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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Daniel Carter Review

By Stef

It's hard to keep up with the recorded output of multi-instrumentalist and New York free jazz icon Daniel Carter, and my estimate is that he appeared on no less than twelve albums last year, even if not always as a leader. Some of his earlier bands such as Test and Other Dimensions In Music, made the already forward-thinking New York jazz scene even more progressive musically. Despite his output and his influence and presence in the avant-garde jazz scene, he remains self-effacing in all his musical endeavours, putting the music in front, rather than his personality or ego.

The list of albums reviewed here will show his strong musical versatility: in the use of multiple instruments, the mastering of various musical styles, the possibility to adapt and perform in different settings and ensembles, but without losing his own character and vision.

Carter is not an iconoclast (like Ayler,  Coleman, Brötzmann), he is not the signature voice musician (like Brötzmann, Gustafsson, Evan Parker), he is not the virtuoso instrumentalist (like Vandermark, Wadada Leo Smith, John Butcher), he is not the towering musical personality (like Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, William Parker), nor does he seem to care. He appears to be interested in music, and in music for its own sake, performing on all saxes, trumpet, clarinet and flute, performing in all sorts of bands and musical settings, all very much of influence, but largely under the radar, unseen but shaping, invisible but very present. Curiosity and a genuine interest in mixing with other voices seems to of higher interest than making his own voice heard. A good reason for us to give Daniel Carter some more attention.

We already highlighted the excellent "Seraphic Light" earlier this year, but these ones are also worth looking for.

Daniel Carter & Unanimity - Unanimity (Self, 2018) ****½

Unanimity is a first collaboration of five musicians, all based in New York but with different musical backgrounds. 

Vasko Dukovski is a clarinetist from Macedonia, but trained in the United States, and very active in several contemporary music ensembles, spanning from Bang On A Can to the Either/Orchestra. Stelios Mihas is a guitarist from Greece, classically trained, and active in the United States, in several ensembles, including the free improvisation band, The Listening Group. Jeff Harshbarger is an award-winning bassist, who has played in a multitude of bands of which Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is probably the best known. George Spanos is a Greek drummer, also living in the United States, and who has performed with artists such as John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Juini Booth, Lawrence Clark, Marc Ribot, On ka'a Davis, Sylvie Courvoisier and Erik Friendlander. 

This is the band's first collective performance, and the outcome is powerful and amazingly cohesive for musicians who've barely played together. All tracks are fully improvised, and the craftmanship and listening skills of this US-Greek-Macedonian quintet is more than above average. 

The intro of the opening track sounds like a well-rehearsed atmospheric piece, much in the same vein as Other Dimensions In Music, with music that flows along the backbone of Carter's slow trumpet phrases, while the other musicians accompany him, with granular interjections and supportive emphasis, increasingly developing their own narrative of agitated counterpoint, and when this becomes solid enough in its own right, Carter picks up his sax to expand and change the sound towards more energy and speed. Michas' dry and somewhat dirty guitar sound is possibly one of the most memorable elements of the piece. 

The second track, "The Variety Of Things And Beings",  is much more explorative, with sounds colliding in an unstructured way, full of surprises, yet again resulting in a quite unique and coherent whole. At times it somehow reminds me of early King Crimson improvisations, with lots of little sounds and open space at the beginning, picking up density as the tune evolves, led by Spanos' clattering and rattling drumming, and the frenzied shrieks of both clarinet and guitar. 

Harshbarger opens the "pièce de résistance" of the album, the eighteen minute closing improvisation, with a rhythmic throbbing bass, then cedes the place for calm guitar and clarinet. The music takes its time to develop, and that is just great, because it takes us along a meandering kaleidoscopic sonic journey, from beautiful quiet passages to harsh intensity. 

According to the liner notes "This album serves as a manifested testament, as a seed for a collective consciousness/unanimity for the posterity of the variety of things and beings with the proposition of achieving balanced harmony in the greater spectrum on the planet and in the distant future beyond the heliosphere". We truly hope it does.

The performance was recorded on September 12, 2015 at Favela Worldwide in Brooklyn. 

Listen and download from CDBaby

A new album, "Radical Invisibility", is in the pipeline with a slightly revised band, to be released in 2019 by 577 Records. 

Daniel Carter, Holmes, Putman, Greene & Ughi - Telepathia Liquida (577 Records, 2018) ****½

After an initial exploration of each other's sound, the rhythm section sets out on a great vamp, hard-boppish, with heavy piano chords by Matthew Putman, a pulsing bass by Hilliard Greene and the hard-hitting drums of Federico Ughi. It's a majestic train that's set in motion, offering the wonderful foundation for Daniel Carter on reeds and trumpet and Patrick Holmes on clarinet to intertwine their soloing with increasing intensity and power, only to slow down again for a more fragile and exploratory mid-section, after which the intensity picks up again.

On the second track, "Shine-A-Town", first Ughi, then Carter set the tone for a piece with shifting moods and levels of intensity. It starts wild and ferocious, yet changes rather quickly into a subdued and calm mode, as if once entering through the gate of the improvisation, the inside is quite friendly and welcoming ... until Putman's ascending harmonics and hammering chords drive the other musicians into more intensity and power, including drums and bass to weave a wild tapestry of branching sounds, collectively stopped with one strong chord, to the pleasure and appreciation of the live audience.

"Throne", the last track, offers an unexpected quiet start, with music that sounds like a ballad, initiated by the piano, over which Holmes' clarinet and Carter gently interlace their freely evolving lyrical phrases. The middle part becomes more boppish in nature, even if the rhythm remains rather implicit. The middle part is full of wild intensity, propulsed forward by Putman and Ughi, shifting back to a quiet duet of the two reeds, and ending with what the whole album is all about: raw authenticity, jubilant and glorious interplay, and a feeling of fun that transcends into the deeper level of real art: clever, meaningful and forcing the listener to remain vigilant to capture frequent shifts in direction and to be transported by the emtional force of the delivery.

Again, too short.

If their previous album, "Telepathic Alliances", was only a first collaboration of the five musicians, their sophomore release is even stronger, and more telepathic, if that overused term is still acceptable. 

Available on Bandcamp, but also in 300 copies in vinyl. To be released on December 7th.

Listening Group - Listening Group (577 Records, 2018) ****½

Again, a totally different musical universe opens with The Listening Group, a band 'led' by Daniel Carter, or maybe 'initiated' is the better word, because the band's concept resides in collective improvised composition, based on active listening. The musicians come from diverse backgrounds and instruments: Daniel Carter on alto, tenor, soprano and trumpet, Claire de Brunner on bassoon, Patrick Holmes on clarinet,  Nick Lyons on alto saxophone,  Jeff Snyder on Electronics, Stelios Mihas on guitar, Jonah Rosenberg on piano, Zach Swanson on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums.

The result is a genre-defying album that holds the middle between a classical ensemble, romantic music, modern composition and jazz ... and then more. The collective demonstrates Carter's vision on life and on music, in which the total is more than the sum of its parts, in which spiritual beauty and unity arise when things things converge. He writes in the liner notes: "Each of us has her/his musical view, philosophy, way of playing, personality, and thus, makes her/his unique contribution to the overall alloy/alchemy/sound of the Listening Group, but we all most probably would agree that the Listening Group is majorly about listening, playing in such a way that each and every player can be clearly heard by each and every other player, notwithstanding the fact that some instruments in the ensemble are capable of playing much louder than others. The Listening Group mind, heart, body, soul, spirit, character, is brought into being by the mind, heart, body, soul, spirit, character, of each of its players".

The music is ambitious, and amazing: it creates a semi-dense and warm sonic universe in which instruments ebb and flow into a common pool of sound, in which individual voices are still identifiable, yet are irrelevant on their own. The atmosphere is open, neither dark nor optimistic, and brings to mind images of organic growth in nature, in which a wild yet seemingly organised whole comes into existence out of strangely unrelated and unpredictable components. The only thing that keeps them together is the listening. All instruments grow into a collective landscape.

The album is released in an exclusive limited edition of 300 hand-numbered vinyl LPs. Luckily, it's also available on Bandcamp.

Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure &Federico Ughi - New York United (577 Records, 2018) ****

Because of Tobias Wilner electronics and beats, the album is somewhat reminiscent of the work that Matthew Shipp produced with his Thirsty Ear recordings, and the Blue Series Continuum band, and especially "High Water" with El-P, combining the free flowing melodies of the soloists with solid yet subdued techno beats. On that album, Carter was accompanied by Roy Cambpell, Steve Swell and Matthew Shipp as soloists, but on this album, the only soloist is Daniel Carter, which makes the overall sound a little less rich, but because he switches instruments once in a while, variety is offered in return.

The other musicians are Djibril Toure on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums. Toure is (one of) the bass player(s) of the famous Wu-Tang Clan hip hop band.

The end result is a mesmerising blending of genres, with repetitive and trance-inducing beats over which Carter adds his solos and Ughi his creative and rock solid drumming.

This will not be for the purists (purists? really?) among our readers, but this a very enjoyable album, which will hopefully also bring non jazz fans to this kind of improvised music.

Daniel Carter, Hilliard Greene & David Haney - Live Constructions (Slam Productions, 2018) ***½

"Live Constructions" starts with a beautiful slow piece with Carter on trumpet, Hilliard Greene on bass, and David Haney on piano. Even if freely improvised, there are references to gospel, cool jazz and bop, in a wonderful interaction between three musicians who've done it all during their career.

Haney's presence is decisive on this album. He is under-recorded in my opinion, and his other albums are easy to recommend: he combines a clear sense of harmony with very creative inventiveness in creating a sound which is both intimate, lyrical and even funny at times.

The performance is the first meeting of all three musicians, organised by WKCR Radio based at Columbia University, New York, as part of their weekly programme "Live Constructions".

David Haney writes: "I have found that some of the best music comes from first encounters. As per my usual style of collective improvisation - we don't discuss what we are going to play. Just as you wouldn't discuss what you are going to talk about, I see no need to talk about improvised music before or after it is performed. To me we are just talking." And that is indeed the case here.

In contrast to some of the other albums reviewed in this list, the overall mood is calm, slow-paced and warm. This end result is a very inviting album, performed with felt precision by three artists who no longer need to prove themselves, but who at times appear to be more focused on delivering on the expectations of acceptability of a radio programme rather than creating a new sound.

It's a nice album, but a little short with less than thirty minutes of music.

Daniel Carter & Federico Ughi - Inside The Studio Vol. One (577 Records, 2018) ***½

According to my estimate, this is the 5th duo album between Carter and Federico Ughi, and to celebrate the event, it's released in an exclusive limited edition of 10 (!) hand-numbered CDs. Luckily, the music is also available digitally via Bandcamp

The sound is not different than on the other albums: a great spontaneous interaction of two musicians who are fully comfortable with each playing. Ughi is a master at keeping pulse with an open rhythm, allowing Carter's natural lyricism on his various instruments the freedom to evolve and develop, while once in a while picking up the rhythm in his phrasing. Carter switches instruments, which keeps the variation high, even if his natural preference and strength lies with the sax. 

Andrew Barker, Daniel Carter ‎– Polyhedron (Astral Spirits, 2018) ***½

On Polyhedron, Daniel Carter and drummer Andrew Barker play tribute to their friends and musical partners Roy Campbell, Sabir Mateen, William Parker and Charles Waters.

It's the second cassette released by the duo, the first one - Common Soldier - already dating from 2001. Andrew Barker is known from his work with the Barker Trio, the Gold Sparkle Band and William Parker's Little Huey Creative Orchestra (in which Mateen, Waters, Campbell also performed).

On Polyhedron we get four improvisations of twelve to fourteen minutes, alternating between calm explorations and wild interplay (and Barker offers some real powerplay on the second and third track). The album offers everything you can expect from two artists with their background. The playing is excellent, with Carter primarily playing sax, except on the last track, which starts with spiritual and peaceful flute-playing, and turning more melancholy when Carter switches to trumpet.


Maxime Petit & Daniel Carter (Lurker Bias, 2018) **½

This cassette release shows again a the versatility of Daniel Carter, now performing - on sax only - with French electric bassist Maxime Petit. The latter's style is more rooted in rock and noise than in jazz, and hence more direct and explicit, but nevertheless both musicians find a common language to dialogue. The result is surprisingly gentle, with soft-spoken and intimate musical conversations.

The amount of music you get is short, with six tracks totalling less than twenty minutes. And maybe that's good, as I had the impression that everything had been said by then.

Only for completists of Daniel Carter's oeuvre.

Daniel Carter, William Parker, Roy S. Campbell Jr., Rashid Bakr - Other Dimensions in Music (Silkheart, 2018 re-issue) *****

This is one of my all-time favorite free jazz albums, and it is great that Silkheart made it now also digitally available. The original album was released in 1990, and it still sounds so incredibly fresh.

If you don't know it yet, check it out: mandatory listening!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Daniel Carter, Demian Richardson, Matthew Putman, Dave Moss, Federico Ughi ‎– The Gowanus Recordings (577 Records, 2018)

A re-issue on vinyl of the CD that was released in 2009, obviously shorter in length.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Latest Releases from Jacob Anderskov

By Eyal Hareuveni

Danish pianist-composer-educator Jacob Anderskov (an associate professor at Copenhagen’s acclaimed Rhythmic Music Conservatory) always searches for new means of expressions that challenge his artistic vision. His discography encompasses modern jazz with his own Anderskov Accident, experiments with electronics, compositions for piano, strings trio and percussion, abstractions of Radiohead songs, and collaborations with American Chris Speed, Michael Formanek and Gerald Cleaver and German reeds player Frank Gratkowski. Anderskov’s new albums with the ZAV and KINETICS trios suggest different sides of this remarkable pianist.

ZAV - Out of the Spectacle (Ilk Music, 2018) ****1/2

ZAV stands for three singular Danish free-improvisers from three generations. Z is for alto sax player Jesper Zeuthen, one of the heroes of the Danish jazz scene since the late sixties, known for his collaborations with pianist Carsten Dahl, guitarist Jakob Bro and trumpeter Kasper Tranberg. A is for the generation-younger Anderskov, and V is for the youngest, drummer Anders Vestergaard, known from the power trio Yes Deer and the like-minded Laser Nun duo. The ZAV trio was recorded live during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival at Koncertkirken on July 2017.

The free-improvising set of ZAV highlights its strong sense of expressive, quite sensual synergy. Anderskov and Vestergaard begin the first piece with restless, abstract sonic games with the piano strings and and fractured pulses, but when Zeuthen joins with his clear, emotional singing tone, ZAV dynamics adapts itself to the course suggested by Zeuthen. The interplay remains totally free and leaves enough room for personal detours but the charismatic presence of Zeuthen acts like a powerful magnet. Again and again, with every phrase of him and with a perfect sense of timing, Zeuthen anchors this energetic, risk-seeking comrades trio in a gentle, often ethereal and and always emotional terrains. You may wonder how come you still don’t have many more albums of this great musician in your home.

Anderskov and Vestergaard begin the second piece with playful, rhythmic games, soon intensified by Zeuthen who brings the dense and restless interplay of the trio to a climax. The last and longest piece of this spectacular but only 40-minutes long captures ZAV at its best; a trio that not only presents different generations but also strong, opinionated approaches to free-improvisations. These improvisers know how to feed and challenge each other, but are totally attentive to any nuance of their comrades. Anderskov adds the cerebral angle with his complex, multilayered piano solos, Vestergaard insists on an open, fractured patterns and infectious levels of energy and Zeuthen cements the powerful synergy with his kind of Ayler-ian love cries. Close to this piece coda, Anderskov translates one of Zeuthen cries to an exotic, lyrical solo, playing with his piano strings like a Japanese koto. Zeuthen answers with a whispering tone, almost as if adapting a shakuhachi flute vocabulary to his alto sax while Vestergaard colors this brilliant conversation with a ritualistic pulse.

Jacob Anderskov - KINETICS live in Köln: Mysteries (Ilk Music, 2018) ****

The KINETICS trio feature Anderskov on piano, Adam Pultz Melbye on double bass and Vestergaard on drums. The trio released its debut album, Kinetics (The Path) as part of Anderskov’s Habitable Exomusics trilogy (Ilk Music, 2015). Anderskov applied for KINETICS a concept of mechanics - forces on bodies in motion, transforming the bodies-in-motion metaphor to a sonic journey between constant-shifting pulses. The title of KINETICS sophomore album, Mysteries, refers to a spiritual dimension beyond the physical one, “into our interpretations of the forces behind the physical phenomena. It suggests an opening towards realms bigger or more incomprehensible than ours. To phenomena that will exist when we are no more here”.

Mysteries was recorded live at The LOFT, Köln on March 2017 at the end of the KINETICS European tour, that began in London where the trio hosted Evan Parker. The KINETICS has developed a different aesthetics of the ZAV trio. This trio interplay is more structured and disciplined, still, alternating naturally between textures with strict pulses to an abstract, pulse-free improvisations, keeping a delicate balance between the beat and freedom. Anderskov composed all the pieces and he is the obvious leader of the leader, with a perfect control on the trio intense, physical energy, powerful flow and the carefully built momentum.

Side A of this vinyl (plus download options) captured the end of the first set of KINETICS, emphasizing the trio telepathic flow between structured forms, muscular energy and abstract expression of touching lyricism. Side B captured the opening of the second set and moves from even looser expressions of chamber jazz on “Pull Up, including a most arresting solo piano at the end of title piece, to a powerful, swinging eruption on “Snap, Pans”, and concluding with the dark and melancholic, chamber “Origami Megalith” .

Two More Guys

Here we have two duo albums on double bassist Barry Guy’s Maya label. The other guys are familiar, having performed and recorded with him previously: trumpeter Peter Evans with the Guy, Evan Parker, Paul Lytton trio, with Guy and pianist Agustí Fernández, and as part of Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble; and percussionist Ramón López as a member of the Aurora Trio with Guy and Fernández. They’ve both also featured in his Blue Shroud Band. With that kind of form expectations are raised and met in recordings occupying very different dimensions.

Peter Evans & Barry Guy ‎– Syllogistic Moments (Maya, 2018) ****

This is a performance by Guy and Evans from Uster, Switzerland at the PAM-Festival in November 2016. As to the title, the notes provide the following definition of a syllogism – “a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions.”, for example: all men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. The analogy is that the various moments which make up each piece are entailed by the dispositions of the two players at that stage of the performance. Aristotelian logic is abandoned beyond the album title however, and each track is named after a colour pairing, according to Guy, neutral in not evoking metaphor or imagery beyond the listener’s own imagination. (I think he missed a trick here and should really have named each of the pieces using the mnemonic terms given to the different forms of syllogism by medieval logicians: “Barbara”, “Cesare”, etc.)

More tellingly, Guy mentions the athletic nature of the improvisations, the musicians delving into minutiae with intense listening and decoding of intentions, keeping their minds and bodies in high alert. Certainly, anyone who’s seen Guy play will appreciate the visceral engagement with his instrument, generating fizzing textures and dizzying shifts like a tornado animating and absorbing all around it. His playing is so heavily loaded with tangled complexity that you can feel the sheer thrill of extremity, a near physiological affect. Yet behind this lies an acute intelligence – studied but spontaneous, rarefied but grounded in the materiality of instrumental texture – a musician deeply versed in a wide repertoire with a firm understanding of the nuances of string sonority and how to thoroughly integrate the diverse idioms which attract him. Likewise, with Evans who’s an equally commanding presence employing a virtuosic range of trumpet techniques that have an immediate, sensual impact.

The result is a muscular, highly volatile duo which is almost permanently unstable, operating not so much in dialogue as through an extended series of galvanic reactions and endlessly changeable configurations. The exploratory aims of such music-making inevitably challenge our notions of congruence, the way things fit together, like examining the mechanism of a watch for anyone other than a watchmaker. Interest is maintained and rewarded not just through recognisable locutions and areas of affinity – bright-toned fanfares, resonant bowed double stops, microtonal glazes – but because there are hyper-speed exchanges and compressed layers impossible to parse or pin-down. During ‘Green White’ the instruments sneak and dance about each other, jerky and graceful like a pair of wobbly tightrope walkers. Equilibrium is eventually reached in Evans’ subdued trumpet coda, one of several quiescent passages amid the crackling currents. ‘Red Green’ switches between recurring spurts of energy and static tension, and ‘Red Grey’ concludes with waves of saturated trumpet and meaty, arco chords.

One of the advantages of musical mazes, with no obvious entrance or exit points, is that many paths are available. ‘White Red’ flows with highs and lows, divergences and little surprises, and in the final piece, ‘Grey Blue’, the pair scuttle in criss-crossing trajectories, wayward yet directed according to some inner logic.

Ramón López & Barry Guy ‎– Sidereus Nuncius — The Starry Messenger (Maya, 2018) ****

Recorded at López’ suggestion during the downtime of a studio session in Paris in November 2017, the album is named after Galileo Galilei’s astronomical treatise (1610). According to Guy, Lopez’ drums and cymbals prompted thoughts of a metaphorical planetary system, with the studio microphones acting like a telescope, “bringing details of our own musical cosmos into sharp definition, illuminating the sometimes craggy terrain of our deliberations, but also observing the more spacious musical topography”. The reference to scale is significant; what counts as large or small, surface or detail being largely dependent on perspective and context. These thirteen relatively brief episodes reveal a musical universe contracting in size and expanding in particularity: studies in microscopic activity rendered macroscopic where any element, however small, can become central.

The duo charts this space in a variety of forms. López’ percussion consists primarily of cymbal washes, deep pulses, snare rolls and a ticking hi-hat, a measured backdrop as Guy picks and saws his way into Lilliputian sound worlds, full of refined textures and subtle gradations. In ‘Gravitation’ his bass focuses on tiny scrapes, bounces and shivers, rising above throbbing drums then dragged down again. ‘Particle Waves’ opens out a knotty, modulated landscape whereas ‘Time Loop’ consists of minuscule movements, barely articulated twinges, thrums and taps. ‘Sigma Orionis’ moves from frosty bowed harmonics to increasingly elaborate pizzicato arabesques and ‘Sundrum’ is a succession of slow-motion shockwaves initiated by López’ percussive shudders, as if offering an exploded view, paused and rotated as a three-dimensional structure. By way of contrast, in the following ‘Expansion’ Guy skims and flickers creating a stream of diaphanous vapour. ‘Occam’s Razor’ – the medieval philosopher’s famous maxim of ontological parsimony, that entities should not be multiplied without necessity – is suitably pared-down to essentials, with plucked arpeggiated chords spread across different registers, accompanied by simple brushes. ‘Extraterrestrial’ stands out as a meditative interlude, its drifting Baroque harmonies referencing another of Guy’s musical passions.

Both albums can be previewed and downloaded from Maya Recordings’ Bandcamp site, including hi-res files (96/24 and 88.2/24, respectively) which vividly capture the timbral richness and dynamic weight of the two duos. Well worth exploring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Robert Dick, Tiffany Chang - Raise The River (RogueArt, 2018) ****

I more or less operate under the belief that whatever Ned Rothenberg touches is gold, so my first encounters with Robert Dick were through his work with New Winds, with Rothenberg and J.D. Parran, and his debut, the solo Whispers and Landings on Rothenberg’s low quantity-high quality Lumina label. I’ve intended to explore more of Dick’s discography for some time (especially his well-received ‘90s recordings), so I jumped on Raise The River when I saw he had some work from this year. I was also intrigued by the flutes and percussion duo, which I don’t frequently hear in free music and I imagine as a kind of ancient music, and that the percussionist, Tiffany Chang, is (as far as I can tell) a new voice releasing her first recording.

Raise The River was recorded in studio in 2015 and is 56 minutes across 9 tracks. What characterizes the album, for me, is the sheer variety displayed for a duo, which makes an hour of listening fly by like half that. Within each track, musical time and space ebbs and flows with Dick’s flute, which exhibits drawn-out drones, nimble tonal flights, and everything in between; Chang is quick to match the mood often set by Dick, though perhaps it’s Chang that provides a more stable sonic canvas upon which Dick can paint his more abstract accents. Both players are comfortable going silent to allow the other to determine the next path taken, and the music is never non-dynamic. Chang’s colorful, pointillistic playing is constrained to traditional use of the drum kit except for an mbira on “This Once” and some chains on “Recovered Memory;” Dick’s playing conflicts with and compliments this as he freely incorporates multiphonics, whisper tones, tongue stops, key slaps, singing while playing, glissando, and other extended techniques for the flute throughout the tracks. Perhaps the greatest source of variety comes from Dick using flutes of different register, tuning, or tailoring for every track except “Bricolage” and “Recovered Memory,” which both use a contrabass flute. I’ve been enjoying the album like a single set or statement, but perhaps a standout moment (and one that again exhibits this variety) is the one-two punch of the title track and “This Once;” the longest track with a bass flute and traditional drumming followed by the shortest track with a little flute and mbira.

The palette of this work only increases with the contrasts between the voice of an established master and a talented new voice. Those voices displayed here encourage me to continue digging into Dick’s work and to look out for new work from Chang. Recommended for fans of Dick, the flute (though the two seem synonymous), or just as a very strong album for the year.

Raise The River is a CD-only release.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 2 & 3 (Audiographic, 2018) ****½

Ken Vandermark’s restless musical imagination is well documented with the Momentum series, which began with his massive collection of improvised work from his residency at the Stone in NYC in January 2016, and continues this year with a double disc release of two composed works “Brüllt” and “Monster Roster.” 

Momentum 2: Brüllt

Momentum 2 is a piece inspired by a version of Dada poet Tristan Tzara's 'Brüllt' (Shout) by vocalist/electronics master Jaap Blonk, and the music is both abstract and rollicking. The pieces are composed by Vandermark and feature the musical prowess of Tim Daisy (drums), Christof Kurzmann (ppooll), Jasper Stadhouders (electric bass and guitar), Ken Vandermark (reeds), Nate Wooley (trumpet), and C. Spencer Yeh (violin, voice, electronics). The piece begins with the word ‘ich’, seemingly sampled and repeated over and over at different pitches and duration, as other sounds like snores and blurps are added. This goes on for a long stretch, then, the drums enter and duet with the vocal snippets, which in turn is a prelude to the full band explosion on track three. Wooley’s trumpet is prominent at first, blowing ferociously over Stadhouders’ aggressive bass, this is soon followed by a fierce and frayed saxophone solo from Vandermark. The next track is an electronics laden soundscape full of mystery and darkness. Oscillations and searing tones cut through the haze, adding to the tension, which is only broken on the next track by a fleet theme played in unison by the horns. Throughout, the album is a sensory experience that mixes electronics and acoustic and electric instruments in deep interplay. Melodies and visceral textures support intense improvisations both challenging and rewarding.

Momentum 3: Monster Roster

Momentum 3's was commissioned to celebrate the "Monster Roster" exhibit of Chicago artists who came to eminence after World War II. The concert took place the Smart Museum during the first half of 2016 and features Tim Barnes on drums, Nick Macri on bass, Lou Mallozzi on turntables, Mars Williams on saxophones and toys, and Vandermark on reeds. The recording kicks off with a light swish of a turntable followed by a strong walking bass line, then joined by a punchy sax solo. It’s hard to tell whom it is exactly, but my bet is on Williams as the sound seems like his taught and punchy approach. A second sax - possibly Vandermark - joins after a bit and the two intertwine separate free rhythmic lines, until eventually hitting on a strong deliberate theme. The next movement is turntable driven, it’s an itchy soundscape with slowly mounting tension from the horns. Track two picks up with a bright melody on the clarinet and light rhythmic work from Barnes and Macri. The track continues with a mix of lithe duets from the reeds and a textural sounds from the turntables. The track eventually leads to melodic twists and saxophone squalls alternating with rhythmic turns. 

Both discs of this installment of Momentum offer exciting developments in Vandermark’s discography. Incorporating electronics, composed themes, and free form sections, the arrangements are edgy and captivating throughout. The double disc set contains extensive line notes by the musician and offers an excellent documentation of his continuing musical evolution.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Luís Vicente, Seppe Gebruers & Onno Govaert - Live at Ljubljana (Multikulti, 2018) ****

By Stef

In an alternating black and red cover, the Polish label Multikulti has been presenting the "Spontaneous Music Tribune Series" for the last two years, publishing music from Portugal and Spain mainly.

On this great album, we have a trio of Portuguese trumpet-player Luís Vicente, Belgian pianist Seppe Gebruers and Dutch drummer Onno Govaert. The fully improvised performance was recorded live at the Sound Disobedience Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia in March 2017. Vicente is well known to the readers of this blog, and we know Govaert from his participation in bands such as Cactus Truck and Spinifex, or his collaborations with Kaja Draksler. The Belgian is less known, yet Gebruers is one of the young up and coming musicians in the country, who already received several awards, including for the best debut album in 2012 from the New York City Jazz Magazine, and a musician worth following.

Vícente and Govaerts performed together in several bands, but I guess this is their first in this trio format, and it really works well. We get three pieces of 21, 7 and 11 minutes, a little less than what you might expect on a CD, but the quality is excellent. Without a real leader, the trio manages to create a wonderfully cohesive sound, very open-textured and light, with quite frequent moments when only two musicians are playing. Despite this inherent weightlessness, the interplay is intense and full of energy, sometimes contained, sometimes released, but performed with ease and with very close attention to what the others are doing. The result is fresh and sparkling, a kind of organic, natural co-creation of sound with a very pristine aesthetic.

What more do you need?

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sights & Sounds of Milford Graves

By Nick Metzger

Milford Graves Full Mantis (2018) *****

Milford Graves Full Mantis is a 2018 documentary on the legendary free jazz icon directed by Grave’s apprentice, friend, and collaborator Jake Meginsky with assistance from Neil Young (not that one). The film covers Grave’s art, work, hobbies, theories, and anecdotes in a way that is fascinating, informative, funny, and touching. Not that Meginsky needed much help making this compelling; Graves has always been a captivating and intense character but through Meginsky we get to meet the man behind the myth on a very personal level. Here we are invited into his home and given an up-close-and-personal look at one of jazz’s great musical minds. Artfully shot and edited, it serves as a meditation on Graves as a musician, teacher, scholar, and human being. Through the use of archival footage, photographs, and home movies Milford Graves Full Mantis blows the veil away from a life lived in a most sincere, passionate, and unconventional way. He discusses the enormous garden he keeps in the backyard of his home in Queens’ 40 Projects, his research on the electrical signals of the human heart, his martial art Ya’ra, his experiences with racism and inner city violence, the irrelevance of metronomes, the central role of vibrations and movement, and how music ties us to the cosmos.

As you can imagine there is a great deal of Graves’ music and percussion in the film and it provides for some great audio-visual synchronizations, especially through some of the still-photography sequences and narrative cuts. Central to the overall strategy of the documentary are the visual aspects of Graves’ home. His backyard garden is teeming with colorful vegetation that is flocked with birds and insects. The cinematography does a great job of capturing the relative immensity (remember this is in NYC) and tranquility of the space. The outside of his house is adorned with stained glass and colorful mosaic work while the interior is festooned with the unique artifacts, instruments, curios, and souvenirs of a well-read traveler. His laboratory is a spiders nest of cables and wires. LED displays flash signals and functions generated by Graves’ sensors. He discusses his background in veterinary medicine and how it led to his interest in analyzing the signals and vibrations of the human body. He then demonstrates sonifications of the heart’s electrical signals using the science and engineering suite LabView. It’s a really good example of his out-of-the-box thinking and innovative spirit.

Intimate scenes of Graves at his home are interspersed with home movies of his visits to Japan in 81’ & 88’, a concert of Graves’ quartet in Belgium in 73’ , more recent performances in 2015/16, and clips from the 1982 documentary on Graves, Doug Harris’ Speaking in Tongues . One of the most visually striking sequences shows superimposed and filtered footage of Graves in his garden. This is complemented with Graves' thoughts on learning from nature's designs. It's pretty thought provoking stuff. It's not your typical documentary in a sense of establishing a linear narrative. It's much more stylized than that. More emphasis has been placed on making it a great audio and visual experience and just allowing the audience to absorb Graves and his words and music. The opening Graves’ quote is definitely a metaphor for this movie. Don't try to analyze it, just take it in. You'll be glad you did. The movie is still screening at select venues, and future dates are listed on the Full Mantis website. The film will be released digitally by Cinema Guild in mid-December, or if you prefer it will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime in February 2019.

Milford Graves Full Mantis Trailer:

Milford Graves Full Mantis Website:

Milford Graves - Bäbi (Corbett vs Dempsey, reissue 2018) *****

Bäbi has been in my Discogs wantlist for as long as there has been a Discogs, so my eternal thanks are to Corbett vs. Dempsey for this fantastic CD reissue of Milford Graves’ early masterpiece featuring Hugh Glover and the late Arthur Doyle on reeds and flutes. Originally issued on vinyl by Graves’ own IPS label in 1977, Bäbi has been out of print for practically its entire existence. That’s not to say its unheard music, especially in the age of file sharing & Youtube, but before now if you wanted an official piece of the cloth you had to shell out the kind of money that puts even the most fervent record collector into cold sweats. But it gets even better. The Corbett vs. Dempsey reissue includes an entire second disc containing a rehearsal tape of the same trio in 1969 from the private collection of Mr. Graves himself. And it’s not throw away material by a long shot; in fact it’s almost as good as the main attraction. This is a serious unearthing, akin to finding a hidden room in the great pyramid of free jazz. The sad passing of Doyle in 2014 gives these recordings an even more revenant-like quality, the captured vibrations of the late reedsman and flautist’s horns screaming back to us across the chasm of a half century. I had intended to review only the unreleased material and acquire a good write-up on the original Bäbi record to link to, as I figured that finding a proper review for this classic of free music by some esteemed author/artist on the Internet would be a relatively easy task. As it turns out, besides a couple of short pieces in those ubiquitous Top 10 free jazz rarities lists, there is relatively little information regarding the contents (that I have been able to find, if you find/have an interesting/unique write up on Bäbi, please link to it in the comments). Consequently, I’m afraid you’ll have to do with my interpretation/impressions for the time being.

After a short introduction by the WBAI-FM/Free Music Store’s MC, Ba explodes out of the speakers with a high intensity freak-out that’ll have squares running for the doors. This is the kind of free jazz nightmare that makes Wynton Marsalis wake up in cold sweats clutching his pillow. Graves of course is brilliant; he is the writhing nucleus of spiky energy around which the horn squall revolves. Doyle is heard here at the height of his capabilities, shrieking his wraith-speak in stabbing phrases while Glover displays a slightly broader but no less fiery palette. The trio stops on a dime around the 4 minute mark where Graves’ goes a Capella with his rousing vocalizations. The remainder of the song builds off of this recipe, scattering flourishes of flute and vocals before Graves brings it all to a stop with an ecstatic howl. Bi is a shorter affair; both Doyle and Glover (left and right channels, respectively) shred their reeds to splinters over Graves’ tight mile-a-minute percussion. His drumming has a fullness about it that lacks in a lot of free jazz from this period. He sounds like a one man drum circle for much of the record. Mixing in non-traditional skins and traps he presents a kaleidoscope of rhythmic color as the framework of these improvisations. This in turn allows the reedists to play completely untethered from the form, confident that Graves will fill any gap with his roiling systematic animation. The final song from the original album, the title track Bäbi, begins with a quintessential free-vocals/percussion intro by Graves. Throughout the album he electrifies with his variety and creativity. At almost 3 minutes in Doyle and Glover come searing back into focus. Glover honks wildly, building into a fury of staccato screams. True to form Doyle stays firmly within the red while soloing, his ecstatic howls and otherworldly altissimo xenoglossia keep the intensity burning like live coals. There is a brief repose in the rapturous action during which Graves again comes to the fore with more terrific theatrics before the trio engages again and completely incinerates the proceedings.

The first track on the unreleased 1969 rehearsal tapes serves up almost a half hour of continuous high energy free jazz. All three musicians sound fantastic here, for reference this is around the time Graves played on Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman and Doyle joined Noah Howard aboard his Black Ark. Glover’s history is a bit murky before and after his work with Graves. He’s only credited with two releases on Discogs, Bäbi and the Folkway LP New American Music Vol. 1 (where he plays a duo with Graves called Transmutations). He, like Joe Rigby and Arthur Doyle were Graves’ go-to reedsmen in the early-to-mid 70’s and he sounds just as fiery here as he does on Bäbi. The next track finds Graves providing a wild free-vocals/drums intro similar to Bi on Bäbi, but much less controlled and freer. I can’t be positive, but it sounds like Doyle is playing bass clarinet here. His cadence is unmistakable and although he plays mainly in the altissimo register, my ears detect a few low honks hidden in the din. In some sections it’s hard to tell if what you’re hearing is Graves’ vocalizations or Doyle & Glover’s horns, an interesting effect the murky recording quality provides. The songs get progressively shorter as we go along, the third track presenting Doyle singing into his horn over split tones, a technique he would refine for the rest of his life. Graves & Glover join in sharply and the energy is again ratcheted into stratospheric regions. The final track finds Graves working his gongs while Doyle and Glover weave dissonance into and through the rumbling percussion.

This is absolutely essential material and now that the price is right, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from getting your hands on a copy if you so desire. This in addition to CvsD’s reissue ofGroupcomposing will keep you warm all winter long. In his book Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium, John Corbett mentions that he’s also been working on a deluxe box reissue of Graves’ Nommo, which if/when realized would remove another long standing item from my want list. So until then, enjoy this classic chapter in the ever-continuing story of free music.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Dogmatics - Chop Off The Tops (Self Produced, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Dogmatics is the secretive duo of Australian, Sydney-based pianist Chris Abrahams, a founding member of the legendary trio The Necks, and German, Berlin-based clarinet player Kai Fagaschinski, known from the clarinet duo The International Nothing and the group The Magic I.D. The two met when Abrahams stayed in Berlin in and between tours, where he and Fagaschinski began playing together at a friend's piano-armed kitchen back in 2007. This collaboration was a rather private affair for some years until the release of their debut album The Sacrifice For The Music Became Our Lifestyle (Monotype, 2012), followed by a European tour.

Chop Off The Tops was “hammered and blown” by The Dogmatics already on June 2013, mixed by the duo, and mastered by Werner Dafeldecker the year after, before the duo opted for an off-road hibernation. The cover artwork, with the death-metal lettering and gory, religious image, was done by Zev Langer, the guitarist-vocalist of the Australian death-metal group Conatanimated. The titles of the album and the four pieces reflect the sarcastic-cerebral approach of The International Nothing.

Chop Off The Tops, unlike the absurdist, short stories of The Sacrifice For The Music Became Our Lifestyle, suggests a deep dive into abstract and lyrical textures that bridge the distinct, repetitive piano clusters of Abrahams and the ethereal statis that Fagaschinski creates with his clarinet. The minimalist and delicate pieces of side A - “It Never Yielded Results Which They Had Failed to Discover by Other Means” and “I Am Now Wearing Surgical Gloves” - can be experienced as The Dogmatics’ highly disciplined exploration mission into the molecules of sound. Both Dogmatics are fascinated by the otherworldly, fluid sonic substances and the subtle, alchemist process of shaping and shifting these transparent, crystalline sounds, where the sense time also becomes a kind of liquid entity that loses its linear characteristics.

Side B offers a different side of The Dogmatics. It begins with “Nobody Knew Their Reasons”, a short and playful peace, in the most absurdist and sinister manner, where Abrahams employs the wooden body of piano as a resonance box and Fagaschinski offers white noises with his extended breathing techniques. The Dogmatics resume their former minimalist-abstract mode on the last, extended “Death Is Now Your Friend”, but in a more open and tense manner. This time both do not just mirror each other sonic explorations but teasing and somehow “chop off” the other’s sounds.

The Dogmatics advise to “proceed with caution” to their sonic excavations, as “suspicions have arisen as to the objectivity of their findings”. I would like to know more about their too long, off-road expedition.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Ben LaMar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun (International Anthem, 2018) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Maybe you've already heard about Ben LaMar Gay (who has been covered here a few times ), and maybe you’ve already heard this album or even started listening to the newly-released back catalog (more on that below). But I sat with this album for months, listening to it almost daily, because even as a compilation of experiments, it’s much larger than the sum of its parts, and heavier and deeper even than I think Gay’s been given credit for.

The story’s been told enough times: Gay had recorded seven albums over seven years, had no intention of releasing them, had a good experience working with International Anthem on Bottle Tree’s debut album, and eventually went through the process of picking out the best of the best for a “greatest hits” of sorts. And it is a very excellent story, but I think it fails to represent the fullness of Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun as a masterpiece all its own, partly because it represents the cumulative product of all of Gay’s various experiments and partly because it’s a radical, creative work.

First, the album is something of a 21st-century update of the ’69–’70 run of Art Ensemble of Chicago records, especially A Jackson In Your House, Message To Our Folks, Certain Blacks, Go Home, and Chi-Congo. Yes, Gay is an active member in the AACM and a resident of Chicago, but there’s much more to it: AEOC bent and shaped jazz, funk, poetry, lyricism, and skronk all into their unique and still-relevant sound. Gay’s songs are just as varied, raw, polychromatic, and addictive. And so while folks have knowingly cited Reich as the influence for “Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids & Fractals,” there’s been less attention paid to the keen way Gay has inverted early tape experiments, like “Come Out.” Taking Reich out of the concert hall, Gay flips the script, layering a dense collage of loops, flute, tenor sax, and wordless vocals.

“Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids & Fractals” flows brilliantly into “Jubilee,” one of the finer examples of how this collection of tracks from seven different albums quilt together successfully. The vibrant experiments of tracks like “Jubilee” and “Galveston” push against the song-like recitations like “A Seasoning Called Primavera” and “7th Stanza.” Interestingly, although it’s Muhal Richard Abram who gets an eponymous tribute—the ridiculously catchy “Muhal”—Joseph Jarman and Lester Bowie seem to me like more apt citable influences. Like Bowie, Gay fearlessly embraces his own curious nature. The result is strange and exciting. The most surprising thing, possibly, is how little of Gay’s cornet one hears on the album. If you know Gay from albums like Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone, you may want to jump to the riotous final track, “Oh no… not again!” which features Gay, drummer Tommaso Moretti, tubaist Joshua Sirotiak, and guitarist Will Faber.

Now, when I first drafted this review, I closed out with some thoughts about whether we would ever hear Gay’s previous seven albums. And I did, in fact, wonder what we’d gain from hearing these songs in their original formats. Since, International Anthem has in fact started releasing the albums, beginning with 500 Chains, an excellent narrative about an escapee prisoner, and Grapes, the experimental avant pop album that originally featured “Vitis Labrusca,” “Muhal,” “Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids & Fractals,” “Me, JayVe & The Big Bee,” and “Uvas.” If I’m not mistaken, Grapes songs make up most of Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun, while also providing its title. As such, it does feel a bit like a Rosetta Stone for cracking the code of the final compilation.

In truth, this is the type of album that can be very difficult for a reviewer, because describing its depth and thoughtfulness can come across a bit esoteric. But that would strip away the absolutely joy to be found within. And while each successive release provides an additional context for taking in each track, the whole of Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun retains its vitality and remains a necessary snapshot of a thrilling artistic voice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Friends & Neighbors - What’s Next (Clean Feed, 2018) ****½

By Nick Metzger

What’s Next is the fourth album from Norway’s Friends & Neighbors, the quintet of trumpet player Thomas Johansson, tenor sax/bass clarinet player André Roligheten, pianist Oscar Grönberg, bassist Jon Rune Strøm, and percussionist Tollef Østvang. Friends & Neighbors play what they regard as “. . . energetic and melodic free jazz inspired by musicians like Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp. Pharoah Sanders, and John Carter.” And I have to say, if you have a particular affinity for that 70’s free jazz sound then you will highly enjoy this band. Each song has a theme that is generally reprised and/or modified throughout to ground the improvisations (i.e. archetypal 70’s head/improvisation/tail song structure with some variations). This works out well here because the melodies are infectious and the soloists are amazing musicians. Friends & Neighbors is a band whose releases I actively look forward to. On the surface it would appear that confining yourself to a specific sub-style would yield diminishing returns, but this hasn’t been the case with Friends & Neighbors. They have consistently released excellent music and What’s Next (following 2016’s What’s Wrong) is, I believe, their best album yet.

Influx begins with the horns stating an airy and dramatic melody over harmoniously essential cymbal shimmer, piano chords, and pizzicato bass line. This main theme is interposed with a brief but lovely interlude from the piano and rhythm section as the horns drop out. After this interval, the main theme is played once again and the song fades out. For WLB the band comes out swinging a jagged theme from the horns over the thumping piano and the plodding rhythm section. Roligheten takes his solo on tenor which is underpinned by the clatter of the rhythm section and sharply stabbed out piano chord accents. Johansson solos next as the rhythm section switches to a more bop style beat with a walking bassline. This is followed up by a raucous return to the theme to close out the song. Kubrick’s Rude begins with a lengthy, sophisticated, and bittersweet theme statement followed by a very nice solo from Grönberg (with some slightly audible vocalizations ala Alexander von Schlippenbach). Johansson and Roligheten follow this up with interplay and counter melodies, with just a bit of free play included for good measure, then return to the theme to close the song. Euro finds Roligheten on bass clarinet, with the band playing a staggered melody from which Rune Strøm breaks and solos wildly over measured horn bleats and drum/piano stabs. This transitions into an enthusiastic and manic solo from Grönberg which leads back into the theme.

You could just about guess the name of Reflection after hearing the main horn melody. This track is easy on the ears and contemplative similar to the opener, but this time with a brief interlude from Roligheten on tenor before restating the theme and fading out. Mozart, similar to WLB and Kubrick’s Rude, has an odd timing, giving it a kind of playful feel. This changes up as the song progresses into a more swinging refrain and some really nice horn and piano playing followed by the reprise of the main melody. Thorleif’s Blues is a fantastic number finding Roligheten back on bass clarinet divvying the great intro theme with Johansson as Rune Strøm adds some excellent arco accents. Johansson solos over the minimal but pointillist percussion of Østvang before a restatement and variations of the melody with Roligheten. Headway Heat closes the album with high energy bounce and a wild piano solo. Midway through the track Roligheten takes his solo on tenor and plays his most fiery of the set.

The sequencing of What’s Next is auspicious as it layers airy, contemplative numbers such as Influx and Remembering with sharper, more angular song forms like WLB and Mozart. This sweet-and-sour style of sequencing was used to great effect on the 70’s free jazz classic A Conference of Birds by the Dave Holland Quartet. It works now as it did then, testing the listener with tense and strange melodies before providing a brief respite with one of the gentler numbers. All in all it’s one of my favorites this year, a most welcome set from a terrific band.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Sarah Marie Hughes - Coy Fish (Self, 2018) ***

By Stef Gijssels

How nice it is to hear new artists and their very personal take on things. Sarah Marie Hughes is one of them, and her debut album is immediately a winner. Her tone on the alto is all her own, warm, granular in tone and deep. Her music is fully improvised with a very strong coherence and an equally personal approach, if only because it features Samuel Burt on daxophone, the bizarre instrument that is quite strong in copying the human voice. Daniel Ostrow plays bass and Nate Scheible drums.

The long first track is a real statement, a violent, modern outburst of raw expression, primarily driven by Scheible's powerful and relentless drumming, over which Hughes plays frantic and intense solos, accompanied by the almost human wails of Burt's daxophone. The piece is both uplifting and disconcerting. By itself worth the album.

The rest of the album is more intimate, less exuberant than the first track, and that's in fact a little bit of a shame. "The Addict", the very short second track is a clever collective recitation of a text: creative and only possible with various voices, yet it marks a change of sound for the rest of the album. The playing is nice, but it somehow lacks the power and intensity of the opening track, moving into more soft-spoken and meditative improvisations.

"Again", the long third track is a very open-textured piece with a relatively quiet yet intense rumbling rhythm section, creating space for Hughes' gentle alto, and the mood becomes even more meditative and calm with the fourth track.

As on the previous track, Ostrow's bass anchors the improvisation with spacious plucks on the strings, with Scheible adding little touches, as the backdrop for Hughes' pure-toned sensitive solo. The long "Sensitive Sensuality" does what the title claims: a long, almost bluesy, quiet piece that starts getting some intensity at the very end.

The overall sentiment is gentle and friendly, a kind of improvised cool jazz, laid-back, sensitive and warm. It's a nice debut album, with a very personal voice, both musically and on her instrument, but I really would have liked that some of the intensity of the first track could have been maintained or repeated in other places on the album.

An artist to follow.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Unlimited 32 Festival, Wels, Austria, Nov. 9-11, 2018

By Eyal Hareuveni

This year’s program of the Austrian Unlimited festival offered a spectrum of the young, promising and challenging outfits in Austria, Europe and in the United States, with few heavyweights of free music kept for the last night. 22 challenging sets of creative music over three days, not one of these sets allow you to linger in any conventional comfort zone, but all attracted an appreciative audience of few hundred attentive listeners, most of them regulars and doing their pilgrimage to Wels annually. They say that you can’t choose your family but you certainly can choose your community and in Wels you can meet a strong community of like-minded of people who share with you - literally - more than musical tastes.

First Day

The evening sets of the festival began with distinctive piano outfits and the first night introduced one of the most promising piano trios, Punkt.Vrt.Plastik - Slovenian, Amsterdam-based pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish, Berlin-based double bass player Petter Eldh and fellow-Berliner, German drummer Christian Lillinger, who has collaborated before with Eldh in the Amok Amor quartet. The title of this trio who has released just now its debut album (Intakt, 2018) refers to the Swedish word Punkt - point, but also associated with a statement, the Slovenian word Vrt - garden, or where a musical ideas are being cultivated, and Plastik that characterizes the plasticity of of this trio musical structures. And, indeed, the trio introduced a bold and challenging syntax to its complex pieces. Eldh and Lillinger would begin each piece with a muscular rhythmic pattern that often sounded as if it continues another pieces, closer to its last Punkt than to a conventional beginning, then let Draksler shape and color her own territory within these dense patterns, The trio pieces would terminate abruptly this kind of demanding interplay and begin again, further away, mid-piece of a complex structure and then strive for a simpler solution.

The Austrian quartet Kompost 3 - slide trumpeter Martin Eberle, keyboards player Benny Omerzell, electric bass player Manu Mayr and drummer Lukas König - has been working together since 2009, first in a shared apartment in Vienna’s 3rd district, and already released five albums (the most recent one, Abyss, JazzWerkstatt Records, 2018), one album of remixes and a single with local singer-songwriter Mira Lu Kovacs. Kompost 3 is known has an outfit that distances itself from any stylistic conventions and its performance offered its current incarnation as a jazz quartet that its rhythmic foundations are rooted in European techno and hip-hop and its harmonic horizons are aimed at abstract ambient skies, still, sounding as a far relative of jazz quartet as Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob when it comes to its refined tension building and its powerful groove.

The Chicagoan quartet of alto and tenor sax player Dave Rempis, double bass player Joshua Abrams, drummer Avreeayl Ra and pianist and ARP synthesizer player Jim Baker offered a completely different version strong, earthy pulses and imaginary flights. The first ever European performance of this quartet, that outgrew out of a trio of Rempis, Abrams and Ra (Aphelion, Aerophonic, 2014) and released its debut double album two years ago (Perihelion, Aerophonic, 2018), melted different yet sympathetic sonic universes. Ra, an alumni of the Sun Ra Arkestra, laid powerful polyrhythmic basis; The muscular playing of Abrams deepened these driving rhythms and on the other side Baker abstracted their infectious pulses into refined, minimalist textures on the piano and later to noisy soundscape on the vintage synthesizer. Rempis - in the middle, literally - navigated wisely this passionate, energetic flow, alternating between charging it with more power or steering it to more contemplative passages.

Peter Evans
This night ended with a wild and hyperactive performance of the New York trio Pulverize the Sound - trumpeter Peter Evans, electric bass player Tim Dahl and drummer Mike Pride. The trio just released now its sophomore album, simply titled Sequel (More and More, 2018), but its performance was far from simplicity. The trio justified its title and these three sonic terminators played as if possessed by manic power, equipped with ultrasonic speed, in a sacred mission to explore otherworldly timbres, but while keeping a delicate balance between three uncompromising generators of sounds that could have easily supply enough energy for all Upper Austria. Evans, in particular and with a remarkable circular breathing technique, created tsunamis of sounds with his mini, quarter-tone trumpet, as if legions of trumpeters backed him.

Jamie Branch
In between these sets, and in a smaller hall, New York-based trumpeter Jamie Branch and tenor sax player Anna Webber performed short solo sets. Branch offered a series of highly inventive noisy drones spiced with an eccentric sense of humor that made full use of the distinct amplification system and the hall acoustics. Weber experimented-improvised with extended breathing techniques, carefully shaping and morphing her attacks into coherent statements.

Second Day

The second day began with two afternoon sets. The first one presented a quartet of two like-minded duos, the Swiss one of electronics player Gaudenz Badrutt and accordion player Jonas Kocher, that has been working since 2009, together with the duo of German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, known from The International Nothing duo, and local hero Christof Kurzmann on ppooll software and vocals, both released a duo album in 2006 under the moniker Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Quincunx Sound Recordings) and continue to collaborate in the Magic I.D. quartet. This set centered around the quiet, minimalist gestures of Fagaschinski while Bardutt, Kocher and Kurzmann embraced the almost silent commotion with more subtle and transparent sounds, sketching together delicate and suggestive soundscapes. Later, actor Natascha Gangl and vocalist-electronics player Maja Osojnik and synthesizer-laptop player Matija Schellander performed a play in German “Wendy Pferd Tod Mexiko”, that left the non-German speakers enjoying mostly the parts that were sung by the expressive Osojnik.

The evening sets began with another piano trio, but, as usual, completely different from the previous night. French pianist Sophie Angel, Swiss, Berlin-based turntables player Joke Lanz and American, Amsterdam-based drummer Michael Vatcher played together for the first time in the summer of 2016 at the French Météo Festival but not much more since then. But this time lapse did not affected the tight and almost telepathic interplay of this trio. These three highly inventive improvisers - Agnel with her unique playing inside the piano, Lanz with his punkish sense of humor and the rebellious drumming of Vatcher - opted for a kind of fast, dadaist conversation. There was no attempt to sketch coherent narratives or establish rhythmic patterns. but to lure each other into eccentric, often ironic, kaleidoscopic labyrinths of weird, always subversive and most of the time friendly sounds.

The next set expanded even further this of suggestive interplay. The Viennese duo Cilantro of paetzold flute-cassettes-electronics player Angélica Castelló and electronics and electric bass player Billy Roisz, was expanded into a sextet titled Piñata with Norwegian double bass player-vocalist Guro S. Moe, American, Berlin-based trumpeter Liz Allbee, French Revox wizard and electronics player Jérôme Noetinger and fellow-Viennese drummer Katharina Ernst. Piñata music collided a strong physical dimension - the wild shouts of Allbee through the trumpet mouthpiece, the trumpet without a mouthpiece or the trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, the brutal intensity of Moe and more reserved but totally charismatic drumming of Ernst - and the more introverted yet powerfully emotionally whirlwinds of alien sounds that Castelló, Roisz and Noetinger created. Once you thought that you could hang on a stable sonic ground within the nervous gestures of Allbee, Moe and Ernst, then Castelló, Roisz and Noetinger would seduce you to their enigmatic and cryptic universes. One of the highlights of this festival.

Hannah Marshall (c) and violinist Alison Blunt (v)
Next we experienced the British school of free-improvisation with one of its finest outfits - the duo of veteran alto and soprano sax player Trevor Watts, the founder of the legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and pianist Veryan Weston together with younger cellist Hannah Marshall and violinist Alison Blunt, titled as Dialogues with Strings, after their first album, Live at Café OTO in London (Fundacja Słuchaj. 2017), that documented the quartet first ever performance. Their performance offered a similar kind of collaborative openness, mutual trust and organic dynamics, where these distinct improvisers constantly shaped, abstracted and colored each other ideas, making the whole bigger and stronger than only four musicians.

Jamie Branch’s Fly or Die
The night ended with a set of trumpeter Jamie Branch’s Fly or Die quartet - drummer Chad Taylor, cellist Lester St. Louis and double bass player Jason Ajemian, all originally from Chicago but reside now in New York. Branch opened with the powerful “A Prayer to America” that stressed her kind of punkish-hip-hop approach, focused on hypnotic layers of rhythm, backed by the always masterful Taylor and intensified by St. Louis and Ajemian. Taylor, St. Louis and Ajemian left Branch enough space to articulate her emotionally-driven song-like themes, often based on single-note, repetitive patterns. The restless Branch did fly constantly all over the stage, near and far from the microphones, offering her tough, uncompromising sound, but she won me and many others when she spread her wings far away from the stage, playing a touching ballad as an encore, deep within the enthusiastic audience, sounding like no other.

In between these long sets Jim Baker presented a solo set on his ARP Synthesizer, that sounded as inspired by the title of his solo album More Questions Than Answers (Delmark, 2005). He literally conversed with this vintage, wayward instrument’s plugs, cables and keys while attempting to decipher its otherworldly transmissions into a reasonable narrative. Swedish, classically-trained violinist Anna Lindal, member of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra, played an enchanting recital that moved naturally between exploring delicate bowing techniques, that produced meditative sounds, and improvising on folk themes, with sparks of engaging humor and captivating elegance.

Third Day

The third and last day of the festival began with the documentary film “Leaning into the Wind” about the Scottish environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy by director Thomas Riedelsheimer and with a soundtrack of Fred Frith. Later on the afternoon, at the picturesque Catholic seminar Bildungshaus Schloss Puchberg at the outskirts of Wels, two ad-hoc duos performed one after the other. The New York-based Canadian tenor sax player Anna Weber and Austrian pianist Elias Stemeseder performed written compositions that highlighted the unique sax attack of Weber, sounding as inspired by the solo work of Anthony Braxton, and the rich language of Stemeseder, who abstracted and enriched any gesture of Weber, with reserved elegance and arresting imagination. Later local vocal artist Agnes Hvizdalek, based in Oslo, and contrabass clarinetist Susanna Gartmayer presented a much more experimental set. Their free-improvisation began with a shout but immediately settled into a clever and highly expressive conversation, comprised of fractured phonetics and extended breathing techniques.

Hamid Drake
The evening began with another set with a pianist, this time the first ever performance of local Ingrid Schmoliner with master drummer-percussionist Hamid Drake. Schmoliner is known as an experimental improviser and composer who expands the tonal language of contemporary avant-garde music with her striking wooden preparations inside the piano and she has developed a highly personal percussive language. This free-improvised set reached quickly to meditative, transcendental regions, with Drake sketching ritualistic pulses and spells, attentive to any idea of Schmoliner and gently encouraging her to dare more and explore together the infinite depths and colors of her hesitant pulses and his earthy polyrhythms.

The New York-based CP Unit - led by tenor sax player Chris Pitsiokos and with guitarist Sam Lisabeth, bass player Henry Fraser and drummer Jason Nazary, performed a set that was based on the quartet’s recent album, Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years (Clean Feed, 2018). The music of the CP Unit sounded as it was shot from a loud canon, arranged in almost prog-rock, complex mathematical formulas but often glided to a reckless, madcap chaos. Pitsiokos himself crisscrossed this joyful interplay with sharp, powerful shouts and led this passionate unit from one fast collective improvisation to another twisted one.

Bay Area’s trumpeter Darren Johnson’s Reasons for Moving was formed in 2005 as a free-improvised unit with guitarist Fred Frith and tenor and sopranino sax player Larry Ochs of Rova Saxophone quartet. Reasons for moving released so far only one only one self-titled album (Not Two, 2007), with bass player Devin Hoff and drummer Ches Smith, and reconvened for a short European tour again this autumn that began in the Unlimited festival with French double bass player Sébastien Jeser and Swiss drummer Samuel Dühsler. This quintet offered nuanced, poetic textures that instantly morphed from intense, free-improvisations into rich and colorful narratives, charged again and again by the fiery blows of Johnson, the always inventive sonic palette of Frith, the wise interventions of Ochs and the orchestral ideas of Jeser and the thoughtful coloring and sheer energy of Dühsler. All Five improvisers sounded as if they were tapped to the same profound a source of ideas that kept propelling this exciting set to higher and higher skies.

Before the closing set, cellist Lester St. Louis and Argentinian trumpeter Leonel Kaplan performed short solo sets at the smaller hall. St. Louis improvisations explored the timbral range of the cello strings and its wooden body with extended bowing techniques with unique microphones setting. Kaplan explored a whole together different language, almost totally silent, made of quiet breaths and minimalist whispers into the trumpet mouthpiece and gentle touches of the trumpet buttons. Often he sounded as producing electronic white noises, but eventually succeeded to suggest an arresting intensity and remarkable emotional depth.

Fire! Orchestra
The Unlimited 32 Festival ended with a magnificent set of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra. Every performance of this big band is considered as a once of a lifetime experience but this performance of the fourth version of the Fire Orchestra, only 14 musicians, was the most emotional and moving one that I have experienced. The new composition “Arrival”, to the words of vocalist Mariam Wallentin, emphasized a different sound - acoustic and lyrical - and surprising instrumentation, focused on a strings quartet and clarinet section, with core members - vocalists Wallentin and sofia Jernberg, double bass and electric bass player John Berthling, drummer Andreas Werliin and trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and Gustafsson himself on the baritone sax. Wallentin and Jernberg delivered this powerful piece with natural charisma and unique passion that only emphasized the powerful appeal of this one-of-a-kind Orchestra, even in its most reserved and modest mode. Wallentin led the Orchestra also in the encore, a surprising but sober cover of Chic’s “At Last I’m Free”, inspired by the cover of Robert Wyatt to this song.

The artistic director of the festival, Wolfgang Wasserbauer, notified the audience that next year, same place, Unlimuted 33 will be curated by German pianist Magda Mayas, Japanese guitarist and daxophone player Kazuhisa Uchihashi and legendary American reeds player Joe McPhee, titled “40.60.80”.