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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Cristián Alvear / Klaus Filip - 6 Chords (Ftarri, 2019) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Chilean contemporary-experimental guitarist Cristián Alvear and Austrian electronics musician and developer of the ppooll software focus on quiet and calm music, with as little as possible instrumental noises and with no spectacular extended techniques. Alvear - who recorded in recent years compositions of avant-garde composers as Antoine Beuger, Michael Pissaro and Jürg Frey - and Filip - known from his work with cellist-sound artist Noid (aka Arnold Habrel), vocalist Agnes Hvizdalek and trombonist Radu Malfatti - performed one time together in April 2018 at the Viennese gallery Zentrale. The Bandcamp page of the Japanese label Ftarri, that focuses on duos recordings, does not provide any details about 6 Chords recording date or location, but do tells that Alvear played on this recording the acoustic guitar and Filip played sine-waves.

6 Chords is one, extended 41-minutes piece, divided into six parts. Alvear plays here clean, repetitive and short phrases while Filip adds his fragmented, transparent sine tones to the guitar lines. At first, the sine waves resonate gently the guitar phrases, adding a pulsating but quite enigmatic and elusive layer that enhances the sonic envelope of the simple guitar sounds. But as this listening experience develops and sharpens, the presence of the transparent and delicate, vibrating sine waves becomes more substantial and varied and not only in its time and space dimensions. The perception of the sonic alchemy of the hypnotic guitar lines and almost silent electronics sounds continue to echo and grow in the listener’s imagination.

With each listening this mysterious effects becomes stronger and more elaborate. With no artificial psychoactive substances you can feel these tangible-elastic sounds as multi-dimensional living entities. These meditative sounds invite the listener to dive deeper and deeper into its nuanced, liquid-like universes and explore-experience ourselves within - or embraced by - these sounds. 6 Chords is an imaginative and modest masterpiece.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Eve Risser - Après Uns Rêve (Clean Feed, 2019) ****½

By Stef

This is one short album, yet what it lacks in time, it compensates in intensity and musical vision.

French pianist Eve Risser surprises us again, combining gentle, almost romantic phrases in minor key with the insistent rhythmic prodding of the prepared upright piano strings, creating an orchestral feeling all by herself. It's often hard to understand how she does it, and even if you wonder at first listen about the technical and mechanical aspects of how she uses the full potential of the upright piano, with the consecutive listens you just have to stop rationalising and letting yourself be taken by the musical flow she creates. Percussive madness merges with minimal repetitiveness and romantic expansion, all ingredients that would clash in normal circumstances but that are brought to wonderful harmony in her dexterous hands.

The improvisation develops in different parts, like ebb and flow, but with a maintained rhythmic undercurrent that may shift in meter, but keeps propulsing the more melodic parts forward, whether phrases or chords, whether intimate or expansive. The music is inspired by a piece with the same name by French 19th Century composer Gabriel Fauré - and with the lyrics by Romain Businne presented below, describing a state between dreaming and waking, when it's hard to fathom what's happening, as it is in Risser's music. Despite its incredible focus and intensity, the dream state of the lyrics is also present, combining abstract purity with emotional complexity.

Like with her real start with "En Corps" in 2012, and "Des Pas Sur La Neige", her music is mesmerising, hypnotic. Harmonies shift, structures evolve, rhythms and sounds get new meaning, continuity is challenged and maintained. A variety of things happen, consecutively or together, yet the piece's sense of unity and direction is kept throughout, as is the tension between pulse and lyricism.

She does something new and creative and compelling and enchanting with a short solo piano piece, all with her own unique voice and stubborn vision.

It has the right length. You just need to listen to it a few hundred times. And then still enjoy it.

Après Un Rêve

Dans un sommeil que charmait ton image
je rêvais le bonheur, ardent mirage,
tes yeux étaient plus doux, ta voix pure et sonore,
tu rayonnais comme un ciel éclairé par l'aurore ;

Tu m'appelais et je quittais la terre
pour m'enfuir avec toi vers la lumière,
les cieux pour nous entr'ouvraient leurs nues,
Splendeurs inconnues, lueurs divines entrevues.

Hélas ! Hélas, triste réveil des songes,
Je t'appelle, ô nuit, rends-moi tes mensonges ;
Reviens, reviens, radieuse,
Reviens, ô nuit mystérieuse !

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Albert Ayler Quartets 1964 ‎- Spirits To Ghosts Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2019) ****(*)

By Colin Green

1964 has been described as Albert Ayler's annus mirabilis, the year in which his music reached maturity and he found his true voice. Arguably, he never attained the same heights or levels of cohesion so consistently thereafter. The album under review, part of the Revisited series on Hat Hut's ezz-thetics imprint, allows us to sample his music towards the beginning and end of that year comprising remastered versions of two releases: Spirits recorded in New York in February and Ghosts in Copenhagen from September (not New York as stated on the back cover). Both albums were rereleased on the Arista/Freedom label in the early 1970s under the titles Witches & Devils and Vibrations respectively. The track order differs from all previous versions and although no explanation is provided, presumably this is in line with the order of recording at each session and the documentary nature of the project. Art Lange supplies excellent notes.

"I like to play something - like the beginning of 'Ghosts' - that people can hum," said Ayler in a revealing interview with Nat Hentoff in 1966, "and I want to play songs like I used to sing when I was real small. Folk melodies that all the people would understand. I'd use these melodies as a start and have different simple melodies going in and out of a piece. From simple melody to complicated textures to simplicity again and then back to the more dense, the more complex sounds."

In part, this echoes a worldview that can be traced back to Rousseau and the Romantics and which has remained prevalent to this day across a range of cultures - that a more authentic and less corrupted image of ourselves is to be found in native traditions and folk-history, a place that also exists in the innocence of childhood, states in which a purer, more spontaneous version of the self is unrestrained by limiting conventions and where intuition confers greater understanding than the powers of the intellect. Also significant is a mythologising tendency reflected in the brief titles Ayler gave his pieces which evoke a shadowy, numinous realm and a desire for things that cannot be explained. Ghosts are emanations from the past appearing in the present; spirits, witches and devils occupy a spectral region that intersects mysteriously with our own. Likewise, for Ayler music was a medium in both senses: a means of communing with others and a form for articulating areas to which the rational mind provides limited access, the paradigm of creativity that marries archetypal with individual sensibilities. It is in the latter that we find the complexity he mentions. Improvisation provides a dramaturgy for personal voices allowing them to move from generic to unique expression. At the same time the music of our age is essentially fragmentary in which no single voice prevails, yet we yearn for a past now lost, grounded in some half-remembered union. During 1964 Ayler's achievement was to find a way of combining all these elements into music that holds an enduring fascination - immediate, melancholic, profound - and which remains a touchstone for free jazz.

Looking back, there's a tension in his work between impulses which it took him some time, if not to resolve then to use in a genuinely creative friction. Ayler wanted to connect with the foundations of jazz in hymns and song, felt to be imbued with transcendent values, and to explore the instrumental innovations of bebop and beyond, to be rooted in the vernacular but also to have a distinctive, contemporary vision. He'd developed an idiosyncratic way with the tenor saxophone, having power and personality, yet found no satisfactory format in which his warped pitches, off-key shrieks and R&B squawks could be properly integrated so they would sound like more than mere eccentric bursts and indulgent meanderings. He apparently introduced wayward deviations even when practicing as a child and was told by his father to get back to the melody: "I'd be standing in a corner playing and trying to communicate with a spirit that I knew nothing about at that particular age." As heard on My Name is Albert Ayler , originally recorded for Danish radio in January 1963, with most standards it was as if he was speaking a hybrid language, unsure of quite what he wanted to say and at odds with the repertoire and his fellow musicians.

Two tracks from that session suggested ways forward however, though this may seem clearer to us now than it did to him. On 'Summertime', a ballad of noble simplicity, Ayler slithers around the melody, chopping phrases into irregular sections, reducing his line to soft textural trails, giving the performance a heightened expressive weight threaded to the underlying melody which always remains a point of reference. On the day after that recording, when first hearing Ayler play, Don Cherry felt the same spiritual presence and spontaneous outpouring as in the congregation of a Baptist church as a child. The final track, 'C.T.', a reference to Cecil Taylor, is a freely improvised piece. Some months before in October 1962 while working in Sweden, Ayler had seen the Taylor quartet at the Golden Circle in Stockholm. He was familiar with the melodic and other innovations of Coltrane, Ornette and Sonny Rollins, but Taylor's music was probably the most advanced formal development of jazz at that point and he wanted to be part of it - "I finally found someone I could play with" Sunny Murray reports him as saying. Ayler sat in for one night and played with the trio of Taylor, Jimmy Lyons and Murray during the latter part of their residency at the Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen the following month, though not on the night the legendary Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come was taped. There is however, a recording taken from a Danish TV broadcast of the trio with Ayler in an extended improvisation of over 20 minutes from a week earlier, considered by Mats Gustafsson to be "the missing link", that first appeared on the Holy Ghost box set under the title 'Four'. Ayler's 'C.T.', from six weeks later, contains occasional passing references to a dancing figure used in 'Four' but has none of the whirlwind pace injected by Taylor. In the absence of a strong motivic flow and with musicians unfamiliar with the idiom the improvisation tends to drift.

After the My Name in Albert Ayler session, he went to New York for further dates with Taylor, then to his hometown of Cleveland where he sat in with the visiting quartets of Sonny Rollins/Don Cherry and Coltrane. Returning to New York, he played in a private session with Ornette and resumed working with Taylor; the last appearance with his quartet was at the Five Spot in January 1964. In a number of respects Ayler's musical temperament was very different - for him prominent melodic content mattered far more than to Taylor - but in the pianist's ensemble he found something equally important: a form of simultaneity where music can be many things at the same time and ride different currents, superimposed and criss-crossed, not moored in a common rhythm but wandering within and carried by its own processes. It may be that when it came to his own music, in Ayler's mind retaining traces of a blues structure and incorporating tunes redolent of an earlier age with this kind of flexibility enabled him to sustain correspondences between ancestral voices and the diction of the present in a way faithful to both, seeing himself as both heir and transmitter. As he put it at the end of 1964, "The music that we're playing now is just the blues of all of America all over again, but it's a different kind of blues. This is the real blues, the new blues."

For the Spirits session in February (tracks 1 to 4 on this album) Ayler used Henry Grimes on double bass and Sunny Murray, drums, from Taylor's quartet. Joining them were two musicians from Cleveland, trumpeter Norman Howard, with whom Ayler had played since his youth, and double bassist Earle Henderson. The bass players appear on different tracks and both play on 'Witches and Devils' (Unfortunately, their listings on the back cover don't take account of the track reordering.) The piece originally named "Saints" has been renamed "Prophecy" for this release, the title given to the tune on later recordings, and more confusingly it's the same tune as 'Spirits' on Spiritual Unity, which is not the same as the track of that title here. This suggests that Ayler viewed his themes as sharing collective associations, and the melodies themselves are in certain instances variants or bear close family resemblances. Some would be repeated during sets and sessions in different manifestations and a few years later in live performance he would link them together in contrasting sequences.

Two tracks, 'Spirits' and 'Holy Holy', have Ayler and Howard focussing on texture and delineation, part of Ayler's gestural arsenal, though in a more rudimentary fashion than would be used later. In both pieces the head is dispatched quickly followed by long solos, a short duet then a reprise. The solos consist of lines that flow and swell with no real relationship to thematic material, an uninterrupted flux of energy that is all trajectory and contour. Pitches are secondary, arbitrary even. But for the agitating presence of bass and drums the music would be curiously static, however - it has potency but lacks dimension. This rendition of 'Spirits' doesn't contain the bristling invention of performances of the piece later that year, including a version at the Cellar Cafe in June that begins with primordial streams of sound and where the theme is frequently alluded to but only emerges fully at the very end, summoned out of the vortex. 'Holy Holy' introduces a little more variety, particularly in Ayler's solo which concludes with him playing part of 'Ghosts' in its first recorded appearance.

The other two tracks from the session are of a different order. They assimilate melody and improvisation, innovation and raw expression, in a way that would typify Ayler's rubato ballads and form part of his legacy. There's a truly tragic air about them heightened by an exaggerated vibrato that resembles the trembling melisma of passionate song. During Ayler's opening statement on 'Saints/Prophecy' the trumpet provides a parallel commentary in brief stabs outlining the melody, a tune which lies behind the music like a phantom presence through Ayler's twists into the upper registers and Howard's constrictions, until the final, painful unison. 'Witches and Devils' is a funeral dirge with the two basses providing a mumbling accompaniment to the ceremony, released into further laments during their plucked and bowed solo. At times the nuanced, achingly cracked trumpet almost breaks down. Beneath all this Murray's taps, rolls and splashes intensify and subside in weather-like motion. It's a performance of great emotional depth whose elegiac tone and sense of collective mourning are made all the more poignant by mingling constant change and seeming stillness.

Tracks 5 to 10 jump forward to a Copenhagen studio in September 1964 and the quartet with Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (double bass) and Murray, and it's a quite a leap. As heard on the albums Prophecy and Spiritual Unity, which Hat Hut plan to release at some point as a complete edition, in the intervening months the trio of Ayler, Peacock and Murray had taken shape, forming what is still considered a model of integrated improvisation and intuitive interplay. Peacock's deep-toned yet agile bass was able to handle the metrical shifts and oblique angles of pianist Paul Bley (see: the Bley quartet's Turning Point mostly recorded in March 1964) and his pliable, responsive manner fitted perfectly into the spaces created by tenor and drums. "We weren't playing, we were listening to each other" said Ayler. He'd agreed to a residency for the trio at the Montmartre club with the possibility of other dates and prospects of recording and Cherry, who was already in Europe, joined them. The other recordings of this quartet have appeared most recently on HATology's European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 and Copenhagen Live 1964. Together with the current album they document one the great free jazz ensembles.

As with the trio, in the quartet harmonic progression and melodic invention play a part but are frequently given equal weight alongside other aspects not usually so prominent or even featured at all. Changes in articulation, velocity and register, sometimes abrupt, are combined with continuity and contrast borne by the shape and density of phrases, layered tempos and pure texture. The old hierarchies are not done away with so much as reconfigured within a wider ambit so that imitation and resemblance, divergence and variation - the essentials of instrumental discourse - can function on many levels and in surprising ways, making the music concurrently familiar and strange. Cherry adds extra colour and refinement, acting as an offset to Ayler and Peacock plays arco extensively, a multi-hued sonority not heard with the trio. Murray's kit is recorded with proper definition allowing a genuine four-way perspective of the quartet, enhanced by the then common practice of placing drums and bass at either side of the soundstage.

'Ghosts' is a tune Ayler based on the folk ditty 'Torparvisan' (Little Farmer's Song) that had been part of his set while touring Sweden with local musicians, though in his hands it couldn't be more different. (Later, he was to incorporate 'La Marseillaise', originally a marching song, into 'Spirits Rejoice' and other pieces.) There are two versions of 'Ghosts' here, opening with the longest. After cycling through the theme all is rent asunder. Like starting from scratch, motivic segments are caught in a swirl of conflicting tonal centres. Ayler's off-kilter tenor is wide open then reduced to a surge of screams and honks, taken up by Cherry's sinuous cornet that eventually reintroduces the theme in a recognisable form for what sounds like a natural conclusion; save that the bass continues oblivious, skittering over the melody before being joined by the others for a rousing unison which this time brings the piece to an end. The second version of 'Ghosts' has no solos and highlights the differing character of the tune's constituent parts: haunting then ebullient then back again.

Ayler's characteristic handling of intonation and timbre owes a debt to vocal techniques, replicating those subtle tremors, inflections, and occasional brittle edges employed by singers, even the open throated exaltations of voices raised in supplication. On 'Mothers', he uses the chord changes of the gospel song 'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child' for a melody delivered in a sobbing, coarse-grained tone. By way of contrast the slightly detached cornet plays the tune shorn of adornment. During the next iteration Ayler's weeping saxophone elicits sympathetic wails from Cherry and in the concluding statement both ascend and merge into their highest registers. Peacock's bass is scraped and bowed throughout in a threnody of veiled counterpoint.

'Vibrations' is an Ornetteish theme that includes a sharply rising figure transformed into an adrenaline rush of coruscating distortions and refulgent fanfare blasts shadowed by heavily plucked, resonant bass and the persistent chatter of Murray's snare drum, ending as a disintegration into silence. In 'Holy Spirit' a repeated chant calls forth fierce confabulations interrupted by an interlude for Peacock's chiselled thoughts and waves of percussion. Like much of this music, what holds the performance together is not a common metre but a shared respiratory rhythm, what Ben Young has called an internal gyroscope, to which individual parts seem related even in contradiction giving the improvisations their own endogenous balance. It's a quality now taken for granted in free jazz.

Cherry said that Ayler was a pure folk musician, meaning instinctual and without artifice. Some of those early critics were right; at times there's an amateurish feel to execution and phrasing, but it's a deliberate absence of cultivated sound that taps into what we think of as natural, uncontrived sentiments, which permeate the music. 'Children' is begun by Ayler as a sombre lullaby, rising and falling with swooning glissandi, then suddenly changes direction and is played at breakneck speed. The remainder of the piece alternates between tender ministrations and upbeat flurries, empathy and exhilaration, topped off by the cornet's final peep.

After 1964 Cherry continued working in Europe and pursued the wider implications of the folk and roots aesthetic, moving towards greater collective improvisation and a synthesis with the music of other cultures. His 'Suite for Albert Ayler' from Montmartre in 1966 is one of the first musical recognitions of Ayler's importance, a melding of 'Ghosts' - a tune he once suggested should be adopted as a new national anthem - and snatches of his own 'Infant Happiness', the only non-Ayler composition played by the Ayler/Cherry quartet and which Ayler had recorded again in 1965 under the title 'D.C.'.

Sonically, the remastering from analogue tapes has resulted in greater presence and richer textures. Previous releases are a little opaque and monochrome in comparison. Spirits has particularly benefitted: there's a more pronounced identity to the two basses on 'Witches and Devils' and Howard's trumpet positively sings out. For those with the albums in their collection already Spirits To Ghosts Revisited is a definite upgrade, and if you don't have them it carries a mandatory recommendation.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Leo Svirsky - River Without Banks (Unseen Worlds, 2019) ****½

By Spencer Friedman

Leo Svirsky's River Without Banks is a beautiful addition to the world of minimalist piano driven music. It in a wonderful way eludes category however. It bears resemblance surely to music associated with contemporary classical, yet there are the intentions and aesthetic choices of an improviser, and "experimental music" more broadly. As well, the collaborative elements of the record also moves it away from registering as a solo recital

The music on River Without Banks isn't quite "solo" anyway. The bulk of the sound is arrangement for two pianos, played in such a way that it both sounds like one piano, as well as two pianos perfectly just out of phase with each other. I suspect there's some delay on them as well, but the core sound is organic and clear.

Chords and melodies ping back and forth, creating this engulfing effect that is present throughout the entire record, Svirsky's melodies are simple, but when presented through the atmosphere that he creates they can feel devastating. A small melodic turn can feel like an enlightenment. Svirsky's music leans heavily on this mood, though touch and discrete movement are also significant. See "Strange Lands and People" -- the longest track on here and what feels like the emotional climax. This is perhaps the most delicate playing on the album, with the most stated dynamic range, and it works perfectly. This is dramatic music! It's twists and resolves, and sits in tension again. But it's always appropriately restrained, resourceful.

Elsewhere, there are lovely contributions from a few collaborators. Leila Bordreuil (cello) and Britton Powell (upright bass) add sublime long tones to the title track, a nice touch towards the end of the piece (which more or less feeds in straight from the first track) and in the back of the mix. The strings build the composition into a greater lushness, and almost sound like they could be coming from the ringing piano overtones. Every musical choice feels spot on. Powell's bass is put to good use on "Rain, Rivers, Forest, Corn, Wind, Sand" as well, his bow stuttering along with the less languid, more pulsating piano figures on this piece. Here I'm reminded a bit of the Necks, and specifically Chris Abrahams unique playing. Melodic, repeating, assertive, present.

In general Svirsky's music brings to mind the Necks, as well as other instrumental music that privileges patience and slow moving musical activity. In this respect, I hear as well the sounds of Lubomyr Melnyk, the great Ukrainian composer of "continuous music," a technique utilizing continually played notes on the piano, using the sustain pedal, to create an effect awash in overtones and harmonies. Svirsky is surely up to something slightly different than this, something more compositionally compact, but this conceit does get at the heart of the pleasure of listening to this record. You can sink into the sound, pop up for air to notice one thing or another, only to return again.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

François Tusques ‎– Alors Nosferatu Combina Un Plan Ingénieux (Cacophonic, 2019) ****½

By Stef

Probably less known to international audiences, but French pianist François Tusques was one of the pioneers of free jazz, already in the early 60s. Originally self-taught, he continued more formal courses at the conservatory of music once he got hooked up to jazz during his teens. He met some of the American jazz musicians then living in France and Europe, such as Don Cherry (with whom he performed and recently released a short duet), Clifford Thornton, Sunny Murray, Arthur Jones. His first album in 1965 was called "Free Jazz". Later he expanded his sound with more international influences, which he called "Nouveau Jazz" (new jazz), with the expectation to reach broader audiences without compromising on quality and adventure.

In the last few years, several of his albums have been re-issued, and this one really is worth some attention. Like many other initiatives by Tusques, this one is also inspired by literature, and especially fantastic fiction, such as Alice in Wonderland or as in this case, the story of the vampire Nosferatu. and is the recording of a musical "happening". The intention was to expand listening experiences, including the use theatrical aspects during performances. Free jazz was still at the core, but themes and structures could be agreed upon beforehand.

The music on this album is absolutely adorable, if I may use that word: it has a kind of innocent enthusiasm for the expansion of horizons, while still offering a close-knit bunch of sounds that branch in all directions. It has this positive vibe, full of intense energy, that anything may happen and can happen. Despite the reference to a vampire in the title, there is nothing dark or foreboding in the music, quite to the contrary: it is warm, welcoming, open and still fresh, despite the fact that the tapes were unearthed in Tusques' basement. In the liner notes, he acknowledges that he has no idea when this performance happened, or even which musicians performed on it : "To the best of my recollections, and from posters and advertising of the events, the artists who took part in the 1969-1971 concerts who make up this record are Ronnie Beer, Joseph Déjean, Claude Delcloo, Earl Freeman, Beckie Friend, Eddy Gaumont, Beb Guérin, Noel McGhie, Jouck Minor, Barre Phillips, Aldo Romano, Alan Silva, Kenneth Terroade, Jacques Thollot and Bernard Vitet. Who, when, where (American Center quite often), exactly, I can't say".

It might be that Ronnie Beer is the lead saxophonist, and he's ferocious on the second of the three pieces, called "... La Voute d'Un Caveau", by itself already worth the purchase. Tusques himself is often content to lead the band without taking the lead voice, although he develops the great theme on the long first track "Le Fumet Du JubJub" and he takes the intro on the third piece, with a fresh clattering of dissonant chords and expansions, full of percussive intensity à la Cecil Taylor.

Tusques was at that time interested in the fantastic and in the movies of Jean Rollin, as was already mentioned with the revew of "La Reine des Vampires". The label is currently restoring some more of his music. We can't wait to hear it.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Rempis/Abrams/ Ra + Baker - Apsis (Aerophonic, 2019) ****½

By Stuart Broomer

Dave Rempis has come to the fore in recent years as a powerful improvising saxophonist of the first rank, distinguished on baritone, tenor and alto alike, in part from the quality of documentation that’s been appearing on his Aerophonic label. Working in both Chicago and the world in different ensembles, Rempis is following up on bands as well as initially documenting them, demonstrating the growth clearly possible in degrees of group interaction. This is the third Aerophonic recording from this group as it has transitioned from trio to quartet. Aphelion, from 2014, introduced the trio of Rempis, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Avreeayl Ra. Their next recording, Perihelion from 2016, was a two-disc set, one by the trio, one by the trio with keyboardist Jim Baker as a guest. Baker is now a regular member, and Apsis testifies to both the strengths of a regular working band and to the special energies of Chicago free jazz.

Rempis always stands out for the sheer intensity and sustained commitment of his work. Here he opens on baritone on “Exedra,” the first of two extended tracks, with a massive wailing sound, then later switches to alto to reveal a fleet, even Jimmy Lyons-like lyricism. It’s straight-up free jazz, with Abrams an elemental presence and Ra generating tremendous heat. Baker is a mercurial element, whether prodding the dialogue or contributing exploratory solo forays that stretch toward new territory.

If “Exedra” is the roots version of Chicago free jazz, then “Mithrab” goes to the weirdness of its origins, invoking Sun Ra in all his strangeness. Rempis’s tenor connects to soul, bop and free elements in the city’s legacy (its tenor brigade alone has included Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, John Gilmore, Clifford Jordan, Hal Russell, Fred Anderson, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre and that key adopted son Ken Vandermark with whom Rempis has worked extensively), amidst Abrams’ scratchy bowed harmonics and Baker’s synthesizer invocation of Sun Ra magical keyboards, from an imitation of Rempis’s tenor at the outset to stretches of quavering near-theremin atmospherics.

There aren’t enough places where a band like this can work together often enough to get to this level of responsiveness, and the results are bracing, testimony to their environment as well as their commitment to the music.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Gerrit Hatcher – Burnt Pan Rolling Boil (Kettle Hole, 2019) ****½

By Tom Burris

Tenor saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher's latest solo recording – I believe it's his third solo document - is also the first title available from his new label, Kettle Hole. While he oversees a fairly prolific output, he's not into overkill. The CD's total time is under 30 minutes & it is limited to 300 numbered copies. Time is tight; copies are limited. Nothing is wasted. Economical and sharp. In that spirit (hopefully), let's investigate the tracks:

  1. Salt Dome 1 – Squall worthy of Trane-era Pharoah or Jooklo Duo's Virginia Genta roars out of the speakers without a warning. Hatcher is a short-phrase guy. Long, unbroken lines generally aren't a big part of his vocabulary, as he prefers to break up short phrases and rearrange them in different ways – and what he does here makes these overblown lines sound like exquisite shards of tone poetry. You could say they fall on the thoughtful and elegant side of the band saw. By the end of this 5-minute excursion, full round notes are jockeying for attention with the overtones. The result is a very engaging listen. Artful but sweaty.
  2. Salt Dome 2 – The intro consists of consecutive whole notes of E. Occasionally dipping into notes lower than E, the outcome seems to be the lower the note, the longer the line. The air blowing through the horn is often as loud as the notes. The track eventually moves into the upper-register, settling into a somber, even mournful elegy. Earthy and metallic.
  3. Salt Dome 3 – Kettle whistles squeal on the stove top. Geese honk angrily from poop-covered rocks. This track combines elements of the first two; diced short phrases alternate with flatlines. Medical and geographical, but not quite earthy.
  4. Cooking Fuel – Intense, but hooky. Hatcher's short lines here conjure up pop-song structures, making it now obvious that many of his chosen themes come wired this way. He doesn't develop them outward, but takes them inward – like a dog wanting to be alone with a new toy. He takes his prize and internalizes the joy of it, turning it every which way until he gets what he wants out of it. Then he emerges from the corner, eager to share. Naturally, we are listening the entire time.

Burnt Pan Rolling Boil successfully documents the only hardcore punk saxophonist on the planet jumping at the sun. Many repeated listening sessions recommended.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Microtub - Chronic Shift (Bohemian Drips, 2019) *****

By Keith Prosk

Chronic Shift is the fourth recording from the world’s first and only microtonal tuba ensemble and the second recording in which Peder Simonsen, who subbed in for Kristoffer Lo beginning with 2017’s Bite of the Orange, joins Robin Hayward and Martin Taxt. Simonsen extends his role here, remixing one track and adding adornments to the other. The base of both tracks, which last about half an hour together, is a live performance of two compositions recorded in Berlin’s Großer Wasserspeicher, an historic large brick water tower, during Bohemian Drips’ site-specific Speicher II festival in 2018.

Jazz recordings throughout the genre’s history frequently employ splicing, overdubbing, and like effects, but bonafide remixes - changing the character of a track, often through a narrow focus on the original material with supplementing additives - are more rare. Remixing’s roots are in dub and disco, traced through downtempo and techno, and, before I became an improvised music convert, I treasured the versions, edits, and remixes of Massive Attack, Tortoise, New Order, Basic Channel, and other similar admirers of the 12” single (I still do). Particularly when they came from the original musicians. They challenged my idea of the album version - and the album itself - as immutable monolith, which seems common in those coming from a rock background. In a way, the wide latitudes allowed by some compositions from improvising musicians allow for a kind of instant remix; every performance has the opportunity to refocus and illuminate new aspects of the composition. But it’s refreshing to see the studio tradition incorporated here. And like those tracks, Pederson narrows in on a detail of the composition and supplements it with synths, accentuating the spirit of the performance.

“Chronic Shift” is a remix of the Hayward composition “Sonic Drift,” which was performed for the first time at the Speicher II festival and cycles through harmonies based on the 11th, 13th, and 29th harmonics (for reference, “Bite of the Orange” is based on the 11th and 13th). Simonsen loops a sustained dyad from two tubas, signaled by a clear stop like a tape click, and adds water drops and faint electric pops, cracks, and beeps for an environment that would feel at home in a glitchy Jan Jelinek record. Occasionally the dyad loop is broken with the full chord. And eventually a sonar ping accompanies selected loops to create a cathartic effect similar to Sigur Rós’ “Svefn-g-englar.” Half way through the track, a rattling from Taxt’s tuba signals a shift from a fast clip to a creeping inertia and from an electric emphasis to an acoustic awareness. Columns of air filling the horn to the brim and beyond the brim, the corporeal pulse of each pitch’s undulating frequencies creating a wake behind the blast, and the impact and refraction and decay against the brick walls are all made audible. The high-quality audio, reduced speed, and reverberating locality lend a dimensionality or spatiality to the sound, like you’re there, swimming in the sound. But the perspective seems to have transferred from Gulliver’s to the Lilliputians’. It’s a dilapidated fanfare trapped in jelly, recalling William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. Or a deep yawp from the bottom of a marine trench. Between the torpor, sonar ping, and water drops, Simonsen reflects the nature of the water tower site perfectly while simultaneously illuminating Hayward’s microtonal, corporeal harmonic concepts with loops and loop speed. As well as checking all of these conceptual, cognitive boxes, the music is engaging and emotive to the core. It’s my favorite track I’ve heard this year so far.

Quite a few of these broad concepts feel vital to the music now. A kind of droning, sine wave music, exploring harmony, dimensionality, and/or microtonality, appears to be gaining a growing audience, enough for blog readers to nominate Biliana Voutchkova & Michael Thieke’s Blurred Music as record of the year in 2018. There appears to be a growing emphasis on site-specific recordings, with prominent examples in Ken Vandermark’s Site Specific, the recent reissue of John Butcher’s Resonant Spaces, and the positive reception to field-recording-based music like last year’s Green Ways from Áine O’Dwyer & Graham Lambkin or this year’s Nature Denatured and Found Again from Michael Pisaro; likely reflecting a response to decreasing diversity in ecosystems and environments from urbanization and increasing homogeneity in history and experience from globalization. These site-specific recordings return the focus to the local, sometimes the natural. And finally the use of software. From George Lewis’ Voyager (e.g. this year’s Voyage and Homecoming with Roscoe Mitchell) to Anthony Braxton’s SuperCollider in his Diamond Curtain Wall Music to Hayward’s own Tuning Vine here, using intelligent software to compose and improvise appears to be on the rise. Interestingly, dionysianly, there’s a desire to advance with technology while retaining the organic past. To advance a new music through “non-music.” All of this is to say, there’s an impressive synthesis of ideas present here.

“System Reboot” is based on a composition created by the Tuning Vine. This is classic Microtub, with resonating, reverberating waves of tuba washing over you. A meditative, mysterious experience similar to Tibetan singing bowls. But sounded deeply and bodily. Simonsen adds a synth similar to the sonar ping, but in different tones, so it adds a more digestible sense of movement to what otherwise might seem too static. Having presented a performance in both fast and slow time, the ensemble asks the listener to recognize those previously highlighted components in real time here.

For its synthesis of concepts in space and dimension, site specificity and locality, microtonality, harmonics, and post-production and interactive software, while simultaneously emotive and addictively listenable, Chronic Shift is a prodigious capstone to a decade of marvelous work from this mighty ensemble. A digest compendium of its boundary-pushing journey thus far. A must-listen.

Chronic Shift is available digitally and on LP.

Friday, November 22, 2019

As You Hear (Veryan Weston/ Pei Ann Yeoh/ Beibei Wang) - Four Seasonings (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2019) ****½

By Stuart Broomer

Pianist Veryan Weston has been a significant figure in improvised music for decades, distinguished as a soloist (on keyboards ranging from Brussels’ Luthéal piano to tracker-action organs), a composer (his brilliant Tessellations has assumed multiple forms from solo piano to choral work) and a partner in a series of long-running collaborations (most notably with Phil Minton, Trevor Watts and Jon Rose). As You Hear is a new formation with violinist Pei Ann Yeoh and percussionist Beibei Wang, younger members of London’s rich community of improvisers. The trio is heard here in an engaging 72-minute set from the Vortex that consists of four substantial improvisations named for spices: Masala, Galangal, Berbere and Five Spice.

As that might suggest, there’s a certain playfulness among the three, a chameleonic shifting of identities that includes rapid concordance and sudden divergence, each musician quick to pick up on and initiate new directions. As with several Weston partnerships, there’s an intense interest in details of pitch, with Yeoh a complementary master of quarter tones. She’s particularly adept at discarding the trappings of classical virtuosity, at times reducing her role to a thoughtful ostinato of pizzicato dissonances. Wang adds great rhythmic vitality and variety as well, rapidly creating engaging patterns and sometimes creating near-vocal effects with subtly inflected drumbeats. Weston’s contrapuntal flurries are always a joy to hear and the three together create dense webs of interactive particles.

Weston's subtle and profound apprehension of the discontinuities, contradictions and limitations of harmonic systems are near their peak here, in a trio with two fine musicians, at once receptive and forceful, whose cultural legacies and visions take in the tonal structures of both East and West. As heard here, they’re also thoroughly creative partners in the random jottings, impulses and joys of free improvisation.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Music Unlimited 33: Celebration 40.60.80

By Eyal Hareuveni

Wels Austria, Nov. 8-10

The 33rd edition of the Austrian free Unlimited Music introduced a new curator model - tripling the one that serves the festival every two years, offering a program edited by German pianist Magda Mayas, Japanese guitarist and daxophone player Kazuhisa Uchihashi, and American sax legend Joe McPhee, respectively, 40, 60 and 80 years young. This year's program suggested unusual and ad-hoc meetings, outfits that rarely tour and a fascinating spectrum of vocal artists.

First Night, Nov. 8

The opening performance by Mayas' 8-piece international, acoustic Filamental ensemble was a brave choice and clear declaration about the experimental focus of the festival’s edition. Mayas assembled her dream outfit - two harpists playing huge concert harps, American Zeena Parking and British Rhodri Davies; herself on the prepared piano, in a way another harp-shaped string instrument; two cellists, Mexican Aimée Theriot and Australian, Berlin-based Anthea Caddy; violinist Angharad Davies, French alto sax player Christine Abdelnour and German clarinetist Michael Thieke. The score was based on minimalist photos and offered a great degree of freedom but demanded expressive detail, especially from the ever resourceful and inventive Parkins and Davies. The minimalist musical flowed organically with microtonal, transparent colors as if the whole ensemble was in a collective dream state, patiently gaining volume and power with minor eruptions that cemented its profound emotional power and delicate aesthetics.

As often happens with the Unlimited festival, each performance suggests a distinct, totally different atmosphere. Joe McPhee celebrated a week before the festival his 80th birthday and clearly he is gifted with a spirit that is not only young and rebellious but also the coolest one. Unfortunately, we were informed that he suffered from a toothache, and in his performances he focused on the tenor sax. His trio with British double bass master John Edwards and German drummer Klaus Kugel (which released earlier this year its sophomore album A Night In Alchemia, Not Two) demonstrated how the great legacy of American free jazz is still relevant, open and inclusive. McPhee’s wisdom and experience provided the trio the deep, poetic dimension, while Edwards’ sharp sense of rhythmic humor and Kugel’s powerful polyrhythmic patterns rounded this trio excellent performance. Sometimes, as McPhee says, you have to trust the music to provide its own rational that gravitated towards a deep emotional experience.

The next trio featured Siberian vocal artist Sainkho Namtchylak, American clarinet, shakuhachi and alto sax player Ned Rothenberg, who began his long-standing collaboration with Namtchylak in the mid-nineties (Amulet, Leo, 1996), and Austrian turntables wizard Dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič). Namtchylak covered her head with a red cup and sang-danced mysterious songs and chants, but the most fascinating aspect of this performance was how Rothenberg and Dieb13 orchestrated and framed her cryptic, eccentric vocalizations, Rothenberg in clever, sharp rhythmic ideas, and Dieb13 with ironic yet insightful orchestral layers. If Namtchylak insisted on walking on her very own space pathways, Rothernberg and Dieb13 acted as the pillars of her intergalactic arkestra.

The first night concluded with a super energetic performance of the trio Glacial - ex-Sonic Youth, American guitarist Lee Renaldo, The Necks’ Australian drummer Tony Buck and New Zelander David Watson on bagpipes and electric guitar. This trio has been working on and off since 2012, but has released only one album so far, On Jones Beach (Three Lobed Recordings, 2012), but has enough kinetic energy to ignite many hurricanes. The odd instrumental combination of distorted, mutated and tortured guitar sounds, bagpipes wails and ritualistic, powerful drumming made perfect sense in that late time of the night and sounded as liberating the accumulated energy of the previous sets into a cleansing, secular ceremony. In a strange way, this set had a similar hypnotic power as the legendary live performances of The Necks.

Second Day, Nov. 9

In the six years that I visit this festival, I have never seen so many people flocking to the one of the afternoon free performances, but this afternoon all had very sound reasons. In the beautiful acoustic ambience of the medieval Minoriten the three curators - Mayas on the prepared piano, McPhee on tenor sax and white, plastic alto sax, and Uchihashi on daxophones and electric guitar, performed for the first time ever together, with no rehearsal or much of talking before. Mayas, McPhee and Uchihashi developed instantly subtle and highly poetic dynamics. The almost transparent sounds of the prepared piano were intensified by the almost-human vocalizations of the daxophones and the wise and emotional cries of McPhee. This trio sounded as ready to hit the road and just beginning to explore its great potential.

Saxophonist Rasmussen and turntables master Dieb13
The small hall of Wels’ Medien Kultur Haus was too small to populate all who wanted to see the duo of Danish sax player Mette Rasmussen and turntables master Dieb13. The two performed before as a duo in another Austrian festival, St. John’s Artacts, and both collaborated before in the ensembles of Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark. Their set was devised as a playful narrative that juggles with acoustic and electronic sounds, beginning with both marching-acting-playing into the room with speakers, continuing with Rasmussen dives deeper and deeper into her free jazz blows and wails while Dieb13 splices, edits and orchestrates the music in almost symphonic manner, with many playful, ironic interventions, The performance concluded with Dieb13 playing an old gramophone, and a vinyl with a toy pickup truck spinning on it while Rasmussen plays-speaks through the speaker in what looked and sounded like a heartfelt homage to sonic installations of Christian Marclay.
The night performances began with ad-hoc trio of Japanese vocal and performance artist Ami Yamasaki, Abdelnour on alto sax and Austrian drummer Katharina Ernst. Yamaskai set the tone of this set with her theatrical way of telling vivid, associative stories in her very own charming and always elegant private language. Abdelnour intensified the sonic envelope with her urgent blow and dense tones and Ernst framed this playful train of free associative, highly articulate vocalizations with clever, minimalist touches that kept this train visiting many exotic locations.

Rodrigo Amado’s This Is Our Language
Portuguese sax hero Rodrigo Amado’s This Is Our Language quartet - Amado and McPhee on tenor saxes, Kent Kessler on double bass and Chris Corsano on drums, concluded its European tour in Wels. The quartet’s sophomore album is titled A History of Nothing (Trost, 2019) but its performance was graced with plenty of ecstatic music, informed by the spiritual Afro-American jazz and the European schools of free-improv. The pains of McPhee and the recent passing of Amado’s father, painter Manuel Amado whose painting graced few covers of his son's albums, added a strong strain and vulnerability and often a sense of abandon, mainly due to the fierce, punkish drumming of Corsano, to the music. All these conflicting experiences contributed to one of the emotional peaks of the festival.

After a short break the Lebanese ‘A’ Trio - trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, double bass player Raed Yassin and acoustic guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, took the stage by storm, shortly after Kerbaj informed the audience that their hearts are in Beirut, in solidarity with their fellow-citizens demonstrating against the corrupt regime. None of the three musicians plays his instrument in any conventional manner. Kerbaj attaches different pipes to the trumpet’s mouthpiece and other objects to its bell, while holding the trumpet between his knees. Yassin’s bass is laid on a chair and he bows Tibeten bowls laid on its wooden body or bowing the bass strings with two bows, one held by its teeth, and likewise Sehnaoui plays his guitar with assorted metallic objects. The trio recent album, AAMM (Al Maslakh, 2018 and Unrock, 2019), was recorded with British pioneer free-improv AMM ensemble, and its performance demonstrated this trio unique brand of spontaneous improvisation. The trio played with great sense of urgency, power and invention, always searching for new sounds and challenging dynamics, and total demanding physical commitment. The uplifting emotional power of this trio gained long standing ovation.

This night closed with Mahanyawa - the Javanese duo Senyawa - Rully Shabara on vocals and Wukir Suryadi on the stringed bamboo pipe Bambuwukir and flutes, augmented by Uchihashi on electric guitar and daxophones. This trio already released a collaborative project on Uchihashi’s label, Innocent Records in 2015. The program promised a meeting of traditional, tribal sounds, doom and punk attitude and delivered the exact recipe. There was something liberating in the wild and reckless ethno-metal eruptions of this trio and the enigmatic rap of Shabarai, the mysterious, buzzing sounds of Suryadi and the possessed playing of Uchihashi sounded bigger and certainly louder than Senyawa or Uchihashi apart.

Third Day, Nov. 10

Hermione Johnson
The afternoon performances were located in the picturesque Christian institute Bildungshaus Schloss Puchberg. New Zelander, classically-trained, pianist-composer Hermione Johnson played a solo set on prepared piano. Johnson, dressed as a medieval fairy, planted wooden sticks between the piano strings and by caressing these stick gently extracted delicate, beautifully resonating humming sound, that had immediate, meditative effect. Later, her hammering on the piano keys yielded sounds that were informed by electronic music syntax. This magnificent set kept introducing surprising, magical timbres of the piano and left many attentive listeners wishing to see more and more of Johnson.

The second performance brought together the Berlin-based duo of German vocal artist-sound poet Ute Wassemann and American Andrea Parkins on interactive electronics and electric accordion. If the first set put a hypnotic spell on the audience, this one struggled with the dense, too warm and too humid room, and rarely took off. Wassermann demonstrated her impressive, operatic vocal range while Parkins heroically attempted to find the right frequencies to Wasserman’s flights. There are free-improv meeting that are interesting by their stubborn attempts to fail better, again and again, and I guess that this was one of these cases.

The evening performances began with Joe McPhee’s Special Wels Ensemble, featuring himself on tenor sax, Rasmussen on alto sax, Austrian Irene Kepl on violin, Arnold ‘noid’ Haberl on cello, and Belgian Dennis Tyfus on electronics (he designed the basic version of the poster of the festival). McPhee let Rasmussen and Kepl lead this set that surprised all by its profound sensual appeal. McPhee contributed few beautiful solos that distilled his seminal influence and his role model on these young musicians, as well on the appreciative audience.

The longest working band that participated in this edition of the Unlimited festival was the Japanese Altered States - Uchihashi on electric guitar, Yasuhiro Yoshigaki on drums and Mitsuru Nasuna on electric bass, who celebrates this year its 30th anniversary of playing-improvising with “no concept”. The trio was augmented by German Frank Gratkowski on alto sax and bass clarinet. Altered States, true to its name, moved and morphed fast between segments that referenced the seventies fusion aesthetics - with guitar licks and drumming that brought memories of Santana and Mahavishnu Orchestra, and free, abstract improvisations. But, eventually, this set stressed the strong, energetic personalities of Uchihashi and Yoshigaki with the solid basis of Nasuna, who felt to search, explore and have great fun in collective, organic improvisation. Gratkowski tried to fit into this fast-shifting flow of ideas but only occasionally integrated into Altered States interplay.

Next, another ad-hoc meeting of three experienced and distinct improvisers, meeting on stage for the first time - New York-based vocal artist Shelley Hirsch, British drummer Roger Turner, and master of modular synthesizers and electronics Richard Scott. Hirsch led this set with her amusing Shinkansen of free-associative chat - speaking-singing in English, French and German about music, global politics and feminism, while Turner and Scott orchestrated her stream of ideas and phrases with fierce, kinetic energy and explosive noises. The ever resourceful Uchihashi joined this trio for its last segment and intensified its joyful energy. A provocative and most inspiring soundtrack to our sonic surroundings, already burdened with too much sonic and visual information.

This edition of the festival began with a very quiet performance but ended with a roaring one by the MOPCUT trio- Chinese-American, Berlin-based Audrey Chen on vocals and electronics, French Julien Desprez on electric guitar and Austrian Lukas König on drums and electronics. This trio released early this year its debut album, Accelerated Frames of Reference (Trost, 2019), and this title reflected perfectly MOPCUT’s live dynamics. Hyperactive, fast and reckless mix of ambient and noise with “exorcist qualities”, with Chen chanting-screaming-wailing, Desprez step dancing and assaulting the his guitar strings with his fists and König possessed by his manic rhythmic patterns, until total exhaustion.

Next year, same time of the year, same place.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Alan Tomlinson Trio - Inside Out (FMR, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

The great English trombonist Alan Tomlinson has been sharing his cheeky brand of free improvisation since at least the early 70's, playing alongside the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Barry Guy, Tony Oxley, Jon Corbett, David Toop, and many others. He's performed across Europe in this trio with Phillip Marks and Dave Tucker since 1992, but living in the cultural void that I live in, I wasn't aware of them until the release of their first album, 2017's "Out and Out" also on FMR which compiles live recordings from 2009-2016. Guitarist Dave Tucker spent the 70's involved in the Manchester punk scene before landing a gig with The Fall in the 80's, recording with the group on their album "Slates". He eventually transitioned to playing free music, in addition to producing music for television and dance, and has played with the likes of Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, and Barre Phillips to name just a few. His excellent group 'Velocity of Sound' includes Parker, Steve Noble, and John Edwards. Drummer Philip Marks has impressed me greatly on both releases by the trio, providing some of the most tasteful and energetic free jazz percussion you're likely to hear. He's provided his talents to ensembles including members like Derek Bailey, John Butcher, Evan Parker, and John Edwards and has released several albums with his group Bark! (the exclamation point is part of their moniker, I promise I'm not shouting at you). Here the listener is treated to a handful of solid improvisations by the trio (with one in quartet with bassist John Edwards).

Throughout the set Tomlinson expresses in a rough cut honking tone that pairs well with Tucker's slicing no-wave guitar sound. Prickly swells of mutant goose chatter emanate from his horn along with the obligatory salival sounds of free jazz trombone. Tomlinson utilizes the instruments' full potential, his playing not subdued in the least; on the contrary it faces you head-on, teeth gnashed like a rabid street dog. Marks' style here is reserved yet highly active, providing an excellent foil for the guitar and trombone. Almost every bit of background space is covered in the patter of skins and the splash of cymbals. Tucker's guitar playing resides somewhere between quintessentially English free jazz playing of Derek Bailey and the American avant-garde styles of Rudolph Grey and Thurston Moore. Very minimal effects on the guitar maybe just a bit of overdrive. On the title track, bass fiddle extraordinaire John Edwards joins the trio for a quarter hour romp that's arguably the best piece on the album. His playing really fills out the sound and his presence markedly increases the group dynamics, making for a piece that has more shading and nuance than the previous four.

All in all it's a very enjoyable album from a cast of players that have a long history in free improvisation. If you haven't heard the first Alan Tomlinson Trio release and like what you hear on this set then obviously you should pick it up as well, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tim Daisy's Vox 4 – Roman Poems (Relay, 2019) *****

By Tom Burris

First, a reintroduction of sorts is in order. Vox Arcana is now known as Vox 4, updating the longstanding trio of James Falzone (clarinet), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics), and Daisy (drums, marimba, percussion) to include Macie Stewart of OHMME and Marker on violin and piano.
Did the trio need an upgrade? Not as far as I was concerned – until I heard this release. The fact that this is the finest Vox release to date speaks for itself.

Quietly opening this suite is “Prelude.” With hard mallets on toms, wood & cymbals, Daisy duets with Falzone for a minute and a half - when they become embroiled in a duel against the string section, the music leaning into atonal disarray but not succumbing to it. Macie and Fred make good on their threat exactly 43 seconds into the next track, “The Collector,” when they smash into Daisy & Falzone head-on. Things get quickly sorted out though, with Daisy swinging like Blakey underneath a wild solo from Falzone. Daisy locks in with Lonberg-Holm, who is finger-picking the cello's hard-bop bass line. Another full stop-and-start with Stewart's violin leading the way as Lonberg-Holm kicks into electroskreech mode. And as soon as you have a grip on that, the theme's head appears again to close out the track – before ramming itself right into the next one, another crash-bang-fire whack of freedom noise featuring Stewart & Lonberg-Holm in an apparent victory duet.

This track, “First Travels” is an even more interesting ride than its predecessor, as its reach is broader in both scope and length. The first section is the duet of Stewart and Lonberg-Holm, of course, which ends on a sweet-n-sour slathering of beehive droning. The second section looks down the other end of the hive; and it's all sunny, damp and strange, made up of marimba and wire holding up some kind of sculpture in mid-construction. We spend awhile studying the blueprints during Daisy's subdued marimba solo, later becoming a fascinating duet with Lonberg-Holm. Falzone circular-breathes a note before the full band enters, with Daisy at the drum kit & Lonberg-Holm again in the bass role, the third section of the track. The fourth section is the collapse of the third and the vision of the phoenix that is Fred Lonberg-Holm.

“Intermezzo” continues with the chaos instigated by the cellist, now joined by the rest of the band – including Stewart on piano, who injects clusters into the firestorm of the rhythm section (Daisy on drum kit, Fred on “bass” cello) relentlessly. Piano & clarinet pitter-pat w/ Daisy's tapping, with Stewart eventually opting out – beginning the next track, “Classic Vox,” recalling Steve Reich without all of the instruments bleeding in and out of each other. Vox's approach, as we've seen up to this point, is the stop-and-start. Chords aren't going to weave into being; they're going to crash into birth. Of course, the crash comes at the 1:15 mark. [I don't want to give the impression that this is like Naked City. Vox 4 is much more organic than that - but they do cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.] The remainder of the track takes you on a trip from Clarinet Chase Music to Flying Cutlery before dropping you off at a stop sounding not unlike the intro to “Prelude.”

“Litografi” begins with Daisy on marimba, in duet with Falzone, on a piece that sounds carefully composed – although one can never be sure with this band. Once Stewart (on violin) and Lonberg-Holm enter, the piece takes on a melancholy longing mixed with tension. It's at this point where it becomes obvious what a perfect musical match Stewart and Lonberg-Holm are, with her perfectly poised playing in the upper-register next to his everything-all-in approach. Bringing Macie Stewart into this group was a stroke of genius. Daisy's lone marimba closes this stunningly beautiful piece of music.

Closing the suite is the title track, named after the City Lights collection of Pier Paolo Pasolini's poems in their Pocket Poets Series. Daisy swings as Falzone plays the theme, followed by group improvisations that find Stewart, Falzone, and Lonberg-Holm jockeying for position at various points. The best bit is when it collapses around the three-minute mark with everyone contributing to a full-on shouting match that stops hard and begins abruptly with a solid-as-a-mountain drum solo from Daisy. The cheers of the crowd at the end jar me every time. It's such a perfect creation it's easy to forget this is was recorded in front of an audience. Bravo!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Denman Maroney, Jack Wright, Reuben Radding - Fuse (self-released, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Jack Wright (saxophones) and Reuben Radding (contrabass) join Denman Maroney (hyperpiano) for six freely-played tracks across 63 minutes on this studio recording from 2005. Around that time, each musician was in the midst of collaborations that now characterize their careers thus far: Wright with Bhob Rainey, Bob Marsh, and Tom Djll; Radding with Daniel Carter and Nate Wooley; and Maroney with Mark Dresser, Ned Rothenberg, Hans Tammen, and Leroy Jenkins. Radding and Wright had just begun a rich run of live recordings the year before. And Radding and Maroney would later play together on Gaga and Udentity with Rothenberg and Michael Sarin (plus Dave Ballou on the latter). But this is the first recording with Maroney and Wright together. So Fuse offers a glimpse into this previously unreleased power trio during an especially fertile creative period for each of these musicians.

Maroney flits from melodic tunes ostensibly belonging to the jazz tradition to manic, muted, rapid rhythms on the keys to his idiosyncratic inside-piano work that can and does sound like an airplane flying too low to the ground, a broken jack-in-the-box, fireworks launching, clocks. He creates a beat by knocking on the wood, and uses cymbals or bowls inside the piano for more metallic percussion. Wright often sounds like Steve Lacy’s ducks, and draws attention to the limits of breath like Lacy does too, with short, petulant attacks. He’ll switch this up with long-held whistles. Occasionally a soulful note. And more breathy moments that sound like fluttering, farting, a toddler spitting on the cake trying to blow out the candles, or throwing sand. The tracks are sequenced in such a way that Radding seems to adapt to the timbral oddities of these two fellows. He begins with relatively pedestrian walking lines, then arco, then bow tapping, perhaps playing below the bridge, and eventually getting to creaking wood, violent plucks that slap the strings against the neck, and deep, resonant bowing during some moments towards the end. Each player is instantly receptive to the others’ shifts in timbre, rhythm, and dynamics, mimicking changes, tangentially building off of it, then returning. It’s more of a conversation than an environment.

The result is good old-fashioned free playing that feels like part of the American jazz tradition in its rhythms and tunes yet remains true to the characters of the individuals in its freewheeling timbres and structures. A welcome addition to Maroney’s recent archival releases from the mid-’00s that include last year’s excellent Bleu Boeuf with Barre with Barre Phillips and Unknown Unknowns with Leroy Jenkins and Rich O’Donnell.

Fuse is a digital-only release.

Denman Maroney has also self-released Solo @70 this year.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble - Where Future Unfolds (International Anthem, 2019) ****

By Martin Schray

Where the Future Unfolds is a live recording of a concert at the Garfield Park Conservatory at the Red Bull Music Festival in Chicago on November 15, 2018. What originally was started as a solo sound collage in which Damon Locks, an African-American musician and visual artist, has sampled the speeches of prominent figures of the civil rights era to create an improvised palette for performance on his drum machine, finally expanded into the full Black Monument Ensemble consisting of 15 musicians (among them Ben LaMar Gay and Angel Bat Dawid), singers (alumni of the Chicago Children's Choir) and dancers (members of the Chicago Youth Dance Company Move Me Soul). The result is something one might call political jazz in challenging times. Locks also contributed the album cover art and wrote all the lyrics and compositions. The idea for this project came to him in a special place - in a prison: in 2017, he gave art lessons to eleven convicts at a time when police violence and racial profiling in the USA were actually returning to the media focus (the most prominent one was the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson/Missouri, in 2014). Locks then went deep into African American history, he became interested in civil rights speeches - e.g. by Martin Luther King and Angela Davis - and used them as the basis for his musical project.

These spoken snippets give the album a militant edge, recalling interludes from the classic hiphop records, where speeches from activists were combined with funky grooves reminiscent of early albums by the Last Poets. Not only is the music an excursion into political activism and Afro-futurism, it’s also one into blues, gospel and the spiritual fire music of the 1960s. But the music is not only a hip retro project, it is rather astonishing how appropriately these quotations and the music represent the social state of the USA today. Lines like “Every morning there’s one cause of murder / every morning at least one lesser life / I see all the same things happen for my people / they tell the same line“ are gritty sentiments on the one hand but on the other they also radiate hope because they conclude with a call to action: “So we choose our next move / The time is now, it has always been / Respond anew / Pass the guard and get through, because some things never change.” In the way these statements from the 1960s can be sampled and re-organized, Locks’s album reminds us to have a look back at history and make sure that were not doomed to repeat it.

That’s why Where the Future Unfolds can be regarded as classical protest music. It speaks for the black community, it’s both musically and politically a statement about what is happening at the moment. W here the Future Unfolds sets the most beautiful monument to the self-empowerment of an Afro-American community in search of its roots in jazz. One can imagine this music as the soundtrack of a movement that has experienced its spiritual socialization with Archie Shepp, Malcolm X, John Coltrane, Public Enemy, Curtis Mayfield, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Marvin Gaye.

Where the Future Unfolds is available on vinyl and as a CD.

You can buy and listen to the album here:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Xavier Charles - Impédance Clarinet Déluge (Remote Resonator, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk 

Impédance Clarinet Déluge is one half-hour track of overdubbed, multi-layered clarinet solos collaged from recordings cut in 2015 through 2017, performed and produced by multi-instrumentalist and composer Xavier Charles. It is his third solo release and, like Invisible (2010) and 12 Clarinets in a Fridge (2014), it emphasizes the moving air - especially breath - in the environment, whether it’s a pasture, a street corner, or a kitchen. All the sounds created by Charles went through the clarinet, whether out from in or in from out, with microphone placement sometimes in, sometimes out of the clarinet, with what I believe is accompaniment from birds and maybe bees, among other things. It serves as a succinct manifesto of Charles’ unique approach to sound, recording, and the clarinet that’s explored in his solo work.

Some sounds stay for some time, like a howling, white noise breath with a low-end pulse, a bee’s nest that could be many overdubbed clarinets or a hive but probably both, or a woody “woo-woo” siren. Some sounds are more transient, like rhythmic valve releases, something like the undulating resonant rimming of a crystal glass, a thrilling string symphony effect, drains, tablas, and crumpling from fetch across spit, what is probably birds, more recognizable clicks, wails, and blows from the clarinet, and some sections of split tones and multiphonics. Many more. It’s a soundscape of several layers cataloging extended technique for the clarinet with accompaniment from the recording environments. But whereas some such recordings might fall into ambience or feel static, Impédance Clarinet Déluge is thoroughly dynamic: volume from near-silence to deafening; register from tinnitus high to low enough to make most techno and hip hop producers jealous; pulse from rapid to flatline; and well-paced overdubbing of a menagerie of technique that doesn’t let sounds dwell too long or leave too soon.

It’s a satisfying continuation of Charles’ characteristic solo clarinet work, which by now should be considered as essential and exciting as the well-beloved Dans les arbres and Contest of Pleasures ensembles. It’s a kind of studio foil to John McCowen’s recent work demonstrating the dimensions of the clarinet through live performance in quartet, duo, and solo. Necessary listening for admirers of the instrument, and the quieter, extended-technique-based free playing that might be found from Michel Doneda, Stéphane Rives, and some echtzeitmusik musicians, among others.

Impédance Clarinet Déluge is a digital-only release.