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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sounds from Portugal

By Paul Acquaro

Since the blog will be heading to Jazz em Agosto this week and reporting back on the happenings, we thought we could seize the opportunity and over the next few days to document some of the music coming out of the fertile musical scene in Portugal. Today is a mixed bag of albums that have captured my attention, and tomorrow, coinciding with the first day of the festival, Stuart Broomer focuses on several new recordings from Lisbon based musicians.

João Lencastre's Communion 3 - Song(s) of Hope (Clean Feed, 2019) ****

Can I make up for late reviews by being a bit premature? Not sure it evens out, but I didn't want to wait, so after finally reviewing Jose Lencastre's latest album, I jumped right to his brother's upcoming album. So, here is what I need you to do: bookmark this review and come back in a month, reread it, and be inspired to buy the album.

Peercussionist João Lencastre's Song(s) of Hope invies two New York based musicians, pianist Jakob Sacks and bassist Eivind Opsvik, for a piano trio album that runs the gamut from the fiery spiritual to the gently sanguine. It's an inspired recording that, in Lencastre's words is "Cecil Taylor meets Morton Feldman meets “popish” epic themes, meets analogue synth frequency explorations."

The opening with the 10 minute "Long Long Way", begins with Sack's piano rumbling in the mid register with short arpeggios darting forth. A deliberate melodic figure, minimal but stately, changes the texture, and Lencastre's drumming plays an equal role in the presentation. Soon we hear Opvick's bass sliding up against the piano, forming new tonal shapes. The nearly ten-minute track builds towards a dramatic climax, a mix of classical motifs and eddying percussion. The follow up "Magnetic Frequency I" begins much differently as Sacks sprinkles notes in somewhat disparate phrases. It's a short track and there are a total four of these interspersed on the album, III and IV seem to respectively to feature Opsvick and Lencastre. The title track however is a real highlight of the album. Starting with fraught but luscious chords, the scene opens on a beautiful but threatened soundscape. How it will progress remains to be seen, as the buried tension in the chord voicings foreshadows almost any outcome. Song(s) of Hope is a work of inquisitiveness and openendedness.

Patrick Brennan & Abdul Moimême - Terraphonia (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

An absolutely unique album that finds two creative musicians finding new ways to communicate. Lisbon's Abdul Moimême expresses himself through prepared guitar as he duets with the expansively thinking New York based saxophonist Patrick Brennan. In the first and title track, the two pull, push, strike, and blow any number of sounds from their instruments, but not without purpose. Each sound compliments the next, or the former, or even something yet to happen. It could be the distant amplified thump against the body of Moimême's guitar, to which Brennan reacts with short swirling lines, or the quiet squeak of the woodwind underscored by slashes of near white noise from the guitar.

This is hard to define music, but even when the harshest tones are at play, the duo presents them with care and precision. Brennan compliments Moimême's sudden tonal attacks with quickly formed ideas, while Moimême fills the silences that the saxophonist's leave with unexpected sounds. The track 'gotabrilhar' stands out, the short track, mid-album, features a buzzing-bee sax and a darkly lit landscape painted by a droning and moaning guitar. 

Peixe Frito- Jazz From Here (Last Pork Records, 2018) ****

So, heading back in release date time, this gem featuring woodwind player Paulo Chagas deserves some listening attention. It's a mix of free jazz, avant-rock, with some noise in between.  The group is Chagas, Luís Guerreiro on trumpet and electronics, Paulo Duarte on electric guitar, Alvaro Rosso on bass, and Pedro Santo on drums. The opening "Coltrane's back scratcher" could, I suppose, be something the saxophone giant used to satisfy a hard to reach itch, but more concretely, it's a fine improvised party of flute, sax, guitar and electronics. The track "Short run I" is a quieter, exploratory track, with overtone heavy reeds, shimmery guitar, and insistent percussion. The centerpiece of the album though may be "My neighbors psychedelic gathering" which, while also exploratory for a good portion of it's eight minute existence, features incisive trumpet playing from Guerreiro, sweeping guitar chords, and arrhythmic drumming. This track though may be overshadowed by the 12 minute "Swing from the zone", which has some of the same ingredients but over a more insistent pulse, eventually leading to some fiery freak outs and satisfyingly solid rocky stuff.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Two from Cellist Judith Hamann

By Keith Prosk

I had the opportunity to witness cellist Judith Hamann play with Martin Taxt, Chris Cogburn, and Kjell Bjørgeengen earlier this year and left the set spellbound. She’s worked with Taku Sugimoto, Graham Lambkin, Alvin Lucier, and many other luminaries. From what I’ve heard so far, her sound is in a similar vein to the echtzeitmusik some of her expat Australian compatriots make. Earlier this year, the blog covered her ongoing collaboration with saxophonist Rosalind Hall, Gossamers. Here are two more well worth a listen.

Klaus Lang & Golden Fur - Beissel (Another Timbre, 2019) ****½

Hamann, Samuel Dunscombe (clarinet), and James Rushford (viola, harmonium) comprise the ensemble Golden Fur, which formed in 2008 with the intent to perform new or underperformed compositions. They are joined by Klaus Lang (organ) for a single track lasting 41 minutes on Beissel, which was recorded live in an Austrian abbey in 2016.

Beissel is inspired by Johann Beissel, an eccentric German-born religious leader and composer in colonial Pennsylvania that developed an algorithmic method to translate biblical text to music. Lang and Golden Fur utilize their own algorithmic method to transform one of Beissel’s hymns into the performance recorded here.

Broadly, the music is a dynamic drone with interludes of somber chamber music and jubilant, ecstatic swells and melodies from the organ. The cello, clarinet, and viola can seem like aspects of the organ, rising with it before fragmenting in free color like stained glass. Organ and harmonium hum, cello overtones, and clarinet resonance alternately contribute pulses and divide the beat of the undulating, overarching drone. At one point there’s bells or something like it. It’s meditative, transcendental, spiritual trance music.

Beissel is a CD-only release.

Lori Goldston, Judith Hamann - Alloys (Marginal Frequency, 2019) ***½

Hamann plays freely with cellist Lori Goldston on two half-hour tracks on Alloys. Goldston operates in both popular and avant-garde spheres, and is perhaps most famous for playing on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York. Goldston is one of Hamann’s ongoing duo collaborations along with Rosalind Hall and cellist Anthea Caddy.

The music is an ebb and flow of cellos, a kind of languorous, often whispered communication using subtle dynamics, volume, space as language. Both players mostly bow, and their tone is rich and full, often creating overtones and multiphonics that produce four lines. Their plucking is plaintive and austere, at times recalling an eastern music that I can’t pinpoint. They utilize the full neck, and interject stuttering bow tapping, glassy whistling, and metallic sawing into the conversation. It’s haunting, eerie, and cinematic.

Alloys is available digitally and on CD.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Jose Lencastre Nau Quartet- Eudimonia (FMR, 2018) ****

This is a fantastic album, and for nearly the past year it has been stuck in rotation on my playlist. Like the Nau Quartet's 2017 recording, Fragments of Always, Lencastre's Eudimonia continues in sharing refined and exploratory musical vision with the help of the RED Trio's pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and bassist Hernâni Faustino, as well as the saxophonist's brother, drummer João Lencastre.

According to the great and all-knowing Wikipedia, the 'eudaimonia' "is an abstract noun derived from eu meaning 'well' and daimon (daemon), which refers to a minor deity or a guardian spirit. Eudaimonia implies a positive and divine state of being that humanity is able to strive toward and possibly reach."

So, considering this a well meaning daemon, I think, is quite on point. Track one, "Eu", begins slowly, like something awakening. Barely audible at first, it rouses slowly and patiently, until the halfway mark, when it suddenly stops and reconsiders its progress. With polyphonic blows from the sax and light sound effects from the others, the group rises from the sonic bed, and led by the exploratory probing by Lancastre, begins shaping the environment.

The next track, "Da" (the tracks spell out the album's title) begins with the urgent pulsating tempo and through some expert tension building from Pinheiro and Faustino. However, it's on "I" where the fireworks start. The track in the middle of the album contains a blast of color and sound from the saxophonist and expert support from the group. João Lencastre shines here with an understated impulse. The group pulls back on "Mo", and the piano is front and center with a melodic swirl. The bass and sax take over, further agitating the swirl, until with the help of percussive accents and driving fills, takes the track to a new energetic high point. The track "Ni" is another flash point. Beginning with the bass, it has elements of classic free jazz and a tuneful center that later lets go for some more brazen explorations. Finally "A" fittingly closes the album with a succinct 3 minute summary of everything that came before. 

So, eudaimonia is something we are dearly in need of these days as the demons of awfulness and brazen cruelty seem to taking over.  If the music on this album could somehow transcend the aural and become the leadership, I know our world would be a much better place.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sei Miguel - O Carro de Fogo de Sei Miguel (Clean Feed, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

The title inspired by the William Blake poem Jerusalem, "O Carro de Fogo de Sei Miguel" is the 13th album released by Sei Miguel and his 4th consecutive for Portugal's Clean Feed Records. The 37 minute composition finds Miguel leading an octet through a web of blurred passages and melodic couplings that remains true to his sound even as he advances it into fresh territory. The octet is comprised of long time Miguel associates Fala Mariam, Pedro Lourenço, Luìs Desirat, and André Gonçalves on trombone, bass, percussion, and organs, respectively, as well as guitarist Bruno Silva, percussionist Raphael Soares, and saxophonist Nuno Torres. While "O Carro de Fogo de Sei Miguel" continues with the slowly developing jazz abstractions he's known for, here Miguel makes the most of the octet with Gonçalves and Silva's contributions giving the record tinges of "In a Silent Way", but without the forward propulsion of that album (and most 70's fusion in general), replacing it instead with a probing study of atmosphere, texture, and dynamics. It goes without saying that listening to music in the right setting and frame of mind can seriously enhance what you get out of it. That said I was lucky enough to listen to this album for the first time relaxing outside one evening watching lightning from a distant storm blister the horizon (I live in a very flat place). A canopy of lower hanging clouds was intermittently silhouetted beneath these bulbous forms in intriguing and jagged shapes, shifting beneath the vaporous lashings in contrasting purples and grays. Like the music it was moody, non-linear, and slowly developing and thus provided a nice visual metaphor that's returned to me on subsequent listens.

Miguel begins the piece with contemplative, slurred phrases on his pocket trumpet accompanied at first only by an irregular percussive knocking. Other elements slowly materialize around these forms, a swell of organ haze and cymbal hiss begin to blur the edges of the melody. Lourenço’s bass glides surreptitiously in beneath the whirling sound field, fleshing it out further as Silva provides wiry accent licks and some treble to the mix. Miguel drops out abruptly, leaving a hole that is filled almost immediately with a sprawling dialogue from Mariam and Torres. As their interaction fades Miguel returns to the fore and the piece takes on a more exploratory feel, the players stirring the cosmic gravy with focused, responsive interplay. The organ picks up volume (a virtual organ from the sounds of it), creating a celestial-tinted ambiance to which the octet adds only slight gestures, closing out the first half of the piece with a sigh. The second half begins with sparkling, vibrato-heavy organ swells that are accompanied with shimmers of cymbal and the half-hiccupped, half-strangled guitar playing of Silva. The mix gets very thin for a couple of minutes, just small wisps of hissing cymbal and half-heard sounds. The horns slowly rejoin, sounding a brief lamentation before again leaving Miguel as the sole voice to dual with the slicing guitar of Silva. The last third of the album provides instances of both activity and drift, but in less discrete sections. Combinations of instruments and sounds bleed into each other and coalesce just to fall apart again, getting entangled and lost, then reemerging mutated yet familiar within the delirious logic of the piece.

This album serves as a great document of the latest from the enigmatic Miguel, and I’ll add now that it’s currently a vinyl-only release. But I'd also add that if you don't have a turntable this would be a great album to buy one for. It rewards repeated listening and sounds best when played as loud as possible on speakers. Not because it’s a burner necessarily (though there are some tasty licks here) but because it’s subtle and ambient and will fill your listening space with its specter if given the chance. Sei Miguel continues his stream of excellent releases for Clean Feed with this Chariot of Fire, and because of the slow simmering nature of his art I have a feeling that the best is still yet to come.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey with Jürg Frey and Alfred Zimmerlin - Zeit (Leo Records, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Daniel Studer and Peter Frey (both on bass and electronics) play freely for 10 tracks across 52 minutes on Zeit, with Jürg Frey (clarinet) and Alfred Zimmerlin (cello) joining them for four of those tracks. Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey is a rich, long-standing collaboration that blossomed around the time the duo recorded together on Markus Eichenberger’s Domino Concept for Orchestra during 2001. Beyond recording as Kontrabassduo with Zimmerlin on Zurich Concerts, Studer plays with Zimmerlin as part of the string trio Trio Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin (with Harald Kimmig) and P. Frey plays with Zimmerlin as part of the string trio KARL ein KARL (with Michel Seigner). J. Frey has recorded with Studer and Zimmerlin on Studer’s Ianus, and recorded Zimmerlin’s compositions on Edition Wandelweiser’s Kammermusik.

The four tracks where J. Frey and Zimmerlin join the duo (“Pars Prima,” “Pars Secunda,” “Pars Tertia,” and “Postludium”) were recorded live in 2004, and “Interludium” was recorded in studio in 2004. The rest of the tracks are home recordings from 2018. The earlier recordings reflect the early electroacoustic inclinations of the duo, while the later recordings reflect their acoustic inclinations. Despite the disparate times, settings, and approaches, these tracks feels like a cohesive collection. It won’t fool you as a continuous set, but perhaps one with pauses spliced out.

A variety of extended techniques and bowing techniques create groans, roars, scrapes, purrs, ripples, and pulses and at times mimic flutes, horns, and breath. The duo’s communication is often contrapuntal, rapid, and at times physical. “Initium” serves as a kind of digest of their technique and communication, with traditional arco mixed up with bowing below the bridge, tapping the strings with the bow, and sawing while sparring with contrapuntal plucks, slaps, and preparations. Time, volume, and space are always fluctuating, a deafening saw can be juxtaposed with the hiss of recorded silence, yet the momentum nearly always feels forward and the pacing is perfect. “Pars Secunda,” with its slow suspenseful build on a backdrop of urban recordings, feels like Bernard Hermann re-scored Le Cercle Rouge and “Excursio” jolts you with violent flaying sawing that suddenly stops and rebuilds, amassing tension until the basses begin to sound like horns and flutes. This kind of fluid identity is also achieved on “Interludium,” where electroacoustic alterations transmute typical bass plucks to electric skronk during a single sounding.

It’s a bassscape. But rather than ambient muzak to be osmosed it’s got so much going on that it’s difficult to not engage it. Sometimes it almost feels like a compendium of bass technique. A must-listen this year for lovers of improvised strings. And if you enjoy this, P. Frey also appears on Gasser 3’s Espresso Galattico on Leo from this year.

Zeit is a CD-only release.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Werner Dafeldecker - Small Worlds (Edition Telemark, 2019) ****½

 By Keith Prosk

Small Worlds is a Werner Dafeldecker (contrabass) composition recorded here with Burkhard Beins (percussion), Martin Brandlmayr (percussion), Klaus Lang (organ), Michael Moser (cello), and John Tilbury (piano) at the 2004 Swiss Taktlos Festival, one of just three performances of this commissioned composition with this sextet. Except for Dafeldecker, who recorded with each musician in the years preceding this performance (perhaps most famously and consistently with Moser in Polwechsel and on Ton-Art’s Mal Vu. Mal Dit.), the musicians had not previously recorded with each other. This constellation of musicians worked together well enough that Beins and Brandlmayr were added to future incarnations of Polwechsel, with Tilbury even appearing on Field. And it worked well because Dafeldecker curated the performers to compliment the composition.

The composition (partly pictured above) is a set of simple rules notating dynamics rather than tone. It is for six players, which are divided into two trios. Each trio has a dynamic leader (indicated with a circled letter), which guides the content of the trio and plays at a higher volume. Every three minutes, the dynamic leader changes as does the formation of each trio. On the score, the changes in trio formations are traced with lines; every time a line crosses, those players pause. Every performance lasts 42 minutes, or 14 cycles. The score serves to subvert cliches in free playing, such as the loud-quiet-loud dynamic that is as predictable as the head-solos-head structure.

Sonically, the composition and performers combine to create a deep soundscape that prioritizes timbre over tone. Extended techniques are utilized frequently, if not mostly. It’s quiet, but never silent. It’s tense in its atonality but released every three minutes. Pulses breach and subside. Drones grow and crumble. The music is fluid and liminal: vibraphone-like keys blend into percussion, bowed percussion blends into strings, tapped string bodies blend into percussion, inside-piano blends into strings; a homogenous sound but maximal dynamic range with intricate interactions; constantly shifting communications; a structure imposed to play more freely.

The tightly-timed structure requires players to listen more closely than usual as dynamic leaders and trios change frequently but also to become listeners themselves with each pause. Likewise, the composition provides a fun test for the audience’s ears, listening for more obviously audible changes every three minutes, listening for and identifying the dynamic leaders and tracking changing trio formations, and listening for pausing players.

It’s easy to gloss over the subtle soundscape, but Small Worlds invites and rewards close listening with a depth and multitude of layers not present in most playing.

For additional listening, Small Worlds was also performed by Quiver:

Small Worlds is an LP-only release. You can find ordering information here:

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Manuela+ (Rüdiger Carl, Hans Reichel, Carlos Zingaro, Jin Hi Kim) Live in Berlin (FMP, 2011 | Destination: OUT Digital Reissue, 2019) *****

By Nick Metzger

This gem was made available earlier this year by our fine friends at Destination: OUT, who have been doing humanity a great service by keeping some of the essentials from the FMP vault available to the masses digitally via their Bandcamp page. According to Felix Klopotek’s terrific liner notes (which are available for perusal on Discogs if you can’t obtain a copy elsewhere), Manuela was built off of the working relationship between Reichel and Carl and as a reaction to the since thoroughly debated topic, ‘Has non-idiomatic music become an idiom itself?' The duo, who were sharing a flat in Wuppertal, released "Buben" on FMP in 1978, an album on which they returned to their first instruments, Reichel to violin and Carl to the concertina, in order to escape any deterministic confines subliminally established by their then-current areas of virtuosity (guitar and saxophone, respectfully).

Both musicians took a great deal from the experiment (Carl eventually abandoned the saxophone altogether for the clarinet and concertina) and later assembled the group Manuela with Carlos Zingaro on violin to continue the ideas and approaches of those sessions. Manuela’s trajectory can be traced back the Radio Jazz Group Stuttgart sessions from 1976-78 , where some of the first encounters between Reichel and Carl took place. Sometime after “Buben” was released in 78’ the pair formed the Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett with like-minded artists Sven-Ake Johansson and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky. That group’s sound was a direct precursor to what Carl and Reichel would continue with Zingaro in Manuela and with Shelley Hirsch and Paul Loven in the September Band .

Manuela+ (the title a hat tip to the 1995 Carl/Reichel record “Buben…plus”) consists of the original trio plus the composer and prodigious komungo (also called the geomungo) player Jin Hi Kim, who had already collaborated with Reichel by the time of this recording (he appears on her 1993 album KomunGuitar). Her playing underpins the entire album, filling out the improvisations and giving them a complex pizzicato bite. As for the original members Carl plays clarinet, accordion, and the claviola (not the antique player piano), Zingaro adds his wriggling, microtonal violin runs and soft accents, and Reichel mainly plays daxophone (but also teases one of his custom guitars briefly). The album, recorded during the Total Music Meeting on November 6th, 1999, at Podewil in Berlin, was originally released by FMP in January of 2011, only months before Reichel’s untimely passing, both as a stand-alone CD and as a part of the “FMP Im Rückblick” boxed set. Aside from the track “Licking the Bullfrog” on the album “Total Music Meeting 2001: Audiology – 11 Groups Live in Berlin” which was recorded two years later and absent Jin Hi Kim, this is the only official output from the Manuela collective, which apart from the brilliant music herein makes it absolutely essential listening. The sound of these improvisations is as weird as it is scrumptious, with the real charm lying in the quartet’s attentive interplay and in the boundless complexities and subtleties they conjure from their meager assortment of instruments. This choice of devices also tinges the music with surreal folk underpinnings, but as played by the folk creatures themselves draped in the still dripping pelts of their minstrels. It’s earthy and warty and smells of boiled cabbage in all of the best possible ways.

The improvised portion of the album is styled “Ei! Improvisiererei…!” and is broken into 7 tracks, the subtitles of which are each a subset of the letters that together comprise the main. As you can imagine Carl and Zingaro make up much of the melodic content herein, Zingaro alternating drones with scraping multi-phonics and swells of whining vibrato alongside lightning fast runs that sound half-whispered, and Carl utilizing his three instruments to masterfully color the pieces in their knobby folk hues. The addition of Jin Hi Kim to the group gives the piece an unorthodox rhythm with the heavy plunk and wide vibrato of Korean Sinawi music (at times even Reichel’s daxophone recalls the reedy vocal quality of the piri) and I can’t overstate how well this works with the old-time European impressions of Carl and Zingaro. Reichel, true to form, is the wild card of the performance. His daxophone thumps, hisses, growls, speaks, grunts, and sings. One minute he’ll be coloring the background with rhythmic springboard-inflected patter, the next he’ll take a bow to his creation and unleash some grisly anthropomorphic sound that’ll make your hair stand on end. We even get a tasty bit of Reichelian guitar play towards the end of the fifth segment of the improvisation, his two handed tapping unleashing a torrent of melody and harmonics. The second piece, “Those Were the Days” is a cover of a song made popular by the Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkins whose version was produced by Paul McCartney and released on the Beatles’ own Apple Records in August of 1968.

This version of the song is in fact a remake of the popular Russian romantic piece "Дорогой длинною", or “ By the long road” which was composed by Boris Fomin with lyrics by the poet Konstantin Podrevsky (even though the song is sometimes credited to Gene Raskin who wrote the English lyrics for the Hopkins version). The Manuela+ rendition is an eccentrically colored reinterpretation of the folksong that dispenses with the bounce of the previous versions’ refrain but retains the languid melody of the stanza which is played gravely by Carl and Zingaro over the thump and croak of the komungo and daxophone. It’s a properly surreal conclusion to the album.

The cover art is a photograph of the 2009 sculpture by the Austrian artist and provocateur Franz West called “Eidos”, the word eidos being Greek for form or essence. West delighted in having his large absurdist sculptures installed in locations of refinement and prestige in an attempt to subvert the tyranny of civilized life. That considered I’d have trouble finding a better metaphor for Manuela. It was Louis Armstrong who said “All music is folk music” and with that in mind, “Live in Berlin” definitely dispenses a grisly representation of the form; its fleshy tentacles lashing out as shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave.

Buy it from Destination: OUT on Bandcamp:

Manuela (Carl, Reichel, Zingaro) Live at Music Unlimited Festival XVIII, Wels, Austria, 06.11.2004:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Michael Bisio, Kirk Knuffke, Fred Lonberg-Holm - Requiem for a New York Slice (Iluso Records, 2019) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Michael Bisio (contrabass) gathers together Kirk Knuffke (cornet) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) to mourn Mike Panico with five spontaneous compositions lasting an hour. Panico co-founded the NYC label Relative Pitch Records with fellow Stone volunteer Kevin Reilly in 2011 and created an expertly-curated catalog while simultaneously developing meaningful relationships with the musicians he produced. Bisio and Knuffke are two such musicians; they have recorded with Relative Pitch several times and recorded together on Accortet (with Michael Wimberly) and Row for William O for the label. This is Lonberg-Holm’s first recording with either Bisio or Knuffke, and he’s yet to record on Relative Pitch, but his distressed strings are a perfect compliment to Bisio and this setting. True to the title (which also references Panico’s passion for pizza), Requiem was recorded three days after Panico’s death on October 2, 2018 and the titles of its movements are the titles of musical texts for the Catholic requiem mass (“Introit et Kyrie,” “Sanctus,” “Pie Jesu,” “Agnus Dei,” and “In Paradisum”).

“Introit et Kyrie” has Lonberg-Holm bowing a discordant vamp brimming with overtones and sorrow - a sonic mourner rocking back and forth in discombobulation. Knuffke’s horn wails, and then is moved to ululating trills. Bisio’s arco acts as the glue between the two, alternately engaging them but sometimes detaching, sounding like a shipmast creaking and cracking in the squall. “Sanctus” continues this funereal feel with a slow tempo, Bisio’s bowing deeply resonating, each vibration exaggerated and outstretched, waves of heavy gravity, weaving with Lonberg-Holm’s dramatic playing. Bisio’s protean walking bassline full of bent notes falls to pieces, reassembles, and reconfigures across the sidelong “Pie Jesu,” simultaneously providing a communicative base for the other players and the sonic centerpoint of the piece. “Agnus Dei” begins with the players disconnected, responsive but delayed, and the relatively generous space sounds like the players taking swipes at the silence. And “In Paradisum” ends with an ascendant Bisio arco solo, transferring a great weight to his strings until he’s sawing, like a coffinmaker.

Dynamically, the focus is often on the strings. They take up the most space, volume, and movement at any given time. Lonberg-Holm’s timbrally-rich constant onslaught intertwines with the exploratory cadences, techniques, and timbres of Bisio to create a chemistry that belies their having never recorded together. Knuffke swings between extended techniques that compliment the strings well - wails, screaming trills, tinny mutes, and ghostly whistling - to more detached, reflective, impressionistic interjections. “Introit et Kyrie,” “Sanctum,” and “In Paradisum” contain the most emotive playing I’ve heard in a long time. Though the tone is more often requiem than easter, there’s celebration here too.

And there’s much to celebrate. Panico’s memory lives not just in the musicians and others he encountered but the label he helped create, which has already released an incredibly strong catalog this year and is still releasing recordings he produced. And of course in this excellent recording, which is a better service than anyone could ever hope for.

Requiem for a New York Slice is available digitally and on CD.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Reut Regev R*Time - Keep Winning (ENJA, 2019) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

R*Time is the family unit of New York-based, Israeli expats trombonist Reut Regev and partner-drummer Igal Foni (and sometimes also their young daughter Liana), two musicians who know how to match their experimental tendencies and left-off-center political statements with sheer fun. Regev and Foni enjoy the presence of experienced, like-minded free funk guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly and bassist Mark Peterson, who already played in the previous, second album of R*Time (expl0Ring the Vibe, Enja, 2014).

Add to that the versatility of Regev, who throughout her career defied any attempt to lock her in any genre or style. She has played in Anthony Braxton’s ensembles, collaborated with experimental guitarist Elliott Sharp and with the Radical Jewish Culture projects of trumpeter Frank London. Likewise, Bourelly has worked with Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Thradgill and his own power trio Stone Raiders with Rolling Stones’ bassist Darryl Jones and Living Colour’s drummer Will Calhoun. This kind of inclusive approach is one of the strengths of R*Time.

But above all R*Time is about chemistry - chemistry between close musicians who love to play together and know what it means to struggle for their art through many bumpy roads, as the opening pieces suggests, and the natural chemistry between the myriad legacies of jazz, soul, funk and free jazz. And it’s about captivating charisma, humor and elegance as Regev and Bourelly demonstrate on the powerful, tragic-comic fantasy “The Last Show”, the ironic title-piece and “With A Smiling Face”.

Regev is not shy from being openly emotional on her “Up In The Sky”, dedicated to her late brother, or on the lullaby for her daughter “Hard to Let Go” . Foni’s rounds the rich aesthetics R*Time with his brief “No Justice No Peace”, dedicated to “all indigenous people in our world who suffer from oppression”, and his bluesy arrangement of Ornette Coleman’s “War Orphans”, both stress R*Time debt to the fiery, spiritual Afro-American free jazz of the sixties.


Monday, July 22, 2019

MoE and Mette Rasmussen – Tolerancia Picante (Conrad Sound, 2019) ****

I picked this album up because I was (and still am) enthralled by MoE’s 2018 release with Lasse Marhaug. The sardonically titled Tolerancia Picante, however, is a different beast altogether and this beast is punk rock. The adjective, the attitude, and the aesthetics. Not pop-punk or post-punk or one of those derivations, but straight-up cacophonous, cantankerous in-your-face aggression…minus the power chords and fueled by free jazz curiosity and musicality.

“Tolerancia Picante” opens the album with a dense fabric of percussion, effects (motors, howling wind, spaceship sounds), and some catchy, but biting sax vamps. (This style is revisited near the end of the album on sludgy “The Story of No [Suite Part III].” “City Boy” sounds like a clarion call for an uprising out of the rubble of a non-descript but all too pervasive postindustrial landscape. The guitar screeches like frayed wires. The bass and drum stumble. Rasmussen’s sax and Guro Skumsnes Moe’s vocals shout (“City Boy you fucked up your choice of freedom”) over the wreckage. “Crysta! Dancer,” for instance, is somehow even more clamorous and conveys a sense of desperation and confusion. Moe’s thick Norwegian accent adds to the ominous atmospherics as she elongates and intones phrases in such a way that the lyrics – sometimes barely discernible to begin with – break down into their constituent, syllabic elements. This piece of dada freneticism is followed by another stand-out, “Introduction,” a rumbling dirge with an Ayler-via-Brötzmann saxophone elegy draped over a dense foundation of heavy strumming, feedback, and percussion.

The album fluctuates like this – between density and unfettered energy - for the entirety of its 40 minutes. Some pieces (“Strangle, Strangle, Strangle… “) have a call-and-response, stanza-blow out structure reminiscent of Sun Ra’s work on “The Creator of the Universe.” Some (“This Is Who We Are”) build from a series of short, declaratory sentences laid over at two-beat vamp into a craggy free-for-fall. Some (“Shardrach, Meschach, and Abednego”) are full on blow-outs worthy of early Wolf Eyes or (“Violently Passive [Suite Part II]”) doomy, atmospheric pieces that, even with their restiveness, would fit seamlessly into the Utech Records catalog. Still others (“I carry the Mother [Suite Part I]”) have oddly sonorous and howling vocals, bringing to mind a heavier, feedback-strewn Big Blood. And, at a pithy one minute and seven seconds with Moe’s barked vocal sloganeering (“I am no beggar unless you beg me to. I am no liar unless you lie to me. I am no sinner, unless you ask me to. Ask.”) over a simple pounding of bass, guitar, and drums, the concluding track, “Ask”, is as Crass as anything new I have heard in a long time.

In short, Tolerancia Picante is heavy, abrasive free-noise-punk at its finest. And, if this album is any indication, this ensemble must be absolutely wild live. Until they trek through New Orleans, however, I will happily settle for this recording.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Oli Steidle & The Killing Popes – Ego Pills (Shhpuma, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

It begins with a synthesizer imbued with the warmth of pre-millennium Saturday morning cartoon music, but with a deviant twist. What follows is 45 minutes of demented, avant-garde pop, of saccharine bubble gum laced with strychnine.

Oli Steidle and the Killing Popes consists of the eponymous Steidle on drums, Frank Möbus (Der Rote Bereich, Azul) on guitar, Phil Donkin on bass, and Dan Nicholls and Kit Downes on keyboards. Yes, that is two keyboardists.

This is playful experimental music that often goes awry, but in an ultimately gratifying way. Tracks are strewn with video game music, guitars deconstructed into a series of tonal and scalar beeps, heavy distorted bass lines, playfully frantic keyboard effects, and wandering but precise drumming. Think free jazz filtered through the synth-driven, carnivalesque sonic worlds of George Romero and Dario Argento films. Think Goblin crossed with Ornette Coleman with a pinch of fidgety acid-jazz-cum-electroclash-cum-grindcore.

Track titles – “Zombies,” “Isis,” “Nuremberg Heroin Lullabye,” and “Monopoly Extended” – indicate this music has a dark, sardonic side. This also comes through in the sheer freneticism of the music. Because of the musicianship and Steidle’s directive vision, however, Ego Pills comes across not as an unfocused muddle of styles, but a surprisingly tight album with a unique energy flow. (The only song that falls flat is “Speed Junky on Funny Human Darts,” a track that at reminds me of a funky Mike Patton when it works, but of Adult Swim when it doesn’t.) The music is lively and danceable, but the overall theme and mood is menacing and dystopian. It is a slice of the Zeitgeist, and one which captures the sense of disorientation and fracture, the awkward imbalance of progress and dysphoria in a way that only experimental art – whether film, music, or otherwise - can. Most experiments fail. This one succeeds.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Derek Bailey / Han Bennink / Evan Parker - Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981 (Fou Records, 2019) *****

We all owe a great debt to the great archival project of French sound engineer-producer-Fou Records label owner (and an explorer of vintage synthesizers) Jean-Marc Foussat's excellent recordings. Thanks to his one-of-a kind archive of live recordings we already enjoyed such milestone gems of free jazz and free improvisation released by Fou Records as Derek Bailey / Joëlle Léandre / George Lewis / Evan Parker - 28 rue Dunois juillet 82 (2014); the Willem Breuker Kollektief - Angoulème 18 mai 1980 (2015) and Daunik Lazro / Joëlle Léandre / Georges Lewis - Enfances à Dunois le 8 janvier 1984 (2016).

Now, Foussat and Fou Records offer Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981, a live perspective on one of the defining and most sought-after album of European free-improvisation: The Topography of the Lungs (Incus, 1970), captured during a June 1970 studio session and featuring young British tenor and soprano sax player Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. The seminal album also helped launch the legendary Incus label, co-founded by Bailey, Parker and drummer Tony Oxley. This album’s mystique was enhanced by decades of scarcity (and a famous rift between Bailey and Parker), until reissued on Parker’s Psi label in 2006, a year after the passing of Bailey and in memory of Bailey.

Bill Shoemaker mentions in his insightful liner notes for Topographie Parisienne that Bailey, Bennink and Parker did not perform together as a trio after the recording The Topography of the Lungs and did not record a follow-up album (though, played as a trio in the 1977 Company week, and a five minute clip was captured on Company 6 (Incus 1978)). The three improvisers had only collaborated before and shortly after on recordings by larger ensembles as Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (FMP, 1969) or Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity 1970 (reissued as Globe Unity 67 & 70 (Atavistic, 2001)).

Bailey, Bennink and Parker met again in April 1981 at Théâtre Dunois, while they were all pursuing different directions. Bailey denounced fixed groups, while Parker and Bailey worked with regular collaborators. But the nine pieces here, spanning three and a half hours and packed in a 4-disc box, mark an evolution and further development of the improvisations strategies and ideas explored on The Topography of the Lungs. Shoemaker mentions the employment of well-timed and laser-accurate disruption as a preventative against style, to which each improviser can answer according to his resourcefulness, push back or stand firm as the shockwaves recede. These subversive means liberated these free, non-idiomatic sessions from the legacy of free jazz.

Topographie Parisienne begins with the three musicians playing an extended, 42-minutes improvisation. It is an urgent and explosive piece that sounds fresh even today, highlighting Bailey’s abstract  guitar lines and exotic sonorities, Parker’s focus on uncompromising exploration of circular breathing techniques and juggling with tones and overtones, and Bennink totally intuitive pulse and dadaist, muscular drumming, with many sudden and ironic and strangely enough, playful disruptions. The interplay is naturally  egalitarian, but Bennink always sounds like he is injecting more and more energy and ready to embrace chaos, even when he briefly plays the piano. Bailey keeps introducing more delicate and eccentric ideas while Parker attempts to bridge between these strong characters. This piece concludes with the trio own abstraction of a free jazz interplay - intense, thorny and rhythmic. The first disc ends with a short conversational, intimate duet of Bailey and Parker, much more sparse than the previous piece and beautifully poetic.

Bailey, Bennink and Parker reunite again for their second and last trio set this evening (and ever), a 46-minutes piece that begins with Parker alternating between fiery, free jazz blows and overtone-throat chants, but soon the trio interplay rolls into a series fast-shifting, intense rhythmic patterns. Bailey often acts here as the subversive agent who injects sharp comments and disrupts the tight rhythmic flow of Parker and Bennink. Later, Parker takes the lead with a fantastic solo comprised of bird calls with circular breathing techniques, wisely abstracted by Bailey and Bennink into another dense rhythmic duet, before all conclude in a chaotic eruption. Parker, who sounds like he has the stamina of a Viking, ends the second disc with a powerful solo sax improvisation, totally possessed in a fast, polyphonic process of spiraling tones and overtones, blows and calls.

The third and fourth discs offer more duets and solo piece from Parker. The second duet of Bailey and Parker is completely different from the first one, tense and confrontational as if both were playing to themselves. Parker second solo improvisation suggests a layered texture of fast, brief and intense calls that patiently surrender to its own inner rational. The third disc ends with an engaging and even funny duet of Bennink - first on clarinet and later on drums - and Parker is quite engaging, even funny. Bennink begins with a brave attempt to mirror Parker’s phrasing and even his circular breathing techniques, forcing Parker to outmaneuver and surprise Bennink all the time. Later Bennink pushes Parker to more playful interplay with imaginative performance on the drums and even blowing a trombone.

The last, fourth disc opens with an extended duet of Bailey and Bennink Bailey is not impressed by the antiques of Bennink, but, obviously, nothing can stop Bennink when he is on a roll. Bailey keeps intervening with more subtle, elusive and enigmatic ideas, but Bennink - on drums, harmonica, piano and trombone, is all about crashing the party, in the most noble sense of this idiom. Bennink - on clarinet and drums - and Parker end this magnificent evening with humorous and eccentric powerful duet. This time Parker outsmarts Bennink tricks and games and eventually succeeds to discipline this wild, dadaist fountain of endless energy into surprising lyrical and emotional coda.

Merci Beaucoup Jean-Marc Foussat!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Two from Joe Morris

By Keith Prosk

Guitarist Joe Morris joins two up-and-comers for two outings of free playing in loose methodologies/thematics, both recorded at Firehouse 12 studios and both released on Fundacja Słuchaj!.

Brad Barrett, Joe Morris, Tyshawn Sorey - Cowboy Transfiguration (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ****

Contrabassist and cellist Brad Barrett plays with Morris and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey for 5 tracks over 53 minutes on his debut as leader. Though Barrett counts Morris as a mentor and has played with him frequently, I believe this is their first recording together. And, to my surprise, Morris and Sorey have only ever recorded together on the monolithic Pillars.

The playing here is completely improvised, though within a vague framework explicitly influenced by the compositional styles of Morris, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Webern, Stockhausen, Derek Bailey, and Barry Guy. The way the methodology is described just sounds like good old improvisation, except that it asks performers to “employ small particles of sounds and blend timbres with an awareness of implied pulse and an inclination to disrupt it..”

The result provides a simultaneously fun and frustrating challenge for the listener. The first three tracks feature Morris picking clean, jagged lines with glimpses of the blues, Barrett plucking similarly (with occasional arco), and Sorey providing bubbling, rumbling skins and skittering cymbals. A cursory listen reveals few -possibly no- changes in volume, density, time, or dynamics. Close listening (several times in my case) reveals subtle communications, rhythmic microchanges, and playful subversions. These first three tracks are both easily dismissed as monotonous and the best exhibition of the arcane complexity at work here. The last two lengthier tracks provide a similar complexity but with more obvious dynamic changes at a slightly more relaxed pace. Barrett uses a bit more arco, begins “Requiem for a Catfish” with a timbre that sounds like a detuned, muted guitar, and utilizes some bow tapping at the end of “Slither Cake” and Morris matches these odd textures. Sorey crumples some things, rubs the drumhead in such a way that sounds like a bowed bass in “Requiem for a Catfish,” and bows the cymbals on “Slither Cake.”

A bit abstruse but well worth revisiting repeatedly. Not necessarily texturally exciting but singularly rhythmically genius. I still haven’t decided whether it’s the most annoying thing I’ve listened to this year or the best.

Cowboy Transfiguration is available digitally and on CD.

Ben Stapp & Joe Morris feat. Stephen Haynes - Mind Creature Sound Dasein (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ***½

Ben Stapp (tuba, euphonium) has recorded with Morris and Stephen Haynes (cornet) before, on Pomegranate with William Parker and Warren Smith. And Morris and Haynes also recorded together on Parrhesia and Sorey’s Pillars. On Mind Creature Sound Dasein, they play for 63 minutes over 11 tracks.

They play freely, though Stapp provided some thematics, presumably in the form of a loose narrative that tethers the sounds to the inventive, playful titles. And the music is as visually stimulating as the titles because each musician’s playing is colorfully exuberant in their timbral adventures.

Stapp plays throaty, baritone foghorns and circularly-breathed, undulating drones (“The Fire Door Opens,” “Climbing the Windy Trees,” “Back into the Fire It Goes,” “Dreams in Dissolving Water”), mimics elephants, owls, and duck calls (“Alebrijes Come For Their Hosts”), beatboxes distorted rhythms (“Giant Unicellular Water Slug Calls”), blows raspberries (“Cutting Up and Filing Away”), and more. Morris matches this timbral diversity with blues and psychedelia, clean picking and distortion, glassy pitches and digital glitches, and by almost mimicking the sound of a piano (“Dreams in Dissolving Water”), violin (“Cutting Up and Filing Away”), and bass (“Epilogue”). Haynes, who’s present for four tracks, adds weezing, hissing, wails, whisps, and roars.

Playful, colorful, fun free playing that makes the hour fly by.

Mind Creature Sound Dasein is available digitally and on CD.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

10 million pageviews

We have reached the astonishing number of 10 million page views since we started counting in 2010. In reality, the number is much higher, because we started with our blog many years earlier in 2007. As you can see from the graph, we're still increasing our readership (Don't be misled by the dropping line at the end, that's because we are just halfway the month of July: the overall trend is moving up, as anyone can see, and it will probably still further increase in the course of the year.)

I hope we have meant a lot to listeners, musicians and labels alike.

10 million page views sounds like a lot, but in reality it's not. I'm sure some blogs make 100 mio pageviews per month. That is a lot. Our fantastic milestone is not very high by the standards of most commercial websites, so some humility is required. But for a non-commercial website, without advertising and promotional investments, and only focusing on free jazz, avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, it is a lot. What is our total "universe", as advertisers would call it, ie the totality of all fans of free jazz across the globe? We do not know, but we are confident that we are very close to reaching this entire small "universe", but as the graph shows, we are still expanding, so either we have not yet reached our potential, or - and this we hope - our free jazz universe is expanding, meaning that more citizens are getting interested in the genre.

Where are all these readers? They are scattered around the world. They don't know each other but they know the music they love, the artists they admire, and they share the same openness for new sounds and new listening experiences.

The ten million pageviews are coming from the following top-10 countries, but of course there are more countries with readers.

It's a milestone for us.

Here is to you, dear reader!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Denzler/Grip/Johansson – Zyklus 1 (Umlaut/SAJ Records, 2019) ****½

“Jazz is certainly a music of perfumes (on and in bodies)”, declares the saxophonist Seymour Wright in the liner notes that accompany some Sven-Ake Johansson’s drawings for this double CD. A joint release of Johansson’s SAJ records and Umlaut records. “And bodies through these perfumes. Cloth, skin wood, seat, spit and smoke” Wright continues. This could be the perfect description for the music of this trio. Bertrand Denzler on tenor sax, Joel Grip on double bass and, ever flexible and kinetic, Sven-Ake Johansson on drums. They know each form the Neukollner Modelle recordings, they have struggled before, so many times, with the pains of using improvisation as a language to communicate.

As many times in Umlaut’s recordings, jazz is the medium. Many times as a basis, other as a way to interact, the jazz tradition seems incorporated in almost all of the labels recordings. This is the case in zyklus 1. The coltraneish tenor of Denzler is the point of departure for the two tracks of the first CD. He struggles and pushes hard to follow the fast delivery of Grip’s bass, while Johansson’s improvisational skills are combined with the ability to maneuver through the tradition of the great percussionists of jazz have created. Of course Johansson is one of the greats…

What always amazes me, and it more clear on the two tracks of the second cd, is the combination of improvisation as a tool to communicate and navigate through a recording combined with the will to use melody (or melodic passages) as a the material that brings everything together. It reveals a higher level of interaction, a sometimes total understanding of each other’s playing. But not just that. An understanding of how the fellow musician, or comrade, thinks or wants to play.

Joel Grip is an extremely subtle presence throughout both CDs. Nevertheless he is the backbone on this release, providing time and space for Denzler to venture into some fierce blowing and Johansson to explore his drum set. I kind of felt, at some points at least, that I was listening to two soloists and a double bassist that took care of everything else. Of course this is only one of the reasons I really enjoyed zyklus 1. On both CDs it is a game of balance, of three people that use their skills and the bodies of their instruments (to recall Wright’s liner notes) as tools for a component power that is this trio. A power based on tradition but always forward looking.

@ koultouranafigo

Monday, July 15, 2019

Christoph Schiller and Anouck Genthon – zeitweise leichter Schneefall (New Wave of Jazz, 2019) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

As the title, zeitweise leichter Schneefall (Intermittent Light Snowfall), suggests, this album is delicate, textured, and punctuated. Christoph Schiller has been experimenting with the spinet for several years now, leading a wave of minimalist pioneers with his Renaissance tools and, more recently, his voice. Anouck Genthon is a violinist and ethnomusicologist who has been involved in the electroacoustic experimental scenes in France and Switzerland (think Insub Records). Both artists show a distinct interest in bringing the old (instruments, sounds) into the present through extended techniques, microtonal variability, and amelodicisim.

Composed of seven tracks ranging from one-and-a-half to seven minutes in length, Schneefall offers Schiller and Genthon numerous opportunities to explore different paths all based around certain elongated tones and their resonances. In this pursuit, Schiller and Genthon pose an interesting contrast to each other. Despite the apparent closeness of the microphones, Genthon’s playing is impeccably crisp, especially compared to the harsher, nonidiomatic techniques she employs in other projects. (There are deliberate exceptions in a few passages, but this trend largely holds.) Schiller’s playing, on the other hand, resolves around the interior of the spinet. One can hear his forceful plucks and hand-muting, just as one can hear the fuzz of his whispers, hisses, and hums. These disparities in tonal quality are all the more striking as they are set against a starkly silent backdrop. And, as one might expect, silence and near-silence play as much of a role in this music as do the traditional instruments themselves. Although it seems little new musical ground is broken, here, much is explored more deeply. Another worthwhile addition to the Schiller catalog and, I imagine, the Genthon catalog, as well.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ackley/Frith/Kaiser/Shelton - Unexpected Twins (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****½

By Nick Metzger

Now here is a record with a very interesting premise that is also very, very good. It harkens back to a formative time in creative music when Dr. Eugene Chadbourne moved from Calgary to New York City in 1977 in order to work in the artistic foundry of New York’s downtown scene, eventually befriending and working with John Zorn and later releasing Zorn’s first recordings as a leader on his Parachute label. According to Duck Baker’s notes, late in 1977 Zorn and Chadbourne traveled out to the bay area to play some gigs with Henry Kaiser and Bruce Ackley (Kaiser who had recorded with Chadbourne on his first Guitar Trios record and Ackley who Chadbourne had met at Aquarius Records in San Francisco), under the Twins moniker (a pair of guitars and a pair of saxes). Together they produced the first studio session led by Zorn which yielded recordings of his game pieces “Lacrosse”, which was released on Parachute, and “Curling” which was regrettably lost in the mail according to Baker. Citing differences in schedules and impractical logistics the quartet has never reformed in their original manifestation, but in the interest of re-exploring the catalogue and methodology of the original Twins lineup, Kaiser and Ackley recruited their colleagues Fred Frith (electric guitar and piano) and Aram Shelton (alto saxophone) to re-record select arrangements of the ‘77 squad in addition to logging a composition from each participant, a collective arrangement, and a nice rendition of the Steve Lacy piece “Bound”.

Chadbourne’s composition “The Shreeve” begins and ends with a playful figure presented in union by Ackley and Shelton between which a biting section of decidedly dynamic reeds/guitar interplay is sandwiched. The guitar playing is wild and smattered with effects which are applied with marvelous aestheticism. The variety that all four musicians produce in this brief inauguration only hints at what’s to come. The group’s reimagining of the Lacy’s “Bound” is next, and while the essence of the original composition remains, particularly within Ackley’s soprano playing, the group expands the piece into atmospheric jazz noir territory (for lack of a better descriptor). The guitars set up a moody and undulating foundation for the saxophones to abstract the original melodies over, which has the effect of making a very tasty Manhattan from the straight rye whiskey of Lacy’s original. The third track is Ackley’s arrangement “Emit Time”, in which the guitars and reeds cycle through various combinations to play short essays that are by turns melancholic and/or bristly. There’s lots of contrast and variation throughout the piece and it provides for an especially entertaining listen. The next track “Court Music” is penned by Kaiser and pits the probing, despondent saxophones of Ackley and Shelton with Kaiser’s sometimes-sparse-sometimes-explosive guitar heroics all over a flowing bed of Frith’s spare piano figures. What really strikes me here is how Kaiser’s abrupt flare-ups figure into the composition as a whole. Between these relatively brief bursts of intensity the piece induces a trance in the listener, but just as you are on the brink of zoning-out Kaiser erupts and snaps you back to. Shelton’s “This Reminds Me” is an exercise in elegant minimalism, the melody pulled outward and apart in so many different directions simultaneously, yet the underlying sentiment is retained throughout. It begins unassumingly and then expands in dynamics and intensity like the stellar evolution of a star before collapsing back in on itself.

In Frith’s piece “Long Story Short” the reeds play melodiously strands set against a din of guitar squall and/or decaying drone. The saxophones proceed though their harmonies as all around them explosions of scrape or vocoder shaped growl lurch into the mix, it’s over before your realize it. Next is the album’s centerpiece, a 20 minute rendering of John Zorn’s game piece “Curling”. The track begins with vibrato/glissando from reeds and guitar as Frith clanks around on his strings percussively sounding like a tiny horse on a metal table. Some attention is given to long quavering tones, and these give me the impression of heat shimmer conjuring the occasional aural mirage. This is followed by a sparser section of interplay, the quartet utilizing silence masterfully to rebuild the drama. Kaiser summons a swelling reverb-laden din pitted with reverse guitar phantoms whilst Frith adds flat staccato notes and strange, crooked, high pitch shapes with an occasional ultra-slow pick slide. The reeds are active and breathy, almost avian but with misshapen patterns. The quartet abruptly coalesces at the conclusion of the piece, offering a final whimper of smeared half-melody to close a very strange and intriguing piece. The group arrangement “Quads” is similar in its spare trappings but more dynamic, Frith and Kaiser again put on a clinic of wildly creative, stompbox lunacy. I can’t tell if Frith jumps on the organ here or if it’s a pedal effect, wither way it’s very effective and compliments the mile-a-minute playing that Kaiser, Ackley, and Shelton progress into. The final track is the Chadbourne piece “A Special Hell for Shreeves”, which is a thorough reprise of the theme and concepts from “The Shreeve”, finds the group fully fleshing out the possibilities of the arrangement for their final argument.

This is a terrific album that jumped out at me upon my perusal of the upcoming Relative Pitch releases mainly due to the personnel involved (eye-catching cover art notwithstanding). I’m a fan of Zorn’s Parachute releases so I was passingly familiar with the original Twins recording of “Lacrosse” and consequently the back story piqued my interest in this album that much more. For those interested, the original Twins recording of “Lacrosse” is the second disc in both the eponymous Zorn album as well as the Zorn box set The Parachute Years, 1977-1980. Both the album and box set are still easily obtained (I believe Amazon carries both) if you’re so inclined. But even if you don’t feel the need to dig any deeper, this is a fantastic album by four masters of creative music that is by turns musically unique, conceptually interesting, and very, very tasty.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Der Finger - Le Cinque Stagioni (Toten Schwan, 2019) ****

By Stef

Despite the band's German name, and the album's Italian title, this is music from Russia, performed by a band consisting of Anton Efimov on bass-guitar and effects, Evgenia Sivkova on drums and saxophone, and Edward Sivkov on bass clarinet, saxophone and domra, the latter the father of Evgenia. The band is usually a duo, but the addition of an extra saxophone, makes this even for them an unusual album, at the same time lifting the music to a much higher level.

Both bass and drums lay a very dense foundation of industrial doom, with neither instrument clearly recognisable, but still rhythmic enough to become hypnotic. The sax improvises over this never-ending flowing sonic magma. The improvisations of the sax only add to the deep sense of despair, angst and hopelessness.

Unlike our normal four season calendar - and Vivaldi's - they present us five seasons, as described in the "Illuminati calendar", the secret society which fought religiously influenced state power in the 18th century (and maybe still active today, you never know with secret societies). In the case of Der Finger, they also refer to the novels by Robert Anton Wilson, and his "Illuminati trilogy". I have to rely on Wikipedia to know more about him: "Wilson described his work as an "attempt to break down conditioned associations, to look at the world in a new way, with many models recognized as models or maps, and no one model elevated to the truth". His goal being "to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything."

Understanding the context and the intent illuminates the appreciation of the music. The music indeed not only breaks down all conventions, but at the same time - and that's possibly the most fascinating about it - it originates without too many of today's influences in avant-garde music, allowing it to carve out its own space, its own sound, dark and relentless and scary and compelling.

The tracks are named by the original German names of the five illuminati seasons, each consisting of 73 days, "representing the development stages of everything from complete chaos to complete fuck-up (SNAFU) and then again in the eternal cycle". 

1. Verwirrung (bewilderment)
2. Zweitracht (discord)
3. Unordnung (disorder)
4. Beamtenherrschaft (bureacracy)
5. Realpolitik (realpolitik).

I can only recommend this.

Play it loud.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dave Douglas with Uri Caine and Andrew Cyrille – Devotion (Greenleaf Music, 2019) ****

By Troy Dostert

Perpetually iconoclastic, idiomatically omnivorous, and always surprising, Dave Douglas and Uri Caine have for over 25 years teamed up periodically to merge their prodigious musical minds. Both are first and foremost jazz musicians, but that’s never been a label to limit them, as Caine’s piano recordings have frequently engaged the classical tradition, from Bach to Verdi to Wagner, while trumpeter Douglas has brought jazz into conversation with myriad other musical languages, including recent ventures into electronica (on High Risk, 2015) and the fourteenth century French Ars Nova (Fabliaux, 2015). Although their separate paths have taken them in manifold directions, when they do occasionally converge the results are always worthwhile, as on Present Joys (2014), a compelling document of their ongoing exploration of early American Sacred Harp music. On Devotion, they stick to a much more jazz-focused repertoire, and who better to team up with than Andrew Cyrille, one of the legendary embodiments of creative jazz, and someone whose own discography has been remarkably diverse and accomplished during his late-career renaissance?

Compared to their various boundary-breaking projects, this one allows Douglas and Caine to explore the capacious interior of the jazz tradition itself, and they are adept in tapping into its multifarious riches. Each piece bears a dedicatee, and the range of jazz luminaries represented, from Carla Bley to Franco D’Andrea to Mary Lou Williams, already hints at the panoramic perspective on offer; so too does the range of non-musical inspirations, from Jerome Horwitz (“Curly” of the Three Stooges) to long-distance running legend Steve Prefontaine.

From the opening bars of “Curly,” played as a duet by Caine and Cyrille, one can already appreciate the sympathetic conversation that will unfold on these ten well-crafted tracks. Caine jumps all over the keyboard, with jaunty phrases galore, along the way hinting at his abiding interest in early jazz forms like stride and boogie-woogie, while Cyrille maintains his characteristically fluid, rhythmically adroit commentary, with enough independent interjections to keep the conversation moving forward. Then when Douglas joins in on “D’Andrea,” the trumpeter’s nimble quickness takes center stage, with an insouciant air that keeps the track light on its feet, Cyrille’s expert use of the kit perfect in establishing a dance-like accompaniment. “False Allegiances,” dedicated to Carla Bley, is an even more overtly danceable piece, with a tango structure that continues its subtle momentum even amidst its darker-hued resonances. Then there is the funky “Miljøsang,” with more of Caine’s bouncy exuberance and Douglas’s down-home charm.

Other pieces bend toward the lyrical, especially “Pacific,” a gorgeous ballad played with superb restraint by Douglas, Cyrille’s delicate work on the cymbals ideal in augmenting the emotion of the piece. “We Pray” is just as affecting, with an even more somber texture. And the closer, the album’s title track, is a hymn-like revisiting of the Sacred Harp tradition, and it encapsulates the record’s central theme of homage and dedication, with a wistful spirit of yearning for freedom, expressed elegantly with Caine’s and Douglas’s intertwining expressions and more of Cyrille’s masterfully understated support.

While it may not possess the ambitious concept of these musicians’ more attention-getting efforts, Devotion is all the more effective for what it does offer: imaginative, well-executed jazz that draws out terrific playing from all three participants, forging a shared vocabulary that says just enough to make its collective statement powerfully and memorably.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Jozef van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil (Sacred Bones Records, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

How does one begin to describe this duo? First, Jim Jarmusch isthe Jim Jarmusch, director and sometimes screenwriter ofDown By Law, Stranger than Paradise, Ghost Dog, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers, and Mystery Train, to name a few. He also plays guitar. Jozef van Wissem has less renown, though, as this album shows, he should, as one of the most creative, accomplished, and heavy lutenists today.

It would be easy to brush off An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil as a venue for a creative artist in film to simple dabble in another, enabled by name recognition rather than encouraged by talent or purpose. That, however, ignores Wissem’s contributions to this album. It also ignores Jarmusch’s. If one can say anything coheres the latter’s myriad films, one must list a) slow, plodding development generally around a theme rather than a concrete plot and b) vision. This album has both.

Tracks are based around the works of William Blake (the final track is titled “When the Sun Rises Do You Not See A Round Disc of Fire” from Blakes “A Vision of the Last Judgement), as well as the works of two figures with whom I am not familiar: theologian and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg and occultist and philosopher Helena Blavatsky. They also range from the dark and atmospheric (“Concerning the White Horse” and “Dark Matter”) to the goth-influenced medieval-melodic (“The Unclouded Day” and “Two Paths”) to the spacious, but eerie ambient (“Lost Continent”) to the rather hopeful and minimalist (“Final Initiation”). At times, one hears entrancing loops and hints of Asa Osbourne (Lungfish, the Pupils, Zomes). At others, the dense, wandering layerings of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Trio. At still others, the lute - an instrument I rarely encounter especially in such doom-laden improvisations - takes over and makes for an utterly unique and, at times, even pleasant listening experience. This album is varied, thoroughly interesting, coherently dark and, even at moments of relative levity, heavy. Then again, what would one expect from today’s foremost experimental lutenist and the writer/director of Dead Man?