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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Laura Toxværd - Songbook (Ilk Music, 2019) **** / ***½

Songbook is a unique project from Danish, free jazz alto sax player-experimental composer-educator Laura Toxværd, featuring a real art book with short texts, her own lyrics, and graphic notations plus two albums with different ensembles, chosen specially for the distinct sets of compositions. Toxværd wanted to create a unified and accessible body of work where music, texts, lyrics and images of the graphic scores would be mutually embedded in each other, enhancing the realization that her notations can be seen as visual expressions of the sonic ideas and vice versa.

Laura Toxværd - Tidens strøm (Ilk Music, 2019) ****

Tidens strøm (the flow of time in Danish) features six songs, written by Toxværd. Her lyrics reference elements from the poem “Nyaarsmorgen” by Danish poet and pastor Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872), founder of Grundtvigianism, a theological movement that revitalized the Danish Lutheran church. Toxværd mentions that she was also inspired by the folk songs of Swedish songwriter-poet Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) and free jazz pioneer and sax player Albert Ayler. These songs were recorded at a studio in December 2018 by an ensemble that its instrumentation brings to mind the ensembles of sax player Henry Threadgill - vocalist Maria Laurette Friis, Toxværd on alto sax, tuba player Kristian Tangvik, accordionist Kalle Moberg and drummer Kresten Osgood.

The songs are sung in Danish (but the Songbook offers translations in English) and suggest the imaginative arrangements of Toxværd. She weaves cleverly the elements from Nordic folk, hymn-like songs, lyrics that often referring to dream-state visions (“What next I remember was none of a dream / is present full sweet like this stream of love proper. / with snowy white wings / doves from sea of the light / painted an epic with chalk and lime and glue”, from “Snehvide Vinger”, Snowy White Wings) with concise and vivid descriptions of natural sceneries and the gospel-ish, free jazz singing of Ayler. Laurette Friis charges these songs with a refined, vulnerable delivery, Tangvik and Moberg intensify the chamber, folky envelope and only Osgood adds subversive, free and minimalist comments while Toxværd balances all with her passionate love cries.

Only 27 minutes long but a rare, beautiful gem.

Laura Toxværd - Drapery (Ilk Music, 2019) ***½

Drapery is a collection of nine of graphically notated compositions of Toxværd, penned in 2019 and delivered by her on alto sax, Gustaf Ljunggren on “various strings” and guitars, Peter Friis Nielsen on electric bass and Marilyn Mazur on percussion and drums. Drapery was recorded in May 2019.

These compositions involve abstract paintings, broken lines of notes and combinations of both, each with its own spirit and focus. Toxværd explains her approach: “Sometimes I need something abstract and improvisational, and then I like to design a graphic score where I note this to the musicians. Other times, I see the need for something that has more to do with tones, harmonies, and rhythms, and then I note it on music paper”.

The quartet alternates between the contemplative, yet open and often fully emotional reading of the scores, as on the opening, title-piece or “Fields”, “Countrysides” or “Lament” to the nervous, aggressive attacks as on “Current”, based on a totally, chaotic, abstract score, or the fiery free jazz piece “Elsewhere”. Toxværd opts for a clear, thoughtful tone and collective, democratic improvisations but there are times where she explodes and reaches brutal, Brötzmann-like onslaughts. Both kinds of compositions stress the highly versatile, totally free coloring of Friis Nielsen and Mazur, always eager to push Toxværd and enriching the sonic envelope further and deeper.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Interview with Devin Gray Live - Friday, May 1st

This Friday, we'll be speaking with drummer/composer Devin Gray about his new album Socialytics - a trio with guitarist Ryan Ferreira and trumpeter David Ballou. The album will be released the same day on Bandcamp (which, incidentally is waiving its fees for purchases this day).  The conversation will happen on Instagram, @rataplanrecordsnyc, at 2 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CET.

Paul Acquaro and Devin Gray talk about Socialytics

Two from Nick Storring

By Nick Ostrum

As it turns out, I have grown accustomed to my Euro-American axis of listening. Then, more and more frequently, I stumble across releases from Another Timbre, Caduc, Victo, and, now, Never Anything and and Orange Milk Records that open my ears northward and challenge my prior complacency. Clearly, as far as experimental music is concerned, Canada (especially Victoriaville and Toronto) is one of those creative hot-spots that is just now rising out of the shadows of the traditional free music capitals in the US and Western Europe, very much in the way that the Lisbon scene has only acquired due notoriety thanks to the relentless documentary efforts of Clean Feed and Creative Sources. The Canadian scene may be less concentrated, but it is clearly vast, diverse, and deep.

Nick Storring – Qualms (Never Anything Records, 2019) ****

That brings us to Nick Storring. He has been active as a composer, musician, and music writer (currently as contributing editor for Musicworks Magazine) for over a decade. His last five years have been particularly fruitful in terms of commissions, awards, performances, and recordings. Originally composed for a dance performance by Yvonne Ng in 2016, Qualms consists of Storring, and only Storring, on the following: acoustic and electric cellos, electric bass, electric mandola, violin, acoustic steel string guitar, sarangi, strumstick, glockenspiel, Hohner Pianet T, Hohner D6 Clavinet, Yamaha CP60M stage piano, voice, kazoo, duck & goose calls, thumb pianos, toy balafon, various flutes, melodicas, harmonicas, tuning reeds, drums and percussion. Methodologically, much of Qualms reminds me of recent work by Michel Banabila, who has written compositions designed to be played and recorded in isolation, then snipped and reconstructed into a sonic collage. One major difference, however, is Storring’s singular role in the realization of all aspects of these pieces. In terms of structure, this album blends those same cut-and-paste techniques with the gradual crescendo-decrescendo-silence pulse that some of the Another Timbre-Creative Sources-Insub nexus have been exploring lately. That goes, at least, for the first track, “Qualms (Part I).” “Qualms (Part II)” deviates somewhat from the collaging and follows a more linear and cumulative course of tones and melodies laid atop tones and melodies. Compounded with the assortment of odd sounds and the alternatively carnival and Hitchcockian atmospherics, it is all the more curious for it.

This is difficult music to classify. At times, I want to call it a soundscape. That said, it is much too instrumental and, at times, melodic for that. At others, I hear progressive 80’s and 90’s tape music (and this is available on cassette). But again, this has a musicality and classical compositional underlining absent from that. At still others, I think simply new music, and maybe 21st-century new music that blurs the classical-cassette culture boundary. Either way, Storring has come up with something fascinating and, in its boundary crossing (and in an age characterized by boundary crossing), quite unique.

Speaking of boundary crossing…

Nick Storring - My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell (Orange Milk, 2020) ****½

My Magic Dreams Have Lost Their Spell deploys similar sonic layering techniques and similarly wide instrumentation as Qualms but is nevertheless calmer and more emotive. One can hear mournful soul influences and the glistening almost Shuggie Otis-styled production blended with contemporary ambient and cinematic post-rock qualities. Romantic classical melodies exist alongside tinkling lullabies. Slow, space-aquatic rhythms a la Future Sounds of London lay next to 70’s fusion, string section drones, and harsher acoustic smears. Docile sections bleed into more driving movements.
From this description, one might get the impression that this is a simple exercise in juxtaposition. There is, however, much more going on here. The entire album is dedicated to Roberta Flack. To make clear this is not a simple tribute or cover album, each track is named after a lyric from a song performed by Roberta Flack. Each song is also a deep investigation and thoroughly modern recreation on almost the atomic (note-by-note) level. Melodies from the original songs flutter in and out of perception. They repeat, extend, transfer between instruments, fall in and out of tune, and subside into the new sonic tapestries provided by Storring.

At first listen with only a cursory glance at the liner notes, I was not sure how to approach this music. It seemed like some sort of deconstructed disco (which, I guess, some of it is) that, at times, bordered on the smooth. The Flack connection, however, contextualizes and roughens up some of that superficial smoothness. Or, maybe it just encouraged me to listen more deeply. Either way, that connection makes this album make sense. A lot of sense. My Magic Dreams is an album of dreamy music that evokes the soul-disco-funk continuum sans beats. (“What A Made-Up Mind Can Do” is the exception to this last point and, for a few minutes, falls more cleanly into a straight-forward funk structures than do the others. Think: Parliament without the raw atmospherics.) It tributes Flack without her words or vocals. And, maybe because of its distinctive embrace of pop aesthetics, it is curiously and refreshingly beautiful.

This album is available as an LP and digital download.

(NB: I am not sure what to make with this, but the final track on My Dreams is based around a synthesized theme that is very similar to the piano line that introduces the two tracks in Qualms. The pieces depart from each other from there. I do wonder, however, whether there is more Flack in Qualms or more Qualms in My Dreams than I initially recognized. Variations on and deviations from a theme.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Darragh Morgan and John Tilbury - For John Cage (Diatribe Records, 2020) *****

By Taylor McDowell

Morton Feldman’s influence over modern experimental music and composition cannot be understated. Indeed, it seems that I frequently encounter his name used as a descriptor for certain musical qualities. A piece of music might be described as Feldmanian, or Feldman-esque where it inhabits the quiet realm of slow, spacious development. Legacies aside, Feldman’s music does remain wholly relevant, and modern interpretations of his compositions continue to reveal the striking subtleties in his writing, even decades after the fact. It seemed that Feldman, and among him his contemporaries like John Cage or Christian Wolff, were always writing music for the future. Certainly, their embracing of indeterminacy in their writing, or as Cage puts it, the “the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways,” results in an ineffable and eternal quality where the music refuses to grow old or stale. But Feldman’s visionary works are only effectively realized when in the hands of the right interpreters. Fortunately for us, we are privy to a performance by two such interpreters of Feldman’s music.

John Tilbury is one of the precious few who has so rigorously interpreted and recorded Feldman’s music for piano . Furthermore, Tilbury and violinist Darragh Morgan have thoughtfully explored Feldman’s music together before - their recorded works featured on the three-volume DVD, Music for Piano and Strings (Matchless Recordings), from the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music in 2006 (Morgan performed as a member of UK’s Smith Quartet). The first volume even included a performance by Tilbury and Morgan of For John Cage. Fast forward to 2018 where we witness this epic rendition played with breathtaking clarity. For over 80-minutes, the music unfolds quietly, slowly, incrementally - much like observing the stillness if you could watch fog lift from a valley on a cold, quiet morning.

At the time Feldman wrote For John Cage (it was dedicated to Cage for his 70th birthday, in 1982), Feldman had been preoccupied with hand-weaving techniques and the kinds of patterns or imperfect symmetry they employ. Indeed, For John Cage, appears to be built by successive patterns - repetitive sequences, usually little motifs, that, rather than develop, are simply succeeded by a different pattern. The change from one sequence to another might be dramatic (relatively speaking; Feldman’s music was rarely overtly dramatic), but more often these transitions are modest alterations to shade and order. Even recurring sequences do not escape Feldman’s tactile manipulation - a single note omitted, patterns are inverted, slight alterations to tempo, duration or pitch - like inconsequential blemishes that inevitably happen within hand-woven fabrics. Initially, there is an overriding sense of stasis, that the music isn’t progressing in the traditional sense. However, the gradual unfurling of sequences over the long performance eventually betrays the notion of stagnation. The reemergence of familiar sequences at later times makes us realize that these aren’t nihilistic exercises headed nowhere, but rather the stepwise creation of something whole.

Tilbury and Morgan create something truly wonderful on this recording. Their two voices, piano and violin, float through the sequences in perfect synchrony. On paper, it would seem that they maintain a call-and-response throughout much of the piece - their voices rarely overlapping entirely. However, this description is unfitting.

Rather it
the two
                       voices are in
fact one
                       voice, uttering the
same phrase.

Other times piano or violin functions as an echo of the other, letting the sounds dissipate into thin air. This quality embodies another idea that Feldman was concerned with, the decay of sound:
In my music I am … involved with the decay of each sound, and try to make its attack sourceless. The attack of a sound is not its character. Actually, what we hear is the attack and not the sound. Decay, however, this departing landscape, this expresses where the sound exists in our hearing — leaving us rather than coming towards us.
This “departing landscape” that Feldman refers to is something I was overwhelmed by from my first listen, even before I understood this to be a defining quality of the music. Each note or sequence possesses a light, ephemeral quality that, initially, escaped my best attempts to describe it. Contrary to the “weaving” creation analogy, there are times when I feel like I am witnessing the departure of something. I accredit this pervasive sense to Tilbury’s and Morgan’s rendering of the music, emphasizing their honed timing, sense of space, and meticulous technique. With a light, precise touch, Tilbury allows notes and chords to sustain until their quiet reverberations dilute into silence. Morgan’s handling of decay impressed me immensely; he succeeds in Feldman’s desire to make the attack sourceless. His vibratoless, brittle notes seem to materialize mid-tone leaving us to witness the latter half of their lives. Collectively, Tilbury and Morgan maintain a perfect amount of space between each other so that we can appreciate the waning and waxing of sound, and the overarching silence that is the birth and death of those sounds.

This is quiet, uncluttered music best listened to with a quiet, uncluttered mind (headphones will help, too). My personal experience has been that each listen renders something new, perhaps because this is simply a long piece structured around nuances. Nevertheless, I am moved by it and keep coming back to it. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Fabian Dudek –Creating Meaning (fixcel Records, 2019) ****

The classic jazz quartet is certainly part of jazz’s orthodoxy by now. If you want to consider the glass as half full, then it is for many good reasons. The quartet of Fabian Dudek on sax, David Helm on acoustic bass, Fabian Arend on drums and Felix Hauptmann on piano and synthesizer proves quite capable of maintaining and furthering this great tradition.

Dudek is the quartet’s leader as all the compositions are solely his. But his leadership stops at this point. In all of the eight tracks that consist the bulk of Creating Meaning his saxophone is in constant interaction with his fellow players. This cd, recorded at The Loft in Cologne earlier in 2019, is almost in equal parts composed music and improvisations. There’s a Coltraneish feeling that runs through the whole 46 minutes of Creating Meaning.

As I mentioned earlier on, we always expect some certain approach and cohesion when we are listening to the classic jazz quartet. From that point on, it’s up to the musicians to present the listener their thoughts, ideas and energy. It could be contradictory (and why not?) to comment that the cd’s main power comes from the smaller fragments that constitute the whole of it. Duos between the musicians that form on the spot. Instruments that come into the fore, before they make room for others. Listening repeatedly I’ve never encountered the same ideas twice, never realized that this recording has preconceived ideas that will never change.

Quite the contrary. I hear fluidity. The feeling is that of interaction and constant non linear approach to their playing. The rhythm section is never fixed on just keeping the rhythm while when Hauptmann switches on the synth (an instrument i rarely enjoy in jazz) he adds extra timbre and a sense of colourness to this already vivid recording.

Let’s not get confused here though. The four musicians do not go all in for improvisation and are not keen on pushing each other aggressively. They take their time slowly, gradually until the create their, certainly meaningful and worth attending, message.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

GRID (Nelson, Dahl, Podgurski) - Decomposing Force (NNA, 2020) ****½

By Nick Metzger

This behemoth is the second long player from the trio of Matt Nelson, Tim Dahl, and Nick Podgurski, operating under their GRID moniker. Decomposing Force is a blistering progression of the sound they forged on their eponymous debut album. The luminous heat and suffocating smoke continue to spread from the spectral fires they ignited in 2017, meaning that if you liked that, you will love this. The band manages to wrench a Lovecraftian nightmare from the spare instrumentation of the classic sax trio, with nary a trace of jazz to be heard, only a grotesque and writhing wall of shifting mutant sounds. Drenched in effects and amplification, the album was recorded live with all sounds focused on Nelson's microphone, fed through a pedalboard, and played back into the room through a monitor, setting up a wild feedback loop that the band rides throughout.

The first track "Brutal Kings" begins with relatively conventional, though particularly aggressive sounds. Nelson's sax spits and starts like a hot poker over the thump of Podgurski's drums and the thrum of Dahl's electric bass. Then at around the halfway mark the switch is flipped, and the listener finds themselves listening to something different entirely. The preceding characteristics fall away and the sounds morph into phantoms of themselves, howling at you from some other dimension. On "Nythynge" the percussion lays an uneasy framework for the surging electrical storm set forth by the bass and sax. The trio staggers, lurching through the track, messily trading licks(?) and barbs. The bass and drums eventually establish a steady, fuzzy murk against which the processed saxophone squalls and peels off in wild coronal mass ejections of sound.

"The Weight of Literacy" is a sustained amalgam of dread and gloom. Initially sparse and plodding, the trio unleash a melange of distorted, modulated pyrotechnics a few minutes in that poor quality speakers will have trouble keeping up with. The forest only grows thicker, denser, and more suffocating as the listener traverses the cut, until no sunlight can pierce the canopy. On the final track "Cold Seep" the collective feedback loop takes on a cavernous dimension, with the sounds ricocheting through incorporeal passages inhabited by unknown sightless life forms coated in bioluminous primordial ooze. An extended meditation of thud, scrape, and howl. A worthy follow-up to their excellent debut, Decomposing Force finds GRID expanding their sound while maintaining the sonic recipe that made them such an interesting listen in the first place.

GRID at Secret Project Robot:

GRID featuring Lydia Lunch - Stranglehold: The World According to Herbert Huncke (NNA, 2019) ****

This single from GRID, joined here by No Wave's legendary high priestess Lydia Lunch, was released late last year on NNA Tapes. A moody deconstruction of jazz poetry, GRID drops a layer of din and squall over which Lunch channels the Beats' original muse Herbert Huncke. Aided with an effective vocal filter, she fields a great performance, excellently capturing the gravelly, self-aggrandizing dictation of that scene's most overlooked and influential proprietors. GRID reigns it in slightly to give Lunch a little space for her recitation, only occasionally swelling through the cracks of her pauses and rests. A worthwhile addition to your listening rotation, and an enjoyable update to the "Dead City Radio" approach.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Anna Högberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020) *****

In my list of the most anticipated albums, this one was on the top it, ever since the blog conducted an interview with Swedish sax player-composer-bandleader Anna Högberg two years ago. Thinking again, actually since the release of the debut album of her sextet Attack four years ago. There are very few bands that can put a spell on you so quickly and with such spiritual-emotional power as this one. Högberg’s mentor, Swedish sax titan, Mats Gustafsson, who wrote the liner notes to both albums, tried to decode this spell and came out with “a primal force of something… real” and after numerous times of listening to the new album Lena felt wrote that it “hit me like a split axe in a split second”. Yes, this album asks for a certain degree of addiction. You may find yourself listening to it a few times a day, enjoying the many spells of it.

Lena, titled after Högberg’s mother, features one major change in the line-up of Attack. Trumpeter Niklas Barnö replaces tenor sax player Malin Wättring who pursued a successful solo career. Tenor sax player Elin Forkelid, pianist Lisa Ullén, double bass player Elsa Bergman and drummer Anna Lund round this band. The sensual cover art of Lena corresponds with the art of the debut album of Attack debut album, both done by Lisa Grip. It is released as a vinyl and lasts only 41 minutes, as the debut album.

And, indeed, continuity, is a key idea in the world Högberg and Attack. Clearly, the seminal influences are the fiery free jazz of the sixties in the United States and Europe, but Högberg and Attack don’t dwell on the past but suggest a very personal take on this legacy, opening it to new, beautiful avenues. Gustafsson thinks that it has something of the location of Högberg’s home, in the forest of Höga Kusten (the Swedish High Coast) and very close to the sea, a place that charges her music with unique, innocent flavors (and he mentions that this region is “famous for the ultimate delicacy Surströmming, the sour herring”). I am no expert in the Swedish herring delicacies, but Gustafsson is obviously right. There is something pure and very profound in the music of Högberg.

Lena begins with a brutal solo alto sax cry of Högberg that pays her respects to Peter Brötzmann and Gustafsson but lacks the manic rage of the German titan. Instead, Högberg takes the sextet into a wild, soulful fanfare on the opening piece, “Pappa Kom Hem”. The following “Det Är Inte För Sent” develops gently. Lund sets the sparse atmosphere, Ullén and Barnö intensify it patiently and with beautiful, poetic imagination, and inviting Högberg, Forkelid, and Bergman to join them for the melodic coda. “Dansa Margit” dances around a hard-swinging, free theme (swinging beyond swing according to Gustafsson), call for personal interpretations but aim for open yet collective dynamics, with strong, emphatic support and no rush. The second side begins with “Tjuv” that presents Attack in full force, a tight and powerful unit that celebrates its deep roots and distinct personalities and voices with an engaging theme, groove and uncompromising force. “Pärlemor” and “Äntligen” cement, again, how the addition of Barnö enriches and deepens the sonic envelope of Attack. His own poetic, precise attacks turn to be the secret ingredient in the most tasteful, creative stew of Anna Högberg Attack.

And back to Gustafsson. He promised early on in his liner notes to the debut album of Anna Högberg Attack that this band will “melt your brain as we know it”. Mine is already melted. I can guarantee that yours will reach that state soon enough, despite the dire times.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The MacroQuarktet - The Complete Night Live At The Stone NYC (Out Of Your Head, 2020) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

In 2008, the now defunct label "Ruby Flower" from Luxembourg released the only album by superband The MacroQuarktet" with Herb Robertson and Dave Ballou on trumpet, Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. The album, "Each Part A Whole" was a release of a concert given at The Stone in 2007, and it gives a complete rendition of the first of the two sets they played. Ballou and Robertson had been recording with Satoko Fujii's big band for the Undulation album, when they decided to share their musical ideas in a smaller ensemble format. The MacroQuarktet was born, and the initial album much sought after.

Now, so many years later, Brooklyn-based label "Out Of Your Head", releases the full concert by the quartet. The full original album is available on this release, with the second set clocking around fifty minutes in addition.

The four musicians perform in full improvisation with no prior discussions or agreements. This results in utterly fresh music that is equally unpredictable. Anything can happen. Robertson and Ballou use additional tools to acoustically alter their sound once in a while, but the variation in sonic timbre is primarily driven by lungs and lips and fingers. Ballou also plays valve trombone, tuba, the Eb alto horn and little instruments, and possibly also flute. They explore, they challenge each other. As their band's name suggests, they explore the tiny and go for the big picture, like pointillist paintings conjuring up feelings and imagery from little notes and in-the-moment interaction, moving between dense semi-rhythmic moments to light-textured free phases. It flows and cascades, it erupts and calms down again, in great collective movements of beauty, pristine sonic creation and sounds that are almost made tangible. There are moments of drama full of severe gravity, but also moments of fun, like megaphone shouts, sounds like dogs barking and other unusual interactions.

The second set consists of two pieces - "Crossing The Threshold" and "No Planet B" - both subdivided into several parts, giving a suite-like impression.

It's hard to compare both sets, and there is no reason why the first album only contained the first set, and I would personally even prefer the second set at this moment.

In sum, it is great to have the full performance available, now as one double CD. It was much sought after, and we can only applaud the label for having saved this great music from oblivion.

On Bandcamp:

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Shabaka & The Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History (Impulse!, 2020) ****

By Martin Schray

In some of my recent reviews I pondered about the question whether jazz can still provide some kind of relevant function for the African-American community or whether it has completely given up on that approach just to leave it to hiphop (Archie Shepp has suggested that, for example). There is indeed some evidence that this might be the case, especially if you have a look at the audiences, which mainly consist of older male white guys. Then again, there are musicians/bands that try to keep the political and musical fire from the 1960s burning, e.g. Irreversible Entanglements , Matana Roberts and Damon Locks (just to name a few). In Great Britain, tenor saxophonist and clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings has worked on this line of tradition with different ensembles like Sons of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming and Shabaka & The Ancestors for quite some time now and he’s been relatively successful with it.

With The Ancestors, an ensemble of South African musicians, he released Wisdom Of Elders in 2015, until then the most ambitious attempt to connect history and new tendencies he had made. On the album, Hutchings was able to test out his free and spiritual jazz expeditions in a different, historically grown musical language, an approach which culminated in the outstanding track “Nguni“. We Are Sent Here By History takes these experiences even further. The eleven tracks are like an endearment of sound and vision, which ignores times and places of origin. The band - Siyabonga Mthembu (vocals), Mthunzi Mvubu (saxophone), Nduduzo Makhathini and Mandla Mlangeni (trumpet), Nduduzo Makhathini and Thandi Ntuli (piano), Ariel Zamonsky (bass), Tumi Mogorosi (drums) and Gontse Makhene (percussion) - tries to concoct something like a current state of spiritual jazz, which is enforced by the fact that the album is released on the relaunched Impulse! label. Based on the polyrhythms of the two percussionists the saxophones create floating melodies, which are flanked by keyboards and sometimes the piano tears the tracks into splinters like in “You've Been Called“ - a visit inside the space machine that Sun Ra once turned on. In general, Afrofuturism is a topic on the album. In the words of Siyabonga Mthembu, the Afrofuturists have arrives in the present: “We are here on history’s call“.

In a swirl of sound, Shabaka & The Ancestors conquer that attitude that seemed to have already
been lost to jazz: It is about music as a dynamic, subversive force. Although the first piece “They Who Must Die“ strongly reminds me of Sons of Kemet, the album is not as irreconcilable as Your Queen Is A Reptile , on which the guest rappers rant against Great Britain’s political class. Instead, Hutchings displays a vision of the future here. Outstanding tracks are “You've Been Called“, with its Sun-Ra-ish space scenario and apocalyptic lyrics and “We Will Work (On Redefining Manhood)“ with its dark and beautiful clarinet. The music is ready to embrace us warmly, to show us the way into the light.

We Are Sent Here By History is a record knee-deep in African tradition, it looks back in time from a near future. The fact that it was released at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic almost seems like dramatic irony: it’s an album about the apocalypse, a sonic time capsule which was supposed to be rediscovered by some future anthropologist. It reads as a statement of fact, a record of the failures that led to our own decline.

We Are Sent Here By History is available on vinyl and as a CD. You can buy it here:

Watch the video to “Go My Heart, Go To heaven“ here:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra - If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours (Odin, 2020) *****

 By Stephen Griffith

It's very natural to think of this group conceptually arising from the success of Paal Nilssen-Love's Large Unit: formed by a Norwegian drummer of many A-list Northern European musicians (only trumpeter Thomas Johansson overlaps both groups) playing bold big band charts. Plus the current performance was recorded at the Molde Festival a year to the day after the first disc here. But the musical antecedents go back a lot further to Gard growing up listening to Count Basie recordings and playing with Thomas Johansson in high school and local big bands. Other influences on the sixteen piece orchestra, featuring three drummers, three bassists and seven(!) reeds, were Sun Ra, Coltrane's Africa/Brass band and Fela Kuti.

Another way to look at the group is an expansion of the Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity nucleus as all the songs were cowritten and arranged by Nilssen and saxophonist André Roligheten, with three of them, "Bøtteknott", "Elastic Circle" and "Jack", previously recorded by the trio. And despite all the amassed firepower this is far from an unrelenting bash and blare fest bludgeoning the audience with raw sonic force. For one thing the large hall provided plenty of space to dissipate the ensemble sound to more of a joyful roar; but the arrangements are also designed to feature the musicians in smaller subgroups. Also the three drummers are used not so much to amplify the percussive force as to enable them to play around the beat in ways that give them a unique propulsive power.

The concert begins with a brassy Arkestra like take off on "Premium Processing Fee" with big chords preceding free blowing before Maciej Obara emerges on alto, augmented by staccato twin baritone sax lines before they drop off leaving just bass and drums rhythmic underpinning. Then various horn interjections gradually prod things further until the alto is the eye of a cumulative squall before handing the reins to Thomas Johansson's trumpet at a higher momentum level for more of the same culminating in a massive unison motif after which things wind down quickly with isolated horn burblings with no rhythm instruments. Things slide seamlessly into "Bötteknott" which fans of Acoustic Unity might remember from To Whom Who Buys a Record, only now the chorus gets augmented by fuller instrumentation, particularly soprano sax and clarinets producing a lightness over the previous tenor sax setting, counterpoint and the addition of oddly placed grace notes all of which work well. Add a scorching Kjetil Møster tenor solo and you have a successful reworking of the previous song. It's not easy to identify soloists since none of the musicians have as long of a recorded history as, say, Evan Parker, (YouTube aided in pinpointing the previously mentioned) but André Roligheten's distinctive simultaneous soprano and tenor saxes are featured on "Jack". And not every song begins with a large brassy fanfare with at least half starting with a gradual bass and/or drum building of tension and momentum.

The concert closer, “Bytta Bort Kua Fikk Fela Igjen", is heavily Afrobeat influenced and features a spirited Erik Johannesen trombone solo along with much percussion work by all the orchestra. The Molde audience loved it and hopefully post Pandemic aficionados will have opportunities to do likewise. There's really nothing like a performance by a large group like this.

Hanna Paulsberg: tenor saxophone, percussion
Kjetil Møster: saxophones, percussion
André Roligheten: saxophones, bassclarinet, percussion
Per “Texas” Johanson: tenorsaxophone, contrabass clarinet, clarinet, percussion
Maciej Obara: altosaxophone, percussion
Mette Rasmussen: altosaxophone, percussion
Eirik Hegdal: saxophones, clarinet, percussion
Thomas Johansson: trumpet, percussion
Goran Kajfes: trumpet, percussion
Erik Johannesen: trombone, percussion
Petter Eldh: doublebass, percussion
Ingebrigt Flaten: doublebass, percussion
Ole Morten Vågan: doublebass, percussion
Hans Hulbækmo: drums, percussion
Håkon Mjåset Johansen: drums, percussion
Gard Nilssen: drums, percussion

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fiil Free - Under Overfladen (Fiil Free Records, 2020) ****

By Sammy Stein

Under Overfladen marks pianist and composer Lars Fiil's fifth release under his own name. His first release 'Reconsideration' (2011) has been followed by internationally acclaimed releases with his trio Frit Fald and with the septet Fiil Free, including, in 2016 the impressive ' Everything Is A Translation' . Fiil has also made a name for himself as a sideman in many projects, including the highly popular indie-jazz outfit ́'I Think You’re Awesome'. The Fiil Free Septet includes musicians from across northern Europe.

Under Overfladen begins with slow, harmonised 8 bar phrases, the musicians perfectly attuned to each other, before the atmosphere changes and each musician deviates to explore a little on their own but still in ensemble mode. Later, there is a merging and the ensemble play as one but just for a brief time as the trumpet and saxophone start out a dialogue of their own, under which the rest of the instruments drift in and out, the vibraphone adding a sense of mystery. The last minute is a glorious free for all, yet there is enough harmonic interaction that you understand this is still very much an ensemble - and they are listening so acutely that by the time the drums introduce a dictatorial rhythm, the entire bend is already there, ready to follow so they finish as one.

'Stille Undren' begins with quiet, repeated guitar notes which are layered over by percussive additions, all peaceful and calm. Then sax joins, adding gentle key-related notes with trumpet harmonised. The bass emerges from the background, offering a different tempo and rhythm which contrast with the set tone and leads a disconcertingly juxtaposed section with cymbals, vibraphone, saxophone and trumpet adding calls, responses and interjections. Alarmingly it sounds like a tuning session before the same 4 note riff from the guitar returns and pulls it all back together and the thread is reconnected revealing they never actually lost the plot.

'12-6' is interesting for its rhythmic patterns, which are set up, followed briefly, changed and returned to, each musician adding their own ideas but the ear-catcher here is the piano line, which sets up chords, rivulets of sound tumbling up and down before changing into a melodic line then taking its place as an ensemble instrument again as the others rise around it. A monster of a track and one which needs - and deserves - a few listens. 'Tid' is introduced by the piano and the melody put across the top is sensuous and drawn out. Atmospheric and yet populated with musical ideas, this track is engaging yet also annoying as electronic feedback comes through - assumingly deliberately so. The wonderful, mournful slurred bowing of the bass is incredibly emotive and adds an air of doleful melancholy, particularly when the trumpet joins creating an effect which is so incredibly persuasive, the listener is drained.

'Omvendtom' begins all dirge-like and heavy with a slow marching rhythm, almost like a first line funeral parade, until the percussion introduces rhythms which take the sense of a walking gait away and then the track takes off, developing into a celebration of improvised, joyous devilry which is completely nuts. Suddenly everything drops, the trumpet sings its song and piano supports with erratic chords. Vibraphone joins, gently and the trumpet sighs, gradually increasing the fervour until just after halfway, by which time the drums have added a heavier rhythm, the trumpet is more insistent and warpy and there is a fast 2/4 rhythm going on, creating a sense of running. The rhythm switches down, slowing but the frenetic activity does not, creating something of a madness which is completely joyful and interesting to hear, with a sax solo imbued with insolence and devil may care before the piece closes.
'Largo Con Moto' is a confusion - 'Largo' meaning delivery is slow and controlled whilst 'con moto' means to deliver with motion, speed and action. Here, the trumpet delivers the largo part with a melody; solo at first but then joined little by little by the ensemble but gently, increasing the sonic layers and complexities until by the time the trumpet remembers its serenade towards the end, the listener has been through some very strange sonic episodes. By the finish, there is harmony, as if suddenly, there is a realisation the track has unfolded to release all that was held within.

Lars Fiil is a band leader with an uncanny sense of the off kilter. Under Overfladen, released with his septet, Fiil free follows the success of ' everything Is A Translation' in 2016.

This recording expands on the collective and explorative sound that was launched on their first release. Building on the boundary-seeking behaviour that occurs when you put together some of the most uncompromising improvisers from the European jazz scene. There are six, compositions from Lars and the sounds include whispering minimalistic ballads, big chaotic charges of energy and subtle grooves. The open structures allow the unique and personal expression of each of the seven musicians shine through.

This release adds a new expressive chapter to the artistic portfolio of both the group and the bandleader, and it shows that nothing is as you believe it to be beneath the surface. Tracks lead one way, then turn, change and offer a different take on the melody or riff. It is beautiful music and created by a seriously good arranger, yet there is a lot of room for improvisation which is mostly taken.

There is something about Northern European ensembles and musicians in that they create tracks which seem to conjure up landscapes of barren and cold climes, yet there is an energy infused within, hidden and waiting to be unleashed.

Ever since I first heard Lars Fiil there has been an expectation, a musician who is growing and when he played aty the event I curated in London in 2017 he had grown musically even from the time I first heard his sounds in 2016. That he is still growing and developing is clear and in this album all the signs are there to indicate Lars Fiil and his trio and septet are willing to explore further, grow more and enhance the improvising scene for a long time to come.

Tomasz Dabrowski - trumpet
Henrik Pultz Melbye- saxophone, clarinet
Henrik Olsson - guitar
Martin Fabricius - vibraphone
Lars Fiil - piano
Casper Nyvang Rask - double bass
Bjørn Heebøll - drums

Live video from the studio:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Marcel·lí Bayer & Josep-María Balanyà - Escletxa (Discordian, 2019) ****

By Taylor McDowell

I have to admit, I bought this record on a whim having no clue who the artists were. Perhaps it was because I was impressed by the last piano/baritone saxophone duo recording I heard (Craig Taborn and Mats Gustafsson in this case, but I won’t entertain any comparisons). It could be, in part, because Discordian Records already holds my confidence as a purveyor of adventurous sounds, and has enlightened me to the creative music scene in Barcelona. Whatever the case, I went into this record cold-turkey and was rewarded with a great listen.

Escletxa is a meeting of two Catalan improvisers, born of different generations. The elder Josep-Maria Balanyà (piano) and Marcel·lí Bayer (baritone saxophone) met in their home city and have performed together before this live recording from July 2019. From the very first listen, it was apparent to me that Balanyà and Bayer have developed an intuitive musical language indicative of their shared history. Also notably is how they approach collective improvisation. They aren’t the combative type trying to foil each other’s next move with confrontational gestures and counter-attacks. Rather, the visual reference of birds moving together in flight comes to mind; like a murmuration of starlings, piano and saxophone move in synchrony and often with large sweeping gestures of tone, direction, and emotion. Even as a hawk might scatter the flock of starlings, causing moments of disarray, the group inevitably comes together and reforms its coherence.

And that is exactly how the first piece, “Abisme,” plays out. The opening minutes are trancelike. Bayer and Balanyà maintain a pedal whilst Balanyà’s right-hand toys with subtle melodies. This lucid interaction grows organically, slowly heaping tension and density until, finally, the flock fragments and the starlings dart in different directions. The tonal center is muddled, lost in the developing fray as both participants plunge headfirst into the maelstrom. Balanyà, although known for his experiments on the piano as a multifaceted sound-machine, plays mostly in the traditional sense here (that is, on the keys rather than from the piano’s innards). He seems to carry much of the group’s momentum with dense chromatic runs, heavy-handed clusters, and engulfing tremolos. Bayer, on the other hand, approaches the baritone with a touch of delicacy and measured intensity; for this reason, the moments when he really cuts loose carry heft.

While it does seem like Bayer defers to Balanyà’s direction throughout much of Escletxa, I don’t see this as problematic; the pianist deftly scales ideas or moods with such precision to create nearly formed movements within the overall improvisation. Bayer’s role is complementary to Balanyà, and he succeeds in amplifying ideas and sentiments with finesse. Even still, Balanyà leaves plenty of space for his partner and drops out entirely on more than one occasion. Bayer’s solo sections convey a starkly different sense of fragility, and I find myself holding my breath afraid I might shatter the moment. The second half of “Abisme” follows a similar trajectory as the first. They establish a sense of pulse (generally stated by piano) and subject it to fluctuations in density, [a]tonality, volume until reaching a gratifying climax.

The second track, “Processó,” is a narrative in much the same language and feels like an extension of “Abisme.” We get to hear more extended techniques from Balanyà and his use of preparations, which he uses as a third distinct voice in the conference between saxophone and pianos, prepared and unprepared. Again, a pulse is established in the form of a pedal point, around which the rest of the music revolves and evolves - gradually gaining mass and momentum until it cannot grow anymore. It’s a remarkable display improvisational coherency by two artists now firmly situated on my radar.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Evan Parker & Paul Lytton ‎– Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee) (Intakt, 2020) *****

By Nick Metzger

This recording from Paul Lytton and Evan Parker marks their golden jubilee as musical collaborators and good friends, the title serving as a tip-of-the-hat to their first duo record Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones) which was originally released on Incus in 1972 after they'd already played together for a couple of years. I've spent a good deal of time the last few weeks enjoying both albums and noting similarities and differences, and so it follows that this review is colored by the lense of that exercise. Gone are the electronics and prickly intensity of the 72' sessions, interchanged here with distinctively refined technique and a confederation secured through the blood-and-guts of a half century of collaboration.

The material that comprises the original set was recorded in a loft space in London over the course of two days. And while the recording quality is very good, the loft space and analogue equipment definitely color the ambiance. The current album was recorded at a studio in Chicago over the course of a single day, presumably using modern digital devices and systems. This difference manifests in a similar fashion to viewing old photographs of young men having fun in an informal situation, versus crystal clear digital portraits of the two masters they've become (though I doubt there was any lack of fun in the latter sessions). The song titles are snippets of text from Elias Canetti's autobiography "Party in the Blitz", which is set during the London Air raids of WW2. Many of Canetti's references are to Hampstead, where Lytton spent his adolescence. Parker said that Lytton found some of the passages rather moving, having lived away from England longer than he lived in it.

On "...the dissent, that began with the Quakers?..." rustling percussion is tinged with breathy calls and functions as a sort of rhythmic, staccato parley between the duo as they establish their footing. The next piece "...confused about England." finds Lytton quietly working over his trap set, opening up once Parker reveals himself with pad clatter and his unique constructions. On the third piece, "England feels very remote to me." Parker hints at snatches of melody, seeping Coltrane reconstructed through fractals. Lytton likewise bears tinges of Rashid Ali...perhaps I'm projecting, perhaps not, you can judge for yourself. On "Alfreda was always especially cordial to me" the salt and pepper percussion lays down a supporting structure for the forward and backward melodies, stout and daft, neither coming or going (both coming and going, both forward and backward).

"...becoming transfigured.." dredges descriptive saxophone passages in a menagerie of breakables. On "The bonfires of Hampstead Heath." the bustle of barely there skins and pads gradually accumulates energy, and then boils over. For "What has it become entangled…" Parker strings together hefty metallic globules, varying in tonal color, set against the thudding counterpoint of Lytton's kick drum. "How tight knit was England then!" starts with the slow decay of metallic soundings and reed pops bubbling from a spring, beckoning the listener downstream with it's momentum, and eventually roiling into whitewater. On "...beheading their own King…" the saxophone floats on the sizzle of the percussion before abruptly submerging and going quiet amid the lingering effervescence. The last track "Each thing, the one, the other and both together would amount to the truth." emerges slowly from silence, Parker envisaging in a single breath over Lytton's humidity, after which the duo dovetails into epilogue.

Friends for the sake of friendship making sounds for the sake of sounds. Enduring the passing of seasons and the chasm of distances and wheeling back around now and again to strike sparks in shadow, to rekindle the flame. When asked to share the story of the duo's lengthy history (which Bill Shoemaker's excellent liner notes highlight), Parker eluded to a (brilliant) piece by the poet and music journalist Paul Haines (whose book of collected works "Secret Carnival Workers", I might add, was co-edited by our own Stuart Broomer), also called " Jubilee ", which includes the following passage, which struck me as an appropriate conclusion to this piece:
" All sounds are immigrants of course (The first thing we hear, the last thing we recognize?). None is intent on creating a past; in fact, for a sound to be curative (an attribute highly esteemed by them), it must be capable of being forgotten differently, which may explain why some sounds are sent out uncorrected: To check."

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Henry Grimes (1935 - 2020)

Henry Grimes (photo by Peter Gannushkin)
By Martin Schray

Sometimes life takes mysterious paths, but death sometimes provides bitterly ironic coincidences. Yesterday Giuseppi Logan and Henry Grimes died shortly after each other, and their lives also contained further common ground. Grimes, a great bassist, violinist and poet was a legend, which is on the one hand due to the fact that he was an outstanding musician, and on the other hand due to his unusual life, which actually contains enough material for a Hollywood screenplay. In the New York of the 1960s, Grimes was one of the spearheads of the musical revolution. He was involved in many of the things that happened during that period. Trained at Juilliard, Grimes teamed up with all the major jazz musicians of that time: Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Frank Wright and Roswell Rudd (and this is only a narrowed-down list). No matter what the musical context was, he played with an intensity that musicians like Dennis Charles thought “his bass was about to explode“. Grimes was famous for his voluminous tone and drive, for his energy and vitality, as well as for his ability to alternate from long Eastern-sounding bowing to hard pizzicato plucking. He was really focused on the music but when you saw him play it seemed as if he was somewhere else. His particular strength was to support and push his fellow musicians. You can still hear this well on Cecil Taylor's albums Unit Structures and Conquistador, on which he plays in a duet with Alan Silva, or on Albert Ayler’s albums Spirits and Bells.

In the second half of the 1960s, at the height of his career, Grimes left the scene almost out of the blue - this is what he has in common with Giuseppi Logan. In 1967, so the story goes, he took a job as a replacement for Jon Hendricks’ usual bass player. This job took the band to San Francisco, and an anecdote has Grimes getting out of the car that was about to take the musicians back to New York after Hendricks made derogatory remarks about Cecil Taylor’s music. Grimes himself told the story a bit differently. he said that he had financial problems so he went to California, where the sun shines. He just didn’t want to face homelessness in the cold New York winters. He played gigs in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles, where he would remain for three decades. When he wasn’t able to connect to the Hollywood scene and facing health problems, Grimes finally faded into musical oblivion and eventually sold his bass. As a result he had to start working in ordinary jobs (e.g. in the construction industry or as a janitor).

It would take thirty years before he finally got his hands on a double bass again. In 2002 Marshall Marotte, a social worker and jazz fan, tracked Grimes down in L.A. As soon as he found him, he let people know that Grimes was still alive - and the jazz world hadn’t forgotten him. He started getting calls and offers from musicians, William Parker finally donated him a bass and encouraged his idol to return to the scene. What started then was a second career, it seemed as if Grimes had never left. His sound and musical vision were still unique. Outstanding projects were Spiritual Unity, Marc Ribot’s Albert-Ayler project in 2005, his duets with drummer Rashied Ali ( Going to The Ritual and Spirits Aloft), on which he also shines as a violinist and a poet, and Same Egg, his quartet with Roberto Pettinato (sax), Dave Burrell (piano) and Tyshawn Sorry (drums). In 2016 the Vision Festival honored Grimes with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his considerable artistic contributions and Barbara Frenz published a biography on his life and his music, Music To Silence To Music (2015).

Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to see Henry Grimes play live. However, I saw him twice when he visited the Vision Festival. He sat there in the first row (he was already tied to a wheelchair) and the musicians all came to him and asked how he was doing. It was as if a king granted an audience. Now Henry Grimes, the man with the characteristic bandana, has really left us for good. Another great voice of the free jazz world has gone. He will really be missed.

Watch Henry Grimes play in a duet with Kidd Jordan on the occasion of his 75th birthday at The Stone in New York:

Burton Greene and Guillaume Gargaud – Magic Intensity (Chant Records, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

This is the thing with listening to music in bulk. During those manic periods when I finally get a chance to chop away at my pile of albums to review, I listen to little else with much intention. That means the albums I listened to in the days before this one bias my points of reference. When finally getting to Magic Intensity, I could not get two comparisons - both entirely specific to my own listening course over the last couple weeks - out of my head. I grabbed this album because I liked Henry Kaiser and Eugene Chadbourne’s über-acoustic Wind Crystals so much I wanted to hear more pure experimental strings, albeit with promise of more melodicism. I also just finished a review of Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall’s Fifty Fifty, which was a sprightly take on playful parlor jazz. Magic Intensity is a little more serious than that. And, I just cannot shake the impression that this album stylistically lies right between the two.

OK. Some of what I wrote above was for narrative convenience. I was attracted to this album because it was a bare, acoustic duo (with some help from the flutist Tilo Bauheier on the final three tracks). I was also attracted to the octogenarian pianist, Burton Greene, an old school free jazz legend. I knew much less about the French guitarist and demi-octogenarian Guillaume Gargaud, who, despite an impressive history of collaborators, has spent much of the last decade exploring the potentialities of solo guitar work.

This collaboration falls exactly along the lines one might expect. Burton Greene brings his manic curiosity, still potent after all these years, to the grand piano. At times, he makes it sound like a clanky upright. At others, he juxtaposes the deep resonance with jangled keys. Two minutes into the fourth track “Apart Together” (an apparent nod to the standard “Alone Together”), Greene intersperses skittery runs with several choppy bars of “Frere Jacques.” This tune is referenced again on “Capricious Voyage to Serenity,” though this time it is buried among what sound like a panoply of desconstructed folk tunes.

For his part, Gargaud seems to have inherited some of Derek Bailey’s fear of crisp sustain and Eugene Chadbourne’s percussive fidgetiness. Except for isolated moments, Greene, the elder statesman of improvisation, assumes the role of the melodic and rhythmic driving force of this effort. Gargaud’s contributions often weave in and out of Greene’s more determined directionality, sudden fishtails, swerves, and stops included. Bauheier, meanwhile, adds solemnity and pacifies some of the schizophrenics into an uncharacteristically soft (though still jagged) piece in the closing “Capricious Voyage to Serenity.” A fitting end to an album that modernizes the old, roots the new, and shows that free jazz, in the classic sense, is still alive, vibrant, and even fresh.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Giuseppi Logan (1935 - 2020)

Giuseppi Logan (photo by Peter Gannushkin)
By Martin Schray

One of the most legendary and mysterious figures in free jazz, saxophonist, clarinetist, pianist and flutist Giuseppi Logan, has passed away. He was famous for releasing two outstanding albums for ESP in the mid-1960s (The Giuseppi Logan Quartet and More). “No one sounded in an ensemble like Giuseppi. (…) He used to pride himself on playing up to the fourth octave on alto. The things that made him different as an improvisor were the way he placed his notes. (…) Giuseppi had his own points of view about music, which is what this music is supposed to be about“, Bill Dixon said about him. Indeed, Mr Logan’s sound could be intensely pervasive, tuneful, angry and disruptive, sometimes he could change his musical moods within seconds. He was definitely supposed to have a great career in front of him. Then however, this gifted and promising musician just disappeared and for decades he became one of jazz’s missing persons. Even to his friends and fellow musicians he was either homeless, locked up or dead. Only when he was in his mid-seventies, he resurfaced by accident.

The reasons why he went away and what happened in the years of his absence are not quite clear. Mr Logan said that he was a drug addict at that time, which is why his wife had put him in a mental institution. His son said that his mother put him and his father on a greyhound to run away from New York. According to Mr Logan he first stayed in a psychiatric hospital in Virginia for three or four years, then he lived on the streets of Norfolk/Virginia. By then he had no instrument and was institutionalised again. It took until 2008 when he was still living with his sister that he was able to buy a saxophone and decided to return to New York trying to get his musical life back. Still, it was tough in New York as well. Mr Logan lived in the streets, busking, just trying to survive. Luckily, the artist Suzannah B. Troy filmed him in his favorite hang-out, Tompkins Square Park, and posted a video on youtube. The Jazz Foundation of America, a nonprofit group that helps musicians, found Mr Logan a place to stay and in a music store he ran into trumpeter Matt Lavelle, who provided him with a saxophone. Josh Rosenthal, who runs a label called Tompkins Square (what a coincidence), had seen a short film of Mr Logan and his son in the park from 1966 and felt that there was something that the world should hear. In February 2010, the label released Mr Logan’s first album in 43 years, The Giuseppi Logan Quintet, with Matt Lavelle (tr, cl), Dave Burrell (p), Francois Grillot (b) and Warren Smith (dr).

What followed were even more albums, The Giuseppi Logan Project (Mad King Edmund, 2012) and … And They Were Cool (Improvising Beings, 2013).

Now Giuseppi Logan has gone for good but his music will remain. The free jazz world and Tompkins Square Park will miss him.

Watch a short sequence of Giuseppi Logan playing at local 269 in 2009:

Pat Thomas, John Butcher & Ståle Solberg - Fictional Souvenirs (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

By Paul Acquaro

After almost a year of carrying this one around in my devices and listening only through earbuds, I finally played Fictional Souvenirs through the stereo in the apartment. "Ohh, spooky alien music," said my wife. We typically agree on these things, and I was hearing nothing to suggest anything different. Pianist and electronics player Pat Thomas' oscillating waves cast a distinctly otherworldly pallor to our otherwise light filled room (he's credited here on the Moog Theremini and iPad). Next came drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg's accents and light, precise hits, followed by saxophonist John Butcher's trilling entrance. In fact, at first it's hard to tell if it is electronics or sax, but after a few fluttering runs, the separation becomes more obvious, especially as Thomas' sound palette expands.

The opening track 'Dust' certainly introduces the fascinating experimental context of the recording and it only gets better from there. The group reaches a peak around 3/4 of the way through the track, Solberg and Thomas begin to weave a dense and pulsating foundation for Butcher. He lets go, and the three make a compelling go of it. This is followed by 'Heartaches', which begins with what sounds like a saw cutting through wood. Thomas adds some percussive droplets of sound, it's a bit like a wood workshop now. Butcher comes in some nearly inaudible tones, then with some deeper some deeper tones. The combination is alluring and unique, and quite quiet, but by the last third of the track, the group is trading much more muscular tones. The follow up, 'The Solution', begins with a shots of electricity and chirping saxophonics. The percussionist is the sane one, as Butcher and Thomas gleefully pile up vibrating, fuzzy sonic layers. Somewhere over the course of the album there is an extended moment of uncomfortably piercing electronic sounds, but mostly the textures and shading are in ways thrilling and confounding.

The title is apt, as we are indeed dealing with 'souvenirs', small eye-catching artifacts that somehow remind of us of exactly where are now, but over time take on their own meanings - or sometimes completely lose them. The recording itself is from a show in July 2017 at Iklectik, "Old Paradise Yard", London, and it is nice to take home these mementos from this exploratory trip through space, replete with the sci-fi sound textures and extended acoustics.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lee Konitz (1927 -2020)

Lee Konitz in 2014. Photo by Hreinn Gudlaugsson.
By Martin Schray

Lee Konitz was present at the birth of Cool Jazz on Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool, he ignored genre boundaries playing compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and ventured into modern realms with Anthony Braxton and Chick Corea. Downbeat voted him the best musician on the alto saxophone. Above all, it was his refined playing on the alto saxophone that earned Lee Konitz the respect of his colleagues, the critics and the audience. He always remained cool through and through. His fine tone with few overtones, practically no vibrato and without the rhythmic counter-accents of bebop, but with metronomic precision and a discreet feeling for swing, was style-defining. Sonny Rollins’s wild outbursts or Ornette Coleman’s angular lines were not his cup of tea. Instead, he had great influence on the jazz saxophonists of the American West Coast such as Art Pepper and Paul Desmond.

It was a Miles Davis quotation that made Lee Konitz famous. "And I remember one time when I hired Lee Konitz, some coloured cats bitched about me hiring an ofay in my band when negroes didn’t have work. I said if a cat could play like Lee, I didn’t give a damn whether he was green and had red breath." Hardly anyone has played so perfectly in form, in a style which was so calmly intoned and linearly elaborated. At the same time his expression was entirely in harmony and his tone was crystal clear.

Since the 1950s Konitz has recorded a veritable musical encyclopedia, many of his albums have become milestones in jazz history, such as productions with Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Dave Brubeck, Gil Evans, and also many European musicians such as Martial Solal, Albert Mangelsdorff and Attila Zoller. It’s difficult to single out highlights in this comprehensive oeuvre. Certainly Motion, his trio recording with Sonny Dallas (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) in 1961, is among them, as well as Subconscious-Lee, actually his first recording (1949/50) with Lennie Tristano (piano), Warne Marsh (tenor saxophone) and Billy Bauer (guitar) and Lee Konitz And The Gerry Mulligan Quartet (1954; with Chet Baker on trumpet). In the late 1960s Konitz also recorded two excellent albums with Martial Solal (piano), Henri Texier (bass) and Daniel Humair (drums). Impressive Rome is particularly beautiful. In duos he was also shining, an album I really like is Art of the Duo (1988) with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. However, my personal favorite is Angel Song (1997), one of the most beautiful ECM albums ever, with Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Bill Frisell (guitar) and Dave Holland (bass). I saw Lee Konitz once, in a duo with pianist Dan Tepfer, with whom he enjoyed playing in the 2000s. He always flirted with being completely out of breath after long solos, only to take the next attempt a minute later, smiling.

Since 1997, Lee Konitz and his German wife have lived alternately in Cologne and New York. According to his son Josh, he died on April 15th in a New York hospital at the age of 92 after pneumonia due to a corona infection. Goodbye, great master of the alto. Your music will remain in our hearts.

Watch Mr Konitz with Warne Marsh on the 1958 TV show “The Subject is Jazz“.

and at a private concert with Dan Tepfer at his 92nd birthday:

Common Objects - Skullmarks (meena, 2019) ****

To fully appreciate Skullmarks, you should visit the page on John Butcher' website about the release and look at the images for a bit. Let them sink in. Look at the mix of organics ... bones, ceramic, teeth, wood, feathers, and pigments. This music was shaped in reaction to these objects.

The six members of the group Common Objects paid a visit to the unique Pitt Rivers Museum in England, which according to its website contains "500,000 objects, photographs and manuscripts from all over the world, and from all periods of human existence." From here, Butcher chose four objects.

Yes, he was supposed to do this. As electric harpist Rhodri Davies explains "I have wanted to use objects as stimuli for improvisation ever since I began the group. During the last thirteen years, we have worked with semi-structured pieces, graphic notation and free improvisation, but this is the first time we have used objects as a score." With this as the setting, the group played a set of improvised music resulting in this earthy and exploratory live set.

The album is one 35 minute track, and it begins with one of the two violinists Angharad Davies or Lina Lapelyte scratching at the strings drawing out sounds that are more motion than full tones. Slight electronics fill the spaces and underscore the tension created by the strings. With two electronics players in the group, Lee Patterson and Pat Thomas, you would not be out of line to assume that the acoustic instruments would be overpowered, and a sinuous bird call would suggest that this is case, until it becomes clear this is Butcher employing one aspect of his vast sonic vocabulary on his soprano sax. In fact, the electronics bubble underneath, fizzing, unobtrusive, and supportive, as the saxophonist launches into expressively arcing arpeggios and legato tones. 

As the track continues, the default mode seems to be quiet tension. At the ten minute mark Davies' electric harp finally makes an appearance (at least I don't think I heard it before). It is low in the mix, more of a vibration, under the stretching, scratching of strings, and amplified percussion (I assume this is Patterson who is listed as providing 'amplified devices and processes'). A series of sounds, both organic and electric develop into a thick texture and high pitched tones hover in the air. The composition changes over time and at about 21 minutes in it become quite agitated with sawing motions and fluttering, reedy tones over underlying and unstable drones. A few minutes later the atmosphere feels almost threatening - I can only imagine which of the objects brought this one (possibly the one with the teeth?). The piece comes to an end with Butcher's tenor sax being slightly over-blown, while the amplified devices, electric harp, and violins build to a gentle crescendo.

As other reviewers have said of Common Objects before me (see Stef's review of Live in Morden Tower and Stefan Wood's review of Whitewashed with Line), the core of this group is unconventional and daring music, but made with a strong grounding in the past. The music is, in a way, a anthropological grounded study.  As Davies explains "we each spent time engaging with the collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, The Manchester Museum and The Oriental Museum, Durham University - all of which, of course, have their own relationship to Britain's colonial histories." The final results of this study are of course up to the listener to interpret, but I find the discussion quite stimulating.