradise with her charismatic delivery of poems by French Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) and Serbian-American Charles Simic (b.1938). Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and bass player Oliver Potratz, who has collaborated before with Kalima, charge the musical envelope with tough, edgy attacks, and Christian Marien adds nervous, fractured rhythmic patterns that bring to mind the work of Jim Black.

Live in Lisbon, recorded on August 2016 during the Jazz em Agosto festival, and follows the self-titled, self-produced debut, studio album of Z-Country Paradise from 2015. Kuljić singing-playing-acting is the focal point of Z-Country Paradise. She transform the poetic state-of-mind of Rimbaud and Simic into complex yet playful cabaret dramas where she alternates between several roles and characters, all possessed with urgent passion and emotional power. Kuljić spices her suggestive vocals with tempting mystery and captivating elegance. The four male musicians embrace her delivery with irresistible rhythmic attacks.

Z-Country Paradise unique combustion of words, images, sounds and rhythms transforms Rimbaud’s famous, lustful “My Little Lovelies” to a bluesy, beat poem. Rimbaud caustic humor is updated with Kalima’s psychedelic slide guitar and Gratkowski’s soulful alto sax solo. The surreal prose of Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell” is staged as an intimate conversation of Kuljić with Kalima, enveloped with distant, sudden sounds and pulses, but eventually explodes with cathartic shouts and chaotic playing. The adaption of Simic’s “Clouds Gathering” captures beautifully the subtle drama of this dark, restless poem that anticipates “unhappy endings”.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Roscoe Mitchell - Discussions (Wide Hive Records, 2017) ****½

By Nick Metzger

Roscoe Mitchell has said that the reason he stayed away from writing orchestral works was because he thought that they wouldn’t get played. The cause for his recent reconsideration is that so many offers were coming to him to do concerts with different orchestras around the world, that it allowed him to come into the orchestra on his own terms. ForDiscussions Mitchell selected 4 improvisations from his Conversations diptych with Craig Taborn and Kikanju Baku (FJC reviews here and here ) and had them commissioned for creative transcription by colleagues and students for orchestra, performed here by 19 diverse musicians conducted by Steed Cowart (Mitchell’s Mills College colleague). The remainder of the album consists of two duets between Mitchell on sopranino saxophone and the fantastic Mexican flautist Wilfrido Terrazas, as well as two collective improvisations from the ensemble.

The album begins with ‘Cascade’, the avian-like dialogue between the sax and flute resonates and scatters across the stereo field. Terrazas provides swift runs and percussive pops as Mitchell strews the measures with shrill contours and piercing counterpoint. ‘I’ll See You Out There’ from the album Conversations I is the first of the scored improvisation pieces. The original is very sparse, just Mitchell on reeds and Craig Taborn on piano. They merely suggest a structure, so spare is the instrumentation. The orchestral version starts off quietly as well, with strings replacing the piano parts; other woodwinds, brass, and percussion enter fluidly. The mood of the original piece remains intact throughout, but this time around there is much more ornamentation and drama. The piano introduces itself only towards the end of the piece. ‘Discussions I’ is the first of two improvisations by the ensemble. Horns bleat over tangles of color laid down by the string, vibes, and flute. The piece becomes increasingly busy, with new dialogues being started and others joined. The flutes and vibraphones on this piece are particularly lovely, as they add airiness to the margins that bring balance to Mitchell’s caustic sax runs. The use of the double bass is more prominent in this track as well, with its understated notes sounding off the piece. ‘Cracked Roses’ from Conversation I is the second scored improvisation performed by the ensemble. Similar to ‘I’ll See You Out There’ the original piece is skeletal, with Mitchell and Taborn sketching soft shapes and contrasts against Baku’s drums, which supply the piece with an anxious impetus. Again, listening to the two pieces separately and back-to-back, the orchestral arrangement is incredibly faithful to the original whilst developing on some of the ideas proposed in the improvisation. Suggestions from the original are embellished in the remake, careful listening is rewarded here. The forward propulsion of the original rhythm is present, only with an orchestral percussion sound palette.

‘Frenzy House’ from Conversations II is a study in timbres from Mitchell over Baku’s hyperactive drums. Taborn’s presence is largely in the background, embellishing the clatter with swelling electronics. The scored performance retains the searching feel of Mitchell’s playing on the original, but instead of his lone reed there are now a variety of instruments probing the texture spectrum. The drums build and accent rather than propel the track as vibes, piano, and strings highlight the structures suggested by the original. ‘Home Screen’ is the second collective improvisation from the ensemble. The way the instrumentalists navigate this space is exceptional. There is so much communication and interplay within the group it sounds cohesive. The amount of musical information presented in the piece is striking; themes morph and meld into new themes with a level of interplay verging on telepathic. ‘Discussions II’ finds Mitchell and Terrazas resuming their conversation on flute and sopranino sax. It is 2 minutes of good hard solid dialogue between the instrumentalists. Lots of intensity and again a tremendous number of ideas presented in such a blistering way that it demands repeated listening. When the din of sound subsides and the final piercing notes fade out, Mitchell can be heard calmly and quietly saying ‘Ok, Ok Wilfrido, thanks man’, to which Terrazas emphatically replies ‘Thank you!’

‘Who Dat’ from Conversations I is the liveliest of the four scored improvs. Where the original sees Mitchell on various reeds dueling with Taborn’s electronics and Batu’s rabid snare rolls and cymbal hiss, the scored piece expands on these ideas radically with this 22 minute version of the 6 ½ minute original. An intro of strings recedes into still space occupied by vibraphone, chimes, and percussion pocked with Stockhausen electronics. The brass brings commotion to the proceedings, and a fantastically odd reinterpretation of Mitchell’s original lines on trombone highlights the first half of the track. Brass and strings enter into heated discourse before the piece again falls back to the halcyon and playful dialogue of the electronics, vibes, and percussion. The strings and piano pick back up the levels of buzz and connect in an active interchange with the horns. The piece closes over percussion faithful to Baku’s roiling performance on the original.

This review comes a bit late as this album was released last year but it’s been worth taking the time to try and assess it properly. I hadn’t heard the Conversations albums before writing this review, but as the previous reviewer noted they are certainly worth your time. It was especially gratifying (but not required) to have spent some time with those records when listening to the scored reinterpretations of the originals on Discussions. With the exception of ‘Who Dat’, Mitchell selected sparse pieces that merely suggest forms. Like the use of an underpainting, the orchestral scores were built up on top of these suggestions and provide unique expressions while retaining the ghosts of the originals. ‘Who Dat’ on the other hand takes the experimentalism of the original to new places, and with that progresses the definition of orchestral music. The collective improvisations on this album are well done and enjoyable, and the orchestral performers sound like they enjoy the unique setting and the freedom afforded by this type of music. Roscoe Mitchell continues create art at the highest level, and it’s a remarkable thing that after so many years of innovation he continues to produce some of the most forward thinking music in the world.

‘Youtube Links for ‘Who Dat’
Conversations I Version:

Discussions Version:

FJC Review of Conversations I:

FJC Review of Conversations II:

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Bill Frisell – Music IS (Okeh, 2018) ****½

By Chris Haines

I’d never been a great fan of Bill Frisell, for some reason his music had never resonated with me until last year’s excellent Small Town with Thomas Morgan.  There just seemed to be a clarity on that recording that I hadn’t heard before in his music, so I was interested to hear this solo album, which is his second ‘solo’ record since Silent Comedy in 2013 and Ghost Town in 2000.  So across the sixteen tracks recorded on Music IS, Bill Frisell does it all on his own, with beautifully composed melodies being fleshed out with simple overdubs and clever and creative use of looping.  Again, I’m not much of a fan of looping as it is so often clumsily used, where a repeated pattern just clunks away endlessly sounding nothing more than the machine that produces the sound as opposed to something organic, creative and musical.  Not so here, Frisell’s deft touch and good arrangements of the various parts weave the repeated patterns into the fabric of the music to leave a satisfying whole.  As well as all the writing and arranging, Frisell performs all the parts using a combination of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, ukulele, and various effects.

Music IS contains a whole host of new pieces, but there are also some older pieces of his included on the album that have been given the ‘solo’ treatment.  Tracks such as ‘Winslow Homer’, a piece that lends itself quite readily to a solo, ‘In Line’ and ‘Rambler’, which are respectively less Gamelan and Tijuana Brass sounding and more space age guitar, to paraphrase one of his more recent album titles, and a beautifully simple arrangement of ‘The Pioneers’, as well as ‘Monica Jane’.  There is also an alternate straightforward solo version, without effects or overdubs, of ‘Rambler’ that ends the album as a bonus track.

Out of the new pieces, some of the more notable ones are, ‘Change In The Air’, with it’s haunting melody that sounds like something on Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge album, ‘Thankful’, a lonesome sounding melody with simple accompaniment that brings out the beauty of the piece, ‘Kentucky Derby’ full of reverse guitar sounds and swirling effects in a psychedelic –like manner, and ‘Ron Carter’ a tribute to the esteemed bass player.

For a ‘solo’ guitar album, there is a wide array of colour across the pieces, and Bill Frisell chooses and uses effects to subtly shade the different parts within the arrangements, showing a lifetimes mastery over sounds that can quite easily mask and saturate the audio palette, using them sparingly and to good effect.  As anyone who knows his work will attest, he’s not the sort of guitarist to just show off his chops, everything played has a function and an important part in the music.  This is a truly excellent album where one can get to hear a wonderful guitarist and also a very accomplished musician in a solo setting.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The New Danish Thing - Saxophonist Signe Emmeluth

Danish, Oslo-based alto saxophone player Signe Emmeluth is only 25 years old but already established herself as a leading improviser and composer. She leads the quartet Konge with such heavy-weights as Swedish sax titan Mats Gustavsson, Norwegian double bass player Ole Morten Vågan and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood, and has collaborated with other innovative European improvisers as Norwegian Paal Nilssen-Love, British double bass player John Edwards and and fellow-Danish sax player Mette Rasmussen.

Emmeluth's Amoeba - POLYP (Øra Fonogram, 2018) ****

Emmeluth's Amoeba is Emmeluth debut album as a leader and features Danish pianist Christian Balvig, Norwegian guitarist Karl Bjorå, who plays with Emmeluth on the duo Owl duo is known also from the punk-jazz trio Yes Deer, Norwegian-Copenhagen based drummer Ole Mofjell, who has played with Bjorå in the short-lived trio Brute Force.

POLYP was recorded in Trondheim on October 2017 and offers a set of ten free-improvisations and compositions informed by contemporary music. The title of the album reflects its spirit, flowing but lacking a sense of gravity, just like the dancing movements of the naval plant. But this quartet covers for the shaky, constant-shifting gravity with an immediate mode of operation, letting the musicians’ big ears, well-tuned intuition and passionate curiosity solidify the course of music, wherever it may flow.

Emmeluth says that she hears “music and sounds in shapes and colours, and I’m therefore often inspired by visuals”. Her music do changes its shapes and colors rapidly, always expanding its boundaries and vocabularies. But throughout these changes Emmeluth’s Amoeba moves as a tight, fearless unit. The quartet visits many different terrains. It sounds serene and cerebral on the title piece and on “The Angler Fish”, confrontational and raw on “Magma”, suggesting a fiery-brutal sax-drums duet on “Kolibri”, sketching a gentle, lyrical theme on “Dans”, enjoying the cacophonic tension of “Jerome”and “Silhouette” and sounds playful on the most jazz-y piece here “Ladybug”. “Embryo” is the most complex and ambitious piece here, shifting constantly and organically between collective sonic searches, g a delicate, almost transparent theme and surprising bursts of raw power.

Emmeluth herself sound as a strong, opinionated improviser and bandleader who is well-versed in the legacy of Peter Brötzmann and Gustafsson.

Listen to the music here.

Tigerfish & Lioncats - Stop Walk (Self Produced, 2018) ***½

Tigerfish & Lioncats is Emmeluth’s duo with Norwegian drummer Vetle Larsen. This duo began playing together in 2015, exploring elements of contrasts, impulse persecution, timbre, and spontaneity within free-improvisation. Tigerfish & Lioncats’ model was the British duo of sax player Trevor Watts and John Stevens, in its turn informed by the iconic, fiery Interstellar Space sessions between John Coltrane and Rashied Ali.

Tigerfish & Lioncats’ debut album, Stop Walk, was recorded in Austin, Texas, on September 2016, immediately after the duo performance at the local Sonic Transmissions festival. The festival founder and curator, bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten produced the session and played on four pieces.

The duo interplay is more urgent and open than the one of Emmeluth's Amoeba. Emmeluth and Larsen sound as challenging each, again with shifting improvising strategies. Tigerfish & Lioncats can be innocent, playful and all over the place on “1+1=3” and the title-piece, lyrical and emotional on “Funeral” and “Ballad” or simply restless and searching on “Metal”. Håker Flaten adds more depth and color when he plays the electric bass. On “Lille My” he charges the emphatic interplay of the duo with manic energy, pushing all to extreme, cathartic meltdown. He colors the sparse interplay of “Parallel” with mysterious, distorted sounds and intensifies the rhythmic dance of “Afro”. The “Ballad with Bass”, with Håker Flaten on the double bass, is the most beautiful and touching piece, shining with its serene peacefulness.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

John Coltrane Quartet – Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album: Marking a Transition

The more I stare at the cover photo of this release, the more I become obsessed with it’s capture of what I think is the spirit of these four musicians working together. Focused but relaxed they seem, while the photographer chooses an angle that does not discriminate the big name from the others. A rather egalitarian choice but not one by coincidence.

Coltrane’s classic quartet stands out as his best. My personal favourite, though, will always be the late incarnation of his free music with Rashied Ali, Pharoah, Alice and the small rotation of musicians. But the quartet consisted of four amazing artists which, at some point, drifted apart following artistic and even personal differences. It happens in real life, why not in music?

But during the time these recordings took place, March 1963, this was not the case. It was a time of transition (a key word for me) for the Coltrane sound, but also a time that these guys were the thing to catch in modern jazz. Their music, as heard in already existing recordings but also in this one, was the post-Bird bop that was transforming itself into something that incorporated more freedom like the struggle for civil rights of the African-American people in the States demanded. Unlike others Coltrane chose never to engage in political causes but music has its ways of non-spoken communication. The quartet’s music was one of the prime choices for those concerned with the movement.

But that was not Coltrane’s choice. Not long ago, while I was trying to put together another piece for John Coltrane, I came across an interview of the great late Rashied Ali. At some point he stated about “Coltrane’s resolution” but, unfortunately, without making clear what he meant. Putting my own thoughts on other people’s words, I always believed that while his physical health deteriorated, his spirit was lifting all of the people listening to his music higher. As he was coming closer to his death he gave more and more. That was his resolution for me.

The importance of this recording is not so much about the music. It is the chronological value of it. As I already mentioned, it seems to mark the beginning of a transition, a path that eventually led him (but of course not alone) to a music free from all constraints, a spiritual message of freedom, devotion, pathos and love like no other. By early 1963 John Coltrane had already started taking big steps in this path and while he accelerated his fellow musicians couldn’t keep up thankfully for us, since he found others who could.

It must be mentioned that the title of this release is a well chosen one. When you put the record on -especially on the never heard before excellent tracks- you definitely feel that this is a two way street. One looking back, the other going straight-ahead forward. We don’t have second thoughts though. Impulse is going to make some money out of it, as this is for me the archival recording of the year. I just wish they’d be more “lost” records form the era of Ascension and on. Until then play this record on your turntable again and again as there are a lot of impressions but meditations were still to flourish.

@ koultouranafigo

John Coltrane Quartet – Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album: Thoughts on a Beautiful Creation

 By Tom Burris

Who is buying the single-disc version of this album – and why? We all know the double-disc version is for us – the fanatics, the disciples, the total music nerds who can't do without a single note the great man played. You'll know when you play it that the first record is “an album” with all the baggage that this word carries. And it will be thought of this way by future generations of Coltrane listeners, in the same way we consider Trane's other posthumous LPs – including Interstellar Space – as completely cohesive statements that stand up next to works the man himself envisioned as unified collective works in the 1960s.

My first listening experience to the album was probably not too unusual. I expected to be enveloped in the magic of the classic quartet & I was. It also sounded like the transitional work it has already been lauded in the press as being, straddling the line between the quartet's sessions for Atlantic in the early '60s & the more adventurous material Coltrane would go on to create for the Impulse label. After Side A ended, I flipped the record over. The lights were dim and I didn't have my glasses on & couldn't read the label. I thought “I hope they had the good sense to put “Impressions” at the beginning of Side B” a mere second before that familiar theme began to blast out of the speakers. “Yes!” I shouted, forcing my ugly meat-fist in the dog's face for a bump of solidarity.

The single-disc version of Both Directions At Once is for the ages and the whole world. It brings me as much joy as seeing that new documentary on Mr. Rogers did. Once upon a time there were beautiful creations made by compassionate people who filled the world up with messages of love and inclusiveness. Also, a long time ago Miles Davis said “All of us jazz guys are gonna have to line up and kiss Duke's ass.” I think I'm ready to do that for Naima Coltrane's family for bringing this album into existence. Who's coming with me?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

John Coltrane Quartet - Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album: A Note

By Stuart Broomer

The release of Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album and its reception say a lot about the current state of the record business and the current state of jazz. It debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard Top 200 and was No. 1 on both the Traditional Jazz and Jazz charts. For me, the most remarkable thing about those figures is that they came from Forbes, a financial magazine, not some place I’d expect to read about a Coltrane record. The figures highlight the need for iconic creative figures in jazz at a time when the “business” is focused on “sophisticated” easy listening, while the creative energies of improvised music—in part the legacy of John Coltrane—live vigorously outside the marketplace. Fifty-five years after the fact, it testifies to the ability of four musicians to track an hour and a half of music in a single session, and the ongoing desire for physical media (It’s available as CD or LP and in a deluxe edition with an additional CD or LP of alternate takes). It also suggests a surfeited audience that can grasp at another example of a single dead artist’s work while missing so much of what’s currently going on. 

Coltrane’s quartet conception was incredibly important in jazz, and not just because it went in “both directions at once,” but because it went in numerous directions “at once.” In the late ‘50s jazz was in a period of tremendous ferment, creatively developing both its own resources and its social meaning, increasingly turning to different forms of blues, gospel, social protest and experimentation. You hear it most explicitly in the music of Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins—you were getting jazz that was being reshaped by a changing consciousness, from the civil rights movement to the sudden availability of world music recordings.

What Coltrane developed in the quartet was depth experience, and it came in two forms: one was the absolutely exploratory side of his tenor playing, the long solos that stretched to the limits of density, velocity and intensity (e.g. the 1961 Village Vanguard “Impressions” and “Chasin’ the Trane,” the latter listened to closely to the end, so that after the 16-minute onslaught you hear the single-note cheer from Eric Dolphy’s alto); the flip-side of that was the drone-based soprano saxophone music that was a kind of homing-in: the resemblance of the instrumental roles in “My Favorite Things,” for example, where the band is virtually drawing an absolute connection between the dynamics of a jazz group and the spreading calm of Indian classical music, which is built around a dialogue between a melodic instrument and drums with an accompanying drone that centers that dialogue. Part of the greatness of Trane was his willingness to go on forever, making a set a single tune.

The quartet complemented that drive and its particular form: it was all about insistence: bassist Jimmy Garrison’s pulse, pianist McCoy Tyner’s reductive chordal repetition and drummer Elvin Jones’ polyrhythms, the way he could press ahead and backwards at the same time. The Coltrane quartet was a pressure cooker, a machine for intensity, a house of intensity in which Coltrane could express his own sense of pressure which was also the pressure of the time—both terrifying and ecstatic. In recent times you get bands that are much more “free” in their approach to structures, but which rearrange that sense of creative pressure—like the late David S. Ware’s quartet with Matt Shipp and William Parker, or the trio of Evan Parker, Barry Guy and Paul Lytton. In free jazz rich Lisbon, musicians like Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio and the Red Trio are long-range developments of that kind of focussed intensity. When the musical pressure in the Coltrane quartet became too great it blew apart, becoming something else, the final quintet, with appropriate valves and openings.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, in the two-CD version, is about 90 minutes of music recorded in a single day, intense, complex, coiling music with multiple takes of two untitled originals and short studio versions of pieces well known from long live or later recordings, “Impressions,” “Nature Boy” and “One Up, One Down.” It’s an intimate look at Coltrane’s creative process in the studio, the different approaches to the same material, and the way he was always finding new ways to put the music together. The longest track, the 11-minute “Slow Blues,” is literally multi-dimensional in the way it both directly invokes the expressive tradition of blues and the way in which Coltrane will suddenly insert twisted, harmonically-outside phrases, so that it’s literally two blues at once, one deeply traditional, one highly personal.

One of the things the Lost Album highlights is the operations of record companies in the history of jazz.

While Both Directions at Once represents Coltrane’s demanding, deeply personal art, Impulse Records much preferred to market him as a mainstream artist, literally one who played brief renditions of familiar tunes, sometimes with only melodically decorative variations. The previous studio sessions to Both Directions at Once that were released immediately were Ballads and Duke Ellington & John Coltrane; Coltrane and the quartet recorded Both Directions at Once on March 6, 1963; the next day, they were back in the studio to record John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, with the great neglected, jazz balladeer. These are all beautiful records, but they’re also virtually “easy listening” music (I mean nothing pejorative by this: it’s a broad category that describes an experience rather than an art: depending on use Scarlatti, Mozart, Debussy and Ellington can function as “easy listening music”). My point, rather, is that Both Directions at Once reflects a Coltrane that his own record company was barely interested in trying to sell.

In the day-to-day life of the band, the next studio session, from April 1963, had the veteran Roy Haynes temporarily replacing Elvin Jones.

Some of this material developed in an interview with Gonçalo Frota of Lisbon's Público (

Friday, July 20, 2018

Kongsberg Jazz Festival, July 2018

By Paul Acquaro

Early(ish) on an unseasonable warm and bright Saturday morning in Norway, the final day of the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, I was at a kiosk poking at the festival T-Shirts. I was looking at the colorful wheel logo of the main festival shirts, but was also intrigued by the more suggestive line drawing of a person with a cigarette on a different one. "That is the special shirt," said the woman tending the booth, "it means you were a part of the festival that’s not for everyone." She was speaking about the Saeringfest - the festival within the festival - the one where John Butcher and Joe Mcphee played, along with Kaja Draxler and Susana Santos Silva, as well as Mat Maneri and Ståle Liavik Solberg, among many others - had played the previous evening. "Yes," I replied, "I'll take that one."

Kongsberg is a small industrial city about an hour West-North-West from Oslo nestled in a valley. Coming down into town you see the ski slopes (now green with leaves and grass) and then a dense orderly jumble of homes and industry. In the middle of the city is a wide fast flowing Numedalslågen river with a set of man-made and natural waterfalls that had at one point driven the industry. It was an old mining town, and I was told that now the main industry is making bombs. Wikipedia does mention that Kongsberg is where a large defense contractor is located, so I am assuming that my informant was correct. This particular early week in July, the whole town is transformed by the Kongsberg Jazz Festival into a bustling zone of street food vendors, techno-music blaring indoor/outdoor venues, and a confluence of people attending all of the festivals within the festival. It was a brilliantly programmed to bring together almost anyone ... for example, you could see Aha, Sting and Shaggy, and the Dum Dum Boys and nothing else if you'd like. Or you could focus on the well oiled jazz machine of the Chick Corea Akoustic Band, Mike Stern and Randy Brecker, and Greg Osby. Or you could go further off the beaten path.

Often, that non-beaten path was down to the historic building which housed the old silver smelters in the old part of the city by the river’s edge (as close you can get, for some reason a swift moving road lines one side of the river). Here is where the Saeringfest was held as Aha was lighting up the night nearby next to the historic Kongsberg Church. However, this is not where this story begins…

THURSDAY, July 5th 

Clashes (accordionist Ida Lovli Hidle & Ensemble Allegria)
I arrived in Kongsberg around 3 p.m. on Thursday. I had really hoped to see guitarist Hedvig Mollsted and her trio performing, Mollestad's music tends towards metal ‘jazz’ and this concert promised to be an interesting commission based on the paintings of Ornulf Opdahl. I was not familiar with his work before, but it does seem to complement Mollestadt's heavy approach. Instead, I began my day at the historic Kongsberg Church, seeing "Clashes", a classical/jazz mix that also involved a bit of theater. The opening sequence featured accordionist Ida Lovli Hidle, who dressed in old fashioned clothing, wandered up to the stage where she met up with the chicly clad Ensemble Allegria. Admonishing words were pantomimed between the lead violinist and the accordionist and the light tune she had been playing turned self-conscious and fearful. Riffing off the clash between the orchestra and soloist, they engaged in a captivating give and take. The rich interplay grew tenser and tenser and the orchestra began verbalizing. Then, they whispered harshly "Do you think you can just come in for free?" Then, hitting a musical stride, the tone turned darker, and they said "go away!" It was hard to not hear it without thinking about the current sentiments in Europe about migrants and refugees. The irony of course is how incredibly lovely the music that they made together in this turbulent dance.

Erlend Apneseth Trio
Photo: Ron Jansen
As the group started on their next piece, I made my way to the modern concert/movie hall a little further over the hill, to see the Erlend Apneseth Trio. Apneseth plays the Hardanger fiddle, a traditional Norwegian instrument with 8 or 9 strings - four playable strings like a violin and the others sympathetic ones vibrating below the fretboard. The trio, with guitar and drums, had reached a droning crescendo at the point in which I entered the hall, and carried these vibrations to a climax. With an array of acoustic instruments and a pile of electronics next to the guitarist, the group drew deeply on folk music but with obviously more modern rhythms and treatments to create mesmerizing songs. Charged with long repeating segments and exhilarating accelerations, the group played an exciting, but simultaneously, relaxing set. 

Jon Rune Strøm Quintet
Photo: Hans Christian Graaner
I followed this up with the Jon Run Strøm Quintet at the Energimolla rock club set in a historic brick building at the very bottom of the valley, on the other side of the river. Bassist and group leader Strom writes catchy and quite rhythmic jazz that plays off traditional free jazz and hard bop, and is brought to life by trumpeter Thomas Johansson, saxophonist André Roligheten, second bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen, and drummer Andreas Wildhagen. All four players are deeply entwined in the Oslo music scene which hosts other high octane jazz groups like Cortex, Gard Nillsen's Acoustic Unit, and Friends & Neighbors (to name just a few!). The set opened with the two bassists playing kicking up a cloud of musical dust, while the horn players stood in between with eyes closed. The drums came in, one bass began a more tuneful bass-line and then, the sax with a theme that at times pushed the technical edges of the sax but never went totally over the top. The trumpet took over and with laser like focus pushed the band up to the next notch: the music was alive! The compositions are vehicles for the horns, and Strom’s rhythmic concepts allow for a great deal of freedom and invention but never leaving the 'tune' behind. This is true for the basses too, Svensen delivered a deep and sinewy accompaniment-free solo and then was joined by Strom for a tasty contrast of styles, which finally wrapped seamlessly back into the group. Check out their recent Clean Feed recording here.

En Corps
Photo: Morten Kolve
The last concert I attended was on my highly anticipated list - no, not Sting and Shaggy who were playing up by the church, but rather En Corps, with pianist Eve Risser, double bass player Benjamin Duboc, and drummer Edward Perraud. The piano trio lit up the end of year lists on the blog back in 2012 and only followed up in 2017 with their second album. Risser just released a duo album with pianist Kaja Draksler and a tremendous large ensemble album White Desert Orchestra two years ago. The group began by playing with expectations - a quiet rattle from the prepared piano, gentle droning notes from the bass, and a splash of high-hat. As the music picked up not a sound or note was out of place, be it a scape of the drum or pluck of a muted piano string, each carried the music a bit further with purpose and poise. When the change came, the stage had been set, and it came as a sweet surprise: fleshier chords, thicker bass lines, and the percussion switched from a pulse to a rhythm. The repetitive piano figures were interspersed with intricate passages and the group soon became a tightly controlled tornado of sound. The climax came over an hour into the long arc of the piece, after an intense drum solo and an ecstatic piano pressing again and again on a chord until it was bouncing off the brick walls and low ceiling of the Smeltehytta.

FRIDAY, July 6 

Scheen Jazzorkester & Thomas Johansson
Photo: Odd Eirik Skjolde
At 2 p.m. the 12 members of the Scheen Jazz Orchestra, led by trumpeter Thomas Johansson, filled the deep stage of the Energimolla. The first blast of the band announced the bombastic anthem which they would return to again later. It quickly changed into a driving groove and a core piano, bass, drum and guitar (Even Helte Hermansen of Bushman's Revenge bringing some of the power!) Johansson was stationed towards the side, directing the band, and signaling the return to the theme which rose in energy each time it came around. They broke into a freer section featuring an out solo by the alto saxophonist. Then Johansson and the tenor saxophonist engaged in some free playing, bouncing sounds off of each other, picking up on each other’s ideas. Other textures came into play as well, a flute during a reflective moment, a piano led small group interlude, all adding to the shifting tonal pallet. The packed house burst into applause at the end and as the band began an encore song.

Chick Corea Acoustic Band
Photo: Birgit Fostervold @knipselyst
After a quick bit of trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and drummer (and one of the festival organizers) Stale Liavik Solberg performing at a small art gallery nearby (I was only able to catch the final moment of their performance), I checked out the Chick Corea Akoustic Band performing in the large Kongsberg Musikkteater. I owe a lot to Corea, in fact one of my first CDs that I ever owned was Romantic Warrior from Return to Forever, bought used at Pier Platters in Hoboken, NJ. I was malleable enough to dig the baroque fusion and it led me to Corea's first Akoustic Band album. The group, Corea, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl began with 'Morning Sprite' off their eponymous album. A highlight was Corea’s tune 'Life Line', which featured the angular melody and exciting syncopations he is known for. However, it was Pattitucci's bass solos that had the audience erupting into applause each time. I had hoped to catch the festival's featured artist Marius Neset sitting in Corea. Neset has been described as " reinvigorating the post-70s fusion ‘big tenor’ tradition of Michael Brecker, Chris Potter and Jan Garbarek", and I could imagine it being a nice match. However, things were piling up and I was eager to get on to the next event.


The Saeringfest, back in the Smeltehytta, was the center piece (for me) of the Kongsberg Jazz Meeting part of the festival, perfectly programmed for adventurous listeners. Drummers Solberg and Paal Nilssen-Love - whom also curate the Blow Out! festival in Oslo in August, booked this festival within the festival, and themselves book-ended the venturesome performances. The care and thought behind this series was evident from the line up to the sequence to the setting. In the dark, medieval-feeling setting of the old smelter.

Pascal Niggenkemper (b), John Butcher (s), Agnes Hvizdalek (v), Joe McPhee (t/s), Stale Liavik Solberg (d, not in pic)
Photo: Mats Even Omberg
Opening the event was a quintet consisting of vocalist Agnes Hvizdalek, trumpeter/saxophonist Joe McPhee, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, saxophonist John Butcher, and Solberg. Hvizdalek began with an array of sounds from click and chirps sounding like her own language, as the others filled in behind. Butcher made the first move away from the groups’ collective churn, playing a series of overtones while answering in his own dialect. McPhee then took over with a spirited passage on trumpet and saxophone, alternating between melodic lines, overblown sax, and the occasional vocal outburst. The vocal solo was the most unusual collection of pops and clicks, and was a good match for Solberg who peppered his playing with scrapes and slides in response, and Niggenkemper, with his trademark lamp shades, provided both bass and buzz to the underlying sound. The music was a beautifully connected collective effort, together spinning an unusual world of sound.

Randy Peterson, Mat Maneri
Next up was the duo of violist Mat Maneri and percussionist Randy Peterson - a collaboration with a long history which showed throughout their strong performance. Maneri played deeply engaging melodies and Peterson pushed and prodded the violist. Moments of quiet inflection befit the spare instrumentation, but they also filled the room with a booming intensity. The flow of ideas was non-stop with Maneri dramatically using double stops and sonorous legato notes. However, it was a solo by Peterson that was the highlight of the set – so inspired that the audience burst out in such appreciative applause that the musicians just stopped, nothing more needed to be said.

Kaja Drakler and Susana Santos Silva
Following the energetic arc of Maneri and Peterson came the piano and trumpet duo of Kaja Drakler and Susana Santos Silva. The duo released 'This Love' on Clean Feed a few years ago and their connection as a duo was as intense as the previous one, but expressed differently. Drakler's prepared piano provided a vibrating underlayment to Silva’s microtonal explorations, creating together an ethereal atmosphere. Together, they seemed to be looking inward and listening closely to each other. The pianist struck a delicate balance between notes and prepared sounds, and Santos responded lithely. A blast of extended technique followed, a rumble of the piano’s lower end and shaping of the strings along with fuzzy blasts from the trumpet came together in an fervent union.

Arashi: Paal Nilssen-Love, Johan Berthling, and Akira Sakata
The last group was Arashi, the turbulent trifecta of saxophonist Akira Sakata, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The group’s name means “Storm” in Japanese and they lived up to it wholeheartedly starting with a blast of sound that could have been mistaken for the historic smelter firing up. It was classic free jazz brimming with technique and passion. PnL was a precise percussion machine, giving the group its throbbing pulse. However, the duo of Berthling and Sakata could have held their own. Sakata saxophone played with a mixture of passion and technique (a mix of Brotzmann and Vandermark) in an interrupted flow (like Irabagon), while tearing at the instruments seams. His clarinet playing revealed a more introspective side, just as expressive, though a bit gentler. At one point, Sakata turned in a vocal performance, throat singing nonetheless and then deep growling words in Japanese, that was at once startling and perfectly organic. The group’s control was impressive, and their ability to dial it in and turn it up gave the show a dramatic flourish the encapsulated a thoroughly engrossing evening of music.

Leaving the hall into the light Norwegian night, the famous opening rift to Ah-Ha’s “Take Me On” wafted over the streets and, though I had had enough sound for the day, I still wandered over to the Energimolla for a musical night cap by the energetic "Afrobeat, Ethio-jazz and big band funk" fun of the Goran Kajfes Subtropic Orchestra.


I awoke Saturday looking forward to the trio of the legendary pianist Bobo Stetson and drummer Jon Christensen, with the soon to be legendary Fredrik Ljungkvist (I’m basically ripping this description from the program notes). Again at the Energimolla, I made sure to get to the club a bit early to get one of the coveted barstools on the upper level, and sat with two long-term Kongsberg Jazz Festival attendees from Tromso. Chatting a bit, they told me about older festivals and how this one had grown so much over the years. Our conversation soon turned to what we’ve been listening to, rare record finds, and up and coming musicians we’re excited about. Avant-garde music, the universal language on unity.

Bobo Stenson, Jon Christensen, Fredrik Ljungkvist
Photo: Birgit Fostervold @knipselyst
Stetson's trio began with slow and spaciously with flowing runs and pointed notes. Ljungkvist's playing was energetic but restrained, you could feel the potential energy behind it as he pushed at the light structures being floated by the pianist. Christensen's spare clatter against the drum’s rims, along with the cymbal splashes added color but also hinted at a greater force to come. After the first minor flare up, Ljungkvist switched to clarinet, and the woodsy sound melded nicely with the with piano and drums. The music took on a classical bend, delicate an assured, each note meant to savored and enjoyed. The pianist and reed player bounced off each other as Christensen's drumming provided a running commentary. They segued into a bluesy tune that moved at torch ballad speed, and Stetson found some Monk-ish voicings to offer. An energetic tune followed, with strongly articulated angular lines from the saxophone and fierce block chords from the piano. The dry spare sound of the group veered between the romantic and adventurous always with thoughtful motion and grace. A rather perfect start to the day of music.

Avanthagen: Oslo 15 & Sofia Jernberg
Photo: Magnus Stivi
Next, I made my way back to the site of last night's Saeringfest and took a seat for a series of performances that could in a sense be considered an encore to the previous night, even reprising some of the musicians. First up was Avanthagen: Oslo 15 & Sofia Jernberg. The all vocal group gave me pause, at first, as I am not the most amendable to vocal improvised music, however the presence of Jernberg, whose work with the Fire! Orchestra and some other groups over the years has impressed me. The group began with a weary sounding "ahh", followed by chirps, guttural moans, and a buzzing like a hive of bees. My curiosity was piqued and defenses lowered. They proceeded with an evolving set of sounds, seemingly led by certain unusual sounds, which I attributed to Jernberg. There was some sort of use of an iPad as well, perhaps guiding the musicians to act together, creating sounds and passages along varied tonal themes. Individual voices would rise above the group, sometimes conveying strife, consonances, and sometimes just weirdly alien sounds. I overcame quickly my original prejudice, and enjoyed this effecting and engaging performance. 

Mazen Kerbaj
Photo: Magnus Stivi
Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, of the "A" Trio, came up next with his instrument and a table full of accessories - like plastic tubing, lids, and little rattly things. His prepared trumpet consisted of, at first, attaching the long tube between the trumpet and a saxophone mouthpiece. Placing the lid above the horn's bell, which sat upright on his lap, he began blowing into the tube. More like an industrial era engine than an instrument, the sound was a mechanical whir that he kept adding more to, as he slowly manipulated the sound through the intensity of the air pressure. His Rube Goldberg approach to the trumpet was visually captivating, as its operation was magical, and sonically unusual. 

John Butcher and Akira Sakata
Rounding out the short series was a duo of woodwind players John Butcher and Akira Sakata. At the previous night's mini-fest, they both played contrasting shows, Butcher probing and Sakata fiery. Meeting up here, their two distinct styles came together well. Starting out quietly, they soon reached an assured middle ground. With Butcher on tenor and Sakata on alto, they moved through rapid scales, flirted with extended techniques, and blurred notes together. Moments of swirling saxophonics were hypnotizing - and when the pitch really rose - demanding. At one point, Sakata took out a small bell, and with throat-singing and an idiosyncratic language of sounds, gave Butcher a unique challenge to respond to on his soprano sax. They ended as they began, Butcher on tenor, Sakata on Alto, confidently twisting about each other, looping over, under, and through each other’s musical threads.

Tanaka, Lea, Strønen
Photo: Christian Haukeli
The evening's concerts began with the trio of drummer Thomas Strønen, pianist Ayumi Tanaka, and saxophonist Marthe Lea. The delicately expressive group played fittingly against a huge floor to ceiling windows looking out on what could be an ECM album cover - if you took away the ubiquitous construction crane in the middle of the frame. They began with a minimal repetitive figure under floating chords, gentle notes from the sax, and a guiding pulse from the drums. Suddenly, they built up to a fast peak, then, they let it go. Strønen's drumming, on a kit extended with a giant concert bass drum, is an expressive and reliable well of inspiration. He guided the group suggestively from his seat, while Tanaka's approach on the piano seemed to gentle extract the notes from the keyboard, rather than percussively striking them. Lea's tone on the saxophone was strong and a perfect complement to the crystalline tension between Tanaka and Strønen. Lea's restlessness on stage had a little bit of a distracting effect however, walking around when not playing sax, she struck strings within the piano, and tossed percussion elements around stage, which seemed a bit extraneous. Regardless, just the opening moments of this young trio’s music was enough to soothe any fears about a next generation carrying forth the cool "Nordic Sound", their gentleness, quiet urgency, and reserved storminess demonstrated the music is in good hands. 

Marius Neset Trio (not in pic)
Photo: Svein Bjørnsen
One of the feature concerts was artist in residence saxophonist Marius Naset's trio with guitarist Lionel Loueke and cellist Svante Henryson, which was held in what amounted to a steel cage inside the town's mid-century circular movie house (which has probably been replaced by the gorgeous new movie theaters across town where I caught a screening of the John Abercrombie documentary "Open Land" - a must see for appreciators of the late guitarist). Playing Naset's compositions, the music was a mixture of classical, jazz, and folk - with a strong strain of Americana emanating primarily from Henryson but also reflected in some of Loueke's voicings and skeletal chord choices. The guitarist also vocalized behind his guitar lines. Naset wove delicately behind and before the strings, sometimes shadowing the chord melodies, and other times soaring over them. The music was convincingly modern with its syncopations and occasional rock-like passages, but at the same time folkish in it directness and earthiness. A short solo piece from the cellist, steeped in American folk and bluegrass, with counterpoint, double stops, and a finger picked like melody, was jaw dropping. The groups smooth transitions obliterated the stylistic boundaries but at the same time, their virtuosity never obscured their music.

Christian Wallumrod and Madga Mayas
Photo: Magnus Stivi
Back at the smelter, pianist Magda Mayas and electronics wizard Christian Wallumrod were refining the air around them. Mayas plucked at the strings in the piano while Wallumrod produced dark electronic noises. There was no hard delineation between the acoustics and electronics, it all blended into a steaming ingot of sound. Mayas moved from the piano to the Clavinet, however the overall effect of their efforts was to stay the course, with a rhythm established by the electro-acoustic pulsations and the unconventional extracting of sounds from their instruments.

Like the night before, the day ended at the Energiemolla, this time with violinist Ola Kvenberg’s energetic show the was a cross between a jam band, virtuosic prog rock, and early fusion. A perfect ending to a musically adventurous and exhausting festival.

It’s worth noting that a festival like Kongsberg does not spring forth from nowhere. Aside from it's long history (it's been held every year since 1964), behind the scenes, and making the scene, is a strong network of government offices, schools, and private organizations dedicated to supporting the arts and the artists. In a time of ever increasing hostility to the arts, especially in the US, it's important to take note of what Norway is doing. I won't profess to understand it all perfectly, but essentially there is a strong network of regional "Jazzsenters" with some government funding helping to organize and support jazz musicians and groups and which are a driving force in the Norwegian jazz scene. Speaking of which, the club "Nasjonal Jazzscene" in Oslo too plays an important part in giving musicians a high profile venue to perform.

There is a lot to admire about people making a concerted effort to support music, and the ones who dedicate their lives to making it, and a festival like the Kongsberg Jazz Festival and its Kongsberg Jazz Meeting component is but the tip of an iceberg.