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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mark Morgan - Department of Heraldry (Open Mouth, 2018) ****½

By Nick Metzger

I've been putting off writing this review for days now. Mouth agape, shell-shocked eyes staring blankly into the distance. This record is serious business and gifts us with the debut solo long player from Mark Morgan, one third of the mutant industrial creature that was Sightings. You’ll want a moist towelette to wipe off the grimy goodness that gets splattered all over your existence. But it won't come off, it burns its way through, resolving you to a puddle of corrosive sludge that eats a hole into the center of the earth. It's that good. This is the first in Open Mouth Records’ recently announced solo guitar series and it definitely has me psyched for what's to come. Departing a bit from Open Mouth’s general no-frills aesthetic this record is really good looking; from the sleeve to the run out groove the physical copy is exceptionally well done. Attribute this to Open Mouth label head Bill Nace’s good taste and dedication in getting this album out there and doing it justice. It’s an explosive beginning to a series that’s sure to be full of amazing albums.

As for the uninitiated, if you like your guitar extra crispy you’ll want to order up a family size bucket of this delectable skronk. Fans of Keiji Haino and/or Fushitsusha’s brand of sonic mayhem will find much to love here, as will fans of Sightings (obviously), Wolf Eyes and Corporate Park, or perhaps those throttled by last year’s Chaos Echoes & Mats Gustafsson release. It's probably the best solo ‘noise’ guitar album I've heard since Alan Licht's 2013 masterpiece Four Years Older (IMO, of course). And yet to call this noise guitar feels like a bit of a misrepresentation as it implies (at least technically I suppose it does) a certain underlying haphazardness. That definitely doesn't feel like the base force at work here. While harshness undeniably plays a big part in the proceedings, this is an infinitely listenable record for fans of inventive textures, extreme processing, and dark industrial implications. The layers of heaving fuzz that Morgan conjures follow a warped logic that plays itself out within the possessed funhouse mirrors of these pieces. Like a sonic delirium, nothing behaves like you're expecting it to and everything seems down-right menacing, yet you can't snap out of the trance it puts on you nor would you particularly care to.

Jinx Hack creates a spectral atmosphere of squealing feedback and subtle dread. Morgan rips out peels of destroyed guitar squall over a sea of static and reverb. Gentlemen's C plies a rumbling loop with more subtle, scattered playing. The separate entities converge in a muted but violent rhythm that vibrates your eyeballs and rattles your teeth (play this loud). The final half of Side A is imbued with Supercomplication, a sprawling landscape of dark, sneering psychedelia where fissures of sound erupt irregularly. The probing guitar work is capped with a short reverb that blurs the edges like visual tracers. Side B opens up with a piece called Doctor Detroit that’s all crackling looped riffs and incandescent guitar spray. It's a gritty deluge of post-industrial atmospherics with guitar stabs that explode like shattering panes of glass. Towards its conclusion, the song gets a melodic wash of noisy guitar jangle that is progressively consumed by spattering of fuzz and hiss. A Guy Named Reggae is a moody change-up based off a drone of guitar haze that periodically bursts like streaks of white phosphorus. It briefly provides some space in the pressure cooker before Mikki dishes out death by a thousand piercing tones. The pins and needles fuzz blow out is a perfect close to a fantastic record.

Mark Morgan live at Silke Arp Bricht on October 20, 2018

Harriet Tubman – The Terror End Of Beauty (Sunnyside, 2018) ****

By Chris Haines 

This release sees Brandon Ross’s group, named after the American abolitionist, return as a trio after their previous release Araminta, which saw them expand to a quartet with Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. Ross’s guitar playing has many dimensions to it and he has added his sound and improvisational quality to many albums over the years from the lost classic of the New Life Trio with Steve Reid, to his crucial contributions on Henry Threadgill Very Very Circus albums being particular stand-out favourites of mine.

Across the ten tracks The Terror End Of Beauty is full of strong grooves from the rhythm section and varying colourful sounds, mainly coming from Ross’s effected guitar. There is a continuity to the sounds throughout and the playing from all of the trio moves from tight rhythmic structures to a more expressive and improvisational feel in a natural way, such as on the title track where the more laid-back traditional harmonic theme gives way to a much noisier and freely melodic material. Combined with this there are some more soundscape and spacious moments that provide a breath of air and contrast to the more busy and full-on elements of the musical fabric.

The Terror End Of Beauty is a good strong album, which doesn’t disappoint, so for those who enjoy power trios this is certainly worth checking out.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Two from Guitarist Wendy Eisenberg

By Nick Metzger
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Wendy Eisenberg makes quite a statement with these two 2018 albums. It's not surprising that they're as good as they are, her playing on Birthing Hips’ 2017 album Urge to Merge is fantastic; at once melodic, prickly, and virtuosic. These albums showcase two sides of this multifaceted artist's music; her solo acoustic-electric material, where she chases her muse in a very personal, idiosyncratic guitar language, and in a trio with Trevor Dunn and Ches Smith where her playing style is utilized to dual with these sonic titans in an absolute blast furnace of an album. And though the style of the albums differs wildly, there is a continuity in her playing across both sets that works whether she's plucking out angular acoustic shapes or laying down fuzz bombs.

Its Shape Is Your Touch (Vin Du Select Qualitite, 2018) ****½

The album begins softly with 'Sol Lewitt', in which softly plucked strings tangle with muted, percussive pops and bent harmonics. She weaves folk and free improvisation in a continuous flow of ideas, though more heavily leveled towards the latter in this track. In 'Lethe' she lets the folk elements emerge and evolve. It begins abstractly before she settles into a fingerpicked melody that evokes a journey down the song’s namesake river; discomposing but still peculiarly comforting. ' Early November' is a clinic of melodic ideas and guitar technique. Eisenberg’s mastery of manual dexterity is apparent, as fingerpicked passages are interlaced with quick runs of trills, harmonics, and hammer-ons. She moves from one musical idea to the next, each evolving from the previous so naturally that it’s hard to discern the chicken from the egg. It sounds to me like 'Eridanos' is pocked with very slight nods to Spanish guitar and flamenco that have been mixed into her sound concoction. 'The Designated Mourner' would almost fit in on an old Takoma release (I’m sure Fahey would’ve loved this album). It has a rolling, narrative feel emanated by many of those artists but all filtered through Eisenberg’s incongruous, constantly probing style. 'Sawn' begins with a barely discernable figure scraped out of her guitar before some warm chords. The song is very hypomanic, exhibiting several creative flights and variations before returning to the subdued attack of the opening. 'All Saints' recalls for me the early work of guitarist/composer Bjørn Fongaard in its use of pointillist microtones and harmonics. Its penetratingly investigative approach explores the spaces between semitones with enthusiasm and serves as a final statement from a most satisfying album.

Eisenberg’s acoustic work brings another name to mind of course, that being the late, great Derek Bailey. It’s almost unavoidable that his name will pop in your head the moment you hear a false note or harmonic being thrown in the mix, but Eisenberg’s music has a more narrative feel compared with Bailey (or even Tashi Dorji’s acoustic material as a more recent comparison). Another name that I’ll mention, although sadly much less well known, is that of the late New Zealand guitarist Donald McPherson who informed his free improvisations with the essence of classical and folk (or perhaps vice versa). All of these comparisons however fail to capture the scope of her unique talent and are ultimately due to me trying to reconcile this brilliant album with something that I am familiar with, as ultimately her music may have its allusions but it’s uniquely her own.

Three Dream Rooms - VDSQ

The Machinic Unconscious (Tzadik, 2018) ****

The Machinic Unconscious finds Eisenberg teamed up with longtime John Zorn collaborators Trevor Dunn on bass and Ches Smith on percussion. Mr. Dunn is well known to the Collective, whether from his Mr. Bungle/Fantomas/Tomahawk fame, or his work with John Zorn. The same goes for Ches Smith who played skins on an album that showed up in almost all of the Collective’s Top 10 lists in 2018. Besides that he’s played so many projects in 2018 alone that it would be difficult to list them all, but they include contributions to records from Mary Halvorson’s Sextet, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Matt Mitchell’s debut, Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, as well as being a longtime collaborator of Trevor Dunn’s in Trio-Convulsant and Secret Chiefs. Dunn and Smith are both accomplished and well-practiced free improvisers and provide the perfect foil for Eisenberg on this recording.

'The Descent of Alette' begins with Dunn’s bass growling with fuzz and peeling off squeals and chirps into which Eisenberg and Smith dimly venture, Eisenberg with clean lines glossed at times with ring modulation and Smith with a light crackling attack, like a kindling fire. The piece varies in intensity several times tricking you into thinking that kindling will take off and leave this one blazing, but it never does, and remains a fragmented and probing affair throughout. 'Depths of Locusts' feels every bit as disconcerted, with the band rapidly shifting between blasts of fuzz and quieter introspective playing. The avant-funk of 'Parataxis' is built off Dunn and Smith’s steady tempo, with Eisenberg slashing chords and motifs from her guitar, playing at times with and against the rhythm. The stage is set for 'Zoning' against Dunn’s wooly mammoth bass playing and Smith’s understated clatter. The rhythm section provides a lightly spun (but intense) structure for Eisenberg to light-up with some of her most fiery playing of the set. Kiln starts off with an overdriven chord progression that disappears almost as quickly as it began, buckling and collapsing into free interplay. This piece is another showcase of Eisenberg’s dexterity, she absolutely shreds on this track. 'Frayed, Knotted, and Unshorn' kind of sounds like the name implies, it’s very disjointed. Eisenberg and Dunn hit the pedalboards hard on this one, deriving just about every texture you could think of from their simple stringed instruments; the group chemistry is terrific (I bet they had a blast making this record). Ches Smith is so sly that you barely notice that it’s really his sandbox they’re playing in.

On 'Dangerous Red' we get an off-center vamp by Eisenberg via rapidly sliced out chord sequences as Dunn and Smith provide a rumbling bed of rhythm for her to traverse before the piece opens up into another fantastic improvisation. 'Kin Dza Dza' is a brief, fervent, well-timed explosion that finds the band pushing their capabilities (and gear) into the red for about a minute and a half. It concisely answers the question that was building in my mind while listening to this album: “How intense can this get?” 'Mycoaelia' begins with crackling, chirping guitar, rubbery bass, and a wisp of cymbal chatter. It is in turns probing and assertive; jangling melancholy turns to fuzzed-out maelstrom in the blink of an eye, never allowing you to gain proper footing. '6J' is a timbral as much as a rhythmic exploration that displays the band stacking juxtaposing phrases that crackle with intensity between more pensive build-ups of brooding interchanges. The album is capped off with 'Foresworn', a brief improvisation that doesn’t summarize the album so much as it offers one more possibility of what this group can sound like. The variety of sounds and playfulness combined with the intensity of a rock band make this release a real standout.

Available from Tzadik or Squidco ; or if you must, Amazon has it as a download.

Fred Frith Trio - Closer To The Ground (Intakt, 2018) ****

By Stef

After the acclaimed Another Day In Fucking Paradise, this is the second album by the Fred Frith Trio, with the leader on electric guitar, Jason Hoopes on electric bass and double bass, and Jordan Glenn on drums and percussion. In the meantime, the trio has performed and toured together, as can be heard on the solid coherence of the three musicians to create one relatively unique sound.

In my younger years, Henry Cow was on my turntable, like so many other of the British prog rock scene, and interestingly enough, Fred Frith, then the guitarist of the band, took a long musical journey in line with my personal journey as a listener, to free jazz and free improv, although he's kept his rock-ish attitude to scales and sound. He's played with musicians such as Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Hans Reichel (!), Henry Kaiser, Tom Cora, Lol Coxhill, John Zorn, Larry Ochs, John Butcher, Barry Guy ... and many more. Despite the differences in style and his approach to both music and his instrument, the collaborations worked, because the artists managed to find common ground and creative interaction without giving up their specificity.

This is very much a Frith album, despite the amazing work done by the rhythm section. The trio delivers a relatively accessible album - even if relative is a relative concept - of raw atmospheric pieces, clever, creative and dark, with hypnotic rhythms that come and go, with eery resonating shards of guitar piercing through an ominous sonic environment. I am not sure where the label gets the notions of "playful and intimate" to describe this music, but I can tell you that it's anything but "playful and intimate": it is somber and spacious. It is mostly slow and linear, with the only exception of the uptempo and short "Betting On The World", on which bass and drums get the chance to demonstrate their skills at a faster pace, with a phlegmatic Frith continuing to play one chord for each bar, yet the fusion fun gets rapidly destroyed by the harsh "Love And Other Embers" into which it evolves.  The central track "Stars Like Trees" by itself is already worth the purchase of this album: its crushing atmosphere is accentuated with odd rhythmic sounds like galloping horses, industrial destruction and ear-piercing chords, and is followed by a track that is almost as good, the long "A Path Made By Walking", which has the mad mesmerizing and psychedelic build-up of an early Pink Floyd song.

The music is hard to classify or to pigeonhole (luckily!): it is not jazz, not rock, not fusion, not noise either. It is something else: wayward, stubborn, recalcitrant, unpredictable, uncompromising, performed by three musicians who take their instruments beyond the boundaries of conventions to create something new and fascinating.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Olaf Rupp's World of Guitar

By Paul Acquaro

I was introduced to the playing of Olaf Rupp by my Free Jazz Blog colleague Martin Schray. He described Rupp's playing in a 2016 review, explaining that his "hallmark is that he plays the guitar in an upright position, reminiscent of Chinese pipa players. This way it’s easier to integrate flageolets, tremolos and arpeggios so as to create overtones and clusters." I have since had the opportunity to catch Rupp performing on electric guitar both with drummer Michael Wertmuller in a bombastic duo at the FMP exhibition last March, and in a colorful trio with Paul Rogers and Frank Paul Schubert. Both times were fascinating and quite different. Following suit, these three recordings showcase the guitarist in three much different settings, each time bringing something fascinating and quite different to the table.

Olaf Rupp - Closeups (Audiosemantics, 2018) ****

First up is an acoustic solo album on the classical guitar that finds Rupp exploring the full range of possibilities that the instrument offers. There are four tracks to the recording, each one seeming to be a search anew, each one with a different emphasis. The first track "Closeup 1" runs 23 minutes and is an evocative trek though the mind of the player. It begins with a brusque bright chord and continues with a stop and start array of approaches, from physically demonstrative slaps and taps on the fret-board to an extensive use of dynamics in contrasting single notes runs, chordal firecrackers, and rich arpeggiated passages. The second track, "Closeup 2" feels more deliberate, after a percussive set of appeggios, there is a possible bowing of the strings, a series of taps against the guitar body, and an extrusion of tones from the instrument that stretch to a near breaking point. It is a compelling collection of tones and ideas connected neatly through tension. "Closeup 3", is a short six minutes, but it's densely packed with a more structured chordal and melodic approach. It swings from classical through folkish and poppy sections before settling back into a classical theme that mixes dissonance and the attacks on the strings expertly. "Closeup 4" closes out the recording, it begins deliberately and slow, plucked notes are allowed to fully play out before the next set of interactions. Allowing the natural of decay of the notes to happen introduces a element of peace, even when punctuated with violent flagellation.

Hearing Rupp on acoustic guitar, and especially the nylon string classical, is revelatory. It's captivating to hear how he uses the instrument in a somewhat conventional manner, but extrapolates from this sound and language something uniquely his own. To keep it interesting for an hour is a skill, but to make the listener hear things anew on each listen is a true art.

Xenofox & Joke Lanz - Alarm (Oltrano Records, 2018) ****

Berlin's A'Larme Festival is now entering it's seventh year, and each year grows stronger. My colleague Martin Schray and I have covered the event together several times. In 2017 he was on his own, and the had the chance to see Rupp's performance with his duo Xenofox, plus Joke Lanz electronics, which turned out to be the source of this new release. Xenofox is Rupp's collaboration with drummer Rudi Fischerlehner, which released Hundred Beginnings in 2016, and Lanz is a Swiss DJ, now living in Berlin, and leads the punk/noise/rock group Sudden Infant.

Of the concert, Schray wrote, "Rupp’s unique style with a lot of tremolos and arpeggios and Fischerlehner’s grooves were attacked by Lanz’ provocative intersperses, which created weird and crass beats ... the band was at their best in the quieter moments, when they created the atmosphere for the more dynamic passages." Listening to the album, minus the context of the visuals and the festivities of the setting, this description holds up, and the intense moments of this dynamic engagement are just as enjoyable as the quieter exploratory moments. Starting with "A Mouse in the House of Johann Strauss", the groups' empathy is apparent. They start slow, a tap on the drums, some strumming from Rupp, then an interruption from Lanz ... a snippet of voice, syllables, intensifying strumming from the guitar, in line with a galvanizing pulse from the drums. The track builds until entropy takes over and we're left with some ringing harmonics from Rupp and scratches from Lanz. It it unclear if the trio actually stopped between tracks, it's doubtful since this type of music is best expressed in the ebb and flow of energy and connection. Regardless, the second track, "Dehumanization Civilization" is quite different in its composition. The samples and electronics are at the fore and have a de-centering effect. On 'Switzerland a Cigar in my Hand', Rupp offers a delicate introduction, a sweep of notes, then a matrix of soft metallic tones for Fischerlehner's light percussive patterns. The group picks up and Lanz and Rupp engage in an intense interchange over a near hardcore drum assault. The quiet passages do offer something special, but perhaps it's the contrast with the intense moments that make this dynamic clash of sounds so engaging and a little maddening.

Paul Rogers, Olaf Rupp, Frank Paul Schubert - Three Stories About Rain, Sunlight And The Hidden Soil (Relative Pitch, 2018) *****

I was at first on the fence with this one. It is dense, there is a lot happening, and I was searching for the way in. Ultimately, it was the release concert that really opened my ears up to hear the recording. Seeing Paul Rogers man-handling his seven string acoustic bass, pulling sound of it every which way was a start. Hearing Frank Paul Schubert's saxophone work is uncompromising with its perpetual forward motion, both aggressive or subdued. In between these two, Rupp's guitar adds textures and tones, that feel like a connective tissue between the other matter, and adds percussive clatter to the mix.

The first track 'Rain' is a thirty minute improvisation that starts out with gusto and proceeds to travel through very peaks and valleys of intensity. The mid-point of the track is an exploratory run that is a high point of quiet collaborative listening and reacting, over an ostinato bass-line, Rupp plucks an array of notes, like dots of lights on a mountain range at night, as Schubert delicately outlines the think band of light over the peaks. The track builds back to the intensity that it began with, but differently. Now, it's a focused intensity, Schubert blows at the extreme end of the instrument and Rupp's guitar is blurting out thick lightly distorted tonal clusters, while Rogers throws in harmonics and rapid plucked lines. The following track 'Curry', begins with an open and lilting interchange of sounds. Schubert's tone is dominant at first, with quick lines often in the upper register, while Rupp and Rogers engage a give and take that keeps the foundation from solidifying. The trio proceeds to engage via several different approaches: Rogers offers sweeping pendulous tones, while Rupp digs deep into his bag of tricks and pulls out some surprising things, and Schubert delivers a reliable stream of melodic ideas. The third and final track, 'Yeast', begins with the musicians using the extremes of their instruments. Tappings on the fretboard, difficult to discern reverberations from the bass, and muted tones from the sax pool together as a swirl of small sounds that slowly (approximately ten minutes) gel.

Three Stories About Rain, Sunlight And The Hidden Soil became one of my favorite releases of 2018, it's diverse and uncategorizable music that continues to challenge me as a listener.

Available from Relative Pitch directly.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Mary Halvorson / Bill Frisell – The Maid With The Flaxen Hair: A Tribute To Johnny Smith (Tzadik, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

Sometimes I love reading scorchers (especially on amazon and youtube) of albums and artists I like a lot. Mary Halvorson, for example, often seems to disappoint people who are confronted with her music without having heard her before. On her new release, The Maid With The Flaxen Hair, a duo album with Bill Frisell, she pays tribute to the music of guitarist Johnny Smith. A listener ranted that this was a perfect example of “the bankruptcy of modern jazz guitar, taking one wonderful song after another, burying the melody in all sorts of extraneous effects“. For him the album was just awful and he wondered what kind of tribute to Johnny Smith this was. Well, one that makes perfect sense, of course.

Compared to Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis and Grant Green, Johnny Smith is by far less famous. On the other hand, especially among musicians, Smith, who was also familiar with classical music, is widely considered as one of the greatest guitarists of the cool jazz era of the 1950s and early 1960s - and he has influenced both Halvorson and Frisell. Together, they play ten numbers associated with the guitarist, most of them ballads.

Bill Frisell’s connection to Johnny Smith goes even further back. He studied with him in 1970 at the University of Northern Colorado, where Smith had moved after the death of his wife in order to take care of his daughter. Frisell wasn't impressed by Smith’s lessons, coming down on his playing as “old fuddy duddy corny schmaltzy stuff“. He’s often regretted this statement since then, because he soon discovered the grace in Smith's elaborate and lyrical playing. “I didn't get it at the time. I wasn't hearing the beauty. I’m ashamed of myself and embarrassed to tell you this“, he later said about Smith’s style. One of Frisell’s signature tracks, “Shenandoah“ (from Good Dog, Happy Man), is based on Smith’s version of the traditional song and dedicated to him. Frisell did also copy Smith's arrangement of the folk song "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair“ and it's this arrangement that Halvorson plays note for note here. What is more, she plays it on a guitar designed by Johnny Smith. And what an outstanding version this is. Halvorson’s playing is ultra-precise, she takes the mellowness out of Smith’s version. It’s simple, clean and clear, the melody is crassly put to the fore, so that one has the impression that each note stabs you. This is foiled by Frisell's wobbly, yet elegant accompaniment.

Although the love of the two guitarists of Smith’s music constantly shines through, they make his versions their own as they meander through these well known compositions. As to Halvorson she does this with her hallmark sound created by a volume pedal and a Line 6 delay modeler plus expression pedal, as to Frisell it’s his reverberant, spacious, open style. Another highlight is “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“, a classic the duo plays with the utmost respect, almost dissecting it. “Walk Don't Run“, a Smith original and the only uptempo track here, closes the album. It’s a joyful, sparkling number, that sounds as if the notes were made of glass. “I'm nowhere close to getting it right, but I'm going to keep on trying and trying“, Frisell says on playing this tune. That’s a bit too coquettish, of course.

The Maid With The Flaxen Hair is a virtuoso album that not only every guitarist should listen to. Moreover, it’s a very good introduction to Johnny Smith, no matter what the negative comments say.

It’s available as a CD. You can buy it from or from the label:

Listen to “Scarlet Ribbons From Her Hair“ here:

Andrew Cyrille – Lebroba (ECM, 2018) ****½

By Chris Haines

Andrew Cyrille made his name in the free jazz world as the drummer in Cecil Taylor’s outfits, including featuring on the seminal albums Unit Structures and Conquistador!. Previous to joining Taylor, Cyrille had also played with other established artists such as Walt Dickerson and Coleman Hawkins, and later went onto to record with Oliver Lake, recording just as many albums with him as he had with Taylor, notwithstanding the recordings he made with David Murray, Marilyn Crispell, and Carla Bley to name a few. As well as providing services for many other artists over the years Cyrille has produced a fine and diverse body of work himself, his first album What About? being a solo drum/percussion affair and something he developed further with the duo recordings he made with fellow jazz drummer Milford Graves. Not only is Cyrille a fine free jazz drummer, having developed his style and technique during a time when the more forward looking artists were looking for more than just a time-keeper, and the likes of Cyrille were wanting to explore the possibilities and redefine the notion of the drummer, but he is also a fine composer as well. Lebroba is his second album for ECM, following up on 2016’s The Declaration of Musical Independence, which also features Bill Frisell. Whereas that was a quartet date, Lebroba is a trio featuring Wadada Leo Smith as well as Frisell and himself.

Lebroba is rich in its musicality, and the strength of the three musicians individually is key to this date, with all of them on fine form. The title being an amalgamation of the first few letters of each musicians’ respective birthplace. Personally, I was very interested to hear this album, as I have enjoyed each musicians’ playing recently in other projects, including Cyrille’s contributions to Ben Monder’s Amorphae, Leo Smith’s Najwa, and Frisell’s duo with Thomas Morgan - Small Town. Having pulled this trio together the end result doesn’t disappoint, it is also the first time Frisell and Smith have recorded together.

There are five pieces on the album, two are Cyrille’s, one each from Frisell and Smith, and a collaborative improvisation. The opener is ‘Worried Woman’, originally from Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers album, with Frisell’s guitar echoing Smith’s phrases at the beginning within a free pulse that skitters along towards the end with the help of Cyrille’s cymbal work, whilst being careful not to imply any particular metric unit. Smith’s ‘Turiya: Alice Coltrane Meditations and Dreams: Love’, not only has the longest title but is also the most expansive piece on the album coming in at seventeen and a half minutes. The traditional roles of soloist, accompanist, and time-keeper are not entirely dispensed with here but are used in a looser way, allowing the different musicians to interact more directly with each other whilst nodding to the past. There is much space in the music throughout this piece and the sounds are framed by their respective silences quite purposefully, with each of the musicians coming together in different combinations to form varied musical textures. ‘Lebroba’ is a husky bluesy piece, made even more so by Smith’s sexy Harmon mute drenched phrases and Frisell’s accompaniment, which flirts around with the blues inspired theme. ‘TGD’ is the collaborative improvisation, finding Frisell sporting a slightly more abrasive sound that goes head to head with Smith’s trumpet, the two lines weaving into each other at certain points. The closer is the most straightforward piece, Cyrille’s ballad ‘Pretty Beauty’.

Throughout the album, Cyrille’s fine and intricate percussive playing can be found, adding textural flourishes, dynamic swells, carefully placed punctuations, and skilfully placed timbral additions to the others contributions and the music as a whole. What he started over fifty years ago, the master drummer continues on Lebroba with two other masters of their art.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

LFU: Lisbon Freedom Unit ‎– Praise of our Folly (Clean Feed, 2018) ****

By Colin Green 
The Lisbon Freedom Unit is a nonet comprising Luís Lopes (guitar), Rodrigo Amado and Pedro Sousa (tenor saxophones, left and right), José Bruno Parrinha (soprano saxophone & clarinet), Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano & rhodes), Ricardo Jacinto (cello), Hernâni Faustino (double bass), Pedro Lopes (turntables & electronics), and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums & percussion). As implied by the Unit’s name, this is a collaborative exercise where there is no leader but a subsumption to group sound and development, an approach to free improvisation probed in the early days of Brit Improv by AMM, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Music Improvisation Company. As Evan Parker has observed, in the most general terms this involved finding ways of melding into the ensemble, most typically by either dissolving instrumental character with an emphasis on layered, commingled textures, or fragmenting individual voices, listening and interrupting using overlapping invitations and responses. Nowadays, and as heard on this album, what might be thought of as the gestalt versus multiple discourse strategies for collective improvisation are regarded as merely different points on a line, options amongst many for exploring group dynamics.

For good reason, this kind of improvisation lacks direction as that usually requires a director or an agreed route, means of organisation which are antithetical to extemporary investigation, though in other contexts they have their place. This doesn’t mean however, that it has no purpose or is devoid of narrative logic. Instead, there’s a procedure best summarised by Winnie the Pooh, “I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been”, a non-teleological process of discovering fresh ground, or old ground in new ways, incrementally and from various angles, working with the unpredictable yet avoiding a mere succession of disconnected sounds. In short, creating by unexpected connections rather than making according to a preconceived idea. It’s in the space between the calculated and the chaotic that meaningful activity forms, and different ways of using informed intuition to find and plot that territory are what these four improvisations are about. The musicians are no strangers to such matters. Within the ensemble we find the RED Trio, an exemplar of band integration, the Garden trio, the duo Eitr, two-thirds of Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio, and half of the Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet; confirmation, were it needed, that Lisbon is a thriving centre for creative music.

The pieces are simply numbered I to IV, each under 15 minutes. None are ground-breaking – there’s a tendency to promote improvised music as innovative in order to be worthwhile – and the session reflects the traditional virtues of collective focus, alert listening and imaginative input. The ensemble is sonically varied, with sounds acoustic and electronic, plucked and bowed, blown and struck, tuned and untuned. The opening improvisation makes full use of this range in a stark landscape traversed by sounds tentatively connected: an echoing piano frame and damped keys, bass flickers, powdery electronics, percussive chatter and clarinet burbles, and across it all a mist of saxophones that hangs in the air. ‘II’ comes to life with convulsions on piano, bass, cello and guitar, which form themselves into uninterrupted lines that swerve, loop and intersect in ever-accelerating exchanges. The babel reaches a peak when after a long wait the saxophones join the fray, resulting in a burn-out that dwindles into fugitive shapes, disconnected fragments from the previous material floating back to their original state.

Given the levelling-out that takes place, there are times when it’s helpful to disregard what instruments are playing and consider the aggregate, a conglomerate that bustles with variegated life. For listeners as well as musicians, the ear is an extension of the brain and therefore not just a passive receptor but part of our processing equipment. ‘III’ is all scintillating hues and porous boundaries, a whirl of centrifugal and centripetal forces with occasional melodic shards breaking through. The texture is circled by a bleep set on repeat and eventually reduced to a group of low resonances, frequencies that are opened out like a piece of reverse engineering to reveal an inner world of assorted colour and motion.

At one time there was a conscious avoidance of the recognisably idiomatic in free improvisation but the idea that musical personality can be shed is unrealistic, and probably undesirable – memory is more than a simple attic of the mind. Its traces inform and shape the here and now and music cannot exist in a disembodied present. On ‘IV’, saxophones indulge is some hard, free-jazz blowing inducing a kinetic response in the rest of the nonet. As throughout the album, nothing stays the same for long as they’re submerged by repeating patterns at different speeds, themselves transformed into melting layers of sound, decomposed and reconstituted until the close.

The album’s name is a play on the title to Erasmus’ satire of human self-deception and that of his Church, a book that is ironic yet also a recognition of the necessary part our foibles play in life. For the Unit, I suspect the album title carries the suggestion that musically, when approached in the right temper the unplanned is a constructive activity, however foolish that might seem, and that it can bring about those serendipitous moments that are valuable stimulants to the imagination. Or, to revert to Winnie the Pooh, “One of the advantages of being disorganised is that one is always having surprising discoveries”. Yes, Indeed.

Praise of our Folly is available direct from Clean Feed or Amado’s Bandcamp site.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Latest Releases from John Butcher

By Eyal Hareuveni

Readers of this blog need no introduction to British innovative sax player John Butcher. His four new releases offer engaging and intriguing sonic journeys with an enigmatic site specific, new and old collaborators, adventurous solo pieces and an orchestral work with Butcher as an improvising soloist.

Joe McPhee / John Butcher - At The Hill Of James Magee (Trost, 2019) *****

The first ever meeting of master sax players - American Joe McPhee and British John Butcher happened in April 17, 2010 in the middle of nowhere. McPhee and butcher played at The Hill, located 70 miles east of El Paso, Texas, deep in the the Chihuahuan desert, where enigmatic artist James Magee - a painter, sculptor, poet, film and video maker, has been building, over the last three decades, four identical buildings connected by causeways, crafted of irregularly-cut shale rock, spreading over 2,000 acres of desert land. Magee's work on The Hill is supposed to conclude around 2030. Only a handful of people have visited The Hill and photographing it is strictly forbidden.

McPhee and Butcher played at The Hill on a dry and windy afternoon, before about 70 people who did the tasking pilgrimage to the unique site. Their set transforms the intensity of The Hill into a profound, ceremonial-spiritual experience. Any performance in this forces the musicians to play, actually collaborate, with the voices of the desolated landscape, the architecture and rare acoustics of The Hill, as well as in relation to its emotional weight and the unfathomable dedication of Magee to this place.

The set began with the 20-minutes “Sometimes Yes, Sometimes”. McPhee plays the alto sax inside the North building and Butcher plays the tenor sax inside the South Building, each of these buildings is five meter high and full of sculptors and installations by Magee. The whole set was captured by two microphones, located outside the buildings and recording into battery-powered equipment, as The Hill is far from the local electric grid. At one point, McPhee and Butcher exit the buildings, continue playing as they walk to the opposite structure, passing each other at the center of the cruciform walkway. McPhee and Butcher alternated solo on the next shorter, five pieces, played on the walkway, elevated three meters above the ground.

McPhee and Butcher opt for a reserved and sparse tone, as The Hill natural reverberations proved to be a powerful, open-air echo chamber to reckon with. Often both sound reverential and contemplative, stressing brief silences, but on few occasions they burst with emotional, fiery cries. Both McPhee and Butcher responded subtly to each solo pieces but avoided explicit comments. Their short solo pieces emphasized McPhee’s hypnotic, emotional urgency and Butcher’s innovative. percussion ideas. They conclude this magnificent set with the serene and playful duet, “St. Ida's Breath (Less Her Neck And Teeth)”.

Eddie Prévost /John Butcher - Visionary Fantasies (Matchless Recordings, 2018) ****½

AMM’s percussionist Eddie Prévost and Butcher shared the stage for the first time at Derek Bailey's 1990 London Company Week. They didn't perform together again until March 2005, when they recorded their first duo album, (Interworks, Matchless, 2005). Since then they kept performing together in different formats, recorded collaborations of Butcher with AMM (Trinity and Sounding Music, with an expanded AMM featuring pianist Christian Wolff and cellist Ute Kanngiesser, Matchless, 2008 and 2010) and later Butcher took part in in Prévost’s series of Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists (Volume 2, with double bass player Guillaume Viltard, Matchless, 2012).

Visionary Fantasies was recorded in April 2018 at Iklectik, London. The cover frames this duo recording with a fitting aphorism by William Blake’ from “The Argument” (1788): “As the true method of knowledge is experiment, the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences. This faculty I treat of”.

Butcher begins with two solo pieces, the contemplative “Twice and More” that investigates the resonant qualities of the tenor sax and as an abstract wind machine, and “Tree Demons”, where Butcher orchestrates bird calls into a playful, urgent choir. Prévost’s 19-minutes solo “Obsessional Enquiries” begins as a deep meditation on the microtonal and almost infinite resonant characteristics of cymbals and gongs. Later it morphs into powerful waves of intense, metallic sounds, each one explores more and more nuances of these sounds, and then it concludes with a quiet, graceful coda.

Prévost and Butcher three-parts “Visionary Fantasies” suite encompasses many facets of the inventive and imaginative language of these master improvisers. They play and experiment with abstract, constant-shifting dynamics as means to share ideas and doubts, feed each other’s with an invigorating energy, release the torturing tension, suggest a vivid, cinematic drama and offer compassion and tender yet sober comfort. And all performed with rich, beautiful colors and engaging elegance.

John Butcher - Made to Measure (Self Produced, 2018) ****

Made to Measure is collection of six distinct compositions from Butcher, commissioned or written for specific situations, events and compilations, dating from 1998 until 2017, and available only on Butcher’s Bandcamp page .

The opening, playful “and sometimes a mistake is the best move you can make”, for multi-tracked tenor and soprano saxophones, offers a clever architecture of sax choir. It was written as a response to a passage in Daniel Defoe's 1772 novel "A Journal of the Plague Year" , contributed to Argentinian author and scholar Reinaldo Laddaga's project things a mutant needs to know (Unsounds, 2013).

“Asymptotic Freedom”, titled after a term from particle physics, for one player who uses saxophone controlled feedback, acoustic guitar, e-bow, snare drum and piano wire, responds to the “self destructive art" theories of artist and political activist Gustav Metzger, and commissioned by harpist Rhodri Davies. This abstract piece suggests an enigmatic rhythmic game made of the saxophone imaginative, feedback noises.

The brilliant, cinematic “Between the Skies”, for saxophone and sound files, appeared in a different version on Tarab Cuts (Out of the Machine, 2014). This piece flirts with pre-WWII Arabic music, and often abstracts the calls the muezzins recitations. It was commissioned for Visiting Tarab, conceived by Lebanese composer Tarek Atoui as a modern day response to the classical Arabic music in the private collection of Kamal Kassar in Beirut. Butcher edited and re-composed sound files from these old 78’s vinyls.

The mysterious “Penny Wands & Native String”, for 8 futurist noise machines - Intonarumori - and saxophone, corresponds with Italian painter Luigi Russolo innovative ideas about sounds and noise, as captured in his manifesto “The Art of Noise” (1913). This piece was performed with a fragment from Russolo’s film “Risveglio di una città” (Awakening of a City, 1913). The Intonarumori were reconstructed by Russolo expert Luciano Chessa.

The short and, again, brilliant “Monk Hum”, composed specially for the cassette-only label Tapeworm's centennial edition compilation, A Can of Worms (2017), is a game of touches of the saxophone keys with microphone hums that refers wisely with Thelonious Monk’s dissonant and angular lines.

The last “Three Scenes for Five Tenors” is an improvisation from 1998, released before on a compilation disc with RESONANCE magazine. This piece offers another arresting architecture of saxophones choir, but more provocative one than the opening piece..

Christopher Fox - Topophony (hat[now]ART, 2018) ****½

Butcher performs here on one (of three versions) of the orchestral work of British composer Christopher Fox, Topophony for orchestra - with or without Improvising soloists, commissioned by Israeli conductor and Tectonics festivals founder and curator Ilan Volkov. This work implies that improvisation can operate at the heart of the compositional process.

This composition was premièred with Volkov conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with soloist Rhodri Davies, and later performed with the Athens State Orchestra with guitarist Fred Frith as soloist and in a chamber version with the Israel Contemporary Players with soloists clarinetist Yoni Silver and percussionist Ram Gabay. Here Volkov conducts the WDR Symphony Orchestra in a studio version of Topophony. The first version features soloists German trumpeter Axel Dörner and drummer Paul Lovens, the second version features the WDR Symphony Orchestra alone features soloists German analog synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and Butcher.

Topophony is a serene and poetic soundscape, comprised of a series of thirty-nine interconnected soft harmonies, layered in the formation of a natural landscape of drifting sand dunes in the desert or slow moving clouds in the skies. The orchestra music is fully notated but the soloists have no instructions except that they should start playing after the orchestra’s music has begun and finish before it ends. The score also stipulates that the improvisers should listen to not more than one orchestral rehearsal and that they should not rehearse with their orchestral colleagues. The improvisers should be situated within the orchestra, but separated from each other. The conductor acts as a mediator between the orchestra and the soloists and has some degree of freedom, or at least choice: the score instructs him to vary his beat continuously and so he has the freedom to shape the length of each chord.

Dörner and Lovens blend into the orchestra dynamics and within the meditative, pastoral orchestral sound, but often add subtle commentaries. Lehn and Butcher act alone most of the time, but both stress sonic contrasts, sometimes even sonic collisions. They charge the hypnotic dynamics and spontaneous bursts of urgent sax calls and overtones or alien, electric tones into the overall, acoustic, orchestral envelope, but both never disrupt the peaceful flow of this impressive work.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Chris Corsano, Bill Nace, Steve Baczkowski – Mystic Beings (Open Mouth, 2018) *****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos 

It’s a shame that just for a few days this album didn’t make it on my top ten list. In fact, this trio of Chris Corsano on drums, Bill Nace on electric guitar and Steve Baczkowski on saxophones was, along with Kuzu’s debut, the most powerful album of the drums-guitar-sax statement in 2018. Unfortunately the vinyl is already sold out.

Writing a review about a recording that moved you cannot be another day at the office. And Mystic Beings really shook me. This line up can always live up to its noisy promises, but it can also drown itself into purposeless sheer volume. This, seems to me, is much more common lately when the boundaries between noise, free jazz and metal are non-existent any more. The results are sometimes beautiful but many times just noisy boring.

Not this time, and not from Open Mouth’s catalogue. Bill Naces’ eclectic label doesn’t put out a lot of recordings, but when something new comes out you better listen. In addition, what we have here is an egalitarian collaboration of three artists at the peak of their creativity. A free jazz blow out that delivers energy and pathos before volume. Being a fan of Chris Corsano’s multiple ways of presenting himself, I must sing praise of Nace’s guitar and the way he presents a sound almost new. He delves deep into psychedelia but not from a rock perspective and not, even, from a jazz one. His guitar sound is unique, conveying feedback into melody, while he teams up with a sax player well known for his volume of sound. In the same egalitarian way, Steve Baczkowski makes room for the guitar to breath, follow and lead. The polyrhythmic barrage of Corsano, joins them but also goes it’s on way.

Tension builds up right from the start of Mystic Beings. Except for the last track, Excuse Me, where they try to loosen up their tight knit collaboration, all the other three tracks present an almost new way to listen to a free jazz record. I do not know how they do it, but each artist is presented in two ways: as a soloist and as a member of the trio. I could easily isolate its instrument, follow its path and make something out of it. Really. That good dear reader.


Matana Roberts & Darius Jones Duo @ DMG 1/20/2019.

By Eric Stern

This show was billed as the first time these two players performed together. Despite this fact, the two saxophonists seemed very comfortable with one another. The performance was a true musical conversation where they displayed harmonious fluidity rather than confrontation or a "can you top this" type of heroics. Jones consistently produced a deep round sound from his alto, and that is one of the signature features of his playing. Roberts countered with the higher tones she generally possesses. The near-capacity audience was delighted by the results. It may have been cold outside on this wintry NYC evening, but within the confines of the Downtown Music Gallery there was a lot of inter-personal warmth.

Matana Roberts is known for her often brilliant between-song comments about issues of social justice which feel deeply connected to her musical statements. On this occasion she referred to a recent news story that has garnered headlines, and she and Jones entered into an eloquent dialogue about the controversy. Their thoughtful and sophisticated conversation complemented their instrumental duet. Both Roberts and Jones provided insightful comments that underscored how their commitment to social justice informs their artistic expression and revealed the manner in which they processed the news story as details unfolded over the weekend. This performance also occurred right after the Arts for Art "Justice is Compassion" series in which Jones had performed several evenings as part of that festival.

I have had the good fortune to see both performers do sets at DMG in the past. One of the more intriguing sets a few years ago included an early solo version of "Coin Coin" by Roberts. Roberts and Jones have continued to appear frequently at DMG (but previously not together) at this popular Sunday night series in downtown Manhattan while both building ever-expanding public profiles and garnering the attention of major arts and academic institutions. Roberts held a residency in 2015 at the Whitney Museum of Art, and she is currently on the faculty at Bard College. Jones has taught at NYU and at Columbia University. This forty minute set was replete with highlights from start to finish. Music fans can hope that this performance, like Roberts's "Coin Coin" set, will be the first of many such future collaborative adventures for this visionary duo.

More live music at DMG here:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Round-Up 2018

By Chris Haines

This past year has a been one of two halves for me, the first mainly listening to the many new and great albums that have continued to steadily pour forth, and the latter half discovering lots of old classics and not so well-known riches from the past that seemed to have escaped my clutches until now. If anyone’s interested, my current favourite of these is the Miles Davis live album We Want Miles. Anyway here are a few more albums that were still in my ‘in-tray’ at the end of the year.

Juhani Aaltonen & Raoul Bjorkenheim – Awakening (Eclipse Music, 2018) ****

Here’s an album from two fellow countrymen who have both gained a wealth of experience over the years of playing with a variety of different musicians from all sorts of backgrounds. Although I should have expected it, as they are both fine pedigree improvisers, the thing that struck me on first listen of Awakening was the incredible musical communication between the two musicians. Above all the pieces, melodies, varying sounds, timbres, and techniques, was for me not just the communicative intent, but also the complete delivery of it. Throughout the course of the album the instruments converse on an equal plane and dance around each other’s patterns with freedom, ease, and confidence. Across the six pieces on the album Aaltonen’s flute playing is sublime and articulate providing Debussy-esque arabesques to Jethro Tull-like locomotive breath punctuations, as well as a variety of techniques including singing through the instrument (no mean feat on a flute!), rapid flutter tongue notes and passages to expressive vocal outbursts to mention a few. None of these techniques are exploited in a structural way or as an alternate sound source, but instead are delicate colours and subtle fluctuations on the unwinding melodic thread that unfolds throughout the album, being delivered with complete fluidity. Bjorkenheim’s guitar playing is the perfect foil for Aaltonen’s delivery, providing harmonic, contrapuntal and rhythmic counterplay to the proceedings.

Heikki Ruokangas – Remote Control (Self-released, 2018) ***1/2

Having reviewed Ruokangas’ album Mono and Dialogues with Henrik Hako-Rita earlier this year, Heikki has just released an EP containing four short tracks. From his beautiful acoustic melodic playing, supported by acoustic bass, and a subtle wash of keyboards, to his more out-there electric lead work, along with synth sounds and an unforgiving electronic drum patch. His guitar sounding a cross between Robert Fripp’s ‘Turkish Trumpet’ sound and the actual trumpet of Jon Hassell on the title track itself. The EP consists of what sounds like two tracks from two different sessions with the running order being arranged alternately, which provides a contrast between the material and the different sounding environments.

Manuel Mota & David Grubbs - Lacrau (Drag City, 2018) ****

Here’s an album that I ‘clocked’ earlier on in the year when it first came out, but just didn’t get around to highlighting. I personally like both of these guitarists and their solo music, so I was interested to find that they had released these improvised duets as Lacrau. The five pieces on this album are of a good length and range from just under five to thirteen and a half minutes. The whole album has a very quiet and reflective manner with careful interplay and the accompanying sounds being placed not in a sparse way, as the melodic thread has much forward motion and the pieces are far from being static, but the calmness and slightly sombre mood of the music becomes the governing principle making for some very intriguing work. This is the first time that these two ‘cult’ figures have recorded together, so this is a real gem not to be missed.

Louis Beaudoin-de la Sablonniere, Eric Normand, Louis-Vincent Hamel – Brulez les Meubles (Tour de Bras/Circum-Disc, 2018) ****

Again released earlier in the year, this interesting guitar trio hails from Quebec and provides us with some great explorative playing, moving between more written parts and freer improvised elements. Across the seven tracks some pieces are clearly written, being credited to individual members and containing more compositional devices, whilst others are credited to the trio as a whole. From structurally repeated phrases through to freely chromatic passages, the music is confident and delicate in an understated way and offers subtle use of colour, more bop orientated figures, skittering percussion, introspective melodic lines, driving rhythms, and more spacious moments. Their press release name drops Jim Hall, Bill Frisell, Sonny Sharrock, and John Abercrombie as possible influences, and although no one influence dominates, it certainly gives you an idea where there coming from. This one seems to have dipped under the radar this year, and didn’t deserve to, so dig it out and have a listen!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

“A” Trio & AMM - AAMM (Al Maslakh, 2018) ****

By Kian Banihashemi

I always see an album cover as an extension of the album itself; the artists intentionally chose a visual component that they wanted to represent their music. When I look at this cover I think of the moon, cave paintings, and plants cells all packed together. All of these images are ancient, organic and an important part of our humanity. The Lebanese "A" Trio and now AMM duo team up in a release that channels that long-lasting energy. The "A" Trio is a group that is composed of Mazen Kerbaj on trumpet, Sharif Sehnaoui on acoustic guitar, and Raed Yassin on double bass. The AMM, now being sustained by veterans Eddie Prévost and John Tilbury, serve as partial mentors to the young improvisers. But thankfully this live recording is not just an example of a master-apprentice relationship, rather it's the joining of two different worlds through the power of improvised music. Tilbury and Prévost serve as a sort of enhanced rhythm section that provides a lot of interesting moments, yet the "A" Trio actually supplies the most flavor and substance throughout the whole piece. This isn't to discredit AMM; they perform fantastically, and I think they really bolster the performance of the other players. There's a real sense of cohesion and fluidity that is brought by these two clashing worlds, the East and West. Just recently released, this performance was over three years ago, completed without any cuts, overdubs, or use of electronics. This just provides further emphasis on the improvisational method of these musicians and helps us understand the development of their music in the moment.

The beginning minutes of "Unholy Elisabeth" are evocative of a quiet night, with the full moon shining down and rain drops falling from leaves above. Tilbury's piano playing is soft and melodic, almost like nature's own improvised nursery rhyme. The general calmness of the music during this introduction can be viewed as either the calm before the storm, or the silent aftermath. Either way, one's anxiety can build up as only the sterile scraping of guitar strings is present. As more musicians join in the tension can truly be felt, while each instrument adds a vital layer to the music that are like gusts of wind felt on the ground and through the branches. During the first quarter of this fifty-one minute piece my attention was almost solely focused Tilbury's serene notes cutting through. The AMM members provide the most obvious instrumentation and sounds, but it may be hard at times to distinguish what instrument is being played. More accurately which instrument is being tested and operated on. The bowed bass is the framework on which all other sounds are being added onto, and there sure are a lot of sounds. I prefer the duos or trio sections within the piece that pop up; a few elements that serve as a playful back-and-forth between musicians. This facet, along with the organic nature of the instruments, makes for a very wild and raw exposition of sound.

Mazen Kerbaj's trumpet is one of the most versatile instruments in the group; acting as a bubbling bog or a pleading prayer voice. The trumpet represents the human relationship with nature. We are always at its mercy but our connection to it is stronger than we think. The pauses in music and return to silence helps clear the mind and allows starting points that flesh out new ideas. Prévost's percussion style is scattered and muted to a degree, it's a hint at something sinister and underlying. About thirty-five minutes in, this playing is joined with steely strings and a beat which seems to be either finger tapping or airy breathing out of the trumpet. The trumpet exposes itself anyways and suddenly goes silent, only starting again with Tilbury's habitual peaceful playing. Kerbaj's playing turns into a true cry for help, an exasperated groan that is a last-ditch effort for an answer. Sharif Sehnaoui's guitar picking is pretty absent until near the end where he enters a mostly duo setting with Tilbury, as the vibrating trumpet serves as the background. Sehnaoui's playing is dusty and in an Eastern style, drawn out notes that sound like they've traveled across miles of sand dunes just to reach your ears. The trumpet moves forward and then everyone else joins in for one last burst of energy, just before dissipating into blowing sand.

This uninterrupted live story is surely an adventurous treat, not only for the ears but for the mind. A prehistorical narrative is formed, concerning all humans and pointed towards the world around us. Including all the turmoil and peace that finds its way into our lives. It's puzzling as to why this was just released; either way it's an important release in the AMM catalog and a kindling agent to check out the rest of "A" Trio's releases. There's no doubt that a certain amount of clout is given to this release due to the inclusion of the AMM but besides the memorable playing of its members there is still a lot to absorb. Even in its improvisational style the "A" Trio brings it's Middle Eastern and Arabic music influences into the mix. There are hints of these melodies and playing styles that are projected onto their western instruments. It adheres quite well with the playing of Prévost and Tilbury, to assist in creating a unique and interesting addition to the AMM discography. It's not as harsh as some might expect, and I might even recommend this as a starting point for someone looking to peep into the AMM catalog. I wish more collaborations like this would occur; people of completely different backgrounds coming together through similar medium in order to create compassionate, natural music.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Lonely Woman

By Stef

Twelve years ago, in January 2007, I wrote my first short appreciation of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" on this blog, a composition that is clearly not only admired by myself, but by almost any jazz musician, from the most traditional to the most avant-garde. In the meantime, we have reached more than 200 covers and interpretations of the immortal song.

Here's a new update, with some new albums released in 2018 and 2017, adding to the last one from 2015, written just after Coleman's death.

A few are worth mentioning in more detail.


The true winner - even if this is not a competition - is the great performance by Wojciech Jachna on his solo album "Emanacje", on which the Polish trumpeter gives a stellar performance of Lonely Woman for trumpet with Kubo Ziolek on guitar. His tone is pure, plaintive and sad. Trumpeter Chris Pasin gives his take on his album "Ornettiquette" with Ingrid Sertso on vocals, Michael Bisio on bass, Adam Siegel on sax, Karl Berger on vibes and Harvey Sorgen on drums. In 2017, cornettist Kirk Knuffke released a tribute album to Don Cherry, called "Cherryco", in a trio with Adam Nussbaum on drums and Jay Anderson on bass. His interpretation is short, but warm and welcoming.


The most traditional performance is by French guitarist Philippe Mouratoglou on acoustic guitar, performed intimately, slowly, almost folkishly, but with lots of feeling and character. On the other end of the spectrum we find Japanese guitarist Otomo Yoshihide, who made this song one of his signature concert tracks, as was the case on the "Live At Shenzen" album. The improvisation is almost thirteen minutes of solo electric guitar, starting quietly, with lots of feedback and lots of silence and lots of noise. It is only well over four minutes when the actual theme becomes recognisable. Yoshide's approach is a real killer, performed with respect, yet equally unleashing all the composition's hidden sadness and distress, or making the inherent tension become really explicit. Another success is the version by the Zig Zag Trio, with Vernon Reid on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and Will Calhoun on drums, performing a more 'fusion' version of the song, but then not, because Reid's approach to the guitar is all his own: bluesy, headstrong, raw, violent - in the Hendrix way - and less focused on pyrotechnics than on the power of his sound.

I can add the possibly hard to find version by a trio of guitarist Filip Bukršliev, saxophonist Ninoslav Spirovski and bassist Deni Omeragić, all three from Macedonia (North-Macedonia). Both guitar and sax are played with lots of reverb, giving a strong scenic resonance over the throbbing bass, resulting in a real psychedelic rendering of the tune.

The most avant version comes from the trio of Christian Munthe on electric guitar, Donovan von Martens on bass and Martin Öhman on drums. It takes some time before it's clear what they're playing - after about six minutes - and the same holds true for the remaining five minutes as they move back to a very angular and granular improvisation.


Take a listen to drummer Jeff Cosgove's trio with Scott Robinson on sax and Ken Filiano on bass.


Wojciech Pulcyn's album is a solo bass album, actually a tribute to the great Charlie Haden, the bassist of the original Ornette Coleman quartet.


The best is possibly by Bonjintan, with Akira Sakata on saxes, Giovanni Di Domenico on piano, Jim O'Rourke on guitar, and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on drums, delivering a wild, intense, violent and heartfelt interpretation.

Core performances

The Ornette Coleman Trio's concert at Tivoli is re-issued last year, presenting a 12-minute long performance of Lonely Woman, but surely not the most memorable one. And Old And New Dreams' performance at Saalfelden from 1986 was released, with a great 16-minute rendering of the composition, with Paul Motian on drums (instead of Ed Blackwell).

Update list

Wojciech Jachna - Emanacje / Trumpet Solo Sessions (Multikulti Project, 2018)
Bukršliev, Omeragić, Spirovski ‎– Odron (PMGJazz, 2018)
Ornette Coleman Trio ‎– Live At The Tivoli '65 (Hi Hat, 2018)
Chris Pasin - Ornettiquette (Planet Arts, 2018)
Tessa Souter ‎– Picture In Black And White (Noa Records, 2018)
Paulie Shankwank / Zawinul Corpse ‎– Split K7 (Post-Materialization Music, 2018)
Ran Blake & Christine Correa ‎– Streaming (Red Piano Records, 2018)
Philippe Mouratoglou Trio ‎– Univers-Solitude (Vision Fugitive, 2018)
Lydian Sound Orchestra ‎– We Resist! (Parco Della Musica Records, 2018)
Zig Zag Power Trio ‎– Woodstock Sessions (Woodstock Sessions, 2018)
Christian Munthe, Donovan von Martens, Martin Öhman ‎– M (*For*sake Recordings, 2018) Nesesari Kakalulu ‎(Self, 2018)
Jeff Cosgrove, Scott Robinson, Ken Filiano ‎– Hunters & Scavengers (Grizzley Music, 2018) Daniele Cavallanti, Giovanni Maier ‎– Our Standards (Palomar, 2018)
Afrit Nebula ‎– Triality (FMR, 2018)

Old And New Dreams - Live in Saalfelden, 1986 (Condition West Recordings, 2017)
Wojciech Pulcyn ‎– Tribute To Charlie Haden (ForTune, 2017)
Bonjintan ‎– Bonjin Tan (Daphne, 2017) (Akira Sataka and giovanni di domenico)
Kirk Knuffke ‎– Cherryco (Steeplechase, 2017)
Otomo Yoshihide ‎–  Live in Shenzhen (Old Heaven Books, 2017)
Painting Jazz Duo ‎– Peace (Dodicilune, 2017)
Nonaka Goku & Ningen Kokuho ‎– @井川てしゃまんく音楽祭 (Bummy Records, 2017)
Wayne Tucker ‎– Wake Up and See The Sun (One Trick Dog Records, 2017)
Anyaa Arts Quartet ‎– Harmattan (VoxLox, 2017)
Jure Pukl & Matija Dedić ‎– Hybrid (Whirlwind Recordings,2017)

Jac Berrocal / Aki Onda / Dan Warburton - Un Jour Tu Verras (Smeraldina Rima, 2016)
Arrigo Cappelletti Andrea Massaria Quartetto ‎– Nuove Polifonie (TRJ Records, 2016)
Jacek Niedziela-Meira ‎– Bassville 2 (Tribute To Jazz History) (CelEsTis, 2014)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Corey Mwamba - (s)kin, volumes 1–12 (self-released, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Mid-way through 2018, I noticed that my writing had fallen into discernible, repeatable patterns. Certain phrases and a lack of a kind of precision I aspire to had worked into my reviews, and so I spent several months writing, rewriting, and editing a large number of write-ups. The downside for the artists I’d intended to cover is there was less coverage of their work than there should have been; about this, I feel fairly guilty. The artists in this niche field of free, improvised, avant-garde, and creative music suffer enough from a lack of coverage, however I personally felt it would not be worth covering the album with mediocre writing. One person I’ve found will always be available for a conversation about the write-edit-repeat process is vibraphonist Corey Mwamba. A deeply thoughtful and open person, Mwamba and I have developed a nice online dialogue, sometimes out in the open, other times between only the two of us. Like me, Mwamba is discontented by the languages of music criticism, the recurring phraseology that communicates, more than anything else, this new thing sounds like that old thing, like a semantic recommendation engine. “People who like echoing sonorities also like these echoing sonorities,” or whatever. Which makes the challenge of describing (s)kin that much more, well , challenging.

A Bandcamp subscription series, (s)kin consists of roughly one EP-length album per month, plus over a dozen single releases. Overall, the collected releases have the feel of time-boxed experiments, with vibraphone at the center, yes, but often layered with drum machine, vocalizations, and ambient recordings. And despite the regularity of the releases, (s)kin is not merely building to a single endpoint; Mwamba is circling something, some many things, in fact, called up by the title itself. Race, family, identity, all recur in thematic eddies, with track titles, spoken word, and melodic fragments referring to or reflecting back upon and at each other. If there is a central question, it could be, not why? but why not?

As a player, Mwamba has chosen to wind down his public performing. Instead of future gigs, it’s possible projects like (s)kin and similar studio work are all we’ll hear of his compositional voice. That would be understandable, if unfortunate (mainly for myself, as I’ve yet to travel to England and therefore have not yet had the pleasure). But (s)kin is more inviting and personal than a club gig could be, anyway, so I am left wondering, “What would I be missing?” There is, of course, the physical, the real-word body standing up there onstage, and isn’t that what I pay for? There’s plenty to stew over there—white man pays for black man to stand onstage and entertain him—so why not instead make a long-term investment in the art? There’s no true return, in a traditionally commodified sense—(s)kin asks more of me, emotionally and intellectually, than any single gig could. The starkness of the music… strike that, actually. Stark’s one of those words to lean on. And anyway, it isn’t stark, it’s often lush and symphonic, with layers of detailed moments setting a scene that appears in the mind’s eye for very brief moments, the pulse and timbre shifting so the image remains unfixed. A library hall? A dining table? The waves?

One of my all-time favorite novels, The Big Music by Kirsty Gunn, begins with a powerful refrain, “the hills only come back the same: I don’t mind.” The sense of time and scale, of an indifference that settles onto a landscape, which remains forever there and forever changing, no matter our intent. For me, in 2018, (s)kin is part of my landscape, part of the big music that’s surrounded me; it arrives electronically, the releases accruing, never mind me. Mwamba is thinking and considering, working through some big ideas. I would urge each of you to purchase a subscription. Mwamba’s music is engrossing, witty and clever, with all the depth and range of a combo or chamber group. And Mwamba’s variety of techniques on the vibraphone get a chance to shine in isolation. Mixing mallets and materials, tones simultaneously float through the air and spike dramatically downwards. Yes, yes, metallic overtones and clashing sonorities abound; all the previously tossed-about phrases apply. As long as this project continues, I’ll try to find a way to write about it, and perhaps next time I’ll have some new phrasing.


From '(s)kin 12':