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Monday, September 30, 2019

J. Pavone String Ensemble - Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher Records) ****1/2

By David Menestres

Musicians: Joanna Mattrey, Erica Dicker, Angela Morris, Jessica Pavone

Jessica Pavone has been an integral part of the improvised music scene for the better part of this century. From her long running duo with Mary Halvorson (still can’t believe I missed them when they were in town 15 years ago, why didn’t I cancel my own gig to see their’s?), to appearances with legends like Anthony Braxton and William Parker, to her current role in the band Jobs and a recent string of excellent solo viola albums, Pavone has developed a unique voice both as a composer and violist.

The new album Brick and Mortar, credited to the J. Pavone String Ensemble, sees Pavone helming a string quartet of two violins and two violas. The music shimmers and twists around bends, recalling the rhythms of a subway train hurtling across the city, hinting at the quiet force of a shallow river slowly eroding the earth beneath it. The music builds on similar techniques that Pavone has been exploring on solo albums like Knuckle Under (2014) and In The Action (2019).

Much of the album is constructed from small thoughts expanded through repetition and subtle variation. The first track “Hurt and Hurdle” hits with the shifting rhythm of sunlight filtered by the trees on an Appalachian mountainside. The second cut “Lullaby and Goodnight” percolates up through the layers of your memory like a forgotten piece of your childhood. The illuminating drones of the title track dance like the charge of a 9v battery gingerly placed against your tongue slowed to glacial speeds. The album ends with the achingly beautiful “By and Large,” which mostly feels like you’re eavesdropping on an intimate ritual.

Special mention to Bob Bellerue for his excellent recording, done at ISSUE Project Room, and to Weasel Water for the mastering. The album sounds excellent, a wonderful thing given how the music is so deeply focused on the actual physicality of the sounds and the tones of these acoustic instruments and their performers. The recording sounds like you're eavesdropping on a most intimate ritual.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Two Solos from Claire Rousay

By Keith Prosk

Percussionist Claire Rousay had a prolific, style-defining 2018, releasing or contributing to ten recordings, culminating in the personal, distinctive solo Neuter. Rousay continues to grow and thrive in the solo setting this year, releasing four so far, two of which are covered here.

Several Erasures (Already Dead Tapes, 2019) ****

Several Erasures is a solo percussion soundscape lasting 37 minutes across four tracks that furthers the direction of Neuter. The hiss of recorded silence ensconces a ball bearing rolling in a mortar like a cat toy, woody clicks reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s depiction of kodama, persistent jingle bells recalling Julius Eastman’s compositions, resonant meditative chimes, bowed metal, crumpling, something rocking on the drumhead, something like the strike of a grandfather clock, skinwork that sounds like circling the drain, scratching, flaying. Most of the action is not perpendicular to the drumhead. When it is, hi hat and kick drum accompany snare strikes in a rising, syncronised pulse. Rousay is a master of the kit’s palette.

But what’s most striking is the mastery of space and time. Rousay often allows sounds to decay into the silence. When soundings do occur together, they often appear distinct, and any rhythm they result in feels natural and fortuitous. The effect makes Several Erasures seem less like intended music and more like a field recording of a child at play. Not a child in the sense of immaturity, but rather unbounded by convention. It reminded me of the freeing and framing silence of Polly Bradfield’s Solo Violin Improvisations, though this is much less silent.

It’s incredibly refreshing for a percussionist to not be a percussionist. And to also not try to fill silence. Rousay is the percussionist to watch.

Several Erasures is available digitally and on cassette.

It Is Just So Much More Difficult (Falt, 2019) is another solo recording in a similar vein to Several Erasures. More traditionally percussive, though with more exaggerated silences, and features an interval of ringing bells, chimes, and cymbals that feels like some transcendent gamelan.

Aerophobia (Astral Spirits, 2019) ***½

6 tracks divide 35 minutes of solo percussion recorded in 2017 on Aerophobia. The earlier recording date makes Aerophobia feel like a time capsule, due to Rousay’s rapid development, and the style present here is much more akin to last year’s Divide than Several Erasures or Neuter. Most tracks contain textural moments - mostly fluting cymbals or the drumhead - but the meat of each track is nearly always cool, fast tricks building in tempo, volume, and density into multi-limbed polyrhythms of perpendicular hits. It recalls the physical, yet colorful, onslaughts of Chris Corsano or Tatsuya Nakatani. It’s a treat to listen to, and there are moments where I thought “I didn’t know the human body could do that,” but this doesn’t appear to be the direction Rousay is moving towards.

Aerophobia is available digitally and on cassette.

Rousay has also self-released the two tape collages of a moment in st louis and a moment at the beach and appeared on the compilations Infinite Futures (Full Spectrum) and Free Percussion (tsss tapes) this year, sharing the roster with Tim Daisy, Will Guthrie, et al. on the latter.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dan Banks/José Canha/Trevor Taylor/Josh Ison - Luminos (FMR Records, 2019) ****1/2

By Gregg Daniel Miller

On a recent and, for me, rare trip to NYC, I visited the Downtown Music Gallery for an in-store performance. While the trio set up, the long-time proprietor, Bruce G., had an amazing record playing: A tenor saxophone with the timbre of rough-cut wood, a careful but decisive piano, a drummer using bells and a bowed cymbal, and a plucky bass. It felt loose and tight at the same time. It sounded fully improvised, but so complete unto itself it all felt right and easy. After five or so minutes, the speakers cut so the live band could start—but, I had to know who made that beautiful music coming over the loudspeakers. For music it was. Not a mere exploration of sound or rhythm; not an ego-trip for any or all of the musicians. This was a complete work; it just had that sound. The band sounded focused, like all intention was unforced and collected together into a single, organic thing. So, anyway, I bought the record.

I recall reading or hearing a story— whose story was it? I no longer remember— of when Kind of Blue came out, and this person, having listened to the first side, for years couldn’t bear to play the second side in case it detracted from the first side’s perfection. Having got Luminos home, I felt a bit the same, except I didn’t know which tune I needed to hear. I wanted that track from the Downtown Music Gallery on repeat. Turns out the whole record deserves to be on repeat.

Luminos is a quartet outing: Josh Ison on tenor sax, Dan Banks piano, José Canha on double bass, and Trevor Taylor (who runs FMR, (Future Music Records)) on percussion. In a certain sense, Ison is the lead voice on this record (he played with Henry Grimes and Gerald Cleaver on a very fine, fully improvised record Perceive React (F-ire, 2016), but wisely his saxophone here is not so far out in front of the mix that we lose the magic wholeness of this quartet (though maybe Taylor’s drum kit is under-represented at times).

The first track , “Luminos Sky,” opens gently with some patient, probing and then lush piano and bass. At the 2-minute mark the true flavor of the disk kicks in when the drums and sax enter. Now we have four masters doing their thing, where the whole is oh-so-much greater than the nonetheless very great parts. Spaciousness turns into energetic sax runs. Ison plays tenor in a way where every tone gets its due, even when he’s sprinting. His tone is inviting, lush, just a bit breathy, a nice combination of smokey and edgy. Like speaking with a rasp and a crooked smile. Very musical. The piece moves from calm to bedlam, to mildly swinging, and then somehow the piano/sax/drums each invokes a separate world which nonetheless overlap to make something else. Remarkable, really. At the 8:50 mark the band breaks down into more reflective individual statements with lots of space, cymbal and bell hits, tenor sax multiphonics and subtoning. The piano takes lead once again, and out.

The second piece “Luminous Cloud” opens with a gentle hand strum of the piano strings, some cymbal scratching and bar chimes, slowly wrought tenor sax multiphonics. The pace is ruminative. The bowed bass and the sax timbre provide just enough edge to prevent the thing from turning one dimensional. At 4:17, Taylor drops some percussion bombs which suddenly opens up the piece for the others to work with sound (and not just patterns).

“Luminos Night,” the longest cut (24 minutes) shifts seamlessly through many musical modes: sultry tenor, super responsive percussion and bass interaction, spaciousness, jutting and then gentle piano, and near the end, a walking bass line and a brief throw at nu-bop. It is all thoroughly enjoyable, not least because the whole thing is not a swinging affair. There are moments of pure calm–tenor tone against ride cymbal and slowly laid down piano chords, like day-dreaming out loud.

The final tune (and the briefest at just under 8 minutes) “Luminos Light,” opens with a low, repeated bass figure. The bass starts to veer, and tones emerge from plucked piano strings Imperceptibly the saxophone enters in an upper register and then bar chimes splash. Now they are all at it, but slowly, in long draughts. The perfect cymbal tap at 3:21. Gently the piano takes the lead in careful, stepped clusters. The tenor snakes up front with quiet long tones over piano plonks and hand drumming on the kit. The song and CD fades out – but if you have on repeat like I do, it will begin again and you’ll hardly know it.

In short, highly recommended.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Brötzmann / Schlippenbach / Bennink - Fifty Years After... Live at the Lila Eule 2018 (Trost, 2019) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

German, Berlin-based pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach (born in 1938) and Wuppertal-based reeds player Peter Brötzmann (born in 1941) with Dutch drummer Han Bennink (born in 1942) have accumulated together an unprecedented experience of more than 150 years of experience of playing free jazz and free-improvised music. And, as the title of one of the albums if the Brötzmann-Bennik duo's discography suggests, these great lions are still popular after all these years.

In May 2018, Brötzmann, von Schlippenbach and Bennink were invited to play at the Lila Eule club in Bremen, where the legendary sessions of Brötzmann’s Machine Gun album had been recorded fifty years ago, as part of the club's 60th anniversary celebration. The trio was very pleased with their performance and decided to keep working as a trio. The trio performed again recently in London’s Café OTO.

Their long and winding musical paths of Brötzmann, von Schlippenbach, and Bennink have criss-crossed each other so many times that only a die-hard discaholic can chronicle all their shared meetings and recordings. Brötzmann was a key member in von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra in the late sixties and seventies and played in the pianist early, iconic albums, The Living Music (1969, with Bennik) and Pakistani Pomade (1973). All three played on German trumpeter Manfred Schoof’s classic European Echoes (1969). Bennink played in Brötzmann’s Machine Gun (1968). This octet of Brötzmann yielded a trio with Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove. Later Brötzmann and Bennink continued to work as a duo for over four decades.

Fifty Years After... is an instant classic. Brötzmann, von Schlippenbach and Bennink may have lost some of their raw energy and reckless stamina but they have gathered unparalleled and hard-won wisdom, sober perspective on what we call now free music (and how free it is, if at all) and enough irony and humor to keep their creativity flowing without surrendering to any distinct strategy, school, convention or even genre. Their version of free music sounds fresh and passionate, down-to-earth and unsentimental, and eager to take risks.

Brötzmann, on the tenor sax, begins the first, extended “Fifty Years After” with a typical, fiery howl, that sets the intense, fast and merciless atmosphere, but von Schlippenbach manages to inject later his adaptations of Arnold Schönberg’s serialism while Bennink keeps this piece rolling with his massive, fast shifting percussive patterns. The lyrical, ironic coda of this piece suggests that this trio is much more than a wild beast of raw sounds. When von Schlippenbach takes the lead the trio emphasizes its great love of jazz, in all its forms and eras. The trio swings playfully and soon sketches an angry ballad on the second extended “Fictional Sounds”, with Brötzmann on the tarogato, patiently gaining more rhythmic power and depth as von Schlippenbach and Bennink explore different courses. When Brötzmann picks again the tenor sax this piece is channeled into a hard-swinging climax. Bennink is still the wild card of this trio, sounds as if he is all over, produces an infectious rhythmic patterns on the “Bad Borrachos”, leaving enough space for von Schlippenbach to charge this piece with cyclical, Monk-ish line, and for Brötzmann, now on the b-flat clarinet, to articulate his most touching playing on this performance. The short “Street Jive” dances with the percussive piano patterns of von Schlippenbach, the wild drumming of Bennink and the incisive tenor sax blows of Brötzmann. Bennink and Brötzmann exhaust their remaining stamina on the brief and loose “Short Dog of Sweet Lucy”.

Our planet may have a much better future if we can keep these three gentlemen playing for another fifty years.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Paula Shocron, Pablo Díaz, Guillermo Gregorio - Diálogos & SLD Trio - EL Contorno Del Espacio

By Paul Acquaro

I think the best place to start this review is with today's Q&A with Argentinian percussionist Pablo Diaz and pianist Paula Shocron, in which Shocron writes "I think that it’s easy for a guest to join us, I feel it almost always works. I feel we have great facility to adapt ourselves and our language to different instrumentation." 

I can think of two instances specifically when watching the duo play live, a couple years apart, where the duo was seamlessly enhanced by others. First, was in Brooklyn at Andrew Drury's 'Soup and Sound' series. Here, Shocron and Diaz played in several different combinations, including the one that is featured here with clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio. The other time was at the Kuhlspot in Berlin just this past winter. Shocron and Diaz were joined with a second set of hands on the piano, and I think there may have been suddenly a cellist on stage. Honestly, it doesn't matter. As Shocron points out, she and Diaz can easily adapt to any situation. 

Here, they perform in two different trio situations, one a new partnership, and the other going back several years and two albums.

Paula Shocron & Pablo Díaz - special guest Guillermo Gregorio - Diálogos (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019) ****

As much as I recommend simply listening to this recording, I think the liner notes are a must read. Fortunately, they are online on the Bandcamp site so you can take part in Andrew Drury's history lesson that compresses fifty years of history into a concise three paragraphs. Starting with Argentinian clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio's involvement in the fertile music and art scene of mid-1960's Agentina, through the political oppression that followed, his journey to Europe and finally the US, and then Diaz and Shocron's journey from modern day Buenos Aries to meeting up with Gregorio. The notes sets the stage to listen to these three musicians connect and make the music on Diálogos.

Spread over 14 miniature improvisations, the dialogues are varied and nuanced. The opening track 'aria nro. 1' begins with a very reserved melody from the piano and a light touch on the drums. Gregorio's clarinet is warm and woody, meshing nicely with the circular motion of the piano and the clattering percussion, together it is calm and fluid. 'Walking Down', a couple of tracks in, is kinetic and beckoning. Playing inside the piano (most likely), Shocron hops around in the background as Gregorio is front and center, darting about. Jumping through the tracks, 'perspectiva axonometrica' offers a much different sound than the other tracks mentioned so far as snippets of disconnected melodies engage in conversation with the drums, which themselves are being approached in unique ways. 'inwood-brooklyn 4hs.', feels as desperate musically as it does while trying to make this 17 mile journey through New York City (be it by car, subway, or clarinet). Here Gregorio's clarinet is joined by nervous sounding piano playing and oblique drumming. At the four minute mark, the group connects and ramps up the intensity. Throughout, the trio reaches higher and higher on each track, and on the final one, 'sounds brewing', Shocron plays extended arpeggios over which Guillermo's clarinet ducks, weaves, and chases the pianist about. 

It's our luck that Shocron and Diaz connected with Gregorio. Their collaboration sounds effortless as it spans generations and distances. There is much to keep you hooked and wanting more. 

SLD Trio - EL Contorno Del Espacio (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019) ****½

On this third outing of the SLD Trio, which features bassist German Lamonega along with Diaz and Shocron, the spirit of collaboration is strong and vibrant. From the opening solo bass intro on  first track 'Jiwasa' to the precise and assured run of chords on the piano, and the intense but still airy interactions that follow, it's obvious that the trio has not lost any of it's energy since 2017's Tensegridad.

A series of tracks in the early middle part of the album provide a cross-section to examine the pulse and direction that the trio is pursuing. The intensity of the track 'Trascender' is a perfect example of the poise and balance of the trio. Wedged between the tracks 'Secreto 3' and 'Secreto 1', it begins with a patter of piano and rapidly bowed notes from the bass. The drums are approached somewhat scattershot through the opening moments, and as the track gathers more and more momentum, and the piano fill ever more space. Two-thirds of the way towards its end, the group reaches a peak and quickly backs off the volume, leaving the drums and bass to duet for a moment before coming to a stop. The book-ending, and out of order, 'Secreto 3' and 'Secreto 1' offer strong musical contrasts. The first one ('Secreto 3') focuses on Shocron as she builds up tension along with Diaz, who responds deftly to her volume and intensity. Then on 'Secreto 1', Shocron offers a take on minimalism, rapidly repeating notes over a sparse harmonic line as Lamonega accompanies with a deliberate bowed melody and Diaz offers up anguished sounds from the drums. 

El Contorno Del Espacio is a wonderful recording that reveals more on every listen. The musical ideas pass by with vivaciousness and speed, the drumming is sympathetic and explorative, and the bass fits neatly between, connecting with Diaz's ideas and helping to shape Shocron's classically informed lines.  

Paula Shocron and Pablo Diaz: Always In Motion (part 2)

Paula Shocron. Photo by Peter Gannushkin
By Alexander Dubovoy

We continue our Q&A with Pablo Diaz and Paula Shocron today, digging a little deeper into their creative methods and inspirations. 

Free Jazz Blog: How do you approach practicing?

Pablo: I usually practice drums and piano when I’m at home. I have a not so long routine with drums set as well as with the piano. On drums, I have some time for improvising without guidelines, and for researching the different kinds of things that I’m working on: sounds, movements, combination of elements, or feeling. On the other hand, I spend another part of time practicing technique, coordination exercises and other different traditional stuff in order to be comfortable with the instruments every time I play. On piano, I study classical stuff, and sometime I use it for composing.

Paula: Today, my practice on the piano is almost all about classical music. I'm now working on Chopin, Debussy, Ravel pieces. But this is not the only way I practice. I also go to cello lessons, which makes me go deep into sound and expression. These two "Instrument practices" are not separate from physical training and movement investigation. Today I feel really comfortable (and encouraged too) in a rhythm-movement situation. Everything here is interconnected.

Pablo Diaz. Photo by Peter Gannushkin
FJB: What it's been like bringing in a third collaborator to such a strong duo (you and

Paul & Pablo: It’s true we feel very comfortable playing together and we believe we can generate a strong material when we work in duo.

We've play together since 2010, and we've collaborate as a duo since 2014. Besides the musical and artistic framework, we’ve been partners in a personal relationship for several years, and we think that a large part of our musical understanding goes beyond the music. That understanding is not just because of the time playing together, but also because of the time talking, thinking, working on different things, living, traveling, discussing and going through life together; while we’re playing what happens is a result of several things and we trust on that.

Regarding bringing in a third collaborator, I think that it’s easy for a guest to join us, I feel it almost always works. I feel we have great facility to adapt ourselves and our language to different instrumentation.

FJB: What are the "extra-musical" influences on the music, i.e. if any books you've been reading, films, etc. that have had a significant impact?

Pablo: Currently there are some extra-musical things I feel that have influenced me and my way of making music:
  • dance: especially contemporary stuff; I take some classes of training and experimentation in movement, and I work on different interdisciplinary projects
  • reading: I have been reading Pascal Quignard, the french philosopher, and I love his work. I like to find incidental relationships with my work in different readings that I find by chance, which cross my way without me even looking for them; like astrology or philosophy texts.
  • teaching: it’s a way of researching all the time; I like to work on my rhythmic courses at the music school where I teach, and on the seminar where I carry on about alternative ways of playing drums.
Paula: I feel all the things in my life, that are not music, influence the music. Of course movement investigation, dance, performance, photography, and poetry are now part of my current musical performances. Teaching had become very important too. For me it is a creative/constructive/de-constructive artistic platform. It is a way of keeping learning all the time. Besides, in the last years I started feeling attracted to astrology. It is like magic, but the most exciting thing about it is that all is related to all, the "oneness" concept is now like a manifesto to me.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Kristin Norderval, Paula Shocron, Pablo Díaz - Future Retrospection (NendoDango Records, 2019) ****

By Alexander Dubovoy

“What are we doing is what  / we are doing.” - Barbara Barg

This elision between question and statement is at the heart of “Pop Quiz”, a poem by Barbara Barg that provides the text to one of the central tracks on the album Future Retrospection. Often, to ask questions, we subjugate the act of doing; complex music ends up sounding difficult. Kristin Norderval, Paula Shocrón, and Pablo Díaz, however, provide us a collective act of creation that is firmly grounded in the doing. Though this album merits repeated listening and does not yield its depth easily, it also does not shy away from beauty. The listening experience is simultaneously calm and considered but also explosive and exciting.

Kristin Norderval’s beautiful vocal tone heightens the album’s sense of naturalness. The only track to incorporate text is “Pop Quiz”, where she sings and at times speaks the aforementioned poem. Otherwise, Norderval explores the nonverbal qualities of the human voice. She has a remarkable ability to hang almost effortlessly on pitches and to allow melodies to emerge fully formed yet as though by chance.

The album flows beautifully, but each track feels distinct. I hesitate to call them “songs,” but there is an element of song form at play. Each follows a self-contained idea, often a melody and has a clear, concise structure. Though the sonic world is ever-changing and incorporates extended technique on piano, percussion, and prepared harp, several of the tracks have loosely-held tonal centers and even broadly-defined forms. There’s a sense of concreteness that aids rather than obscuring the album’s more abstract character.

It is interesting to hear Shocrón and Díaz’s tight connection in the context of a third collaborator. Often, musicians who have developed a distinctive sound struggle to incorporate another voice. Here, however, it feels that Shocrón and Díaz often take on the role of accompanist to Norderval, without being relegated to a secondary position, of course. The album holds together so well because they are not bound exclusively to one particular way of playing. The resulting music has strong direction without feeling like any one party seeks to dominate. Consequently, it can embrace moments of silence without losing its sense of purpose.

It is an album that encourages delving in and being washed over by the intricacies of sound. It raises, and, at times literally asks, profound questions without forgetting the sheer joy of making music and embracing beauty.

Paula Shocron and Pablo Diaz: Always In Motion (part 1)

Paula Shocron, William Parker, and Pablo Diaz. Photo by Peter Gannushkin
By Paul Acquaro

The Free Jazz Blog has given the musical adventures of drummer Pablo Diaz and pianist Paula Shocron some attention over the past few years, first with a review of the SLD Trio's first album Anfitrion, then on their follow up, Tensegridad, and again on a few recordings on their NendoDango label. They were also, a few years ago, the subject of a fantastic profile in the Wire on the improvisational music scene in Buenos Aries, Argentina, where the two call home - when they are not traveling the world. Relentless and restless, they have been making nearly annual trips to New York City where they have been embraced by musicians such as  William Parker, Andrew Drury, and many others. Last winter, they toured as a duo through Europe. With the help of the Bielecki Foundation, they are back in the north for Canada's Guelph Festival and several shows in NYC. If you read this in time, you can still catch them on September 28 at Instrumental Underground series  and on the 29th at Scholes Street Studio in Brooklyn.

Today and tomorrow we're reviewing three recent trio recordings from Diaz and Shocron, each with the help from a different friend. We'll kick it off each day with a quick Q&A with the pair ...

Free Jazz Blog: You have been doing a lot of traveling, tell us about it...
Pablo Diaz: Yes, we played with Guillermo Gregorio at the Guelph Jazz Festival in Canada, presenting our last work Diálogos, and now we’re playing in NYC at different venues, with that project and with other combos. Then we'll come back to Argentina, where we have some more concerts, a residency, and some other work. Then we’re trying to set up a bunch of concerts around Europe in February 2020, but nothing confirmed yet.

We love to travel, and making music in different places, in different situations, with different kinds of musicians and artists. We are both are really involved in improvisation, not only with music but also in performance, and other different ways of artistic expressions. We’ve tried to go on tour once or twice a year since 2014, whether around different countries and cities, or around our country.

At this moment we’re still really excited about Canada; we’d never been there, and the Guelph Jazz Festival is a really important festival for this music. We’re really glad to have had the opportunity to play there and share the festival with great groups and musicians we admire. Also, we’re happy to be in NY again, and this time with support from the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation. We've really looked forward to playing with Guillermo, William Parker, Kristin Norderval, and of course our friends Ras Moshe, Matt Lavelle and Daniel Carter. We have several concerts and we’re recording some new material!

FJB: Any unusual combos or venues?

PD: Well, I think that the unusual situation here is that we have received support from a foundation to do our work under the best conditions. For the free improvisation and experimental music scene, this is not so common, so I think that's the unusual thing.

On the other hand, I guess there are no unusual combos or venues, but I think it's been a good tour with great concerts, at great spaces such as Spectrum, Ibeam, Scholes St Studios, Mirror Tea House, and Brooklyn Commons.

Playing with Guillermo in a trio is really important for us; our album Diálogos, released on Fundacja Słuchaj from Poland (editor's note: review coming tomorrow), is a good work and we’re happy to play this music at great venues. We’ll also present Emptying the Self, the recording we made with William Parker, and Future Retrospection (reviewed today), the one we made with Kristin Norderval.

FJB: How did you connect with the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation?

PD: Robert got in touch with Paula because he liked very much her playing on the recording Tensegridad (hatOLOGY) and also, at that time (January 2018), he was about to go to Argentina. We arranged a meeting in Buenos Aires and after some hours of chatting about music, art, politics, culture, etc, he offered us his support in order to push and help to raise our work. He is a great person and he is deeply and sincerely committed to creative/avant-garde arts.

FJB: How can people find out where/when you're playing?
PD: We use Facebook and Instagram, where we post our activities all the time, but who is interested can also check out our websites and

Monday, September 23, 2019

Binker Goldings - Abstractions of Reality Past & Incredible Feathers (Gearbox, 2019) ***½

By Sammy Stein

Binker Golding is a musician who has grown and developed in many areas over the past few years. He has shown himself to be a skilled composer, an educator at Tomorrow's Warriors, a collaborator with musicians including Moses Boyd, Frances Tandy, Evan Parker, Elliot Galvin, Gilad Atzmon and many others. He has conducted the NuCivilisation Orchestra. His main projects include the free jazz duo Binker & Moses. The pair scooped up a MOBO award for their debut album ‘Dem Ones’(2015) as well as two Jazz FM awards and a Parliamentary Jazz award. Their subsequent album ‘Journey To The Mountain Of Forever’ was voted number 1 Urban Album of the Year by MOJO magazine in 2017. Golding’s new album Abstractions of Reality Past & Incredible Feathers was recorded at Abbey Road, mixed by the legendary James Farber (Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Brad Meldhau), and mastered at Gearbox Records. Due for release on the 27th of September, the record features a distinctive quartet with Joe Armon-Jones ( Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia Maxwell Owin) on piano, Daniel Casimir (Moses Boyd, Shirley Tettet) on double bass, and Sam Jones ( Tomorrow's Warriors, Trinity Laban, Gary Crosby ) on drums. Binker Golding’s quartet project maps a path between the more through-composed jazz fusion of previous decades and the hip hop/brokenbeat-influenced sound of the contemporary London jazz scene.

The CD opens with ' I forgot Santa Monica' which is introduced by strong double bass and gorgeous piano lines over which Binker's sax drops and immediately something special is in the air. There is a confidence in playing, a strength and perfect placement which makes Binker Golding's sax stand out. Every note is forged, blasted and sounded out with certainty- something which is rarely heard now in more conventional jazz playing. This track is a show piece of Binker's playing and his technical ability. The piano interlude from Joe Armon-Jones is strong, impressively delivered and Armon-Jones gives full rein to his keyboard covering skills. ' Exquisite-She Green' is slower, with a heaving, mesmeric 2/4 rhythms interspersed with triplets which add another dimension to the sax line. There are some lovely changes in style and rhythms across this piece, ably reflected by the empathetic responses from the drums and double bass from Daniel Casimir is at times exquisite. The number builds in volume and textures towards it closing stages, aided and supremely abetted by the drums of Sam Jones. The recurring theme is wonderfully interpreted and changed, not just by Binker but the whole ensemble.

'Skinned Alive, Tasting Blood' is heralded by a bass introduction before the rhythm takes on a sashaying feel with the sax entering introducing an arcing, topping out line. This track has an old fashioned delivery to it, the support offered to the sax solos impressive and exacting. The off-beat emphasis in the intermissions is intriguing, as is the deft percussion line and the stellar tenor reaching out over some impressively tight support and an interesting piano part, which at one point goes gloriously out of kilter which makes it all the more wonderful and clever.

'And I Like Your Feathers' is cheeky, verging on the sleazy but endearingly listenable, with Binker altering the volume in subtle manner to make it feel like a living , breathing thing. There is a great bass solo from Daniel Casimir and the track has a dance-band feel. 'You, That Place, That Time' is 15 and a half minutes of interesting, listenable music with some great playing from Binker and several great solos. The middle section has deft rhythmic variations and the band switch from dangerously verging on the mundane delivery to interesting and diversified switches and changes. A gentler episode altogether , allowing adequate room for development and exploration - and another glorious piano-led section. 'Strange, Beautiful, Remembered ' is both the first of those three. It is a strongly delivered and well arranged number . Once again a dexterous and perfectly placed piano section is supported superbly by the bass and percussion and the sax is powerful, each note sung out with the musical lines make wonderful rainbow arcs over the top. The second half of the track sees interesting sax lines and precision percussion and the clever but subtle key interchanges provide ear-twerking interest. 'Fluorescent Edges With Black' brings thoughts of big band performances, with great backing, good solos and then you remember there are just 4 musicians here. There is an uplift and energy throughout this track, culminating in the soaring sax solo which soars and sighs over the persuasive bass line of Daniel Casimir.

I think with this album Binker Golding and company have delivered something special. It is not very different, it is not exceptional in compositions or arrangements but it is strong, clearly marked out and decisive. There is a sense of many references, many links to the past and some links to modern styles with an emergent pervasive individual identity. Binker Golding showcases the talent with which he surrounds himself on the album and the recording allows plenty of space and freedom to these players. There is much repetition of melody, a lot of the same style and it feels very safe at times but it has innate quality. The label feel this is exceptional and perhaps one of their best releases to date and I would not argue with that.

Binker Golding - tenor saxophone
Joe Armon-Jones - piano
Daniel Casimir - double bass
Sam Jones - drums

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Simon Nabatov's Great Passion for Subversive Russian Literature

Prolific pianist Simon Nabatov was born in Moscow, Russia, sixty years ago and although he left Russia forty years ago and a decade later settled in Köln, Germany, his great passion for Russian literature never subsided. Nabatov has already released for Leo Records three brilliant albums that introduced some of the heroes of the Russian avant-garde counter-culture. His quartet album, Nature Morte (2001), was based on the poem of Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky, who was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972. His quintet album, The Master and Margarita (2001), was a inspired adaptation of the classic book of Mikhail Bulgakov, a book that was written during Stalin’s regime but published only in 1967, first in France and later its manuscript was smuggled into the Soviet Union. On A Few Incidences (2005) his octet performed texts of Daniil Kharms, an early Soviet-era avant-garde and absurdist poet, writer and dramatist, whose children books were considered as “anti-Soviet”, and he was punished with arrest and exile.

Now Nabatov returns with two more gems of the Russian literature.

Simon Nabatov - Readings: Red Cavalry (Leo Records, 2019) ****½

Readings: Red Cavalry is based on a classic book from 1924 by the Odessa-based, Jewish writer Isaac Babel, describing the life of Jewish gangsters in Odessa and the brutal reality of the Polish-Soviet war of 1920. Babel’s style was far from the Soviet utopian propaganda, and he often portrayed the murderous gangsters as the real heroes. Babel was arrested on fabricated charges of terrorism and espionage and was brutally executed in 1940 by the NKVD (the then KGB).

Nabatov said in a recent interview that the literary works he chose to adapt were all by authors who were suppressed by the Soviet government, like his grandfather who was arrested and killed in 1939 as part of Stalin’s political purges, just like Babel. This formative experience shaped his own aesthetics, and especially his interest how artists and writers were dealing with political suppression.

Nabatov arranged segments of the Red Cavalry book as a dramaturgical narrative of theatrical cycle of songs that projects the disturbing, scary, and horrific atmosphere encapsulated in Babel’s short stories. The free improvised setting of the pieces - performed by vocal artist Phil Minton and reeds player Frank Gratkowski, who both have worked with Nabatov on Nature Morte and A Few Incidences, electronics player Marcus Schmickler, and drummer Gerry Hemingway - cements this unsettling yet highly emotional atmosphere.

The first song “Crossing The River Zbrucz” already sets the subversive atmosphere. Its arrangements deconconstructs Soviet propaganda song, sung by a male choir, into an ironic, free jazz improvisation. Minton acts-recites-sings Babel’s texts with natural charisma, grace and compassion but also with a conviction of die-hard activist against all wars and all forms of political oppression. His sober delivery strips the utopian Soviet lingo from its self-righteousness and puts its zealous ideology in grotesque and macabre perspectives. “Gedali” is arranged as en emotional klezmer song, emphasized by the voice of Minton who mourns “yesterday’s revolution” and realizes that it was led by “bad people”. Hemingway’s playing on “The Tachanka Theory”, “My First Goose” and “Intermezzo 2” is truly imaginative, offering ironic abstraction of military marches on the first and a poetic rhythmic orchestration on the latter two.

Simon Nabatov - Readings, Gileya Revisited (Leo Records, 2019) ****

Simon Nabatov continues with Gratkowski, Schmickler and Hemingway but adds Dutch vocal artist-sound poet Jaap Blonk to Readings, Gileya Revisited.

This albums revisits some of the poems and texts of the Moscow-based circle of artists Gileya (often called Hylaea) who were part of the pre-revolution Russian Futurist movement from around 1910, known for their manifesto, "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste." Poet-actor-playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky was one of the prominent figures in this movement that resonated other revolutionary artistic movements around Europe as Dada, Italian Futurism, English Vorticism and French Surrealism. The writers and poets of Gileya rebelled against the romanticism and realism of writers such as Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, and claimed that they “should be "heaved overboard from the steamship of modernity”. Also, there is no real difference between words and images. According to Gileya, poets should arrange their texts like a painters do, discarding logic, grammar or syntax and welcoming neologisms, profane words or onomatopoeia, that was declared as the universal texture of verse.

Nabatov arranged Readings, Gileya Revisited as a suite of contrasting abstract and absurdist texts, art songs with strong melodic core and even wilder free improvisations in order to capture the spirit of these adventurous artistic movement. Blonk was the perfect choice for this project as he already interpreted dadaist classic works with great success (Kurt Schwitters: Ursonate, BVHAAST, 1986, Flux de Bouche, Staatplaat, 1993, and Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut-und Klanggedichte, 1916, Balance Point Acoustics, 2014). Blonk makes these Russian texts his own with his inimitable delivery, being dead serious and totally ironic at the same time.

The wild drama of Readings, Gileya Revisited begins, naturally, with the “Manifesto” of Gileya, co-authored by Mayakovsky , The texts and poems call for eccentric gestures and totally open interplay, and Blonk, Hemingway and Gratkowski clearly enjoy charging these subversive pieces with the healthy doses of the anti-authoritative spirit of free jazz or free-improvised music. “Dyr bul shchyl”, for example, by poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, using the experimental-symbolist Zaum language, which, according Kruchenykh, is "more Russian national, than in all of Pushkin 's poetry", is transformed into passionate and very playful dadaist drunk song-dance. Gradkowski's flute on “Momentwills” spirals the Russian text to the universe of cryptic Zen haikus. Nabatov arranges “Shokretyts” as the emotional center of this suite, a melodic and playful song that even its Zaum lyrics capture its gentle, optimist spirit. And just to remind as where it all began, Schmickler and Hemingway arrange some of the original recordings of the Gileya poets as a chaotic yet colorful tapestry of electronic noises and poetic drumming on “Intermission 3”.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tiger Trio - Map of Liberation (RogueArt, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Map of Liberation reunites Nicole Mitchell (flutes), Joëlle Léandre (contrabass), and Myra Melford (piano) for the trio’s second outing after 2016’s Unleashed. Like Unleashed, Map of Liberation is comprised of free improvisations recorded at live performances, this time across two dates in 2018. It exhibits the combinatory wonders of these three masters’ effusive vitalities, their communication culminating in a jubilant fount of inspiration.

Surprisingly, Léandre and Melford have not recorded together outside of Tiger Trio. But Léandre and Mitchell have developed a rich collaborative history in the 2010s with Before After (with Dylan Van Der Schyff), Flowing Stream (with Thomas Buckner), and the essential duo Sisters Where. And Mitchell and Melford have recorded together in the large ensembles of Live At Sant'Anna Arresi, 12 From 25, and Lisa Mezzacappa’s Glorious Ravage. The comfortable communication expected from such frequent contact is apparent here.

Mitchell mostly alternates from sonorous drones, wispy whistles, and long overblows to sprightly flights full of color. Léandre most frequently cycles through a rich array of bowing techniques but not uncommonly summons a plucked protean rhythm or a soulful melody of bent notes. Melford intersperses twinkling, free bursts of melody in between hypnotic, rhythmic canons. The three players rotate these modules of their techniques into several combinations, sometimes overlapping similar approaches to amplify the energy, like Mitchell’s held tones with Léandre’s arco, Léandre’s pizzicato with Melford’s percussive rhythms, Melford’s twinkling explorations with Mitchell’s flights. Some combinations - particularly the pairing of Mitchell’s meditative drones, Léandre’s high-register bowing, and Melford’s muted circular rhythms - seem to contain the energy and wisdom of an ancient and sacred folk music. There’s some more obvious extended technique, like key clicks, bouncing the bow on the strings or bowing circularly, or muting and playing inside the piano, but the playing here is closer to classic energy music. There’s some voicings as well, and some vocal purrs.

There’s an excitement and a joy here that’s not often paralleled in any music. It’s colorful. It’s playful. It’s physical. It’s powerful. It’s an enriching listen that might just stand out in the always-enriching work of these musicians.

Map of Liberation is a CD-only release.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Ricardo Arias / Santiago Botero / Kim Myhr – Contrived (Raw Tonk, 2019) ***½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

For the past three years at least Raw Tonk has been one of the most consistent labels in the whole free jazz milieu. Gradually building a catalogue of superb releases full of the pathos of the great free jazz tradition, always adding something new in this equation. Contrived, the trio release from Kim Myhr (guitar and objects), Santiago Botero (contrabass and preparations) and Ricardo Arias (electronics and objects) is a welcome departure into a more improvisational and less jazzy sound.

Ricardo Arias, writing for the press release of Contrived, isn’t afraid to pinpoint what has always troubled all improvisers: is it possible to catch the moment of improvised live sound? Is it by definition a process that can lead to something worth listening and joyful? By quoting Cornelious Cardew on this, he puts the listener into the great antithesis of this recording.Which is that what is taking place on Contrived doesn’t necessarily catch the moment of this recording made live in Bogota, Colombia. Of course Contrived has its moments and there are many of them. After a rather slow start, an interaction of low energy, on the third track, Charmingly Contrived, the trio start to get on a path that leads to a totally different direction. As the fourth track enters (even though I’m suspecting this less than half an hour recording was divided into six tracks for practical reasons only) Myhr’s guitar tends to be an instrument of menace, while the rhythms derived from the contrabass are never dominant, more often provide a solid backbone to the recording.

Listening to Contrived repeatedly, I got the sense that maybe (again an antithesis here) it’s less than half an hour duration doesn’t allow the musicians and the listener to get a clear look of the direction where this is going. It seems unfinished at some parts. But, yes, this is a strong antithesis: improvisation very often implies that there’s more to come and even more often you have to be there to witness, feel it, watch or listen to it. The cd as a medium for all the above has never been that revealing.

So, is this a mediocre recording? No way. But as Raw Tonk’s catalogue continues to grow, providing us various formations, line-ups and sounds, Contrived seems more like a promise for the near future. It is good but there are better things to come. And, of course, it doesn’t provide any answers, they never wanted that in any case, to the aforementioned question. Can we record the improvisational moment? They are not sure, I do not know.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Liquid Quintet ‎– Bouquet (Sirulita Records, 2019) ****

By Colin Green

“Fully ‘biodegradable’ structures, starting to disintegrate the moment they have been assembled, are nowadays the ideal.” (Zygmunt Bauman)

The Barcelona based Liquid Trio – Agustí Fernández (piano), Albert Cirera (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Ramón Prats (drums) – was formed in 2011, taking its name from social theorist Bauman’s metaphor of “liquid modernity”: that in the contemporary world our individual, social and political frameworks are in a state of almost permanent flux, spheres in which “fluids neither fix space nor bind time”. The concept resonated with the mutability of musical matter and the trio’s temporal experiences while improvising. There have been three albums to date, all recommended: Primer Dia i Última Nit (“First Day and Last Night”) (Sirulita Records, 2013), Marianne (Vector Sounds, 2016) and The Liquid Trio plays Bernouilli (Słuchaj Fundacja, 2017). Piano, saxophone and drums is not a standard combination but Fernández cites the Schlippenbach Trio as the most direct antecedent. In terms of visceral brio the comparison is apt, with the Catalonia trio having its own distinct, happy-scrappy quality.

As befits its fluidity, the trio has been expanded to a quintet on occasions, as in 2013 with Johannes Nästesjö (double bass) and Julián Sánchez (trumpet). For this latest incarnation it was decided to take advantage of double bassist Barry Guy’s visit to Barcelona in July last year in a session at the Rosazul studio, to which Don Malfon on alto and baritone saxophones was added close to the recording date, increasing the spectrum of reed registers. The tracks are named ‘Fire Rose’ 1 to 10; “La Rosa de Foc” was the name given to Barcelona after the events of the Tragic Week of civil insurrection in the summer of 1909 – another modernist image of a terrible beauty and an epithet for the city that has stuck. As a bouquet the album is anything but decorative however, having the irruptive energy of Cy Twombly’s floral paintings with their phosphorescent blooms flourishing and withering at the same time.

In many ways it’s a now familiar approach to improvisation: music at a molecular level in a state of constant fragmentation and reconstitution. The session adopts a similarly mobile approach to formations, comprising duos, a trio, quartets and quintets. This is geography without maps, a domain in which nothing is fixed – not even instrumental sonority that shifts with each new terrain – moving forward in digressions, advancing by indirection. The music is nevertheless unified by the same animating spirit, a self-replenishing fusion of expressive intent with an understanding of the physical properties and capabilities of instruments, the way transient materials guide and respond, something that has to be learnt in order to be discovered afresh and which in turn folds back giving rise to new locutions, pluralities and pockets of feeling. The pieces have a sensuous immediacy that echoes the rough-and-tumble of lived time and all its quirky drifts and detours, memories prompted but not processed.

The presence of Guy’s fulsome, yet also strangely incorporeal bass ensures that some of the quintet performances reach a level beyond which lies the possibility of complete combustion or total collapse. ‘Fire Rose No. 1’ begins with a series of aftershocks from some primal event trailing off into ephemeral, ever-flowing currents of sound. Like water, the music resists dissection as configurations surge and subside. During ‘No. 2’, the seething broth is so hectic that the ear temporarily leaves the discombobulated mind behind until the waves recede revealing pools of jerky, spluttering activity. In the more placid ‘No. 5’, solids crumble and time is distended as the quintet’s instruments gently dilute and coalesce into gauzy textures.

The other groupings retain this sense of alchemical transformation. The first quartet is a sensory network lit up, navigated by zig-zagging piano; the second made up from charged yet soluble particles in vibrant display where notions of orientation and trajectory begin to lose purchase. The trio with Cirera and Guy features Fernández’ seamless integration of keyboard and piano internals that metamorphose into exotic percussion, spawning jangly, metallic washes and muted twangs.

Malfon appears in all three duos. On ‘No. 4’, baritone and bass explore creaks, squeaks and the Stygian lower registers in a way that makes them sound like a single entity with a dual aspect. With Cirera, the saxophones are mingled in granular multiphonics, and on the pairing with Fernández his scruffy alto, then baritone, are accompanied by deconstructed piano. ‘Fire Rose No. 10’ returns us to the swirling turbulence and scrambled perspectives of the opening quintets; perhaps also – as with Twombly’s roses – a reminder of the fleeting impulses and fragile pleasures that make up our lives.

Bouquet is available on CD and as a download from Bandcamp.

Untitled (2001)
© Cy Twombly Foundation

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit – April Is The Cruellest Month (Blank Forms Editions, 2019) ****

By Chris Haines

There’s lots of ‘what if’s in life that can lead us to ponder key crossroads in our lives’ journeys and what might have happened if we had chosen a different path, or maybe if a certain event in history had or had not happened. This is a theme, which in itself has inspired a whole genre of alternative historical settings within fictional literature. Within music would things have been any different if Charlie Parker had managed to study compositional technique with Edgard Varese? Who knows? However, these events and moments can be fascinating to ponder over and if nothing else they add to life’s rich tapestry and our experience of it.

Another such event is the time Japanese free jazz guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi was invited to record a session for ESP-Disk recordings, a good conduit for avant-garde jazz at the time, only for the record label to go bust just before it was due to be released. A catalogue number had even been assigned to it! This was planned to be the first of many Japanese jazz recordings that the head of ESP-Disk, Bernard Stollman, wanted to release on the label, which surely would have catapulted the Japanese scene much more into the global picture, than the actual slow underground trickle of awareness that eventually happened, which would have included Takayanagi and friends nestling up alongside the likes of Albert Ayler within the roster. Apparently Takayanagi was publically quite philosophical about the situation, however, the session was buried and it didn’t see the light of day until just before the guitarist’s death. As with all Takayanagi recordings they can be hard to come by, especially if one doesn’t want to pay the over inflated prices that his recordings currently seem to be garnering. It is welcome news then that this particular session has recently been re-released on Black Forms Editions.

For those new to this recording the New Direction Unit consisted at this time of Kenji Mori (alto sax, flute, bass clarinet), Nobuyoshi Ino (bass, cello), Hiroshi Yamazaki (percussion), and Takayanagi (electric guitar). The title of the album, April is the cruellest month, Takayanagi borrowed from the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Waste Land’, and consists of three tracks with titles that have also been pulled from the poem. The first ‘We Have Existed’ is a busy and anxious texture with skittering percussion, fast flitting melodic phrases on the flute accompanied by bowed bass strings and streams of feedback and noise from the guitar. The alternate take of this track that has appeared on previous editions of this album is not included, which gives us the album content and listings in the order they would have appeared if originally released by ESP-Disk. The second track ‘What Have We Given?’ being a bit shorter in length than the first, is characterised by some great playing by Mori on the bass clarinet and accompanied by a range of metal percussion sounds, barbed bass lines, and punctuated chords from the guitar which are allowed to ring on into feedback swells at times. The last track, ‘My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart’ is a twenty minute, full-blown mass projection onslaught, with rapid drumming and nasally screeching guitar to the fore, which continues with much energy, continually and without break for the full duration of the piece.

The liner notes of this release are taken from Teruto Soejima’s wonderful book, recently translated and published as Free Jazz In Japan: A Personal History, and encapsulates some of the text that he wrote for the original release of the album.

So, we can muse upon the alternative historical aspects of this particular musical event and whilst it’s fun to do this within the cultural context, it’s even more important to enjoy the sounds for what they are and live the music in the moment of now. We are privileged to have such a classic and important free jazz work available once more.

- Postscript – Another release, Takayanagi’s Angry Waves “850113” has also just seen a new release on Octave Labs; this is a classic free jazz guitar trio. This recording seems to be much underrated and is an absolute gem! – Probably my favourite Takayanagi recording of all time.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Steve Dalachinsky (1946-2019)

We were surprised to learn about the sudden passing of poet Steve Dalachinsky early Monday morning. Steve was a omnipresent figure on the Downtown Music scene, a fan of the music, and one of those ever rarer true New Yorkers. At a show in Brooklyn this summer, he told me "Ahh, I like Berlin, I only have one enemy there. Here in New York, I have lots of them." From what I know, this was a good example of the type of self-deprecating joke that you could expect from him. Steve made his way into the pages of the blog from time to time, whether as the author of liner-notes, interviewed in documentaries, or having a song dedicated to him (see here). His list of accomplishments is long and varied, but some highlights include a book of poetry on saxophonist Charles Gayle, collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp on an album (Phenomena Of Interference) as well as a book (Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue) and had earned the prestigious Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award for poetry from France in 2014. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Enjoy this short documentary on Steve Dalachinsky:

- Paul Acquaro

Vergara/Longberg-Holm/Zarzutzki – Five arias for nalca (Inexhaustible Editions, 2019) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

It makes me really happy that there seem to exist a million ways to explore the possibilities of sound. Inexhaustible Editions is one of those small labels trying to present parts of this adventurous sonic spectrum. The trio of Benjamin Vergara on trumpet, Fred Longberg-Holm on cell and Aaron Zarzutzki on synthesizer and various objects allow us to make assumptions about their unusual instrumentation.

Those assumptions are mostly based on the given that their willingness to explore leaves the listener within a constant flux of sounds. That is a good thing though…They approach their collective sound in the same abstract way the cover art presents us this cd. You, the listener, will find more questions than answers within the five tracks (arias I to V accordingly) that comprise the bulk of this CD.
I would make a guess that calling each track an aria, considering the historical burden of the word, is a way to de-normalize, to provide it with a new meaning. Another thought would be that they really want to be humorous. Could be, but that wouldn’t say anything about how serious they are in what they present us.

Vergara’s trumpet is an instrument of airy blurbs and constant small noisy gestures that never dominate but rather articulate an ego-less way of playing. Longberg-Holm’s cello starts, on the first two tracks, as a constant drone provider but in the process all noises are possible from its body and strings. The role of a synth or various objects in general in an improvisational recording always puts me in a position of trying to really listen hard so to understand what is going on. In Zarzutzki’s case his experimental approach on the synth and his, less is more, attitude by using small objects as percussion instruments, works fine. In fact he provides the glue that brings all the separate pieces together.

I really enjoyed all arias of the CD. There’s a constant flow of ideas, sometimes more than expected. If I had to pinpoint a flaw, it would be this saturation of ideas in some parts of the recording. But there’s another side to this as well. In all five tracks there’s never just a single idea of how the recording will proceed. They seem to decide on the spot, always ready to change direction or choose another path. This is probably the most important lesson learned in collective improvisation.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fictive Five – Anything Is Possible (Clean Feed, 2019) ****

By Troy Dostert

On Anything Is Possible, the second release from the Fictive Five, the band continues its efforts to make music with cinematic scope and feel—appropriately enough, given the filmmakers who are often the dedicatees of the pieces. Wim Wenders, William Kentridge and Kelly Reichardt were feted on the group’s self-titled debut, while on the follow-up it’s Spike Lee and Warren Sonbert getting a tip of the hat—along with Cecil Taylor, whose music often had a certain cinematic power of its own.

This isn’t music that relies heavily on pulse or melody, but rather sonority and texture—and a heck of a lot of imagination, as each of these players possesses a command over their instrument that allows them to take full advantage of the freedom built into Ochs’s compositions. Most significantly, the group uses a two-bass approach, with Pascal Niggenkemper and Ken Filiano generally eschewing the traditional “jazz” role of anchoring tempo or harmony. Instead they use the full range of their low-end sonics, complemented by generous use of various electronic effects, to provide atmosphere and mood. Drummer Harris Eisenstadt takes a similar strategy, using his kit not so much to propel the music forward but to contribute as a colorist and commentator, with subtlety and nuance the name of the game. And the dual-horn threat of Ochs, who plays both sopranino and tenor saxophone here, and Nate Wooley, whose trumpet (as always) runs the gamut of expressive possibilities, makes for a superb complementary team, consistently responsive and sympathetic both to each other and to their counterparts.

Three of the pieces are exceptionally expansive and lengthy, with two clocking in at over nineteen minutes, so there is abundant room for ideas to develop and evolve. And although three are formally credited as Ochs compositions, Ochs always remains sensitive to channeling rather than stifling the players’ creativity and spontaneity, thus avoiding the temptation to over-determine the pieces. There is thus a lot of space in this music, and patience is crucial to the listening experience, as much of its value is found in the various interactions between the musicians, often just two or three at a time.

“Immediate Human Response,” the album’s opener, is representative of the group’s aesthetic, as the players enter and recede throughout the piece, occasionally converging on a particular rhythmic or melodic motif, but more commonly occupying a much less determinate space. Moments of energy and fire do arise, but like most of the album, the prevailing ethos is one of a lengthy conversation that takes its time—and with plenty of room for thought and reflection along the way. “The Others Dream,” like “Immediate Human Response” credited to Ochs, is similar, with even more room for individual expression. Ochs in particular is in fine form here, with pointed, acerbic cries, and Wooley characteristically finds his unique space between abstraction and lyricism. But to focus on the individuals over the group as a whole would be a mistake, as Niggenkemper and Filiano generate some exceptionally compelling atmospherics, with Eisenstadt adding the well-timed interjections and steady commentary needed to keep the conversation moving. And when Wooley and Ochs join forces, their mutual interactions are quite stimulating, taking the music’s collective power to another level. “With Liberties and Latitude for All” may be the most ambitious and far-ranging of the five pieces, with smaller exchanges that build gradually to something bigger—and even the emergence of a pulse, culminating in a free-jazz segment that represents the album’s most convincing nod to jazz tradition, as Wooley and Ochs soar over a hard-swinging rhythmic foundation provided by the basses and Eisenstadt.

Interestingly, “And the Door Blows Open,” honoring Cecil Taylor, is both the briefest of the five tracks, at only four minutes, and also the least forbidding, with Wooley in particular sounding especially sensitive and tuneful. Along with the album’s closer, “A Fictive Form of Closure,” it’s collectively improvised; but it’s a credit to the rapport of these musicians that these tracks feel wholly of a piece with the rest of the album, making compositional origins more or less irrelevant.
Far from an episodic meeting of top-flight improvisers, the Fictive Five is a group with a well-honed, distinctive sound and identity, and Anything Is Possible contributes nicely to what will hopefully become a lengthy catalog.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Recent Solo Piano Albums from Elsewhere

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Elsewhere label offers for its first year anniversary new ways of listening, experiencing or perceiving new and innovative languages and discourses of composers and musicians who compose or play the piano.

Shira Legmann / Michael Pisaro - Barricades (elsewhere, 2019) ****½

The concept of Barricades began to crystallize when Israeli pianist Shira Legmann sent American experimental composer Michael Pisaro a list of her favorite music and included Les Barricades Mystérieuses by French Baroque composer François Couperin (1668-1733). Legmann’s wide repertoire encompases not only compositions from the Baroque but also Olivier Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus, György Ligeti's keyboard music, Morton Feldman’s late repertoire and Giacinto Scelsi's piano music. Pisaro himself loved the idea of composing a web-like texture that refers to Couperuin’s polyphonic technique of overlapping and interlocking voices.

Pisaro compared the process of composing and working with Legmann on Barricades to “watching the barricades, which I pictured as a network of twisted vines, unravel.” Barricades consists of thirteen “studies” for Legmann’s piano with some sine waves played by Pisaro himself, who adds two interludes where he plays the sine waves. The album was recorded by Pisaro at CalArts, California on March and April 2019, later mixed and mastered by Pisaro.

Pisaro’s subtle, ethereal sine waves sound as organic extension of Legmann’s clean and supple piano presence. Legmann navigates wisely the enigmatic atmosphere of Barricades as if she is determined to blur the transparent sonic barricades between the dramatic and the cool and restrained, between the emotional and the cerebral or between the distant and what may be considered close. Her “studies” with Pisaro’s eerie “interludes” suggest a fragile balance between these somehow abstract concepts. Together, these pieces reflect the very nature of Barricades, a poetic attempt to create a captivating network of sonic vines that grow in their own accord and intensify by their inner logic; a network of pieces that not only echoes the French Baroque but also flows in a unique, fragile equilibrium. A dreamy and hypnotic, Feldman-esque equilibrium between the concrete and the imagined, the acoustic and its electronic extension, the earthly and the celestial.

Melaine Dalibert - Cheminant (elsewhere, 2019) ****

Cheminant presents the diverse aesthetics of French pianist-composer Melaine Dalibert. This is the third solo piano for elsewhere, following his first one for the elsewhere label that focused on one, extended composition, Musique pour le lever du jour (2018), and his debut one, Ressac (Another Timbre, 2017). The five pieces on Cheminant, all composed by Dalibert between 2017 and 2019 and recorded in Saint Maugan, France in February 2019, can be considered as studies in different schools of minimalism. These pieces reflect Dalibert’s interest in questioning how the harmonic shifts could affect the listening experience with subtly evolving chords through a scale or different tones, creating a similar state to vertigo.

The first four pieces of Cheminant are dedicated to colleagues and friends. The opening one, “Music in an octave”, is dedicated to David Sylvian who designed the artwork and advised about the mixing, and corresponds with Sylvian’s latest, poetic abstract-ambient works with its prolonged, resonating and meditative sounds. “Percolations (for right hand)”, for elsewhere founder, artistic director and producer Yuko Zama, is a rhythmic piece that sound as if it dances around itself until losing any sense of direction, “From zero to infinity”, dedicated for American post-minimalist composer Peter Garland, returns to a slow, minimalist mode that calls for another meditation about the accumulated effect of such listening experience. The longest, 21-minutes title-piece is dedicated to Dutch fellow pianist and composer Reinier van Houdt and expands even further and wider the enigmatic meditative ambience, as the highly disciplined delivery of single notes, their resonating sounds and their overtones float slowly through the deep space of the recording studio, gently disappear within each other. Dalibert performs this study in deep meditation with great control and exquisite beauty. The last piece “Étude II” is an exception with its up-tempo, almost playful insistence on repetitive hammered chords.

Reinier van Houdt / Bruno Duplant - Lettres et Replis (elsewhere, 2019) *****

Lettres et Replis captures a unique correspondence - literally - between French composer Bruno Duplant and Dutch pianist-composer Reinier van Houdt. This correspondence combines three Lettres (2017) - letter-form scores personally addressed from Duplant to van Houdt and containing letter sequences distributed across the page, with three more Trois replis d'incertitude (2018) - three letter-form scores but with the notion of 'repli' (meaning 'fold' in a Deleuzian postmodern Baroque sense, as well as 'withdrawal' of incertitude and reactionaries toward the neglect of ecology, humanism, and culture).

Duplant's realization of these ‘reading’ and ‘replying to' scores scores also reflect French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé's notion of textual space and chance, leaving a large room for the interpreter-performer. “The Lettres are connected to a melody spelled out and read in all directions propulsed by memory and gaze”, says van Houdt. “The Replis are connected to the harmonies from a place as they permeate and unravel through the metaphorical holes made by writing, linearly arranged again with recordings of a walk along the river that traverses this place”. The Replis also contain field recordings by van Houdt made on John Cage's 100th birthday on September 5, 2012 along the Maas Harbour in Rotterdam.

This mysterious, contemplative and delicately nuanced piano solo kind of correspondence is performed majestically by van Houdt. He lets the translucent overtones and rich resonances offer a sweet melancholy and nostalgic colors and shades, and only “Lettre 2” adds a fragile dramatic undercurrent to to the quiet exchange of cryptic thoughts and ideas. The words are morphed into a highly personal, suggestive language where “destruction and meaninglessness precede all possible worlds”.

You can trust van Houdt. He sure does know how to draw you into his fascinating musical world.