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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Jooklo Trio - It Is What It Is / Virginia Genta - Amplified Sopranino Sax 7"

By Nick Metzger

It's pretty undisputed at this point that the Jooklos (Virginia Genta and David Vanzan) bare the torch for unabashed third eye opening, cosmic energy sourced, 21st century fire music. Their various incarnations and groupings explore free jazz, psychedelia, and punk with such ferocity, passion, and power that listening to the music can border on transcendence. The music is exciting and unpredictable and I've yet to hear anything they've been involved in that I didn't fall head-over-heels for. Below are a couple of releases I've been slow in getting to. One is a 7" lathe cut of Virginia Genta on solo amplified sopranino saxophone from Relative Pitch records and the other a limited edition CDR of their trio with Brandon Lopez on their own Troglosound imprint. I've been blown away by both of these releases and am certain after listening to these against their prior work that the Jooklos are still steeply ascending and nowhere near their high water mark.

Virginia Genta - Amplified Sopranino Sax (Relative Pitch, 2019) *****

This latest solo outing from the esteemed saxophonist Virginia Genta comes lathe cut into a jagged square of plexiglass from Relative Pitch records. Her third solo release after 2012's ultra limited edition "Tenor" and 2016's excellent " Rough Enough " finds her again making an all-to-brief 7" statement, this time on amplified sopranino saxophone. I never actually saw this pop up on Relative Pitch's website but as of this writing there are still affordable copies available on Discogs. Genta has really developed as a player since her beginnings. Initially noted for her immense power and expressiveness this single documents her growth as a technician, showing off her circular breathing prowess and hypersonic fingerwork. As if that weren't enough she goes amplified here, adding an overdriven cutting-edge to her tempest.

The record absolutely howls from the drop of the needle and never lets up. Genta weaves together lightning fast fundamentals, overtones, quarter notes, and feedback into an organic, albeit extraordinarily intense, sonic tapestry. The two roughly three minute tracks elicit a wild mix of touchstones, ranging from straight horn giants like Evan Parker and John Butcher to the speed metal soloing of Trey Azagthoth. This speed makes it somewhat overwhelming on first listen, like sticking your head out the window of a speeding vehicle and trying to catch your breath. But soon the logic takes form and the pieces inherit a strange beauty imbued by their intensity. The key is to let it wash over you, to concede to the currents and let them take you where they may. Fantastic.

Jooklo Trio - It Is What It Is (Troglosound, 2019) ****1/2

Recorded at GSI Studios in Manhattan at the end of August, 2018, this limited edition CDR captures what is sure to become a legendary coupling. Genta and her long-time-partner-in-crime David Vanzan plus one Brandon Lopez, all amasse under the moniker Jooklo Trio. As you can imagine the meeting plays out like a stellar collision, their sonic masses caught in an accelerating spiral and merged in a blast of power and intensity. Amplification, feedback, and distortion play a big part here, adding oxygen to the fire and making it roar with a white-hot blast furnace of free-jazz-punk energy. Lopez's sledgehammer bass playing is saturated in fuzz, and made all the more crushing by Vanzan's energetic avalanche of percussion. Genta's amplified tenor and sopranino saxophones light up their suffocating murk like rooster tails of sparks flying off the grinding wheel.

"Last Parasites" builds a foundation of snarling bass and hyperactive drums that Genta laces with shrieking feedback and reedy guitar-esque runs. On "Cripple Eye" Genta switches to tenor, squealing and barking amid Vanzan's explosive percussion and Lopez's slinky bass crunch. "Toxic Spit" continues the onslaught, with the trio sounding like Full Blast on steroids. Vanzan is such an under-rated drummer, and here he pushes the other players into the red with his raw energy. Lopez fits right in with the duo, and you can hear him and Genta throttling with the surges of percussion. "Smile of Insanity" might be the harshest piece on the album, with Genta peeling the paint off the walls in an almost unbroken narrative of respiratory aggression. On the fantastically titled "Trash Over Rice" the bass throbs within a web of death metal percussion. The din is punctuated with ecstatic banshee howling. The final track, "Shitty Kid" is manic with an incomprehensible energy given the intensity of the preceding tracks. Genta blows piercing serpentine lines in ceaseless variations, beckoning the cosmos with her purifying fire. Epic.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Jim Denley, Christian Marien, Pierre-Yves Martel, Matthias Müller - Dis-Drill (mamü music, 2020) ***½

By Keith Prosk

The duos Jim Denley/Christian Marien and Pierre-Yves Martel/Matthias Müller each freely play a host of extended techniques for a sidelong track on the split album Dis-Drill. Recorded in 2019 at Canberra’s SoundOut Festival, which emphasizes first meetings, Dis-Drill documents the first time Denley (woodwinds) and Marien (drums, percussion) or Martel (viola da gamba, pitch pipes) and Müller (trombone) played together. Of course, Müller/Marien record together as the duo Superimpose and Denley/Martel recorded Transition De Phase with Philippe Lauzier, Kim Myhr, and Eric Normand.

The Denley/Marien set, “Drill Bit,” drifts through a collection of extended techniques for the instruments involved. Like much of the music these musicians make, it’s less overt conversation or call-and-response and more communication through changes in tempo, space, and volume on a substrate of timbre (with glimpses of more traditional tone). A quick ticking rim and skittering skins from Marien is met with an undulating resonant hum from Denley that transitions to a draining suck as the ticking becomes more urgent; spit play accompanies brushes like branches against the window; bowed metal with blown drumheads; swaths of breath and waves of brushes. These timbres most often begin and end with each other, rather than transitioning into each other, and can be separated by hard resets of silence, creating the feeling of a collaged environment. Sometimes the tempo, space, and volume build together towards a crescendo in these episodes before breaking into the next timbre, but most often the dynamics are relatively constrained. It’s usually quiet, but there’s not much silence beyond the timbral breaks.

The Martel/Müller set, “Dirt Bill,” follows the same dynamics and structure. But Martel’s pulsing string rubbing and percussive body tapping is met with Müller’s wood wick candle fluttering and hydraulic release exhalations; Martel’s creaking with Müller’s wheezing; Martel’s scratching glass with Müller’s rubbing balloons; and Martel’s viola sounding like a harmonica with Müller’s trombone sounding like a didgeridoo, recalling a John Hillcoat western score with Warren Ellis (which I’m sure someone in the Australian audience also heard). Martel only utilizes pitch pipes a couple times but to amusing effect towards the end of the track, sounding off a simple, almost childlike non-melody while Müller creates a kind airplane ambiance before making the pitch pipes sound like a harmonica too.

The two tracks on Dis-Drill are well-played, especially considering they’re first meetings, but want the concept and resulting structure, complexity, and cleverness that makes other echtzeitmusik recordings landmarks in contemporary music. It’s still a worthwhile listen, a promising springboard for future collaborations between these two sets of musicians, and a solid selection for the third release from Müller’s mamü music, after solo trombone and The Monophonic Havel .
Dis-Drill is available digitally and on cassette.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Falling behind Ernesto Rodrigues

By Nick Ostrum

Catching up with Ernesto Rodrigues is a futile pursuit. I had been planning this post for a few weeks at the end of 2019. I aggregated a slew of albums, a non-methodically chosen most of his Creative Sources releases over the last few months of the year. And now, just a few weeks later, he has already outpaced me. Hence, despite my best efforts, I am still falling behind.

Nevertheless, here is a review of some (and just some) of Rodrigues’ final releases of 2019.

IKB – Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

Compared to many of his recent releases (i.e. Lisbon String Trio) and some of the other releases in this review, Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus is a return to form for Rodrigues. Although it is not quite as quiet as the most minimal of his releases, it maintains the subtleties and delicate clicks, clanks, and breaths that Rodrigues started exploring decades ago. This is particularly notable as Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus was recording live at CreativeFest XII in 2018. Unlike other amelodic, nonidiomatic music like this, Paradoxurus is slight music magnified, rather than a wide-ranging sonic engulfment. It is about fine textures and miniscule ripples. It is about small sounds and diminutive tones. Even in such understatement, however, it is still about expansivity and big movement. This is all the more remarkable given the line-up of 20 musicians. (In that, it reminds me the Insub Meta Orchestra with more independently moving parts). This is music that begs to be played loud (if only to be audible) and commands close attention. And, it is one of the most consistently engrossing albums I have heard from Rodrigues lately.

Marie Takahashi, Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues & Hui-Chun Lin – double x double (Creative Sources, 2019) *** 1/2

Especially for an irrepressible musician, arranger, and label owner like Rodrigues, I imagine one must expend a lot of energy just keeping things interesting. Much of that energy seems dedicated to the single-minded quest to push the boundaries of the music, creating pieces that oscillate in that sweet spot just a hair too abrasive for Wandelweiser and much too Wandelweiser for a large swath of the rest of the listening public. Some must also go into imagining and staging new configurations of musicians seasoned in this type of lowercase music. It seems a small world, but, somehow, Rodrigues and his collaborators still find new contours to explore.

A string quartet of two violas and two cellos, double x double is just one of these working ensembles. From the first deep bows of the first track, “Dawn Burglary,” the listener knows he is in for a very different experience than the much larger ensemble on Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus produced. The music here is dark and clear, rather than almost inaudible restive. The tension is unmistakable. The melodies are sinister, blending a romantic sense of harmonic development and sway with a postmodern feel for interlaced droning tones and a postmodern fascination with all things non-conventional. (By now, of course, much that had been unconventional has been incorporated into and refined by the Rodrigues/Creative Sources repertoire.) Think: contrasting dynamics of prolonged shimmering and scratchy whispers and sharp, percussive strings, barely audible clicks, wooden creaks, and slide-whistle glissandos. A fine showcase of the potentialities of a modern, unorthodox string quartet.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Luis Senra, Gianna De Toni, Luis Couto, Biagio Verdolini – Prima Practica (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

Slow-motion deconstruction of bassline supported by crackles, chimes, plucks, and hollow metallics. Light wafts of half-melodies. Delicate percuss and saxophone clucks. Softly but restively screeching strings. Speaks to both the common ideas and discipline of the group dedicated to discovering the minute, dissonant idiosyncrasies of the musical moment and extending them deep into time. A second can be an instant or a prolonged meditation on a single bent tone, scraped surface, or, more often, combinations of minor events.

What makes this unique in this bunch is the primary role played by Gianna De Toni’s bass. It frequently stands out in its depth and clarity and seems the linking element between prevalent atmosphere of strange sounds (Luis Senra’s contorted sax huffs, Luis Couto’s altered guitar, Biagio Verdolini’s bag of homemade devices, and, of course, Rodrigues’ viola) and more traditional and recognizable musical elements.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues, Paulo Curado, Joao Silva, Andre Hencleeday, Carlos Santos, Joao Valinho Spiegel (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

Recorded at the CreativeFest XII (as was Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus), Spiegel is one of several recent releases that caught a Rodrigues ensemble live. The sound quality, however, hardly suffers, and that is an extreme complement for music like this. One can still hear the slightest squeak, most breathy hiss, and faintest rumbling. These are set against forceful but restrained piano, sparse single-note cello pizzicato, and other mysterious loud tones. In the sense of contrast (rather than movement), this is potently dynamic. Although there is a rawness to this music, there is also a clear refinement. Noise is not made to simply to fill space, but to continue a musical thought or transition to a new one. The layers bend and blend into each other, creating a quiet wall of sound. Yet, somehow, this stops short of the ambient sound-sculpting that it so often tempts. Two long tracks of subtle, mysterious, and masterful music captured in its purest live form.

Biliana Voutchkova, Ernesto Rodrigues, Rodrigo Pinheiro – White Bricks and the Wooden Mutes (Creative Sources, 2019) ****1/2

Of the albums in the round-up, this is the one I had anticipated with the most eagerness. Two violas and a piano? Lisbon-scene stalwarts Rodrigues and Rodrigo Pinherio with Biliana Voutchkova of Blurred Music renown? What’s not to like?

Another live recording (though from a 2017 date), White Bricks and the Wooden Mutes promised to be bold (and understated) and forceful (but subtly so). This assumption may have encouraged me to listen harder or concede to it certain intentionality. That says, it is nevertheless a standout among this compelling set of releases. One viola turns to drones. The other, clicks plucks. Pinherio’s piano responds with metallic chords, flight runs, and rapid interior pizzicato. The music then glides into some of the most active and spirited exchanges I have heard Rodrigues engaged in. This approaches free jazz at its clunkiest and most energetic. But, it does this briefly. As with Rodrigues’ quieter releases, the group focuses on shaping sound out of a dialogical morass. It concentrates on dynamics, rather than melodicism or unfettered ebullience. Still, counter to my expectations, understatement and near-silent nuance are the exception, though they do appear at brief moments in the valleys. Much of the rest is composed of the layers of whistling notes, frayed crackles, nervous scrapes, and controlled dynamism that have come to characterize Rodrigues’ projects, albeit here at comparatively amplified volumes. It is an odd combination for Rodrigues, but a wholly satisfying one.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cecil Taylor, 1976

By Colin Green

These two albums fill some gaps and broaden our understanding of Cecil Taylor’s music-making during 1976, in each case with a “bonus” from the previous decade. Despite being rather disparate compilations, we can hear some of the connections that run through Taylor’s work and lend continuity to his musical vision.

Cecil Taylor ‎– Mysteries:Untitled (Black Sun Music, 2018) ****(*)

The chief attraction of this album is an almost 50 minute, previously unreleased solo performance by Taylor given at New York University in November 1976 as part of the Bösendorfer Festival, a benefit series for the Kitchen performance centre. His previous solo recital that year had been in August at Moosham Castle in the Lungau region of Salzburg during an open-air festival, subsequently released as Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within) (Enja, 1977). Taylor had come across a Bösendorfer piano in the basement of the University of Wisconsin while he was artist-in-residence in 1971 but the Alpine concert was his first recorded performance playing the instrument, which may have provided connections with the New York festival three months later. Built in Vienna, a Bösendorfer remained his favoured piano with the Imperial Grand model extending the usual 88 keys to 97 to provide a full 8 octaves, the somewhat spooky sounding extra keys in the bass coloured entirely black and covered by a removable panel on earlier builds. Even when the lowest notes are not used – and it’s unclear how often Taylor employed them – more importantly those additional strings, combined with the huge frame and uniquely tailored body, add a sympathetic resonance and rich undertones producing what he described as a mellow lower register. The Bösendorfer was also preferred by the classical and jazz pianist Friedrich Gulda with whom Taylor played at the Austrian festival: ‘Begegnung auf Moosham’ on Nachricht vom Lande (Brain, 1976). It had been at Gulda’s request that MPS installed an Imperial Grand in its studio at Villingen on which Taylor later recorded the seminal Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! (MPS, 1981) in September 1980.

As noted in Ekkehard Jost’s illuminating essay, Instant Composing as Body Language, “for Taylor, the type and quality of his instrument is an essential component of his technique; it comprises, along with the technique itself, a cornerstone of his musical message” which is one of the reasons why, where possible, he asked for long rehearsal sessions with the piano before a concert. A Bösendorfer is known for having distinct tonal qualities in its different registers, unlike the more integrated sound of other pianos, something that would have appealed to Taylor’s stratified conception of the instrument and its potential for multiple voicings. In this performance he explores a vivid palette with relish as his hands dance furiously at opposite ends of the keyboard. Warm layers of veiled resonance open and close the recital, fulsome chords sound out in the bass and contrast with dizzying, toccata-like passages that gain a crystalline sparkle as they race into the upper register.

Beneath the sheer exuberance of his playing however, is a cool intelligence and a technical understanding that was hard won. Take rhythm for example – for Taylor this is not a matter of an underpinning regularity but something that becomes a generative power in its own right, a motion from within and inextricably linked to his motifs. Typically, the smallest unit dictates the pulse of the material, his rapid fingerwork multiplying small values rather than dividing larger ones so that rhythm turns into an energy source having a particular density and momentum. Basic patterns remain recognisable, but he augments or contracts disrupting their flow as they spread outward: splintered, juxtaposed, intertwined, caught in the pull of competing forces and giving his music its distinctive vitality.

I’ve written about these antiphonies previously – staccato judders against arpeggiated ripples, broken clusters interrupting runs that snake across the keyboard, pearly clarity then a haze of trills. Over time Taylor’s structural sense increased without losing any of his spontaneity, introducing long-range correspondences and an attention to recurrence and renewal. Ideas are introduced often in pairs as a call and response using contrasting figures in different registers. They shape and modify one another in a series of ricochets and chain reactions, sometimes by a sort of seepage and osmosis as they veer and vacillate eventually to dissolve, reappearing later in new formations. As a result, the ear senses familiar elements but their interaction and trajectory are unpredictable. Instead of a monodirectional thrust we have a multidimensional process of rotation, reflection and reversal never to be grasped in totality – not so much a mosaic of sounds as a Rubik’s cube – which makes for demanding, though absorbing, listening. Throughout this recital we hear Taylor’s teeming imagination at its most creative and highly addictive best.

After a break between tracks that should have been longer the bonus items are the three works recorded in 1961 which appeared on the Gil Evans curated Into The Hot (Impulse!, 1962) performed by Taylor with Jimmy Lyons (alto), Archie Shepp (tenor) Henry Grimes (double bass) and Sunny Murray (drums), later also released on the album Mixed (Impulse!, 1998) and various compilations of Taylor’s early music. These pieces were the first recordings with Lyons, who became his closest collaborator, a musical partnership that continued until the saxophonist’s death in 1986.

Taylor was inspired by Ellington, not just in his piano playing but for the organisation and sonorities heard in the big band recordings from the 1940s. He wanted to get colours out of sounds the way Ellington did. These pieces contain in embryonic form the articulations and harmonic displacements that were to play such a fertile role in his ensemble music, Taylor’s piano injecting spurts of hairpin energy into a kaleidoscopic succession of jump-cuts and superimpositions which still sound fresh. On ‘Mixed’, the quintet is expanded to a septet with Ted Curson (trumpet) and Roswell Rudd (trombone) in voicings of muted and glowing brass around a propulsive central section. The pungent melody of the opening and close was to be reworked as ‘Enter Evening (Soft Line Structure)’ onUnit Structures and ‘Caseworks’ on Taylor and the Art Ensemble’s Thelonious Sphere Monk: Dreaming of The Masters Vol.2 (DIW, 1991).

Cecil Taylor ‎– On Air 1976 (Lo-Light Records, 2019) ***(*)

Taylor’s best known albums Unit Structures and Conquistador!, both on Blue Note from May and October 1966, might also be his most significant in terms of larger groups. Some of the compositions had long histories – three of the pieces on Unit Structures had been played in an advanced form by his quintet at the Newport festival in July the previous year, and according to double-bassist Alan Silva there were four months of rehearsals before the Unit Structures session. Certain material also provided a continuing resource, a repertoire of charts for assorted navigations usually under different names. The harmonic and rhythmic cells of ‘Steps’ from Unit Structures are recast and elaborated for the title track on Conquistador! – or perhaps more accurately, they both spring from the same core components – and are also the foundation for later pieces such as ‘Taht' on Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants) (Soul Note, 1985). ‘With (Exit)’ from Conquistador! was also drawn on subsequently and plays a prominent role in the framework for the two epic improvisations of the European Orchestra on Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) (FMP, 1989) from Berlin ’88. Ben Young’s forthcoming biography of Taylor may shed further light on such matters.

The present album, which so far as I can tell is only available via Internet streaming on Spotify and Apple Music , is taken from three radio broadcasts, two from 1976. Working through them chronologically, the final item is a recording of Taylor’s quartet with Lyons, Andrew Cyrille (drums) and Sam Rivers (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute) which played in the U.S. and Europe from February 1969 to February 1970. Off-air recordings of the European tour in October and November have circulated on the Internet for some time, from Stockholm, Berlin, Stuttgart and the current performance at De Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam, previously released on vinyl as In Europe (Jazz Connoisseur).

Based on the available recordings each performance by this quartet was set in motion the same way, using the segments of ‘Steps’ in rousing fanfares and cascades which are restated from time to time, spawning lengthy improvisations usually titled (as here) ‘Fragments of a Dedication to Duke Ellington’. Notwithstanding the stirring start, this quartet is a problematic combination due to an uneasy fit between Rivers and a trio which by this point had become something of a self-contained unit. Whereas Lyons engages in tight interplay with Taylor, displaying a firm melodic logic – a rapport they’d established over several years – during Rivers’ solos he seems largely lost relying on vague textural meanderings rather than motivic invention, unable to accommodate for more than relatively brief spells the superheated pace that characterised Taylor’s music during this period. As the driving force Taylor makes no adjustments for him even though three long solos, one on each of Rivers’ instruments, must have been taxing. It doesn’t help that the recording is poor with a skewed balance so that only Taylor’s piano emerges from the fog with any real definition. There’s better sound, though still a musical mismatch, on the one official recording of the quartet taken from performances in July 1969 at Fondation Maeght, St. Paul de Vence near Nice: Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, Vols. 1 – 3 (Shandar, 1971). Footage of rehearsals the day before the two nights can be seen in the French TV programme Lìnvité du Dimanche .

From 1970, outside his teaching activities, Taylor’s group work was once more primarily as a trio with Lyons and Cyrille, occasionally with bass, again using ‘Steps’ to provide the initial ingredients for the development of each set: Akisakila - Cecil Taylor Unit in Japan (Trio, 1973) and Spring of Two Blue-J's (Unit Core, 1974). In early 1976 new blood and broader perspectives were introduced in a quintet with Lyons, a young David S. Ware (tenor), Raphé Malik (trumpet) and Marc Edwards (drums). The recordings in this collection are the second set from Michigan State University at Ann Arbor, broadcast by WCBN-FM (previously available as Michigan State University, April 15th 1976 (Hi Hat, 2015) and just over an hour transmitted by Radio Stadt from the two hour show at Bremen in July, which was new to me. (The quintet’s concert from the Yugoslavian Jazz Festival, Ljubljana in June was released as Dark to Themselves (Enja, 1976)).

The Michigan set suggests that greater mobility and more generous spaces were available in this ensemble. ‘Wavelets’ is divided into three parts. After a short drum solo Part 2 is an impassioned, ballad-like duet with Taylor pounding out thick chords as accompaniment to Ware’s rasping tenor, merging into Part 3 with piano, alto and drums. The ballad returns on trumpet and Taylor’s delicate arpeggios, crumbles but is finally restored. ‘Petals’, announced by Taylor, is for the whole quintet and uses a riff taken from ‘Steps’ in fruity horn unisons over the piano’s stabbing cross-play. Both become more elaborate as solo and group textures overlap, the motif remaining a telling presence.

There are two lengthy pieces from Bremen, in superior sound and with a better piano. Once again, on ‘Winds Alight Stepping Silver, Part 1’ there’s a focus on sub-groupings and graduated sound Like players in an unknown drama they combine in duos and trios with commentaries and embellishments instead of solos and frequent changes of pace, ending in a searing crescendo. Part 2 introduces music of near stasis: prismatic chords and a faltering melody are opened out slowly, punctuated by moments of silence, drum rolls and strange taps. The quintet then launches into a version of ‘Steps’, the piano/ensemble dialogue leading into ever more complex excursions by Taylor, urged on by Edwards’ drums, peaking at molten glow and bringing in the rest of the band for a full-on rendition of the theme. As heard here, in its sectional diversity and variety of colours this group looks back to Taylor’s work of 1966, something he explored with even greater success in his 1978 sextet, which for the curious might be a good place to move onto next. I recommend Phil Freeman’s essay The Unit: Cecil Taylor in 1978 as an introduction.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem, 2020) ****½

By Martin Schray

In yesterday’s review of the album by Scatter The Atoms That Remain I wondered whether free jazz had detached itself from social problems and whether it can still provide some kind of relevant function, or whether it was true that jazz has slowly come to a standstill. Projects like Irreversible Entanglements answer these questions in a clear way. Yes, free jazz has a relevant function these days and if the problems of African-Americans in today’s society are similar to the ones in the 1960s then it’s legitimate to use the music of that period. On the one hand the band brings back the Ornette Coleman Quartet - especially the music of Ornette! “No Más“ begins with a simple phrase of trumpet and alto, in which Keir Neuringer and Aquiles Navarro sometimes shift and sometimes play in unison, which calls up the spirits of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. On the other hand the band refers to the Sun Ra Arkestra’s When The Sun Comes Out and The Magic City on “Who Sent You - Ritual“. In doing this Irreversible Entanglements prove that they're operating within a context which extends a tradition.

“Stay on it“, don't give up: these are the first words of Camae Ayewa a.k.a. Moor Mother on the opening track. Tcheser Holmes’s drum style rides the cymbals hard, swings and lets the tom-toms roll only short but loud like blazing flames. Then a bluesy head is delivered by Neuringer (saxophones) and Navarro (trumpet). Their melody glows deep red in a minor key, bending and stretching time. The contrabass (Luke Stewart) stoically pulls through a groove, but breathes freely as well. Until again this clearly articulated voice declaims: “You can't save the night/ Here in America“. “The Code Noir - Anima“ is the name of the song, after the notorious legal text published under the reign of Louis XIV, which from 1685 to 1848 regulated the inhuman treatment of the slaves. Against the background of this text Moor Mother develops the following questions: How long will it take until the African-Americans have enough? How long will they stand being treated the way they have been treated for so long? When will they revolt? (“At what point do we stand up / at the breaking point / at the point of no return … At what point do we give a shit / do we stand up and say something“).

The whole album is a dream of salvation after racism, of afrofuturism, but it’s also about revealing the alienation in the US society (“at what point do we call each other “other“). It’s the most obvious reference to Sun Ra at this point, but this is only the experimental side of this tradition, the other one is Max Roach’s and Abbey Lincoln’s “Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace“ and Charles Mingus “Free Cell Block F, ’Tis Nazi USA“. Irreversible Entanglements might reach a younger audience and open their ears to free jazz (not only thanks to the fact that they’re an incredibly tight band) with their music because the determination of Ayewa's voice is also reminiscent of the Last Poets, especially at the end of “Who Sent You - Ritual“ and “Bread Out Of Stone“. Here the music is carried mainly by drums, bass and vocals and builds a bridge to hip-hop.

The band is an example of how the highest musicality and rage are not mutually exclusive, but rather fueling - at least on this level. The sovereignty of Ayewa/Moor Mother shows itself not only in the fact that she uses her poetry and her anger selectively. The repetitions and the psychedelic elements remind of gospel music (also in “Who Sent You - Ritual“). In her live performances Ayewa often uses a strong reverb on her vocals, which can be disturbing. Here everything is crystal clear, which supports the message even better. Free jazz hasn't sounded more accessible for a long time. I’m pretty sure that this album will end in my top ten list at the end of the year.

Who Sent You? is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to and buy it on Bandcamp:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Scatter The Atoms That Remain - Exultation (Dot Time Records, 2019) ****

By Martin Schray

It was pure coincidence that I came across Scatter The Atoms That Remain’s album on the very same day McCoy Tyner passed away. Maybe since I was in a sentimental mood because of the great pianist’s death I was even more moved by this music. John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and the musical spirit of many other great musicians of the 1960s hovered through the air. You think that the old legendary John Coltrane Quartet has come to life again. It’s all spirit and magic, soul and heart (according to band leader, drummer and composer Franklin Kiermyer). However, in spite of all the reminiscences the band believes that music is not supposed to sound like something or someone, it’s supposed to do something. Then again, such music also raises critical questions.

Doesn't a band like Scatter The Atoms That Remain turn the music of that era (1960s spiritual jazz) into a museum-like affair in a way the Marsalis brothers and their adepts have succeeded in with their definition of jazz? Hasn’t such an approach detached itself from social problems (and hasn't hip hop long since replaced jazz as the relevant music genre not only for the African-American community)? Even if you concede that there is still its otherness, can (free) jazz still provide some kind of relevant function commenting on what’s going on in society? Or is it true that jazz has slowly come to a standstill somehow? Doesn't an album like Exultation evoke an earlier, idealized universe in which it was still possible to tell about a new future, or - in other words - when (free) jazz still had a utopian desire and looked forward instead of back? To cut a long story short: Exultation does not do that. The music is not just a mere re-invocation or a revival, it is not designed to simply encounter the familiar, it rather focuses on the rapture of finding so much avant-garde in this music. Considering that innovation has always been built on the old familiar (the good old Standing-On-The Shoulders-Of-Giants principle) and that it’s difficult to reinvent the wheel again and again nowadays, it might even make sense to look for the new in the old. Then suddenly side doors open up, hidden entrances are discovered, unexpected new connections are made.

In the specific case this means not a mere quotation of classic Coltrane tracks like “A Love Supreme Part II - Resolution“, “Chasin’ the Trane“, “India“ and Pharoah Sanders “You’ve Got To Have Freedom“, since Scatter The Atoms That Remain put a stronger focus on rhythm. This has mainly to do with the fact that the band leader is a drummer but also that Kiermyer’s style is more Art Blakey than Elvin Jones. He chases his bandmates like a sheepdog the flock. Saxophonist Jovan Alexandre convinces with the deep spiritual honesty of his sound and his crassly overblown lines, especially in “Transformation“, the album’s opener. Bassist Otto Gardner has the ability to make music swing with his unique and daring approach, yet at the same time his sound is powerful and warm as in the solo of “Between Two Suns“. Finally pianist David Whitfield’s sound is modest, rich and percussive, his lyrical improvisations are centered by powerful chords and create the tonal center of the music - just like McCoy Tyner’s style. His beautiful intermezzo on “Processional“ is a highlight of the album.
All in all, Scatter The Atoms That Remain is not about seclusion, they are more concerned with broken, frayed, not quite formulated strands of 1960s spiritual jazz. Exultation is not just another retro album, it deserves to be explored in its very details. I suppose not only John Coltrane aficionados will love it.

Exultation is available as a CD and a digital download. You can buy it here.

You can listen to the complete album on bandcamp:

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Solo Guitar

By Paul Acquaro

I've been toting around a sizable library of music for a while now. My plan is always the same, commit some words to paper the screen about all of them. Ahh, plans. Now, I'm staring at a near insurmountable list of to-reviews. It is time to make some progress. So to begin somewhere, I'm going to start by focusing on one my favorite instruments, the guitar. But even doing this is daunting, and it's obvious that I'll need to sub-divide ... I will begin with solo guitar recordings, and we'll see how the future shapes up...

Dom Minasi - Remembering Cecil (Unseen Rain, 2019) ****

I think I've been carrying New York based guitarist Dom Minasi's album, dedicated to Cecil Taylor, in my pocket on a device of some sort for nearly a year. In this time I've actually gone through three devices - one took too long of a swim in a not-as-waterproof-as-advertised dry bag as I was kayaking, the other was a temp device with a pre-cracked screen that simply got worse and worse, until I got my latest gadget. But, I digress. The point here is that Minasi's album is one that I've become attached to. It was recorded not long after Taylor passed away, and on it, the guitarist allows the great improviser's influence shine through in naked, revealing light. 

A concert or an album by Cecil Taylor was an outpouring of emotive melody and rhythm. The one and only time I was able to see him perform was the final concert at the Whitney Museum, and as frail as he was at the time, his music was still commanding and percussive. A famous quote from Taylor in fact compared a piano keyboard to 88 tuned drums, and compared Minasi, over the course of four improvised tracks, captures the relentless and effusive spirit of Taylor, but on just his six strings. Minasi's playing captures the tonal clusters, the intense bursts, and the moments of gentle melody, in general he reflects the velocity of sound that would emit from Taylor. The melody that evolves on 'Improv 3' is a real highlight, clear lines that seem to almost grasp the outlines of forming thoughts, but slowly grow more solid at the track progresses. As a contrast, there is the opening of moments of 'Improv 1' which is pretty much pure energy. The notes themselves take backseat to the flow of energy. 

Harvey Valdes - Solitude Intones its Echo (Destiny, 2019) ****½

That's a hell of a title for the album. It totally makes sense, but please don't expect me to be able to explain it. Isn't that the power of a good title? What comes wrapped inside is even better. A collection of 18 short tracks that ooze with sophisticated melodies and thought through skeletal harmonic scaffolding. 

Valdez plays an unusual Teuffel Tesla guitar, a seven string electric with a set of electronics that capture and re-create ambient sounds that were once 'natural' to the electric guitar, like the buzz or crackle of the pickups. However, these are adornments to the sound, which at its core is a rich array of contrapuntal chord melodies that immediately pull at emotional strings. Valdes' technique is an impeccable approach that mixes styles. For example, the classical track 'You See' contrasts with the a-rhythmic bounce of 'Crooked' and that with the nervous pluck of 'The Second Points the Way'. Each song has a personality of its own, but all fit into the family. Many of the tracks begin deliberately, asking the listener to hangout on for a moment, before unfolding its beauty ... kind of like a time lapse video of a flower blooming. 

The moments and emotions that Valdes is able to capture in these short vignettes is rather remarkable. It's an album that should be savored, best listen to slowly.

Han-earl Park - Two+ Bagatelles (2019) ***½

How best to begin? Han-earl Park's guitar playing has been fascinating to me since I first saw him play at show years ago at now defunct studio on Douglas Street in Brooklyn. If I recall correctly, he had a square bodied guitar that seemed to be somewhat modified, but moreover, his playing was unusually expressive. I cannot recall much else from the show at this point, except for the guitar playing. On Two+ Bagatelles, this same musical spirit that has stuck with me for so long, has been captured. 

The tracks, 'Zero', 'One', and 'Two' are improvised explorations. 'Zero' is basically an opening salvo, a chord, silence, buzzy shards of sound. 'One' begins with a nervous pulse that sets the template for the track. It's a propulsive theme, a bit single minded, but at the same time very effective. The pulsations give way to slashing, which reveal numerous overtones, harmonics, and buzzes. The patterns evolve too, as the track progresses, overtones and abrupt rhythmic figures become set, only to then spawn new ideas. 'Two' is much different. Park is modulating and shaping the notes themselves. Each one is cut short, melodies becoming almost like the sounds of an 8-bit shower. Like the previous track, the form evolves but the approach remains set. 

The short recording (approx. 16 minutes) is available through the Bandcamp store of the venerable London venue the Vortex. Purchase of the recording benefits the club. Park has another group project on the horizon as well.

Olaf  Rupp - Fuzzy Logic (Audiosemantics, 2020) ****

I have an acquaintance in Berlin who, at every show in which guitarist Olaf Rupp plays, says something to effect of "if there is one great injustice it is that Olaf Rupp is not world famous. But on the other hand, we get to hear him play two feet away from us in this little club." So, I guess I'll be selfishly thankful, and then do what I can to help.

Fuzzy Logic is an album of solo electric guitar improvizations that, like the title implies, falls outside being neatly defined. On his Bandcamp site Rupp writes: "I knew even then that this music will be ripped apart by many: the jazzers will say "that's just distorted noise", the Echtzeitmusik-people will once again nag at all those minor chords and the indie rock fans will shake their heads in vain looking for the beat. But unrootedness is also a power, a gift, a way." It's a good description really, the music has discernible structures - there are indeed chords and certain rooted elements, but then there is all of this fuzz that threatens to pull it all apart at any given time. 

The opening track 'Insolent Coagulation' is a perfect example, beginning with fuzzed out drones, it leads to a slashing of harmonics and a minimalist accretion of notes. A mixture of percussive striking at the strings is followed by finger-picked swell of chord tones. The swell becomes a wave, breaking before they hit the shore. The title track shares some similar sonic elements, but here the sound heaves forward, before splintering into tubular sounding fragments. But no matter how out the sounds go, the guitar's sounds and shape is very present and integral in the music.

Alex Ward - Frames (Relative Pitch, 2020) ****

British clarinetist Alex Ward's had been cultivating an alter-ego as a rock guitarist, until encouraged by Steve Noble, he brought the guitar into the free improvization setting in the N.E.W trio. His concept and approach to the guitar has been advancing ever since. 

Frames is his first solo recording on the instrument (proceeded by his first solo clarinet album Proprioception in 2017). Releasing a solo album suggests that you have confidence in your voice on your instrument, and listening to Frames, this is obviously the case. Ward's approach touches extremes, from spacious, angular melodies to fierce stomping chords, sometimes even working in concert as they do on the composition 'Staunch / At The End'. His electric guitar sound is often clean, with an edgy tone, it teeters on the edge of overdrive and often falls into it.

The recording starts off the with stop-start melodic fire balls. Ward links tonal clusters through short runs of single notes. It is not random, however. There is a method behind the music, and whether its composed or not does not matter, there has been much preparation before steeping into the studio. The next track, 'Frames', on the other hand seems much more composed. There is a deliberateness to both the tempo and the contrast between chords - unusual dissonances then relatively harmonious passages - that belie the thinking that went into the track. 'Allegreo Apprensivo' seems like yet another approach. It feels like the track is unfolding, almost discovering itself through rapidly juxtaposed passages. 

Give it a listen, Frames is a really strong statement from Ward.

Eric Mingus - Fog of Forgiveness (Evil Fruit, 2019) ***½

The Bandcamp site for multi-instrumentalist Eric Mingus states "The album consists of guitar improvisations, solo voice recordings that variously recall field hollers and sound poetry, and multi-tracked, harmonic-rich vocal drone pieces.", so I'll approach it from the solo guitar angle, at least at first. The album begins with 'Mist Rolls In', which features a thin, lightly amplified electric guitar. The track is contains a rough melody, perhaps sketched out before hand. This is followed by two vocal tracks, the first rather fascinating as Mingus uses grunts and the like, and the next more vocal-oriented, evocative with blues and folk overtones. 'Where the Water Meets the Air' is back to the solo guitar, where Mingus relies on rhythmic feel to carry the track. The approach to the guitar is not about precision or correctness, rather it seems to be about a feeling, like a poem where the words are meant to work on emotion, so do these short tracks, be it through the electric guitar, or vocals, or a little of both like the holy drone of 'Vox Un Humana.' 

Sandy Ewen - You Win (Gilgongo , 2020) ***½

Sandy Ewen's guitar playing leans in the direction of soundscaping, or maybe even sculpting, as she likes to incorporate non-guitar related items into her music. The opening moments of her solo album's title track verges on the aurally painful - there is a high pitch drone that pans from left to right while static crackles from within. It's a sound with a physical shape - you can hear the structural support, as small balls of sound roll around like a roulette wheel. Electronic beeps, from a medical equipment nightmare, lurk around the edges, until they begin dissolving into the static as well. Later in the track, the beeps have become ghosts, and the vibration of a strings, its tone bending, filling this aural but visual plane. The next track 'Virginia Creeper', as you may have guessed, creeps. Small, visceral crinkles and a vibrating undertone keep the tension going, eventually drawing to a conclusion. 

Each track of You Win is a sculpture. In fact, Ewen calls one of the tracks 'Serra', which most likely refers to the sculptor Richard Serra whose often out-sized works consist of thick industrial sheet metal bent into arcs and spiral forms. Like these forms, Ewen's sound sculptures take on a single idea at a time and bend everything around them. An unusual work that sounds nothing like a guitar, yet is made by guitar, somewhere deep within.

Releases April 24th

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Frågan - Are You Happy? (Moserobie, 2020) ****

Swedish double bass player founded his group Den Stora Frågan (in Swedish: the great question) in 2014 as he was returning to playing music after a four years stay at a Zen Buddhist monastery. Since establishing this sextet, now becoming an octet, it seems that Zetterberg's interests are much wider than existential-philosophical ones, but also about with big questions that concern such issues as composing vs. improvisation, orchestrating a small band as a big one, elements of memory and space and the importance of irony and humor in his music. Zetterberg is now a very busy musician, he co-leads the trio Orakel and the Svenske Kaputt quartet, plays in different outfits with with his partner, Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, in Danish sax hero Mette Rasmussen's quintet ,and in American cellist Daniel Levin's quartet.

Zetterberg’s melodic abstractions of the big philosophical questions are played by great heavyweights - Silva, trombonist Mats Äleklint, label owner and reeds player Jonas Kullhammar, second reed player Alberto Pinton, keyboards player Alexander Zethson and drummers Jon Fält and Lars Skoglund the answers are not necessarily mystical. Are You Happy? Is the third album from Den Stora Frågan, following the self-titled debut (Moserobie, 2014) and Live (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2019). Its title is borrowed from graffiti that Zetterberg saw on a bench in the forest near his Stockholm house, and is indeed a great question. And the album was in the legendary studio Atlantis in Stockholm (where ABBA recorded some of their major hits), by the equally legendary sound engineer Janne Hansson.

The question: Are You Happy? defines the spirit of this excellent album. Zetterberg’s compositions play, literally, fascinating and highly inventive games with the listener. You think that you know where Zetterberg and Den Stora Frågan are, on only to find out that they are already faraway, exploring completely different territory. “Meningen Med Vad” sounds like it is heading in few opposing destinations, some reversing to retro-fusion sparks while others to Mingus-ian joyful celebration or New Orleans-ian marching band, but all delivered with great passion and energy. “Plingplongpiano” stresses more qualities of Zetterberg as composer, bandleader and bass player who leads the octet into chamber, melancholic tone poem. “Oraklet I Finnåker” (recorded before by Orakel) and “Nytt Hopp Över Atlanten” go full Mingus, including the powerful, sometimes sudden rhythmic moves, with great solos of Silva and with Zetterberg himself anchoring the reeds and brass choir commotion with subtle authority. “Drömmusik” navigates towards far and exotic territories and offers enchanting, purifying ritual, while “Påminnelser För Den Kortsinnade” suggests a mysterious, film-noir atmosphere, but most likely in Mingus’ imagined Tijuana. “Skygglappar På I Lusthuset” begins as a seductive, sensual dance that methodically becomes more intense and energetic.

Are You Happy? ends with the title-piece that offers a touch of reserved and fragile lyricism, but as this album was released on Valentine’s Day we can assume that Zetterberg has found his own happiness, even if he insists that this question is all he has to say about this album. But rest assured, even you can guarantee your happiness or at least some of it, if you would dedicate yourselves fully to the 43 minutes of Are You Happy?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Peter Evans - Being & Becoming (More is More, 2020) *****

By Stef

American trumpeter Peter Evans surprises us again. After some albums with very free improvisations, he composed this album for a quartet with Joel Ross on vibraphone,  Nick Jozwiak on bass and Savannah Harris on drums and percussion. With whom? Indeed. Young musicians, but with an incredible level of musicianship, both in their mastery of their instrument as in their capacity to feel the music.

"Being & Becoming" consists of five carefully crafted compositions, with room for improvisations within structured parts. And the result is baffling, to say the least. Evans assembled a whole array of influences, styles and approaches. Classical trumpet tones may turn into mad chaos, razor-sharp rhythm changes redirect the quartet at unexpected moments, repetitive unison phrases with minor changes and shifts that must require intense concentration by the musicians to perform. Terry Riley comes to mind, so does Philip Glass, but also Zappa (the vibes), or the fusion of Miles Davis (the controlled abandon), and then the band takes it all a step further, full of concentrated energy and nervous intensity, sophisticated but also raw, full of daredevil artistry, defying gravity and other natural forces. Some of the rhythm changes remind me of the best Rabih Abou-Khalil moments, while other parts are reminiscent of Indian raga in their complex lengthy patterns.

Evans is the lead voice, even if Joel Ross is astonishing in acting as a sounding board for the jubilant trumpet. I am not a natural fan of the sound of vibraphone, but not here. It is a perfect match with the trumpet and a perfect ingredient for this kind of melodic percussive sound. Harris is a loud and physical drummer, omnipresent and powerful, pulsing the music forward in its crazy development and intensity. Jozwiak is rock solid and like the rest of the band equally versatile in any genre or approach. And as good as the rhythm section is, Evans surpasses himself. Without showing off, his performance is virtuosic, whether rapid-fire blasts, more subdued soft tones or avant-garde multiphonics. Despite the complexity of the music, and the total uncharted territory of the journey, he guides his quartet and lifts them to where the music should go.

For me as a listener, this is an exceptional album. Not only because such a strong voice as Peter Evans re-invents himself in a way, but also because he creates a new approach to jazz composition, boundary-shifting while very accessible at the same time, with instrumental pyrotechnics that increase the quality of the music instead of harming it (in that sense it is far from being fusion). It is smart, uplifting and surprising ("is this really what they did? Did I hear well? I can't wait to hear it again"). It is intellectually crafted but delivered with a deep emotional energy.

It's been a long time that I've been so totally perplexed by a new album. Without a doubt one of the albums of the year.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Stefan Keune, John Russell, Hans Schneider, Paul Lovens ‎- Nothing Particularly Horrible (Live in Bochum '93) (FMR, 2019) *****

By Stuart Broomer

I have been writing in one form or another about improvised music of one form or another off and on for 56 years and one of the thing that keeps me coming back to the process is that I find myself knowing less and less about it every time I encounter it at one of its highest levels, such as the music that’s heard here, and that a knowing wholly nothing might ultimately arrive as the precondition for hearing whole, beatifically bereft of the intercession of language, thus a knowing nothing that seeks insistently to know less, to name less, to become unwriting. The longer I listen I question further the value of absolutes in any area of human or alien study or endeavour, wonder about such dubious concepts that might be applied such as “pure” or “absolute” or “original” or “form” or “something.”

Nothing Particularly Horrible may be as “pure” as improvising music gets, something I hope might indicate the clarity and immediacy of its relation to time, improvised music of this quality representing as immediate a representation of the relationship to time as we might experience. But that notion of “pure” might well be something else, “imitation” or “ruse” or some sinister effort to represent the idea of immediacy, a crafty imitation of presence, of the moment; that is, something as palpably false as an audio tape some 27 years old, its contents only an ideal representation of a fully occupied, otherwise inconceivable, 44 minutes in Bochum.

And yet this imitation of the moment is compelling, so subtle, so perfect. There’s a collection of sounds here, sounds that line up with the personnel described, sounds that can be attributed to Stefan Keune’s sopranino and tenor saxophones, John Russell’s acoustic guitar, Hans Schneider’s bass and Paul Lovens’ drum set, cymbals, gongs and musical saw (the latter, perhaps, an irrepressible companion to the Holy See, like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote). While much wood is present in those instruments, the dominant sound is metal—horn, strings, frets, gongs, cymbals; the dominant form the circle: the cylindrical bore of the saxophones; the cross-sections of guitar and bass strings, the arc of a guitar’s fret wire; the circular shells of drums and drum heads, gongs, the cross-sections of sticks. Movements in time include arcs, large and small, whether detailed and fragmentary or vast and imaginary (descriptors to be recombined and replaced at will), arcs that suggest infinities of both scale (macro and micro) and number, a universe of arcs that exist within and stretch outward from the music’s instants.

There is a sense of the continuous line here, but it’s a shared line, the musicians’ common pursuit. There are moments‒even whole minutes‒ when individuals only have to be listening intently, absolutely, and reacting instantly‒for sub-sections of seconds, just absolutely conscious enough‒to inventively continue the shard of another musician that must become a collective spontaneous arc, as if the four have met to inscribe a line that is a complete expression of itself. If there were only that line here, it might be enough, might suffice, but there’s much, much more. Sometimes the brief sounds accumulate, clamber over one another, perhaps seeking warmth and intimacy with that sound just over there; they become individually more complex, richer in overtones, in jolts and kinks, making sharp bends in their own arcs as they twist outward to other meanings, forcing different shapes of response, mimicking or prefiguring all the creative or merely self aggrandizing processes of biology, chemistry and physics.

It’s music for which one gives thanks, music that cannot even be repeated on our handy machines without first being lost, reconfigured, reinvented and born anew.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ivo Perelman is Prolific in His Creativity: An Interview with Ivo Perelman

Ivo Perelman. Photo by Edson Kumasaka.

By Sammy Stein

"The value of what is considered totally improvised music is that it relaxes the rational judgemental mind of the listener allowing him/her to experience life from a more primal perspective."

"I had a hard time 'finding my crowd' in Los Angeles where I used to live and that prompted me to move to New York where playing with people like Fred Hopkins was instrumental in my development and self awareness."

"Improvisation is an attitude and not a directive of content."

"I'll never forget that moment when I put the horn in my mouth for the first time and this sound that felt so big and rich engulfed my whole being. I was just mesmerized!"

To describe Ivo Perelman as creative would something of an understatement. He is prolific. Not just in music but also as a visual artist and latterly a creator of jewellery. I came to review his work almost by chance when he asked me for my take on one piece and then told me that, yeah, I definitely got his music. As a free player, Ivo's improvisation is something else and he switches from perky altissimo to fierce, threat-laden booming depths of the lower registers seemingly at will, with no loss of tonality. So, I was curious. Where does this creativity come from and what drives this compelling musician? Ivo's creative restlessness and activity meant that even the interview had to fit around his hectic schedule, the answers coming in daily snippets, with Ivo sending daily contributions between visits to the studio. It made it an organic, creative process - much like his music projects. I found, as the interview progressed that Ivo is also a man with warmth and a more than decent sense of humour.

Ivo Perelman was born in São Paulo, Brazil. As a child he showed talent on the acoustic guitar. He went on to try different instruments including 'cello, clarinet and trombone before specializing in tenor sax. His early influences include Stan Getz and Paul Desmond. Ivo moved from Brazil to Boston in 1981 where he attended Berklee College of Music. After a year he moved to LA where he studied with vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake. It was at monthly jam sessions Perelman discovered his penchant for improvisation. From there, he began to research the free-jazz sax players and in the early '90s moved to New York. His back catalogue of releases is huge with over 30 being released since 2016 and he has collaborated with a diverse range of musicians. Ivo is also a prolific visual artist, whose paintings and sketches have been displayed in numerous exhibitions and can be found in collections around the world.

Creating music feels like, for Ivo, that there are pieces of a multi-faceted equation to be found and as he collaborates with different players, instruments and ways of presenting, he is slotting it all together, searching for the perfect equilibrium between music which is free, yet based subliminally and almost subconsciously at times around a scale; improvised yet reined in by a profound understanding of musicality and those invisible lines which exist defining music from noise. Each collaborator, each instrument brings contrast to the tenor sax of different ranges, timbres and resonance, with which Ivo's playing interacts in different ways.

Matthew Shipp and Ivo Perelman. Photo by Edson Kumasaka.
With Matt Shipp, who brings not only 7 octaves plus of range but also timbre, sounds, plucked and rubbed strings and a whole lot more, he has made several recordings, and found a fellow musical adventurer equally willing to explore but he has worked and recorded with many musicians including bass player William Parker, guitar player Joe Morris, bass clarinet player Jason Stein, viola player Mat Maneri, drummer Gerald Cleaver and others.
I was intrigued at what drives this musician and luckily for me and you, Ivo proved willing to answer a few questions.

SS- Sammy Stein
IP - Ivo Perelman

SS: What would you say is the value of totally improvised music.

IP: I don't see a distinction between improvised or composed music. What is generally seen as composed music is when the musician is able to go back in time and re-compose (or re-improvise) his work. So the result has a particular character where one can perceive the process as such where rethinking or reformatting was done. The same goes for what is considered totally improvised music. Not being able to go back in time to re-think the work, the musician composes/improvises on the spot, 'on the go' under a particular creative nervous tension that gives the music a distinct character. In some cases like in the work of Elliott Carter ( 2 times Pulitzer prize winning American modernist composer who wrote for strings quartets, piano and orchestras) this doesn't happen so transparently since his work is a hybrid between both approaches. The value of what is considered totally improvised music is that it relaxes the rational judgemental mind of the listener allowing him/her to experience life from a more primal perspective.

SS: What drives you to be so prolific? Can you explain the need to put out music with such rapidity?

IP: All jazz musicians are prolific. Every time we play a solo we are creating something new out of thin air that wasn't there before and will never be replicated. I myself enjoy documenting this process because in my case this is the best tool to promote my musical growth. On the pragmatic side, being able to listen and re-listen to my recordings is like putting the music under a powerful microscope where I can deeply analyse all the structures and realise what needs to be improved. On the more philosophical side it validates my sheer existence since having this almost pathological urge to be constantly creative demands that the object of creation be constantly available.

SS: How do you know who you will collaborate with? How do you choose the instruments or the players to work with. Has it to do with character or the instrument itself?

IP: It depends on each project. Sometimes I hear someone for the first time and they really impress me. I know after 2 notes that we'll play together but most of the time I'm working on a concept. For example, me and strings is an ongoing project as is me and bass clarinet players. Once that is established I'll choose the musicians I feel are in simpatico with my own approach. I have been pretty lucky with my instincts and allowed them to take over so far and never made a wrong call. Or, to be fairer, when there were times when the symbiosis was not ideal, that in itself became a parameter to be explored in a musical way. So, I guess you can always find a way to make interesting music.

SS: You work with Matt Shipp a lot. How does it work because you are both pretty dominant characters musically?

IP: One way to see it is that I work with Matthew Shipp a lot precisely because when we play there is no 'dominant character' at play. The music dictates where we will go; it takes over and we manage always to leave our non-musical egos out of the equation.
Another way to see it is that our 'dominant character' is nothing but a by-product of our ability to distil the many possible musical choices available at every turn of the way during the musical discourse into a potent, laser-like thought. Therefore, when we are both experiencing that in the duo that 'dominance' synergistically disappears and it just becomes clear musical vision

SS: I understand that you played many instruments as a child and were something of a child prodigy on the guitar. How did you come to the saxophone and tenor in particular?

IP: The acoustic nylon string guitar is very popular in Brazil. I studied and loved it since I was 6. I played many of the Baroque transcriptions for guitar and used to play Bach for hours on end as well as the Villa Lobos etudes and choros ( Heitor Villa-Lobos was an influential Brazilian composer). However, I never enjoyed reading music or having to play the pieces always respecting the composer's dynamics. In fact I was always adding interludes and improvisational material when I gave concerts.

This was discouraged by my teachers and became such a problem that I gave up the classical guitar playing career and became interested in many other instruments without a real focus until I was about 16 when, after a brief introduction to clarinet and playing in Dixieland bands, I came across the tenor sax and instantly realized I had found my voice. In fact I'll never forget that moment when I put the horn in my mouth for the first time and this sound that felt so big and rich engulfed my whole being. I was just mesmerized!

SS: Why did you move to the US and Berklee? Could you have found good schooling in jazz in Brazil?

IP: Today there are many places where one can study jazz in Brazil but back in the '70s and 80's there was no real jazz school there. I was studying architecture in the day and playing in New Orleans type jazz in bars at night and getting more and more into Stan Getz and Wayne Shorter. I was always listening and practicing from books and recordings all the time and realized it was jazz and not classical guitar that I was destined for. Victor Assis Brasil (the great late alto player from Rio) had been to Berklee so the USA seemed like the right place to go and I' m glad I did.

SS: Do you have family in the US or are they in Brazil still?

IP: I have all my family in Brazil.

SS: In LA you found improvisation (so your website says). Was there a Damascus moment or did it come about from great players you met/played with. Can you describe how it felt?

IP: Looking back to my early childhood, teenage and college years I realize I didn't really 'discover' improvisation. I've been improvising all my life being a sensitive, spontaneous individual with a childlike curiosity about life and the artistic process. Of course life, circumstances, teachers and musicians I played with enhanced or threatened that throughout my formation years.

I've even had a few teachers who didn't encourage improvisation at all and actually felt very uncomfortable teaching a natural improviser like me. On the other hand many were very supportive and helped me understand my strengths. It was the same with fellow musicians. I had a hard time 'finding my crowd' in Los Angeles where I used to live and that prompted me to move to New York where playing with people like Fred Hopkins (the avante garde bassist who was a major influence on the developing scene) was instrumental in my development and self awareness.

Jewellery designed by Ivo Perelman. Photo by Almir Pastore.
Ivo's art should be mentioned at this point. He is not the first jazz musician to also be an artist. Free player and People Band member Davey Payne's centre of his house is a stairwell full of framed wonders which could be an exhibition in themselves and Peter Brotzman creates pictures and also sculptures from pieces of material most of us might not see having creative potential and they also reveal a deeper side to Peter but Ivo's art is extraordinary. He once described Jackson Pollock as the Coltrane of art so maybe takes influence there but there is a child's eye to his art which has an intrinsic appeal even to a complete artless viewer like me. Painted with skill, they are an insight into the switching, mercuric essence of this creative man.

SS: So, what about your visual art and jewellery? I have seen some of the jewellery and it is exquisite. So, how did you find the art and why did you then diverge into jewellery?

IP: In the '90's I suffered from tendonitis from over practicing the sax and that's when I started to paint to keep up my artistic output and sanity since I couldn't really play the sax for a while. After I recovered I kept the art up and still continue since it's become a wonderful parallel creative world that adds a lot to my music. Somewhere deep in the cerebral cortex, sound and light, music and arts communicate. I feel that playing the sax or painting resemble each other in many aspects; it is just a matter of translating languages where the main creative thought process is the same (in fact sound and light are just waveforms that the brain process indistinctively).

Jewellery is a quite recent discovery although I've been thinking about it for 25 years. It came to me as the culmination of distilling the line and having it be as expressive as possible, albeit in its maximum simplicity.

SS: Do you listen to other kinds of music? In your music there is a good deal of classical referencing and I wondered if your training whilst young had instilled this in you so that, whilst you are clearly a born improviser, the structure behind your work is always there, even if it takes a few listen to find it.

IP: Although I don't have much headspace or time any more due to being intensively involved with my own music I still listen to Brazilian pop music and composers like Elliott Carter or Bach occasionally. The 'classical' referencing you refer to may be a by-product of growing up in Brazil and being exposed to its rich lyrical music.

In my opinion being a born improviser does not preclude structure as you mentioned. Improvisation is an attitude and not a directive of content.

SS: What do you want for the future? You are involved in several disciplines so where do you want to see yourself 5 years from now?

IP: I'm constantly making discoveries and expanding my daily ritual of practicing the saxophone, incorporating literature from other instruments and rethinking methodologies all in an attempt to keep the practice fresh and interesting. I hope that 5 years from now this will not change because it really is what gets me out of bed every morning.

I also hope that my jewellery design will keep expanding because its element of utilitarian art is a welcome novelty in my career.

SS: Do you think young people coming into jazz have the right attitude, education and role models? Do you think the right music finds you if you listen out hard enough or do you think you make it happen?

IP: I can't really comment on young musicians' trajectories. I can only speak for myself and my personal artistic path. Everyone is unique and will carve out their own history and come to their own conclusions.

My opinion is that you can certainly learn and technically master the work of previous generations of jazz musicians but the historical veracity of their music cannot be replicated. It was the times they lived in and their inimitable personalities and life experiences that shaped the music they created and no school will give you that. Having said that, in a way I kind of regret I left Berklee college which is a wonderful place to learn the mechanics of how music works. I was young and anxious to do my own thing. I would have done it differently today but it was all part of my development, (having to find out things on my own).

It is 30 years since Ivo Perelman's first CD was released ('Ivo' ITM Pacific, 1990). His latest projects include a trio with Gordon Grdina and an Iranian percussionist, a quintet with British string musicians, vocalist Phil Minton and a duo with French microtonal guitarist Pascal Marzan. Also released soon are boxed sets of Ivo with pianists such as Aaron Parks, Marylin Crispell, Sylvie Courvoisier and others and a duo recording with Matt Shipp on piano and whit Dickey on drums. ESP label will also release a quartet with Ivo and Japanese musicians.

The process leading up to and interviewing Ivo has been interesting and relatively easy because he is great to work with. he is wrong about one thing though. I don't 'get' all his music. Some of it baffles and is way beyond my understanding. But what I do like is there is always a sense of process and a framework on which he hangs every note of his playing. Creative people just create and Ivo well, he's doing pretty good.

Read more about Ivo Perelman on the Free Jazz Blog.