Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Der Lange Schatten - Concurrences (Trouble In The East, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

When you listen to a trio that consists of clarinet, piano and bass you can’t avoid thinking of the legendary Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, and milestones like Fusion, Thesis and Free Fall. However, Der Lange Schatten (German for “the long shadow“), featuring Michael Thieke on clarinet, Håvard Wiik on piano, and Antonio Borghini on bass doesn’t only focus on the jazz tradition on their second album. There are several references to our present, and not just as to the music. One of the tracks is called “Post Truth and Pre Desaster“, another one they named “Stendhal Syndromes“ (the Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder caused by cultural stimulus satiation) - all of them phenomena we have to deal with nowadays.

Concurrences is also a programmatic title, since improvisation and pre-conceived material concur indeed. Although most of the music is composed on Concurrences, there are improvised parts as well. On the one hand, Der lange Schatten display a strong sense for compositional form, motives are unfolded, explored and transformed, often slowly and patiently like in “Serenata Maledetta“, the opening piece, sometimes joyous, swinging and concise like in “And Then He Dances“. On the other hand, they develop their communication spontaneously and gradually, for example in the last part of “Drunk Octopus Wants To Fight“. Like subliminal currents, contrasting textures rough up a mildly undulating sea. The beauty of this music comes from the friction between these approaches, and none of the musicians retreats to the comfortable position of mere accompaniment. Improvisation is always collective on this album, even if all musicians use the same rhythmic and harmonic raw material. The above-mentioned “Stendhal Syndromes“ is a perfect example of this. The first two minutes seem to be a complete chaos between hectic piano sketches, growling bass, and flaring clarinet runs before the piece takes a completely different direction. In a calm sequence the musicians set only small marks here and there, they explore microtonal areas, but then the piece becomes a swelling wave before it finally breaks. One of the trio’s specialties is their dense and dark sound, it changes and evolves constantly, a true shapeshifter.

In “Leaps of Faith“ Borghini’s versatile, warm, and imaginative bass dances around Thieke’s wide melodic clarinet arches, while the piano swings and refers not only to Paul Bley (Wiik is also part of a trio called Free Fall) but also to Bill Evans. In a mysterious way, the musicians always keep order, there is no chaos or arbitrariness, the music never goes astray, no matter how nimbly their fingers flutter over keys and bridge. Sometimes the music suddenly falls from a dominating, hammering piano ostinato into a slow two-tone clarinet melody, as if a tranquilliser reveals its full effect. There’s always a latent excitement left, a shimmering under the surface, a stimulus that cannot be completely erased and which sooner or later will reappear. Recommended, and not only for fans of chamber music jazz.

Concurrences is available as a CD and as a download.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Nate Wooley & Torben Snekkestad - Of Echoing Bronze (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2018) ****



By Stef Gijssels

On July 5, 2015, two of the most forward-thinking horn-players met at the KoncertKirken – Blågårds Plads in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first one is Nate Wooley, the prolific and omnipresent trumpet-player from New York, the other is equally progressive Norwegian saxophonist Torben Snekkestad, who is also a member of the Danish Saxophone Quartet, a classical ensemble. On this album is also plays reed-trumpet, a hybrid instrument consisting of a trumpet with a sax mouthpiece.

The encounter between both musicians is a very organic dialogue of sonic discovery, sometimes confrontational, sometimes coagulating in a common lyricism. The sound can go in all directions, from abrasive staccato bursts to pure stretched tones, but the real fun is to hear the dynamics between both, the tempting approaches, the echoing of each others ideas, the creation of space and the building up of intensity.

Things becomes even more interesting on the second track, when they find a more solid rhythm of mesmerising repetitive sounds initially, evolving into more sparse sounds, possibly the "Breath Droplets" suggested by the piece's title, resulting in a strange and uncanny atmosphere. The third track repeats the repetitive concept with circular breathing on the reed-trumpet, laying the foundation for the deeper and darker single tone by Wooley, melting into a fragrance of deep yearning and sadness.

The album's overall result is one of intimate sound explorations, fragile, vulnerable and sensitive yet determined at the same time.






Monday, October 29, 2018

Full Blast - Rio (Trost, 2018) *****

By Nick Metzger

Recorded on the last date of a demanding 2016 South American tour, Rio is Full Blast’s 4th album (if you don’t count the 2 Full Blast & Friends records) and if you were hoping to see their gentler side this time around you’re going to be very disappointed. For the unedified, Full Blast is a thermonuclear reeds/bass/drums device consisting of Peter Brötzmann, Marino Pliakas, and Michael Wertmueller. True to their name they play like a force of nature, something substantial to be reckoned with akin to an aural tsunami. Pliakas and Wertmueller play as a single organism, the rattling/rumbling molten core is one of the key elements that make Full Blast’s sound work as well as it does. Their blistering tempest is well-suited to Brötzmann’s fiery playing and he joyfully supplies lightning slashes for their ominous thunderclouds, electrifying the proceedings with his pungent tenor squall.

Rio 1 jumps off instantly with Pliakas and Wertmueller following the lead of Brötzmann’s gruff war-horn. Pliakas’ bass lines are a blur of low rumbling tremors matching the frenetic intensity of Wertmueller’s drums. Brötzmann on tenor plays with his characteristic fervor; it’s amazing at his age that he is capable of so much energy. Wertmueller’s sound is absolutely impenetrable, blackening the sky with snare and kick drum clusters. Rio 2 starts with a rattling drum intro which is met at full force by the unyielding bassline and Brötzmann’s crowing tarogato (I think). The bass and drums build to an overwhelming swell, increasing in speed and power until the sound is absolutely punishing and physical, eliciting audible praises from the audience as they are besieged by the aural mayhem. Brötzmann unleashes yowling trills and growls, galvanized by the impassioned roar of the rhythm section and the audience’s howls of delight. Rio 3 begins with a two minute build up from Pliakas and Wertmueller before Brötzmann enters with rough clarinet shapes and reed squeal. The track ends in a dizzying two minute run from Pliakas and Wertmueller, who absolutely pummel the audience with their low frequency shock waves. On Rio 4, Brötzmann is back on the tenor, alternating curt staccato phrases with muscular baying in his thick vibrato until the song reaches a crescendo at the near the six & a half minute mark after which Pliakas and Wertmueller pick up speed with Brötzmann honking and yelping passionately over their din. Beginning with an intense percussive build-up, Rio 5 finds Brötzmann outlining the melody of Albert Ayler’s Prophecy on tenor. The bass playing sounds it’s most guitar-like here, with Pliakas utilizing his pedalboard to give his lines a searing hot edge. Brötzmann shifts back to clarinet and continues his sketches of roughhewn shapes through the undulating soundscape of the rhythm section. The album ends as abruptly as it began and the audience shows it’s appreciation with a riotous roar.

Rio is a visceral thrill, a powerful rush of sound that overwhelms the listener from the start, creating a sensory overload that only seems to accelerate and gain momentum. Brötzmann himself sounds fantastic and very much in his element, raw intensity never being something that has lacked from his work. His playing adds lyricism to the overall pummeling, and his utilization of different horns adds some sonic variety, as does Pliakas’ use of his pedalboard. The energy between the audience and the band here is excellent, each feeding off the other which drives the intensity up even further. The recording quality is amazing and does a great job of conveying this energy to the listener. I’d consider this a must have for Brötzmann fans and for fans of high energy music in general. A decidedly enjoyable listen, I recommend it at maximum volume.




Full Blast @ Café Oto – Oct 4 2018 (reviewed by FJC’s own Sammy Stein here) :

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Alex Ward Item 4 (20/9/2018 at Set space, London)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The Set is a non-profit artist run venue located just five minutes’ walk from the mighty Café Oto. In weekdays there’s an open door (and cheap drinks I must say) with various gigs worth checking out. Residing in a heavily gentrified area of London, the Set needs your support my fellow free jazz and good music lovers…

Newly formed Alex Ward’s Item 4 is a quartet consisting of Alex Ward on clarinet and guitar, Charlotte Keeffe on trumpet and flugelhorn, Otto Willberg on double bass, and Andrew Lisle on drums. In contrast with Item 10, a ten piece ensemble which concentrates mostly on composition, item 4 aims to give room to all the musicians firstly to improvise (both collectively and individually) while Ward’s interference as a, let’s call him, a composer, is minimal.

The thought seemed puzzling and fascinating as well. Having not heard Charlotte Keeffe before, I arrived at the Set with a lot of the sounds the Otto Willberg and Andrew Lisle have produced the past 2-3 years in my mind. Working together (with others as well like the magnificent Raw Tonk label’s recordings) and in various combinations, they have become two very important voices in the current British free and improvisational scene. Alex Ward’s recordings with electric guitar and clarinet (also through great collaborations) for the past two decades and a half work their way to my listening schedule very often.

The group performed two sets clocking around forty minutes with a small pause. The atmosphere was quite relaxed and friendly, something really nice for someone like me who just flew to London from the other side of Europe. In my wet dreams of improvisation this was like the maverick days of the early 70’s. Having a bass-drums tight knit duo is always a blessing and Willberg and Lisle are multidimensional players on their own and at the same time seem to know each other very well. Even though Ward was in theory the man in charge (ok, kind of) at certain points the duo came at the forefront. Their fruitful improvisations had the energy and pathos of someone who loves doing this.

Ward was switching all the time between clarinet and electric guitar. He was also the first to drop his instrument and let his fellow players take this small ensemble wherever suitable. Keeffe was a more fragile presence with her egoless contributions. I really would have enjoyed to listen to her more. The quartet (Item 4 more formally) seemed like it had a general idea but the route was not predetermined. I liked that, it made me stay on the heels and not relax too much. They concentrated more on the interaction and listened to each other a lot. As I already mentioned, there was energy but not the one of a high volume.

The first set consisted more melody and a will to respond collectively to the individual provocations attempted from one to the other musician. When it comes to melody, I think the clarinet’s melodic language (most audible during the first set) was the most important factor. Coming to the second set, Ward’s choice of guitar distinguished him from the other three. Both from his way of delivering and also from his use of electricity (in contrast to the acoustic nature of the rest of the quartet’s playing), the second set was more aggressive and fragmented. I enjoyed that too. Two different sides of the same story. Nice.

@ koultouranafigo

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Three Solos from Astral Spirits

By Keith Prosk

I love solo recordings. They provide an undistorted view to the intimate communion between player, instrument, and environment and, through a dialogue with silence, provide a foundation for the listener to better understand a player’s communication in ensemble. I enjoy when oeuvres have a significant strain of solo work - like Anthony Braxton’s, Evan Parker’s, Ned Rothenberg’s, and fortunately many others in free music - and I enjoy trying to relate one solo recording to a player’s other solo recordings and in turn relate that player’s personal development in solo to what they’re doing in ensemble at a given time. So I enjoy being able to write about these three solos from Astral Spirits.

Astral Spirits is an Austin, Texas-based label started by Nate Cross (of Marriage, USA/Mexico, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth) in 2014 that releases improvised music and adventurous jazz. If you utilize labels to discover players and music, you could do a lot worse than keeping up with the Astral Spirits catalog. It provides a platform for established players in beloved ensembles (e.g. Ballister and Survival Unit III), new ensembles (e.g. Icepick and the upcoming Vandermark/Alcorn/McPhee trio), and solo (e.g. Rob Mazurek and Mike Majkowski) and, perhaps most importantly, a great variety of newer players that began recording this decade. Much to my joy, it has a healthy dose of solos from these newer voices.

These are three such solos from this year that I believe establish each player as someone to keep an eye on, if you’re not already.

Brandon Lopez - quoniam facta sum vilis (Astral Spirits, 2018) ****½


Bassist Brandon Lopez has recorded alongside Steve Swell, Nate Wooley, Chris Corsano, Gerald Cleaver, and other masterful players just within the past two years, he’s just coming off of this year’s excellent The Industry of Entropy, and he’s showing no sign of slowing down with this 40-minute, 8-track release. The title of this recording means “I have become vile,” referring to the book of Lamentations in which Jerusalem is destroyed for the sins of its people; the track title “Lamed” is a Hebrew letter present in the acrostic poetic form of Lamentations and means the stick that prods the ox or, metaphorically, something that gets creation going; I suspect track titles like “Bea” and “Lay” (as in samak) can be interpreted through the Hebrew lens as well to mean “to seek” and involve ritual sacrifice, respectively; “Vanitas” refers to a still-life painting genre containing symbols of death and change and their inevitability; I am reaching, but I wouldn’t be surprised if “For Sal” refers to Salmoneus or Salmacis rather than a friend; and finally Lopez has stated that this recording was “created as an answer to the musical ‘reason’ of the Bach cello suites… [and] seeks to… create something florid and beautiful from the violent and erratic.” However the pieces fit together, it is a picture of violence/death, metamorphosis, and what is created from that process. The bassist here is unlike the bassist on his previous two solo recordings.

Lopez’ style is a Hawthornian caricature, highly physical, lumbering and violent, whose closest analogue is Peter Kowald or Peter Jacquemyn. He bows, saws, scrapes, taps, knocks, rubs, and plucks the entire instrument. You can hear him grunt, groan, moan, and hum while he works. And the communion between instrument, player, and environment is made clear when the reverb from the chapel in which this is partially recorded is used to create a call-and-response effect on “Pa.” It’s difficult to mention other standout tracks without mentioning the entire album. “Vanitas” and “For Sal” are incredibly strong, emotive openers and closers showcasing his dark romantic style. “Lay” shows off his agile but ominous or melancholy plucking that reminds me of something from Dave Holland or Barre Phillips. The bowing in the last two and a half minutes of “Gruppo” is simply transcendental. This is highly recommended and I wouldn’t blink an eye if someone told me it was the their favorite solo bass recording they’d ever heard.

quoniam facta sum vilis is available digitally, on CD, and on cassette.



Signe Dahlgreen - Kunki Snuk (Astral Spirits and Insula Music, 2018) ***


Kunki Snuk is the solo debut of Signe Dahlgreen. Across 45 minutes and 6 tracks, she runs the gamut of extended techniques on her tenor sax: gurgling; tongue slapping; key clicks; multiphonics; overblowing; Aylerian vibrato. Her style is often wild and aggressive and will likely draw comparisons to Brötzmann and Gustafsson. However, my favorite aspect of the recording is her breath. The relationship between breath and the reed/horn/flute-player is an arranged one. Taking a breath can be acknowledged and embraced as necessary punctuation as in the case of Steve Lacy (Josh Sinton, Sound American Issue 9), it can be seemingly ignored as in the case of a blistering side-long Evan Parker solo, or it can even become the art itself as in the case of Michel Doneda, to use three soprano players. Dahlgreen’s relationship with breath is as tumultuous as her playing. Here, she is mic’d so that you hear her breathe in away from the saxophone, you hear her circular breathing when it occurs, and you hear her breath through the saxophone (air notes), particularly bookending the sections of gurgling. For the first four tracks, she goes through very short bouts of circular breathing before seemingly running out of breath, only to demonstrate on “Stannet” that she can do so for an extended period, making you realize that what you might have thought of previously as shortfalls are in fact statements. The last track, “Nò,” is a highly recommended, climactic, all-out attack punctuated by great big gasps.

Kunki Snuk is available digitally and on cassette.



John McCowen - 4 Chairs in Three Dimensions (Astral Spirits, 2018) ****


Those with an ear for solo clarinet improvisation most frequently have to settle for tracks and on a blue moon get full albums, like Ned Rothenberg’s World of Odd Harmonics, Alex Ward’s Cremated Thoughts, and Josh Sinton’s recent Krasa, often from multi-reedists and multi-instrumentalists. They would be glad to know John McCowen because he is, at least for now, completely dedicated to the clarinet family and loves a solo. 4 Chairs in Three Dimensions is his fourth solo outing, his previous recordings include a clarinet quartet, and he has a clarinet duo recording in the works. As the title of this recording and the nature of his collaborative clarinet works suggests, McCowen is interested in the dimensionality of the instrument, which is mirrored in the music by a circular-breathing, multiphonic approach that presents multiple facets of the clarinets timbre at once, like a cubist painting. “White Trash” demonstrates this with a relatively static low hum, some more actively played skronky tones, and a high hum that seems to react to those tones, all at once. McCowen also states he views the clarinet as an “acoustic synthesizer;” modulation, phasing, and perhaps additive/subtractive elements seem to be present in some degree throughout the 24-minute, 4-track recording, and are probably responsible for a cool Doppler effect-like sound part way through “Birds of Jamaica,” but I am not knowledgeable enough to discuss the intricacies of sound waves. In practice, the approach reminds me of a louder Stéphane Rives except for the possible standout, “Fu-e,” in which McCowen conjures up a tabla-like rhythm by gurgling a bass clarinet while simultaneously producing chirps.

4 Chairs in Three Dimensions is available digitally and on cassette.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Review Round-up

By Nick Metzger

Norberto Lobo – Estrela (three:four records, 2018)  ****


Gorgeous, surreal Tropicalia-inflected avant-garde jazz from the prominent Portuguese guitarist Norberto Lobo’s quartet, consisting of Yaw Tembe on trumpet, Ricardo Jacinto on cello, and Marco Franco on percussion. While not his first foray into a group setting (he’s had a long standing duo with the drummer João Lobo and is a frequent collaborator in the Portugeuse music scene), this marks his first group recording under his own name and his third for the excellent three:four label. His warbling, crystalline guitar flights are accompanied here by Tembe’s muted trumpet and the atypical shimmer of the cello/drums rhythm section provided by Jacinto (who plays pizzicato throughout) and Franco. The music is warm and gentle, perfect for winding down, but still engaging enough to satisfy the most ardently cerebral jazz fan. His haunting melodies are satiating, and you’ll find yourself humming them long after the needle has lifted.



Tiger Hatchery – Mind’s Eye (self-released, 2018) ****


This is the first we’ve heard from Tiger Hatchery, the kings of Chicago’s sub-underground, since their excellent 2015 Live in New Haven release with Paul Flaherty. At only two tracks it comes as a brief but welcome deluge in the midst of a 3-year drought from the trio of Andrew Scott Young, Ben Billington, and Michael Forbes (Bass, Drums, Sax, respectively). Their increase in overall maturity and discipline shows on this brisk and lively set, which I’d characterize as their most controlled and synergetic since 2013’s Sun Worship. However, gone is the veneer of harsh noise (not that it was ever a bad thing), replaced with a renewed concentration on group interplay and dynamics. Let’s hope a full length offering isn’t far behind.




Michael Foster, Ben Bennett, Jacob Wick – Glove Issues (Palliative Records, 2018) ***½


I have a lot of respect for what Foster (sax), Bennett (drums), and wick (trumpet) are doing here, and I’ll admit that this album genuinely challenged me at first. The salival expressions utilized during the introduction were initially, for me, like sitting through a playground loogie-hacking competition. But like all albums that are challenging, repeated listening really opened this up. It’s one of those albums on which the traditional characteristics of the instruments are subverted in favor of a timbrally rich palette of unconventional sounds. The interplay on these live improvisations is fantastically sympathetic, and it’s definitely entertaining to hear them communicating in this collective language that are so fluent in. If you’re looking for something thought-provoking, this might be right up your alley.




Laurence Pike – Distant Early Warning (The Leaf Label, 2018) ****


This highly original album by the Australian drummer Laurence Pike finds him integrating a drum pad sampler into his kit, with which he augments his deft free jazz improvisations with samples that harken back to 70’s kosmische music and electronic minimalism. This is a most satisfying combination as traditionally drums either aren’t utilized in these genres, or even worse, when they are its over-the-top stadium-rock-style drumming that completely wrecks the atmosphere intrinsic to such productions. Hearing Pike’s skittering free-jazz-style percussion integrated with the atmospheric electronics is a revelation; it provides a much needed human element to what is customarily an icy machine-driven music. The album art is the perfect metaphor for the album, showing the form of human hands engaging with the bleak sci-fi landscape.




Skerebotte Fatta – Riders from the Ra (Creative Sources Recordings, 2018) ***½


The debut recording from this Polish duo finds them utilizing a more European free-improv approach to the classic sax/drums format. A study in sonic frugality, the duo wrings a great deal from their limited instrumental arsenal, providing both long, probing, sparse structures and short ecstatic bursts of energy. Both players show a great deal of diversity, as they provide a bevy of ideas without ever resorting to mindless shtick. The album overall has a good flow and provides an effective variety of sounds. This is classic free jazz with minimal trimmings; a very meat-and-potatoes release of thoughtful fire music.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Here’s to Us – Animals, Wild and Tame (Hoob Records, 2018) ****1/2

By Troy Dostert

Trumpeter extraordinaire Susana Santos Silva needs no introduction to the readers of this blog. But her partners in this delightful quartet might: Swedes Josef Kallerdahl (bass), Lisen Rylander Löve (tenor saxophone), and Nils Berg (bass clarinet/flute) are all prominent in the European jazz scene, albeit not so much in the free improvisation community. In any event, what they offer together as Here’s to Us is a captivating journey, through a well-conceived melding of composed and improvised musical forms.

Animals, Wild and Tame was inspired by a novel by Vilhelm Moberg, The Emigrants, in which he describes an old language textbook used by Swedish immigrants to the United States in the 1850s. By studying the entire book the voyagers would ostensibly acquire a thorough knowledge of English—and much else, perhaps, given the metaphysical titles of some of the chapters: “Nature and the World,” “Abilities of the Soul,” “Time,” among others. Composition credits are divided evenly among the four players, with each getting two of the eight “chapters” and an additional ninth piece, “Skiftet,” composed by Berg.

The music crafts a perfect balance between carefully presented, patiently developed themes and opportunities for exploration. The opener, “Naturen och werlden” (“Nature and the World”) is a gem of a track, with a gorgeous, achingly slow melody; as Santos Silva’s lambent trumpet crests over the top, the effect is transfixing. But the group eventually opens things up a bit, and as Kallerdahl provides a steady bass line there’s just enough room for extemporaneity—but never at the expense of the piece’s cohesion. A similar dynamic is found on the other tracks, often with Kallerdahl in an anchor role with gentle bass ostinatos, while the horns develop their ideas in close conversation, subordinating individual brilliance to the power of the collective.

Only rarely, as on “Metaller och stenar” (“Metals and Stones”) or “Själsförmögenheterna” (“Abilities of the Soul”) do things get a little wooly, with the four delving into atonality and purer kinds of freedom, and with Santos Silva using the full range of her astonishing technique. For the most part, though, restraint remains the dominant temper of the record, and it’s all to the good, as the melodies of the pieces are frequently stirring. “Menniskan” (“Mankind”) is gorgeous in its steady, muted power, and “Tiden” (“Time”) is no less riveting, with Berg’s earthy bass clarinet joining with Santos Silva and Löve in walking the ever-so-fine line between beauty and abstraction.

This isn’t one of those records designed to get the pulse racing. But for its moments of tranquility and measured grace, Animals, Wild and Tame is a perfect antidote to these turbulent times. One of the nice surprises of 2018.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh - Sparrow Nights (Trost, 2018) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Sparrow Nights offers the most comprehensive overview of the turbulent, chaotic and complex love relationship of German reeds titan Peter Brötzmann and American pedal steel guitar player Heather Leigh. Any one who have experienced this duo performs live or have listened to the duo previous three live recordings from the last three years must have sensed the strong, sensual essence of this collaboration, different from any other collaboration from Brötzmann. The duo with Leigh is one of the most active outfits of Brötzmann in recent years, often sharing the stage with other long-standing colleagues of Brötzmann - Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, guitarist Keiji Haino and drummer Sabu Toyozumi.

The live recordings, naturally, focused on the more furious, physical and even provocative sides of Brötzmann-Leigh collaboration, best captured on the explicit Sex Tape (Trost, 2017), Sparrow Nights allows both to take their intriguing relationship a step further. The studio environment enables Brötzmann to offer more sides of his strong personality, and Brötzmann has used wisely the generous studio time - spread over 78 minutes, in a six-track vinyl or ten-track disc - and explored more tonal and timbral nuances, adding the alto and bass saxophones and the b-flat, bass and contra-alto clarinets to his familiar tenor sax. Martin Siewert (of Radian) captured and mastered brilliantly at his studio in Vienna the complex dynamics of Brötzmann and Leigh. Brötzmann, as usual, did the artwork, more implicit this time than the cover of Sex Tape.

Brötzmann playing with Leigh has always suggested a gentle, touching side behind the rough and tough demeanor. The angry and aggressive blues ballads of previous live recordings have transformed now into more subtle and coherent expressions of a vulnerable and painful, but also protective and compassionate, relationship, reflecting his immense experience and one-of-a-kind wisdom. Brötzmann sounds softer than ever on the opening, straight ahead and emotional ballad “Summer Rain”. Leigh deepens gently this seductive vein with minimalist, resonating lines on “The Word Love”, answered by fragile, poetic cries of Brötzmann on the clarinet.

There is a strong sense of openness and fluidity in the Brötzmann and Leigh interplay, as in a relationship of a mature couple who have experienced few excruciating emotional storms. Even when the interaction becomes confrontational and melancholic as on “It’s Almost Dark”, dark and chaotic on the following title-piece and immediately afterwards openly brutal and bold on the “This Time Around”, both still rely on their intimate kinship throughout these section.

“River of Sorrows” reaffirms that Brötzmann and Leigh reconcile, following the previous, heated confrontation, and is sweeter than expected. Both do not need more than few, simple gestures to re-establish their rare intimacy. Brötzmann alternates here between singing melodious lines on the bass clarinet and dense yet poetic cries while Leigh mirrors his emotional upheavals with raging waves of her own. “At First Sight” and “All Of Us” emphasize again and again the ecstatic, essential passion that cements this collaboration.

But, eventually, Brötzmann and Leigh are fully aware and have no illusions about the prospects of their relationship - the personal and the musical - as the aching, concluding ballad “My Empty Heart” and the intense “The Longer We’re Apart” hint. Brötzmann and Leigh cry their hearts out - literally - him in his familiar ferocious mode and her in a more reserved manner. But both sound as have not said all there is to be said about this precious, stormy collaboration.




Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Evan Parker & Eddie Prévost - Tools of Imagination (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2018) ****½


By Nick Metzger

With Tools of Imagination we are treated to a tremendous long form improvisation from Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost recorded in the clubroom of Poland’s Pardon To Tu in September of 2017. Eddie Prévost, a co-founder of AMM and the group’s only physical constant is one of the foremost proponents and practitioners of free improvisation in the world today. His companion for this improvisation is the great English saxophonist Evan Parker, another pillar of the European free improvisation community that’s made this strange and wonderful music his life’s work. The two have recorded together fairly extensively, both as a duo and as part of a larger group, always with spectacular results. Here is no exception as the two masters interlace ideas unhurriedly and with great care for the details.

The single track, Tools of Imagination, begins with the sounds of Prévost’s reverberating bowed metal to which Parker offers refined, bubbling shapes, surging occasionally into squelches of harmonics and resonance. Prévost is a master of atmosphere, having honed his skills in his 50+ year career as a professional noise maker. I have no idea how he achieves some of the sounds he does with his bow-work, but it’s fascinating to listen to. Groans and deep shudders are intermingled with piercing scrapes and razor barbs. Parker’s tenor gushes like an artesian well of molten chrome, a turbulent outpouring of aural globules that flow like a river across Prévost’s extraterrestrial atmospherics. At ~ 20 minutes in, the track shifts gears, the din receding momentarily before revealing Parker playing plaintively over gong-work that reminds me a little of La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela’s Study for the Bowed Disc. Parker continues to push forward, to weave webs of ectoplasm in his distinct cadence, his circular breathing technique tracing its heavy fractals in the thick ambience stirred up by Prévost. At around the midpoint the song shifts gears again and the musicians regroup into a quiescent hum interrupted intermittently by cymbal clatter and supine sax shapes. For the final half Prévost gets back to work bowing, scraping, and striking at his contraptions, framing Parker’s saxophone playing with a dense thicket of sound that he plays off and against, alternating between subtle percussive tongue slapping and breathy multiphonics. The final 10 minutes or so begin probing and sparsely adorned before bursting back into Parker’s woven harmonics and the groaning, squealing sound world of Prévost.

There are certain practices that in my opinion really benefit from preparation and experience, free improvisation being among them. For as free as the playing is on this release, it’s refined in a way that is almost inexplicable to those that are not well versed in it. That’s not to say that there aren’t any surprises here, it’s just that these gentlemen know how to take surprises and run with them. A highly recommended release, there isn’t a dull moment with this one.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Two releases by Martin Blume


By Martin Schray

German drummer and percussionist Martin Blume has been part of the improvising scene since 1983 and he has played with almost all the alpha dogs - especially in Europe: Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Johannes and Conny Bauer, Phil Minton, John Butcher, Georg Graewe, John Edwards, Joëlle Leandré, Phil Wachsmann, Mats Gustafsson, Fred Van Howe - the names of his collaborators fill half an almanac of freely improvised music. Blume, who is involved in the scene around the Loft in Cologne (he lives quite close in Bochum in Germany’s Ruhr region), is also a prolific organizer of events like the Ruhr Jazz Festival and he supports concert series like Soundtrips NRW. Apart from the excellent Low Yellow with Wilbert De Joode and John Butcher, he has released another two recommendable albums recently.

Luc Houtkamp, Steve Beresford, Martin Blume - Live in Prague 2017 (POW, 2017) ****


Improvising is everyday business. Recently, the trio of Dutch reedist Luc Houtkamp, British pianist Steve Beresford, and German drummer Martin Blume was scheduled for a gig at the Manufaktur in Schorndorf, Germany. On the day of the event Werner Hassler, the booker of the Manufaktur, received a message from Beresford that his flight from London/Gatwick was deleted without replacement (it was a no-frills airline). He couldn’t make it for the concert. So what should they do now? Should they cancel the gig? Houtkamp and Blume decided off the cuff to play as a duo, something they haven’t done before. In the end, it went really well, although I suppose that the performance might have been even better with Beresford. What the audience missed can be heard on Live in Prague 2017, the trio’s only release so far (their plan was to record another album at the Loft in Cologne after the Schorndorf show).

Martin Blume is not a drummer who pushes himself to the fore all the time (this sounds like a truism but I’ve seen drummers who do so), the aesthetics of his playing stresses the idea of entering a challenging and exciting musical dialogue with his partners. His characteristic feature is his drum kit, which he has extended according to the modular system. It consists of a huge array of little cymbals, bells, woodblocks, sticks etc. Additionally, he caresses his drumskins with the palms of his hands, with the fingertips, with different mallets and brushes. His approach contrasts very nicely with Luc Houtkamp’s saxophone philosophy, which is a rather traditional one - hardly any extended techniques like circular breathing, clicking and clapping on the keys of the tenor, hisses or guttural sounds. He prefers to play a plaintive melody here and there but he’s also able to be boisterous and harsh. All in all, he reminds me of the great free jazz blues man Joe McPhee. However, the actual sensation is Steve Beresford. He leads the way of the improvisation throwing in stride piano riffs, Tayloresque clusters, and he accelerates the pace with arpeggios and propulsive, contrasting chords that instigate Houtkamp to use guttural, forceful sax runs (listen to the first track around the 22-minute-mark). Yet, out of the blue, Beresford is able to switch to the interior of the piano and in combination with Blume’s little instruments he can change directions to microscopic sound explorations. His balanced use of electronics adds nice new sound colours as well. In a nutshell, Live in Prague 2017 is a very nice album for fans of the Schlippenbach Trio, for example.

Live in Prague 2017 is available as a CD and a download:



Watch the trio at a gig in Groningen here:




Martin Blume, Tobias Delius, Achim Kaufmann, Dieter Manderscheid - Frames & Terrains (NoBusiness, 2018) ****


Due to the similar line up, the music on Frames & Terrains has some things in common with Live in Prague 2017. At the same time, it’s also very different. Martin Blume has set up the band and said that he “"ikes bringing musicians together whose combination might sound fresh and new". Like Blume, Tobias Delius (saxophone, clarinet), Achim Kaufmann (piano), and Dieter Manderscheid (bass) are members of the Cologne scene (even if Delius lives mainly in Berlin). The quartet is assembled around Blume and Manderscheid, who have been playing together for a very long time,
both being able to switch effortlessly between pulse and coloration. Especially their quartet FOURinONE with the late Johannes Bauer and Luc Houtkamp is worth to be re-discovered. Compared to Live in Prague 2017 it’s obvious that Achim Kaufmann differs from Steve Beresford as to his harmonic subtlety and his structural style. Similar to Blume, his approach is often close to new classical music, being poetical, energetic and asymmetric. Additionally, Tobias Delius - although involved in the Amsterdam scene around the ICP Orchestra - is a very different player compared to Luc Houtkamp. On the one hand, he also combines traditional swing and hard bop sounds with elements of the blues and an old school free jazz attitude. On the other hand, he does use circular breathing, key claps, multiphonics and microtones. That said, it’s clear that he can offer a bigger variety to the music of this project.

The albums starts with Delius’ saxophone chasing turned up melody fragments into the room, hectic rushes, tension, quiteness, and exuberance are present from the very first moment. Kaufmann literally builds up the frames and terrains, in which the four musicians are able to interact. It’s true that the tenor saxophone and the piano grab the ear, yet it's a four way exchange about sound and structure. After seven minutes, Kaufmann is left alone by his combatants finishing his thoughts before a bass pattern opens a new terrain for the others to join in. All of a sudden the atmosphere has changed from cheerful gaiety to a gloomy frown, typified by Delius on clarinet in a duo with Manderscheid’s arco bass. Percussion and piano creep back into the piece almost imperceptibly. In general it’s a pure pleasure to listen how the highlights ricochet within the group, to find out who leads and who’s holding back. Whenever you think that everything has fallen apart, that there’s no rhythm anymore, no melody, when all energy seems to have left the music, suddenly an inner connection emerges, a compelling rhythm is found that often invites another little melody. A perfect example of this is the ending of the album, which displays a very tenderly introduced piano trio, delicately conceived with Manderscheid in the center, gradually picking up dynamics and speed. Twitching piano runs and firm chords open a last terrain: the trio is joined by Delius’ tenor for a light-footed, jubilant conclusion.
Frames & Terrains is available on vinyl (limited to 300 copies) and as a download.

You can listen to the music here:

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Elliott Sharp/Carbon ‎- Transmigration at the Solar Max (Intakt Records, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp’s long running Carbon ensembles were formed in the epicenter of the artistic energy roiling in the downtown New York scene of the late 70’s/early 80’s. Some of the first Carbon shows were played alongside such NYC luminaries as Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, and the Swans. Carbon, like Sonic Youth, harnessed the sounds of punk and no wave and transformed them into something more than just instrumental abstract expressionism. But while Sonic Youth tended more and more towards mainstream music, Carbon has taken free guitar playing into noisier, more abstract, and more psychedelic domains. Sharp has tied the compositional and improvisational core of Carbon to extended timbres, and on this offering we get them in the form of drones, guitar squall, and percussion clusters. Joining Sharp this time out are Carbon ensemble veterans electric harpist Zeena Parkins and drummer Bobby Previte. Parkins is a regular in the downtown NYC scene and has collaborated with everyone from John Zorn to Pauline Oliveros to Björk. Previte, another downtown trouper who doesn’t need an introduction is a close associate of Elliott, John Zorn, and Tim Berne and has been a part of the scene since the late 70’s.

In Annalema Sharp chugs out rhythmic outlines and harmonics over Previte’s bolting toms as Parkins adds pointillistic jots of electricity over the increasingly thick tangle of sound. The song segues back and forth between the chaotic swirls of sound and quieter, more probing half-formed melodies. Sharp and Parkins invoke a pall of drone for the dense Perihelion which Previte breaks up with his forward pushing percussion. The piece unravels over the din as the drums fade, leaving the strings to wail, creak, and squeal. Over the last two minutes a sequence of string harmonics is played, the song ending in chime and chatter. Orrery presents irregular percussion and clusters of tapped out notes over a sustained electric storm. Sharp switches to the soprano saxophone for Aurora, playing off of Previte’s rustling drums and Parkins’ particularly psychedelic sound palette. Sharp electronically manipulates his lines, pleating out cartoon horn noises and quivering strands of sound. He returns to his guitar for the latter third, joining Parkins and Previte in interplay that is both snarled and rhythmic. Anthelion closes the album with the trio playing against a massive electro-acoustic din, their individual instruments reduced to flames flickering from the embers.

A fantastic album overall and a nice addition to the Carbon continuum this is certain to please fans of electric-guitar-based textured improvisation. Dissonance and coherence run hand in hand, just when a structure seems to be dissolving completely it explodes, and vice versa. It’s headspace music that throws you off balance just enough to keep you guessing.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Bad Luck - Four (Origin Records, 2018) *****



As Bad Luck, Neil Welch (tenor saxophone & live electronics) and Chris Icasiano (drums) have played roughly 60 shows a year for over 10 years. Their latest CD out on Origin Records, Four, displays the mature, complex seamlessness which comes from two players who know what the other is about.  Welch’s dexterous chops atop his use of drone and chorus pedals (plus studio work by Randal Dunn) combine with Icasiano’s tom-heavy drumming to produce an exhilarating sonic experience. Welch’s tone moves from gorgeous to scolding to Pharoah Sanders cries. Icasiano can do it all with his drum kit: bombast, light touches, dense unrelenting low patterns, sermons of light and darkness.  The six compositions here are sometimes smooth, sometimes angular, sometimes a cross between tight metal and prog rock; at other times they invoke the patient, caressing ethereality of Sigur Rós, with Welch’s soaring tenor playing the role of the untranslatable, invented language.

Welch and Icasiano are and have been fixtures in the Seattle improvised music scene for a decade. In addition to being among the 6 or so founders of the Racer Sessions (Seattle’s free jazz/creative music weekly jam, now nearing its tenth year), they have separately and together performed in 1000s of shows in various settings— from standards gigs to modern creative dance (using accelerometers to manipulate sound) to ragas with master sitar players, to an opera house performance of Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah” (with the master himself in attendance). It is lovely for them to put out such an ambitious and successful record.

Sonically, Four feels like a road-trip through the badlands: driving, zoning out to gorgeous vistas, striated canyons, breathing the occasional sulfur rising from prehistoric ponds, the otherworldliness of endless horizon, at night just the dark, stars, the highway markers, and, now and again, headlights coming full-on. Some of the tunes operate at three levels: Icasiano’s rolling toms create a roiling current; Welch establishes one or two shifting trenches of long notes on his pedal board, and then soars over atop on his gorgeous tenor. Another approach they use is to play in tight, synchronized cell structures, like paired modern dancers working the mat in an esoteric, physical vocabulary. Welch and Icasiano credit Randal Dunn, who recorded, mixed and co-produced the record, as chief sonic sculptor in the studio.

Track 1 (“Four”) encapsulates the whole record: crying sax over energy drum-fills over slow-shifting choral effects. “Four” opens with tom beats, and sax squeals, and then shifting blocks of chorus pedal mark out the tune’s sonic boundaries.  Some Pharoah Sanders plaintiff cries, some Sigur Rós cloudscapes.  Now relax, strip it down to the shifting chordal blocks under ride cymbal sheen; breathe. Very filmic. The CD’s back cover depicts a cold stream through snowy barrens, leading to low bluffs in the distance.  This tune could easily be the soundtrack on a frigid, upward trek: wind brisk in your face, heat rising under your jacket, the dizzy you experience when you close your eyes after exertion. There’s some exhilaration and some mystery fear. The sax returns and the drums gets busier.  Then a fade-out. It works with headphones.

Track 2, “R.B.G.,” (yes, named for the esteemed Supreme Court Justice) starts with an angry twitch, softens slightly, briefly, and flows into rolling, frenetic toms and multiphonic sax cries.  It becomes a study in intensity, and then a break until the next cell starts: a driving into a storm motif, until Welch really lets loose: quick tonguing, crying, lifting us into stratosphere, swept into multi-colored clouds without an airplane. Around 4:30 the backdrop peels away and they launch into something like prog rock, where the sax/drums play patterned hits in unison. They reach a silent precipice, and Icasiano unexpectedly goes into a Caribbean dance beat, over which Welch wails, a menacing held note rising in back. If we are still thinking R.B.G, we have here Justice Ginsberg dancing and ruefully laughing at what fate has thrown at her: so many steps forward, so many steps back. At some point they switch into pure energy mode, continuous fills making for a rhythmic tapestry, Welch in the upper range singing with banshee determination and possession.

Track 3, “Index,” is the shortest cut at 6 and 1/4 minutes. The backgrounding techniques are made the foreground.  As mood music, imagine a mouse moving through a labyrinth slowly losing the certainty of its location.  It opens with brushes on snare and that undergrowth of shifting sound blocks. Enter some softly held sax dissonant harmonics, woven with their electrified echoes and modulations.  It is a gentle piece, with just enough edge to keep the experience real.  Track 4, “Capital,” opens with some rising toms that turn into rapid, spasmodic sax notes in unison with rim-shots, snare, and cymbal hits.  Again the anxiety of losing one’s way in a maze, anxious to find the thread of escape.  When the electronics and the pacing tambourine kick in (at 3:35), something soothing happens in the multiphonics which take us to safety.  The timbre of the sax really comes through on this piece.

Track 5, “Bends,” grows into what is perhaps the most terrifying song in the collection: intense wails and drumming that is a drubbing, patiently upping the ante over a long-form electronic, undulating drone background.  Around ten minutes in, a myriad of bells enter as the intensity loosens, and we are held aloft in an elegant sound garden of resonant objects. Track 6 (“Big Sky”) opens calmly, with large gestures, timpani, and cymbal swells.  It shifts to a kind of rocking, thumping, and foregrounds some modulated sax notes, some buried electronic blips and bleeps. Then begins the low thunder out a-ways yonder in them dark clouds.  Icasiano’s seething tom rolls and cymbal swells produce an atmosphere of foreboding, Welch provides the sheet lightning behind the storm, and the whole leads upward to an extended drum roll (a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor), and then Welch’s tenor reaches for the human sublime.

Bad Luck treads its own path. If last century, Coltrane and Ali’s Interstellar Space (recorded in1967) set the table for the sax/drums duo, Bad Luck leaves behind the question of handing off the torch, and draws instead on so many other traditions all at once. This music is not jazz, it is not rock or metal, it is not ambient, it is not techno. Its admixture of electronics and acoustic elements, its cinematic, creative use of time and song form amounts to a neo-expressionism for the new century.




Friday, October 19, 2018

BROM - Sunstroke (Trost, 2018) ****


The Russian. Moscow-based group BROM - БРОМ - was founded in 2008 but until recently has been a well-kept secret, unknown to the most of the world. BROM’s eight album, Sunstroke, is the first one to be released internationally and may do justice to this group thanks to the enthusiastic endorsement of Swedish sax titan Mats Gustafsson.

BROM - bass player Dmitry Lapshin, sax player Anton Ponomarev, drummer , Yaroslav Kurilo and new member, electronics player Felix Mikensky - began to act as an anti-statements to the post-rock hype, but later pushed heavily into crossing over free-improv, noise rock and free jazz. Gustafsson asks in his liner notes how such a band can make “something personal within the given frames? When so much already has been done?”. His typical answer: “Break the frames? Love the frames? Hate the frames? Dismantle the frames? Just fuck the frames? Use the frames?”

And as Gustafsson advices, BROM uses and fucks all given frames, straight in-your-face, especially the seminal frames of Gustafsson’s own The Thing, Peter Brötzmann’s Last Exit and John Zorn’s Naked City (and Gustafsson adds many more sources of influence, from Led Zeppelin to Radian). BROM sounds at times as sharing the same gene pool with these groundbreaking musicians, but insisting to inject their proud gene mutation. The influence is so strong that you can recognize the phrasing of Gustafsson in Ponomarev playing or the manic bass attacks of The Thing’s Ingebrigt Håker Flaten in Lapshin licks. But BROM edits this kind of high-velocity, intense legacy into its own personal vocabulary and syntax. Still, as Gustafsson preaches, channeling and transforming this rich legacy into a its own defying call to fight the everlasting stupidities of the world.

BROM's sonic statement is clear and loud from the very first second of the opening piece “Plunge into an ice hole”. Brutal, dense and super-intense kick ass attacks that reach into unbearable stratospheres and then pushes even more, suddenly sneaks to a breezy cinematic detour before resuming the manic grind. “Tuna” and the title-piece sound as twisting the mean rhythmic onslaughts of Italian Zu with Naked City post-modern sonic pastiche into a supersonic cacophony. Mikensky’s electronics on “Queue” add a subversive, irritating layer to Ponomarev's powerful sax theme. “Urtica” suggests BROM in a head-on collision with The Thing, including the open flirt with  a dramatic metal narrative. “Hematoma” offers BROM in its most free-improvised version, eager to experience any adventure and take all risks but also to bare its gentle side. The last “Mingus 30°C” actually boils with an infectious theme, repeated over and over while borrowing from the light, harmolodic pulse of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, the shiny elegance of Naked City and the massive nuclear reservoirs of The Thing.

Hard to believe that these Russian guys were stricken by the sun, but you can be sure that they were hit by something as powerful and nourishing as the sun. Seriously badass!!!, as Gustafsson says.



People Band 10-14-18. Exploratorium, Berlin.

The People Band (l-r): Paul Jolly, George Kahn, Terry Day, Mike Figgis, Charly Hart, Davey Payne.
Photo courtesy Fotoarchiv exploratorium berlin
By Paul Acquaro

Tucked away on an upper floor of a re-purposed chocolate factory in Berlin's Kreutzberg neighborhood sits the Exploratorium. Hosting workshops and concerts with a focus on improvised music, the center has provided me, so far, with two wonderful musical experiences - the first, the Schlippenbach Trio’s Winterreise tour on my first visit to the city back in 2012, and just this past week, the legendary People Band.

The People Band is a musical collective with its roots in late 1960's London. I became aware of the band via Trevor Barre’s detailed examination of the UK free music scene, and was excited for the chance to see them in the flesh.

Tonight the group's evolving line-up consisted of all original members, adding an extra boost to the anticipation. Terry Day, on drums and percussion, was physically and musically the center piece of the group. His playing both rhythmic and colorful, driving the band when the tempo picked up, and centering the group when the mood was explorative. Mike Figgis on trumpet and electric guitar provided texture and hypnotic riffs. Charlie Hart on electric bass, and in the second set, violin, was also key in providing momentum - some of the most interesting passages came when his bass work grew agitated and kinetic. On saxophone and flute, George Khan and Davey Payne flanked the group, providing excited solo moments and reacting to the goings on in the rhythm section with both musical agreement and disagreement. Paul Jolly, poised towards center left on bass clarinet, saxophones, and flute, brought other textures to the group sound and offered several powerful saxophone, and deeply resonant bass clarinet, solos.

The first set was a dramatic, tension filled, 45 minutes (or more? I didn’t really keep track), starting with Payne wandering about an eclectic array of chimes, gongs, and bells. It rose to a climatic outpouring of emotionally melodic snippets and fierce runs, and ended in a hushed whisper. The second set took on a totally different approach, also with sublime moments mixed with the infuriating (i.e. the ‘Earth Angel’ progression). Overall, it was an exciting, adventurous, and fulfilling night of the musically unexpected.

Some other exciting shows coming up at the Exploritorum include the Tiger Trio with Joëlle Léandre, Myra Melford and Nicole Mitchell on Nov 11th, and renowned bassist Barre Phillips with the Ensemble de Musique Improvisée en Résidence on December 16th. Check it out here: https://exploratorium-berlin.de/de/category/improvisationskonzerte/

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Denman Maroney, Leroy Jenkins, Rich O’Donnell - Unknown Unknowns (Live) (2018, self-released) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Maroney (“hyperpiano”), Jenkins (violin), and O’Donnell (percussion) have appeared together before on Leroy Jenkins’ Driftwood’s 2005 The Art of Improvisation, also featuring Min Xiao-Fen on pipa. Recorded in 2004, it is among Jenkins’ last recorded performances and in the midst of Maroney’s fruitful partnerships with Mark Dresser and Ned Rothenberg. Both recordings display a mastery of musical time, space, timbre, and soul but, whereas the primary draw of The Art of Improvisation’s succinct 42 minutes is the interplay of Min and Jenkins, Unknown Unknowns’ 149 minutes provides a fuller exploration of the core trio’s communicative capabilities.

Unknown Unknowns is comprised of two sets. The first, “Cooler in the Shade,” covers 85 minutes across six tracks and was recorded in 2003 as part of the New York music series of the same name. The first track provides a digest of what this group is about: Jenkins bows haunting vamps, allowing Maroney and O’Donnell to timbrally run wild, until eventually the trio converges and then they’re off, guiding each other through changes in structure and volume and space until climaxing with Jenkins sawing, with O’Donnell scraping cymbals and drum heads, with Maroney producing what sounds like a circus organ of nightmares. Jenkins’ fusion of jazz, blues, classical, and gospel is here along with the full gamut of extended techniques for violin. When O’Donnell isn’t matching the stringy timbres of Maroney and Jenkins, his playful technique reminds me of Gerry Hemingway and Gunter Sommer. And Maroney’s tonal transmogrification of the piano is on full display. The next three tracks are modular performances recalling the beginning of Cecil Taylor’s One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, with duos of Maroney/O’Donnell, Jenkins/Maroney, and Jenkins/O’Donnell, before the united trio returns for the last two tracks. The second set, “New Music Circle,” covers 64 minutes across four tracks and was recorded in 2005 as part of the St. Louis music series of the same name, of which O’Donnell was music director at the time of recording. The set demonstrates a continued exploration of the dynamics presented on both “Cooler in the Shade” and The Art of Improvisation, but the trio is more instantly reactive to each other here and able to satisfactorily express their language much more efficiently.

Each set stands alone perfectly. However, if you can spare two and a half hours, the release is not exhausting like some longer releases can be. It’s a varied journey that could be mentioned in the same breath as Jenkins’ solo, Revolutionary Ensemble, and AACM outings, or Maroney’s work with Mark Dresser, Ned Rothenberg, and Hans Tammen.

Unknown Unknowns (Live) is a digital-only release.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rempis / Piet / Daisy - Throw Tomatoes (Astral Spirits, 2018) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Last year, Dave Rempis, Matt Piet, and Tim Daisy debuted their new trio with Hit the Ground Running and Cure for the Quotidian, two excellent sessions that impressed several reviewers of this blog. Now they’re back with Throw Tomatoes, which features the group’s third and fourth shows together. Altogether, the three releases tell the story of less than a year’s worth of collaboration, improvisation, and inspiration. Beginning with Cure for the Quotidian, recorded November 9, 2016, continuing with Hit the Ground Running, January 21, 2017 (a pair of auspicious dates here in the States), and picking up with May 8 and July 2, 2017.

On “To Play Is the Thing,” recorded last May at Chicago’s Elastic Arts, Daisy opens with melodic cymbals, introducing and accompanying Piet. As we’ve discussed here numerous times, Daisy is a remarkably musical performer, with a style and approach that defies the personnel listing “drums” (just as Rempis is much more than “saxophones” and Piet beyond “piano”). Rempis enters a couple minutes in, and the three tackle a circular, pointillist interlude, with Piet employing some preparations.

It’s not just the name Matthew that brings to mind Shipp in Piet’s playing. There’s a similar depth to Piet’s approach to the piano as a complete instrument, with the full range of its keyboard and dynamics simultaneously deployed, as on his first solo section in “The Thousand Natural Shocks,” recorded at The Hungry Brain last July. Daisy is in a particularly driving mood on this date, shifting into a mellow swing at one point, before urging Rempis and Piet back into high gear. All three seem to be constantly supporting, poking, and prodding each other.

In the liner notes, Piet writes about a moment near the 20-minute mark of “To Play Is the Thing,” when he and Daisy tried to end the performance. Daisy adds some solid punctuation to Piet’s playing, but in context it does sound unfinished without Rempis. The proper ending is much weirder and more surprising, and therefore apt.

I mentioned to someone recently that Rempis has reached a new stage in his playing. Maybe it’s the modern horror show we’ve been cast in against our will, but I’d mark Perihelion as the point when something notable changed. For a saxophonist who always seemed capable of doing anything, Rempis now does absolutely everything. Throughout the album, Rempis plays with an open, fluid voice, which pairs well with Daisy’s resonant pitches and warm rhythms. And his sly references and unvarnished fury cut straight through Chicago’s thick night air.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Albert Cirera / Abdul Moimême / Alvaro Rosso - Dissection Room (Creative Sources, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Lisbon-based trio of Catalan sax player Albert Cirera, Portuguese prepared electric guitar player Abdul Moimême and Uruguayan double bass player Alvaro Rosso, also known as the AAA Trio, was established in 2015. The debut album of this trio was recorded live at the experimental space of Lisbon, O'Culto da Ajuda, on December 2017.

The title Dissection Room already suggests the approach of these fearless improvisers - a methodical exploration, deconstruction and reconstruction of various extended techniques, never surrendering to the known and the familiar. Cirera, Moimême and Rosso are seated and each on his own highly independent way investigates the uncharted, topographical organs of this free-improvised body of music. This kind of Frankenstein, mad sonic scientists approach promises an uncompromising, demanding and often otherworldly journey. But, somehow, as Stuart Broomer comments in his insightful liner notes (the notes are titled after John Dryden’s poem “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day”, the patroness of musicians), throughout the fragile and reserved interplay Cirera, Moimême and Rosso still communicate and weave a “shroud of harmonics, a transparent veil through which one another’s activities pass discreetly”.

Cirera, Moimême and Rosso use different kinds of objects to alter and expand the sonic range of their instruments. Cirera injects objects into the bells of his tenor and soprano saxes and sketches fractured, percussive patterns, He also employs extended breathing techniques that introduce electric-ethereal drones. The prepared guitar of Moimême has nothing common with an electric guitar. It becomes an imaginative sonic lab with a vulnerable and tangible resonating entity. The extended bowing techniques of Rosso dig tortured sounds, and more tortured overtones and cries from the double bass, transforming it to an instrument with a seductive, human voice. Mid-piece, around the 28-minute mark, as Broomer adds, something happens, a sudden blackout, and the interplay instantly shifts to a nervous and urgent mode. From this moment on Cirera, Moimême and Rosso begin to build the climax, injecting more bizarre components, confront wild hallucinations and struggle with frightening colors and shades of this Frankenstein body of music.

But when you dive deeper and deeper into this music, allowing your ears to grow to it, you may realize that this kind of Frankenstein music is highly addictive.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Bobby Naughton/ Leo Smith/ Perry Robinson - The Haunt (No Business, 2018) ****


By Stuart Broomer

Lithuania’s No Business label has a fine track record for bringing lost music to light, and this 1976 session led by vibraphonist Bobby Naughton is an excellent example. Naughton became interested in free jazz in the late 1960s, meeting clarinetist Perry Robinson in New York, and was active in the loft scene of the 1970s. He met trumpeter Leo Smith in Connecticut and would appear with some regularity in Smith’s ensembles of the ‘70s and ’80s. Naughton had a few credits on some other major recordings as well, including documents of Anthony Braxton’s 1978 European Creative Orchestra and his Ensemble (Victoriaville) 1988 and recordings by Roscoe Mitchell and Mario Pavone. Much of Naughton’s time, however, has been spent away from music, earning a living as a locksmith before recently returning to music. In the 1970s he released a few recordings on his own OTIC label, of which The Haunt is the first to appear on CD. Hailed on its first release, it’s a lost masterpiece by musicians of the first rank.

It’s a music based on keen familiarity. The absence of anything like a rhythm section immediately places it in the special creative lineage of the chamber jazz avant-garde, one that began with the Jimmy Giuffre Three circa 1961 with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley and developed with the Creative Construction Company of Anthony Braxton, Smith and Leroy Jenkins. The pieces heard here are all Naughton‘s compositions—pieces in which written and improvised elements flow together, whether the movement is from composed ensemble to solo or collective improvisation. Naughton’s works here are distinguished by an abstracted lyricism, a floating quality with an immediately engaging collective sonority. There’s literally nowhere to hide in this music, with each voice cast in high relief whether in solo or ensemble.

In the first moments of the opening title track, the three voices arrive alone, first Robinson with a keening wail and a wide vibrato that will link him to Sidney Bechet, albeit by way of Albert Ayler, then Smith, lower, more reflective, assembling materials, then Naughton, pianistic rather than percussive, notes ringing under the others. Some of his writing here has an Ornette Coleman feel, a vocal and rhythmic inflection that lives here even without bass and drums. On “The Weight” and “Slant” the improvisation is insistently collective, a spirit of continuous creative dialogue shaping the music. Sustained individual statements arise on the pensive “Places,” first Smith, all concentration, then Robinson tending always toward flight, even here sounding like his clarinet might come untethered and soar, but instead fading gently into a collective passage that’s literally both improvisation and theme (Robinson eventually explodes into wild squiggling lines in the upper register, but it takes an added alternate take of “Slant”). That commitment to Naughton’s music is evident everywhere here, arising again in the quietly intense, naked knitting of sounds that distinguishes “Rose Island.” By the time one reaches “Ordette,” the final track in the original LP configuration, the album’s cumulative identity is so strong that you feel the presence of the trio even in the series of unaccompanied solos, the music assuming its shape in the concentrated presence of the other musicians.

The special challenge presented by The Haunt’s spare, subtle intensity may be what has kept it so alive during its decades of neglect.



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Kirk Knuffke/ Ben Goldberg - Uncompahgre (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Uncompahgre is the sixth highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The word is from the Ute language and means "dirty water", in reference to the red spring water from the area. I don't know if this was flowing through the minds of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and clarinetist Ben Goldberg when they got together and came up with these set of improvisations, but the music that poured forth was subsequently named Saguache, Basalt, Blue River, La Junta, Ouray, Gypsum, Rocky Ford, Leadville, Granby, De Beque, Paonia, Fairplay, Carbondale, and Cortez. A little more digging and I realized both Knuffke and Goldberg come from Denver, and the titles were a homage to their origins.

What bubbled to the surface is the product of forces that operate deep in the core, culminating in a series of miniatures - 'Granby' is the longest at a smidge over 5 minutes, while the closer, 'Cortez', clocks in at less than a minute. These improvisations are succinct but whole ideas, no fluff, nothing over staying, no searching for 'the moment', it's the work of two masterful musicians engaged in an effortless dialog.

Both Goldberg and Knuffke have many duo recordings to their name - Goldberg recently released Practitioner, which was an interpretation of saxophonist Steve Lacy's Hocus Pocus. There is also the recent release with pianist Myra Melford, Dialogue, and his Clarinet and Drums duet with Hamir Atwal. Knuffke released the excellent Fierce Silence with drummer Whit Dickey in 2016, and the absorbing Moon with Karl Berger in 2015, among others. So both are well versed in the spontaneous dialog of the duo format, and the listening, reacting, and empathy it takes to make such an intimate type of recording.

The album begins with 'Saguache', following a snippet of dialog. Goldberg's lone clarinet plays a climbing etude with a bluesy ellipses at the end two times though and then Knuffke joins, responding but also taking the idea in a slightly different direction. The two are off and the musical chemistry is obvious. Keeping upbeat and bouncing rhythmically, Goldberg's theme appears over and over, though never quite the same, as Knuffke chases several ideas to their end, only to return to the core and start again. 'Basalt' follows, and it begins on the squeakier side of things, but settles into long held notes, interspersed with melodic figures. 'Blue River' begins again with Goldberg, a trilling and vibrant melodic figure, a cross between a scale and bat flying too and fro during dusk. Knuffke offers a melody that touches in that place where it's almost familiar, but at the same time, it's nothing you have ever heard before. Here, Goldberg offers choice accompaniment - spare and effective - to give the cornetist something to work from.

As previously mentioned, the camaraderie is apparent from the get-go, but as they get further into the recording, they seem to grow even more comfortable and willing to stretch out. 'Gypsum' is a laid-back affair with an evolving theme, and featuring a vulnerable sounding clarinet counter melody to the cornet's legato tones. 'Rocky Ford,' the follow up, was most likely just a marker made in post production, as the ideas seamlessly flow, until finally petering out with the clarinet. Fast-forwarding ahead almost to the end, 'Carbondale' finds the two reprising the swinging types of lines, laden with blue notes, that the recording opened with all the way back in 'Saguache'. The 54-second 'Cortez' offers a succinct closing statement from Goldberg, where he seems to play the reverse sequence of the album's opening arpeggio.

Unlike the place, Uncompahgre, the album, is a crystal clear flow of ideas and spontaneous duets, featuring the technical prowess and musical compatibility of two top notch musicians, and is sure to find a featured space in your collection.