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Monday, August 31, 2020

Magnus Granberg & Skogen ‎– Let Pass My Weary Guiltless Ghost (Another Timbre, 2020) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Music can be very precious, with a few notes carefully positioned leading to a strange sonic universe. We have reviewed Magnus Granberg and Skogen before (reviews herehere and here) and his approach to composed improvisations continues to astonish us. 

Like with the previous releases, this one hour long piece evolves slowly, quietly and intimitaley, with barely noticeable changes adding layers of nuances and perspectives. 

The band consists of Magnus Granberg on prepared piano, Anna Lindal on violin, Rhodri Davies on harp Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board, Petter Wastberg on electronics, Ko Ishikawa on sho, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Simon Allen on vibraphone and amplified strings, Henrik Olsson on objects, and Erik Carlsson on percussion. It never sounds like a tentet, the texture is so thin it sounds like only two musicians playing at any time, even it that is not the actual case. 

Granberg emphasises the importance of the musicians themselves to participate in the same composition but by playing and rehearsing it, adding things and developing into something that becomes very much their own, yet without changing the nature of the original concept: "I guess there is always a risk of failure and an element of danger to this almost ritualistic process of almost trying to conjure up or invoke the music. At the same time I must say that I feel quite confident in how it works: how the nature of the materials and the intelligence and the sensibility of the performers provide a rather dependable potential for the music to arise from".

The title is inspired by the poem "O Death, rock me asleep", allegedly written by Anne Boleyn, queen of England and second wife of Henry VIII, before her execution in 1536. 

O death! rock me asleep,
Bring me the quiet rest;
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast:
Toll on the passing bell,
Ring out the doleful knell,
Let thy sound my death tell,
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy
There is no remedy

My pains who can express?
Alas! they are so strong,
My dolour will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong:
Toll on, thou passing bell,
Ring out my doleful knell,
Let thy sound my death tell,
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Alone in prison strong,
I wait my destiny,
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Should taste this misery?
Toll on, thou passing bell,
Let thy sound my death tell,
Death doth draw nigh,
There is no remedy.

Farewell my pleasures past,
Welcome my present pain!
I feel my torments so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now,thou passing bell;
Rung is my doleful knell,
For the sound my death doth tell,
Death doth draw nigh,
There is no remedy.

The art work of the album is a painting by Johannes Vermeer, "A Maid Asleep", possibly painted around 1656. 
"The misbehavior of unsupervised maidservants was a common subject for seventeenth-century Dutch painters. Yet in his depiction of a young maid dozing next to a glass of wine, Vermeer transfigured an ordinary scene into an investigation of light, color, and texture that supersedes any moralizing lesson. While the toppled glass at left (now abraded with time) and rumpled table carpet may indicate a recently departed visitor, X-radiographs indicate that Vermeer chose to remove a male figure he had originally included standing in the door­way, heightening the painting’s ambiguity", according the text of the Met, where the painting is exhibited. 

In an interview on the label's website, Granberg describes his music: "When I first was in the process of envisioning the music in the early 2000s (after going through a very thorough crisis where I more or less stopped playing the saxophone and more or less quit playing jazz and free jazz) I realized that I had this desire for the music to be more of an environment, a place or a terrain rather than primarily being an object, an architecture or a means of individual or collective expression. I also felt something of a frustration with what I perceived as a dichotomy and separation of compositional and improvisational practices, and that there should be so many possible gradations of the spectrum between freedom and fixation that perhaps weren't being explored. So gradually I started to envision a musical environment in which the musicians were allowed and encouraged to move freely in accordance with their own judgment and individual dispositions while at the same time being governed by the same overarching principles or perhaps rather just simply being part of the same creation or environment, a creation or environment which was in more or less constant flux, change or transformation while at the same time always being the same. To provide a potential which could be realized in more or less an innumerable number of ways while still being coherent and retaining a clear identity."

A poem, a painting, an ensemble. They result in music that is at the same time a calm resignation, a desire for rest and peace provided by death, but just not yet. The intimacy of the moment. The closed space. The tension in the narrative. The space dominated by what is not visible: the cause and the consequence, the past joy and the coming pain. There is the actionless waiting, with conflicting thoughts and emotions creating a dynamic tension, almost unseen, but more present than perceivable, determining the inherent ambiguity of the moment: asking for the welcoming peace of death. 

Granberg is a master. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Anteloper- Tour Beats Vol. 1 (International Anthem, 2020) ****

By Martin Schray

Anteloper is the electro-acoustic duo of trumpeter Jaimie Branch and drummer Jason Nazary. Tour Beats Vol. 1 is their second album after their 2018 debut Kudu, a cassette only release, which explored gritty soundscapes with the urban sonic edge intertwined with plenty of melodic-textural hooks. Branch had the idea for that project in 2018 when she had a residency at Pioneer Works, a former shipping container which is now a studio in Brooklyn, NY. She already knew Jason Nazary from earlier, and he joined her bringing not only his drums, but also lots of electronic stuff like a modular FX unit, synths, sequencers and processors. Branch, who regularly uses electronic devices like synths and delay/looper pedals for her music as well, engineered the session. In 2019 the duo went on tour and they self-produced a super limited-edition tape, Tour Beats Vol. 1, which features recordings from those Pioneer Works sessions, and Branch’s current label International Anthem, possibly the hippest address in avant-garde music at the moment, has decided to release a vinyl and download version.

The idea to combine acoustic drum’n’bass beats with old school electronics and a net of synth sounds might still be a strange concept for some improv fundamentalists, but then again that’s what makes Branch and Nazary’s approach such an inspiring improvisational framework. The percussive drizzle of “Bubble Under“ brings out the obvious linear qualities in Branch’s playing excellently; she sends jagged, gurgling, yet melodic lines and gnarled knots of notes sailing over the programmed clatter, sounding almost like a modern Miles Davis extemporizing over a riff. On “Isotope 420°“ she intricately laces the stuttering snare-beats and repetitive heavy water drop sounds with simple melodies. If there’s a weakness on this album it’s the monotonous electronic bass sounds (on “RADAR radio“, e.g.) or the rather simple synth carpets, but Branch’s trumpet is always able to save the tracks. Throughout the album, Branch successfully adapts her distinctive instrumental language of blurred notes, dreamy hook lines and eccentric trills to an environment, which can only partly be identified as her natural playground. However, her playing is always very lively and she seems to enjoy it a lot. That sense of delight isn't a by-product but a desired outcome, an audible manifestation of the play in playing. Nazary challenges Branch in ways that her Fly Or Die band doesn’t - and therein lies the benefit for the free-improv community.

Anteloper’s Tour Beats Vol. 1 is now available on 45RPM 12’ vinyl in a package featuring artwork by Branch, photos by Richard Ross, and liner notes by Rob Mazurek. It’s also available as a download.

You can listen to it and buy it on Bandcamp. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Two with Paul Lytton

By Nick Metzger

The legendary free improvising percussionist Paul Lytton released a couple of excellent albums earlier this year that I’ve taken a while to get to, one a studio recording with frequent collaborator Nate Wooley, and the other a raucous live recording with a trio of German musicians. Both records are exemplary instances of Lytton’s creativity beyond the standard drum kit, finding him utilizing his collection of contraptions and electronics in vast and probing improvisations.

Paul Lytton & Nate Wooley - Known/Unknown (Fundacja Sluchaj!, 2020) ****½

With Known/Unknown we are bestowed with the first Lytton/Wooley duo release in nigh a decade (their last being 2010’s Creak Above 33 on psi), and their third overall release as such, the pair having toured and collaborated together on various projects since the mid-00’s. This set was recorded in Dusseldorf Germany in January 2018 by composer/producer Bojan Vuletic, who also recorded and mixed the duo’s previous two releases and collaborates frequently with Wooley. As Wooley states in the liner notes, the duo wanted to record in a studio where the pair could spread out and he could play amplifier and Lytton could utilize his contraptions and electronics. The studio space and long standing acquaintances yield fruit over the albums near eighty minute duration, as the duo slices the time up into three wonderfully bizarre sonic landscapes.

Like their preceding collaborations there's a good mix of wet and dry playing, the duo starting off with the former before ultimately digging deeply into their respective bags of tricks and unleashing some seriously tasty proposals. Lytton's treatments can be severe and it isn't long into the first track "Known" that he begins layering understated textures for Wooley to play against (are there crickets in there somewhere?). There is a lot of subtle movement over the first half of the piece, with both musicians making great use of both the acoustic and electric bits of their arsenals. Over the last half, in conjunction with some electronic processing, Lytton disperses whistles and all manner of piezo-mic'd goodies as Wooley haunts the space with croaks and amplified wind gusts. The piece tightens up towards the end in an intense dialogue of horn and junkyard percussion. On "Unknown" the same junkyard percussion scampers crisply along beneath Wooley's heavy diaphonic tones to open the piece. The first third of the piece expands in an extended and highly textured interplay where the duo roil like a hot pan of bacon and eggs, emitting all manner of pops, squeaks, and sizzles. The piece is augmented momentarily by an intense haze of electronics, which drifts through and inspires more pointillist interactions between the duo. The final untitled piece is a (relatively) breezy 10-minute closing statement that is much more condensed than the previous two but is no less adventurous. It serves as a nice summation of the sessions and caps off another terrific album from one of my favorite duos in free improvisation.

Paul Lytton, Joker Nies, Richard Scott, George Wissel - Do they do those in red? (Sound Anatomy, 2020) ****

Recorded at The Loft in Cologne in 2017 and dedicated in the memory of Paul Rutherford, Do they do those in red? finds Lytton (table top bit and piecces) in collaboration with German musicians Joker Nies (electronics), Richard Scott (electronics), and George Wissel (saxophone). Nies is a sound designer and engineer who is active on the festival circuit and who has collaborated with John Butcher, Alan Siva, Dave Tucker, among many others. Richard Scott is an electronic composer and improviser who our readers might remember from the excellent Grutronic releases on Evan Parker’s psi imprint in the early 2010’s. And finally reedsman Georg Wissel, who having recorded or performed in duos with the other participants individually, is the least common denominator on this album.

On the first track “the nuts and bolts” Lytton employs his table top bits to create a textural canvas over which the electronics and saxophone amalgamate. Around the midpoint the density decreases and the electronics swirl and churn. Lytton briskly re-enters in a flurry of wildly unpredictable clatter, recapturing the textural emphasis of the piece. Wissel mainly plays percussively throughout, only reaching a throaty roar briefly towards the end. “It’s always a questionable activity” slows it all down and puts the emphasis on the electronics. Again, Lytton and Wissel play texture over the deep synth washes and colorful electronic fodder. The next track is the fantastically titled “Taking orders from fucking idiots”, on which some of the electronic bleep-bloop sounds called to my mind Morton Subotonick’s Until Spring. On “no man’s land” the group stretches out on a wild 20-minute improvisation, with touchstones ranging from Evan Parker’s electroacoustic groups (not surprising considering the members on this record) to the more aggressively electronic sounds of Kurt Liedwart’s Mikroton label. The closing piece, and my favorite from this session, “a constant state of flux or motion”, periodically weaves barely-there snippets of field recordings and voices into the mix. The track finds Wissel much more unrestrained during some of the rowdier portions and Lytton comes to the fore more often here as well with some wild electroacoustic sounds. Altogether it’s more varied with some lowercase sections to break-up and balance the stormier ones. Those who like free-improvised electronics will find much to enjoy in this sonic phantasmagoria.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Polwechsel & Klaus Lang - Unseen (ezz-thetics, 2020) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Organist Klaus Lang joins contrabassist Werner Dafeldecker, cellist Michael Moser, and percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr for three tracks lasting 67 minutes on Unseen. Lang is the latest in a long line of Polwechsel contributors that fits well with the morphing group’s distinctive aesthetic and includes John Butcher, Fennesz, Radu Malfatti, Burkhard Stangl, and John Tilbury. Such fast complimentary communication likely stems from Lang’s longstanding relationships with members of the group, documented on Small Worlds, Lichtgeschwindigkeit with Dafeldecker, and Moser’s Antiphon Stein. As such, the material of this 2018 recording isn’t exactly surprising for listeners familiar with these musicians, but it does meet the high standards of timbral and compositional quality that listeners have come to expect from Polwechsel.

“Easter Wings,” a Lang composition, is mostly an evocative atmosphere of eddying organ breezes building to howling winds, carrying a nursery jingle, and producing pulsing whines as they’re funneled through the streets, which sets off an orchestra of clanging, clamoring, twinkling chimes, bells, cymbals, and other objects like a sequined Salmoneus cruising through the neighborhood. There’s low end organ sustain mixed in, producing some tension with the contrasted extremes of the organ register, their volume, their frequency, their timbre. An interlude with a mournful throb from Lang and a kind of contrapuntal refraction or shimmering from the strings, with their similar phrasing just offset from one another, continues to tilt the listener towards unease before returning to the wind and chimes of before. Its mood is natural, celebratory, and relieved, yet simultaneously foreboding.

Moser’s “No Sai Cora-m Fui Endormitz” is mostly nimble, flute-like semi-quavers from the organ, mimicked closely by the strings. Yet this sometimes indistinguishable instrumentation will sometimes splay out, playing sustained tones in noticeably different registers to a jarring effect, before melting together again. Again, there’s a bit of an interlude, this time with the organ building to cathartic innumerable thrums, with shimmering cymbals contributing to a kind of transcendent effect. And it ends as it began, with the mimicked semi-quavers, accompanied by jazzy cymbal accents.

As if compositional motifs are phasing through the CD, the slow build of the Dafeldecker-composed “Redeem” loses the jarring juxtapositions and clearly delineated interludes of the first two tracks but continues with the instrumental obfuscation of the second. Organ and bass blend together, as does strings and bowed or fluted cymbals, or percussive pulses with organ oscillations. This blurred melange is sometimes accented with insect-like stick clicking, a kind of shooting star effect from warped whining strings, and a comically doomy descending organ scale.

As always, Polwechsel is able to produce palpable atmospheres and moods from subtle timbral dynamics and smart composing. But the sonorous warmth of Lang’s organ and the reverberant church this was recorded in lend a tender emotivity not often seen in their recordings. For that it might be their best yet.

Unseen is a CD-only release.

Unseen was also reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni here.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Ernstalbrecht Stiebler - Für Biliana (Another Timbre, 2020) ****½

Violinist Biliana Voutchkova, cellist Michael Rauter, and violist Nurit Stark perform four works from minimalist composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler on Für Biliana. Two of the pieces, the solo eponymous track and solo “Glissando,” were composed for the violinist, in 2015 and 2016 respectively. While “Duo 4 / Parallelen,” with Rauter, is another relatively recent composition from 2007, “Extension für Streichtrio” from 1963 provides a glimpse into the development of Stiebler’s style as well as its essence - by way of what’s not changed - including his distinctive combination of sustain, sonority, and movement.

The brief, six-minute solo “Für Biliana” could be confused for a duo. There’s a rocking, slow tremolo on a higher register while a droning sustain simultaneously sounds on a lower register. And these dynamics will breezily trade registers, back and forth. It’s a bit like a lullaby and, though the whine of string is almost always present, there are flourishes whose brightness and warmth might be confused for an organ.

The solo “Glissando” is not much longer, at nine minutes, and, while it could also be confused for a duo and features a similar sense of time and use of sustain, its mood is much gloomier. It begins with descending glissandos in silence like shooting stars in the darkness until the silence is mostly overtaken by sustained tones. The level reference of sustain heightens the sense of falling from the glissandos; an endless terraced pit like depictions of Dante’s hell. Occasionally, other techniques appear, only to be warped by glissandos as if by a fun house mirror.

The longer, 21 minute “Duo 4 / Parallelen” blurs the identities of the violin and cello, with each playing sustained tones separated by silence that move towards each other in time and in timbre. Not just in the sense that the cello will imitate the the low register of the violin with its high register, but that it will use its high register to imitate the violin’s high register. But just as quickly (or slowly) as their play times appear to synchronize, they phase away from each other to begin again.

The older composition, “Extension für Streichtrio,” is still built upon sustain separated by silence, with a sense of time and movement that is somewhat constant throughout the piece and not dissimilar to the other works here, and again with a focus on simultaneous playing from the instruments that simultaneously highlights their similarities and differences. But the delineations between sounds are abrupt and violent. And whereas volume in the other pieces remained almost constant, it’s rapidly increased around silences to accent them here. The effect is a more step-like sense of movement compared to the more undulating feelings from the newer compositions, or a more linear experience compared to a circular one.

As my personal introduction to Stiebler, I feel Für Biliana provides a worthy digest of the composer’s style. It’s certainly a singular approach, evoking distinctive movements through sonority and an unwavering dedication to alternating sustain and silence. There’s a lot to enjoy in the compositions here, and just as much in the timbral richness of the player’s performance.

Für Biliana is available digitally and on CD.

Ernstalbrecht Stiebler - Für Biliana (Another Timbre, 2020) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Readers of the blog may have listened to the work of veteran German contemporary composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler (born in 1934) thanks to the Swiss label HatHut’s subsidiaries, hat Art and hat[now]Art’s releases in the nineties, Three in One and ...Im Klang… (1996, 1998). These albums and other compositions of Stiebler featured his main interests: sonority, rhythm, and duration reduced to minimalist, repetitive lines and suggesting a deep sonic space. His work is often associated with the seminal work of composers as Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi, but with clearer structures and with a stronger focus on tonality.

Bulgarian, Berlin-based violinist-experimental improviser Biliana Voutchkova began to work with the Stiebler in 2007, a year before she relocated to Berlin when she and cellist Agnieszka Dziubak worked on his composition “Duo/4 Parallelen”, dedicated to both of them. Their relationship strengthed and in 2015 Stiebler wrote his first composition for Voutchkova, “Für Biliana”, for violin solo, and a year later he wrote another one, “Glissando”, which offered a different set of ideas. Two years ago Voutchkova discovered an earlier composition of Stiebler, “Extension” (1963) for a string trio and performed it in a concert of Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, with cellist Michael Rauter and violist Nurit Stark. Then it was clear to her that she must present Stiebler to new audiences and she succeeded to do so in July 2019 when she recorded the four compositions were recorded anew at Studio 1, Bulgarian National Radio, Sofia.

“Für Biliana” demonstrates beautifully Steiebler’s strong individual voice and his own architecture of vibrant sounds, as Voutchkova alternating between articulating an emotional but mysterious, folk song-like and sustained, resonating lines that subvert the innocence of this song-like melody. “Glissando” suggests another patient experiment with another architecture of sounds, as the continuous descents and ascents of Voutchkova’s bow create hypnotic harmonies, allowing these reverberating tones to mirror each other and offer an almost tangible presence.

“Extension” for a string trio of cellist Rauter and violist Stark, offers a more dramatic narrative, still fragile and sparse, but with sudden, percussive outbursts and surprising, brief detours from the overall, quiet, haunting and minimalist atmosphere. The last, “Duo/4 Parallelen”, played by Voutchkova and cellist Rauter, intensifies even further the suggestive qualities of vibrating, sustained tones, creating a fascinating sense of stasis, out-of-time, and out-of-place. This piece, as the previous ones, is delivered with great patience and elegance and it envelops the attentive listener with its profound, meditative spirit.

Voutchkova is a natural interpreter of Stiebler work, having a strong voice of her own, and even a stronger will to keep exploring challenging and unknown territories.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Itaru Oki (沖 至,) (1941-2020) R.I.P.

(© Peter Gannushkin)

By Eyal Haruveni

The great Japanese trumpeter Itaru Oki, one of the pioneers of the Japanese free jazz and free music scene, passed away on August 25.

Oki was born to a musical family in Kobe in Sep. 10, 1941. His father played the shakuhachi and his mother played the koto. Oki began to play the trumpet in a high school band and moved to Tokyo in 1965 where he joined the seminal experimental band ESSG with pianist Masahiko Satō and percussionist Masahiko Togashi. With that band, Oki did his first European tour with this band in 1969. 

Oki relocated to France in 1974 but continued to play an important role in the Japanese free music scene, and since the mid-nineties toured Japan every autumn and recorded with many innovative improvisers like violinist Keisuke Ohta, pianist Satoko Fujii, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, turntables wizard Otomo Yoshihide and drummer Sabu Toyozumi. Oki toured in Europe with Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, and Art Farmer and recorded with many European improvisers (or the ones based in Europe) like bass players Alan Silva (including in Silva’s Celestial Communications Orchestra), Kent Carter and Benjamin Duboc, drummer Sunny Murray, trumpeter Axel Dörner, pianist François Tusques, and vocalist Linda Sharrock. 

Oki led many short-lived bands, played also the flugelhorn and the shakuhachi but most of all liked to play odd-shaped trumpets. He was famous as a trumpet maker, including one with two bells, and for his unique collection of trumpets, shown in exhibitions in France. 

Fujii said: “Natsuki and I are very shocked. We still cannot believe that Itaru passed away. He came to our concert of Kaze with Ikue Mori in Paris at the end of January. He was always passionate about music. As a person, he was extremely sweet and gentle. A few years ago, he told Natsuki, “Natsuki, let’s play trumpet until we are 100 years old!” He was very open to playing with anyone and was a big influence on musicians with his free spirit and warm and deep sound. Without him, we probably couldn’t make it into the Japanese music scene like now. He was very important to us”. 

I was lucky enough to experience Oki's magical musical personality in the legendary Japanese club Shinjuku Pit-Inn in Tokyo in 2002. Oki led a sextet, with Fujii and Tamura, and in his unassuming way led an intense, quite anarchistic and always engaging set that included heartfelt covers of jazz standards, the mocking of famous haikus and truly passionate and inspiring performance of the art of the moment.

Patrick Brennan, Maria do Mar, Ernesto Rodrigues, Hernâni Faustino, Miguel Mira & Abdul Moimême - The Sudden Bird of Waiting (Creative Sources, 2020) ****

By Stuart Broomer

In 2018, New York-based alto saxophonist Patrick Brennan and Lisbon-based prepared guitarist Abdul Moimême recorded the duo CD Terraphonia (Creative Sources). The two had been long-acquainted but their usual orientations were significantly different, Brennan working in the free reaches of jazz, Moimême very much a free improviser. While Brennan is part of a continuum marked by Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman, Moimême often stands between two horizontal instruments, sometimes covering them in aluminum sheets and playing them with e-bows and other devices, the results suggesting ensembles led by John Cage and Harry Partch. Together Brennan and Moimême created a kind of dream logic, their materials unalike, the results fused in a new language. 

Ernesto Rodrigues, the creative and executive mastermind of Creative Sources, suggested the two record with a quartet of improvising string players, putting together a session for the day following the April 2018 duo recording. One might divide the strings into pairs: Rodrigues, playing viola here, and violinist Maria do Mar are strongly associated with free improvisation; cellist Miguel Mira and bassist Hernâni Faustino are well-known members of the Lisbon free jazz community. It’s often an artificial division, all are actively involved in Rodrigues’ numerous orchestral projects, but Mira and Faustino often provide forceful forward momentum. 

The resulting music is a remarkable tapestry, in a sense stretched between the more distinct sonic personalities of Brennan and Moimême, the four string players functioning normatively, with related sounds and similar gestural vocabularies. The five individual pieces flow together almost as a suite, with Brennan sometimes adding elements of surprise. He launches the opening “O largo aberto das diafonias alertas” with cornet flutters, while the central “Nextness” has him declaiming a poem. “A que distância?” places Moimême’s sonic tumult to the fore before introducing discreet string noises, with Brennan’s alto leading a rising assembly of throbbing bass strings and whistling string harmonics. 

There is often the sense of imminent subversion here, sudden mutations that carry the music both forward and elsewhere. At times it suggests the superb lyric expression of memorable saxophone and string combinations likeas Charlie Parker and Strings or Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village or just Ornette Coleman and David Izenzon, at most moments though, the group find its own rich and compound ground. As the closing whispers of “O pássaro repentino da espera” appear, one hopes Brennan, Moimême and associates finds further occasions to expand and explore the collaboration.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Chasing Trane on Netflix

By Stef Gijssels

On Saturday I watched the "Chasing Trane" documentary on Netflix (maybe it was available in other countries earlier, but it's quite recent on my account). I can recommend it because of the footage, the pictures of his life, the context and the interviews. 

I think it's great to have insights from Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Heath, Reggie Workman, his sons Ravi and Oran, or more recent artists such as Kamasi Washington. 

The only downside is that they stop commenting positively on his music near the end of his life. Like with many mainstream media, there is no real effort to understand what happened with his genius when he took it even a step further than his masterpiece 'A Love Supreme'. 

Other interviewees include Carlos Santana, John Densmore (drummer of The Doors), Bill Clinton and even Wynton Marsalis (is this the guest list you would invite to discuss Coltrane?). There is some clear level of incomprehension among them - maybe except for Densmore - about the direction Coltrane took his music in, making it even more free, more expansive, more authentic, more spiritual, rawer, intenser. 

Interestingly enough, they give him credit for his genius and authenticity but without a clear and full appreciation of the musical value he created near the end of his life, as if albums like "Ascension" (recorded 1965), "Meditations" (rec 1965), "Om" (rec 1965), "Kulu Sé Mama" (rec 1965), "The Olatunji Concert" (rec 1967), "Interstellar Space" (rec 1967), "Expression" (rec 1967) were of no real value to listeners, when he was taking jazz even a step further into deep abstraction and visceral feelings. They talk about going beyond what listeners can bear, and even changing the molecular structure of jazz. They praise his musicianship on the instrument. They talk about he pushed the boundaries of the sounds coming out of a sax like Hendrix did with the electric guitar. 

But it is clear they are puzzled by the music itself. 

The documentary was made and released in 2016, 50 years after these incredible albums were made. And these musicians are still puzzled by what they hear. Two areas of questions come to mind: 
  1. Why did the documentary makers not invite people who did appreciate his later music, because truly, if he was a genius as they say, he must have gone to this sonic place for a reason, because the genius felt it was better, more true and more valuable? Coltrane influenced many of today's jazz musicians so why did the documentary makers limit themselves to commercial artists? 
  2. How is it possible that 50 years later, Coltrane's music is still raising questions among the establishment? How is it possible that the notion of abstract music (less formalised, less explicit rhythms, harmonies and melody) offering a much more direct link to emotional expressivity has still not been understood, despite the fact that Coltrane was one of the first to take sounds this far? 

Regardless, if you have Netflix, watch it. 

To end my rant, here are some nice quotes by Coltrane, and recited by Denzel Washington in the documentary. 

"To be a musician is really something. It goes veryvery deepMy music is the spiritual expression of what I am - my faith, my knowledge, my being... When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups.

"After all the investigation, all of the technique doesn't matter! Only if the feeling is right.” 

“There is never any end. There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are. In that way, we can give to those who listen the essence, the best of what we are".

Coltrane is still more closely related to today's music than to the music of the 60s. 

May he still inspire many!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Kris Tiner - In The Ground And Overhead (Epigraph Records, 2020) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Definitely a winner. It's been a while since we heard from West Coast trumpeter extraordinaire Kris Tiner, reviewed frequently before with MTKG/Empty Cage Quartet or in the Tin/Bag duo with Mike Bagetta on guitar. From what we read and find, he's been active in several other bands, but not as the leader, and that's a shame, because his trumpet technique, his sense of composition, arrangements and improvisation are strong. 

And then this little gem is released. This short album brings 14 miniatures for muted Bb trumpet, totalling approximately 900 seconds. This is very short, but its brevity is inversely proportionate to its quality. 

In 2012, Tiner was the artist in residence at the Montalvo Arts Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. The place, its surroundings and its nature inspired the trumpeter to compose and develop these short pieces. The album comes with the sheet music for each piece's core theme and structure. You can listen to each piece for its own merit, and based on the titles we can expect that each of the 14 miniatures was inspired by something else (white blossoms, coyote, deer, a serpent, a trail, a feeling such as sorrow or stillness), but luckily they all nicely blend together into one long suite of meditative sonic art. 

It takes courage to make music this sensitive. It requires insight and good taste to be this sensitive without falling into the abyss of sentimentalism. It takes strength to reduce the feelings and musings to their bare essence, like a Japanese zen-drawing with only a few lines and lots of white space. Tiner's tone is warm and precise, pure and velvety, subtle and nuanced. It takes a lot of artistry to produce something so personal with such universal value. Yes, it's only 15 minutes long, but you just listen to it twenty times in a row. It's guaranteed to be a fascinating listen, even after the twentieth time. And that's a lot more than can be said about many much longer albums. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Two from Laubrock, Two from Intakt, Two sax-piano duets

By Matthew Banash 

These two albums have led me to some larger questions. As a listener, I found each work unique with individuation being a lasting impression. As a thinker, I know nothing arises out of itself. So, how can two separate works, similar in instrumentation and with the tenor and soprano saxes of Ingrid Laubrock being a common denominator, work with homogeneity and heterogeneity while being a unique part of a whole?  I’ll skip the respective bona fides except to say the musicians are accomplished so let’s dive into this double shot of duets. 

Ingrid Laubrock & Aki Takase - Kasumi (Intakt, 2020) **** 

Takase and Laubrock first performed together in 2016’s JazzFest Berlin that referenced Louis Armstrong’s famous duet with Earl Hines on Weather Bird in 1928 in a larger scope of jazz as the art of conversation. in a cross-national They hit it off and played a few more times before heading into the studio to record.  The tunes tend to brevity more than expanse with some as short as 1:28 and other hovering around the 3 to 5-minute length. Overall, the 14 tunes clock in at a little over 50 minutes which lends the album an impressionistic vibe. 

The writing was handled on a fairly even basis and it’s a pleasure to listen to Laubrock and Takase finding their footing in playing together as Takase usually defers to Laubrock but always has a free flourish or subtlety to enhance the music; considered and playful not just devil may care whimsy In Japanese 'Kasumi' can mean “mist” or it can be a compound of “ka” or “flower, blossom” with “sumi” meaning “clear, pure.” And the opening title track establishes evolving impressionism that runs through the album.  Tracks 4,5, and 6 is particularly nice stretch on the recording.  On track 4, “Chimera” Laubrock slows down but expands at least note wise and here is where Takase goes to freer flourishes that both counter and fit Laubrock’s stylings. Takase takes a serious and studied turn on track 5, “Harlekin” but the playing and rapport is never staid.  

There’s always with a playful lurking around the corner and the duo, with Laubrock on soprano, explores these moments with unity and dissonance as well as whimsy without ever becoming disjointed or fragmented. On the next track, “Dark Clouds”, Takase grooves and rumbles then Laubrock joins skipping squeaking and gliding. About two minutes in there’s a tempo shift that paints the music as elastic and amorphous.  The briefer pieces like “Scurry”, “Density”, and “Carving Water” add to ephemeral tone and despite their brevity never feel incomplete. “Scurry” is a pleasure encapsulating the song’s title, sounds and length into a musical definition. Just fun.  “Luftspiegelung” means “mirage” in German and with “Kasumi” this song bookends the international feel of the album. One of the longer pieces, it feels like a synthesis of ideas and sounds played throughout the entire recording.  

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ingrid Laubrock & Kris Davis - Blood Moon (Intakt, 2020) **** 

Laubrock and Davis have known each other and performed together in variety of groups and settings for well over a decade. The playing and compositions reveal the length and depth of that relationship. The parts seem to fit not so much where you expect them to fit but where they make sense. Like Kasumi this recording contains the element of surprise, too.  As on “Kasumi” the writing was shared evenly. On the 9 tunes spread out over nearly 53 minutes Laubrock uses range and repetition well, and even breaks out the soprano on a few numbers, and Davis applies steadfast rhythms imbued with lives and patterns of their own. 

The melodies are reminiscent of folk music. Notable examples are, but not limited to the songs below: "Snakes and Lattice", a Kris Davis tune, has a “cat’ n’ mouse” feel. It’s a fluid, folksy fairy tale that establishes the tone of the record for me with it vibrant, measured introspection rather than contemplation. Laubrock composed "Maroon" and does it feel lonely? Yes, but the album heretofore is more sparseness than crowds. Again, Laubrock and Davis seem to play with and without one another. But the ethos tethers their choices and sounds. Here they aren’t afraid to make a rumble or take a deft turn. Momentum and repetition play important roles here as throughout the recording.  Davis accelerates the tempo on her "Golgi Complex", but this is a wonderful opportunity to tune into the duo’s give and take, back and forth, lead and follow dynamic; about halfway through it's like you can hear them listening to one another. Creating something unique in a tried and true duo of piano and sax. Davis is at her subtle best altering some notes to reward you for listening. 

"Elephant in the Room" is a joint effort and seems like a bit of a respite. The artists’ tones and predilections are entrenched in your ear by now. A good thing. They hone their rapport further and the piece can stand alone of take up its part in the program. "Jagged Jaunts" by the saxophonist is just a fun tittle to say and takes the duo out on a bouncy brief exit. No hard and fast truisms, generally Takase follows Laubrock while Davis and the saxophonist unite in the lead voice at times. Each artist exists without the other. But they also exist together. And it serves the interested, thoughtful patient listener to receive and enjoy them like that. 

One never loses sight (or ear?) of who is playing with Laubrock. The musicians leave room for the music and personalities to flourish in a range of dynamics. And everyone involved knows their way around a tune and their respective instrument which seems obvious but sometimes it can be the obvious we miss. 

The music is real life conversations and dialogues which are not subsumed by sender/receiver/dynamics, but vibrant in their interaction and always democratic. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lina Allemano’s Ohrenschmaus - Rats and Mice (Lumo, 2020) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

The album starts furiously, with sharp stuttering trumpet sounds, jagged drumming and a plunky bass. No time to relax, you're drawn in immediately, especially when the trumpet suddenly shifts to a clear and pleasant phrase. Styles and genres crash into each other with sheer delight: intense, harsh, gentle and subtle at the same time. 

The trio is Lina Allemano on trumpet, Dan Peter Sundland on - sometimes bowed - electric bass and Michael Griener on drums. 

No need to introduce Candadian trumpeter Lina Allemano, whose music has been lauded before on this blog. Sundland is a young Norwegian artist with already fourteen albums to his name, in various bands and styles of jazz. Griener also does not require much introduction, as he has performed with Satoko Fujii's Orchestra Berlin, in Lacy Pool with Uwe Oberg and Rudi Mahall, with Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky, with Ulrich Gumpert, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Carl Ludwig Hübsch - in short with almost German musicians who matter - as well as with all jazz musicians of name who happen to pass through Berlin. 

Despite the age and geographic diversity of the band, the Berlin-based trio find each other perfectly in Allemano's fascinating musical universe. Even more than on her quartet albums (Lina Allemano Four and Titanium Riot), styles and settings clash: improvisation with composition, raw expressivity with sweet lyricism, emotional gravity and moments of humour, grandeur and little inventions (the 'ear candy' of the trio's name), angular themes and jubilating solos, control and release, cerebrality and sensitivity, intimacy and exploration. The tension between these extremes, the tight interplay and stellar musicianship will make you listen with surprise and joy. It's as if they tear apart their own music the moment it's created or vice versa. It's multilayered, offering an ever changing rich and compact complexity, and inherently dynamic. Before you have time to absorb and savour what's happening, you're already pulled in a different direction, and one that's even more attractive. 

Furthermore, the trio creates a density of sound that is astonishing for the small ensemble they are. They started performing together in 2017, when Allemano was living partly in Berlin and in Toronto. It's obvious that the years of collaboration paid off and led to this gem of an album. 

She explained her approach to "composition/improvisation" in an interview with Tobias Fisher in 2012, and I guess it still holds true today "When I bring a new tune in for the band to try, even though I always write the music specifically for these guys to play, I tweak it a lot once I hear them actually play it. I ask them questions and I ask them to try different approaches as I try to find what I might be looking for - but I never impose something that doesn't feel right for everyone. Everyone needs to find their own way to play the music that works for the whole group and for the music. It's a process that unfolds with time and work". This explains the strong collective power of this trio too. 

Please treat yourself to this album. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, August 21, 2020

Chik White & Colin Fisher - Our Water Is Fire (Self, 2020) ****½

By Nick Metzger

Following on the heels of recent releases with Bill Nace, our water is fire finds Nova Scotian jaw harp ace chik white on his second release with fellow Great White Northerner and prolific multi-instrumentalist Colin Fisher. Their first release, 2018’s pacific rim and hastings, combined recordings of the duo made in BC’s ancient coastal rainforest with a coarse live track captured at a club in East Hastings with Fisher on guitar. The tracks from the pacific rim are sparse jaw harp/voice/sax improvisations that are a sort-of loose spiritual cousin to releases like Brötzmann and Bennink’s Schwarzwaldfahrt (i.e. free improv al fresco). The album is spare but engaging and so I was eager to have a listen to this new offering from the duo. This time around the session was held/recorded at Fishers house, with Fisher on mostly percussion and woodwinds and white on jaw harp. Like their erstwhile offering this album is lean, running a meager 26-minutes, but it feels like the appropriate length to keep the aesthetic amiable.

The guys waste no time in getting gnarly on “home your home or mine”, spitting and snarling vocalizations across their instruments (jaw harp and what sounds like a bamboo flute) and in turn setting up a very damp four way conversation. Near the halfway point Fisher does light double duty on percussion; he’s no Hamid Drake but his thudding accents establish a rhythmic backbone that their previous release lacked. On “missing time” white’s slobbering enunciation is met with Fisher’s expressive play on some sort of reed instrument (perhaps a pungi/been/bin or related) and contrasted in thudding kick drum/cymbal strikes. Starting with “more steam” Fisher switches to percussion for the remainder of the collection, and rather than becoming beat driven it actually gets more textural, with the twang of the harp and white’s mouth sounds contrasting nicely with Fisher’s rolling and atmospheric accompaniment. 

On “peak dizzy” white delves into some weirder and throatier sounds while Fisher does a really nice of job framing the jagged, spasms of jaw harp with all manner of percussive milieu. It serves as a mixer to white’s rough style and makes the piece go down nice and easy. On “shut the door” gruff vocalizations join the groaning, spittle-pocked percussive intensity. “together in heat” is a hyperactive bit of thumping and clicking where Fisher debuts some additional percussive flavors like hand drums and cymbal grima. The next track “u peacocks can sweat” is a short piece for small percussion and multiphonic(?) jaw harp. The last track “where. now” is similar to “peak dizzy” in that Fisher’s percussion does a fine job of encasing the very spasmic, irregular playing of white in a rolling wash of percussion, serving as the sweetener for white’s earthy brew.

Well, two albums in and I’m still pretty excited about the places this duo can go. There’s an unassuming playfulness to their collaborations that has shades of some of the great European duos like Bailey/Parker, the aforementioned Brötzmann/Bennink, or maybe Rüdiger Carl/Sven-Åke Johansson, and like some of the best records it sounds like they’re having a tremendous time just being in the room playing together. 

Tasty stuff.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Jerzy Przeździecki & Andrzej Karałow – Pedestal’s Complement (Bocian, 2020) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

Featuring Andrzej Karałow on grand piano, guitar, and guitar effects and Jerzy Przeździecki on Buchla Music Easel and Eurorack System, Pedestal’s Complement is intriguing.  This is not because other musicians are not experimenting with synthesizers and e-strings (and piano).  Rather the emphasis that Przeździecki and Karałow place on contemporary classical and minimalist musicality rather than de/recontentextualized noise or soundscaping makes this album stand out.  In that sense, it may be an oddity in its embrace of older musical conventions rather than just the outre, abstract, or harsh.  

Recorded live at the Ambient Festival in Gorlice, Poland on July 13, 2019, the performance is a year old, almost to the day depending on when this review is published.  Jerzy Przeździecki seems to have been active in the experimental club scene for almost 15 years and has been party to over 15 releases, mostly EPs. (Running at 25 minutes, Pedestal’s Complement falls into this majority.)  Andrzej Karałow, meanwhile, is a classically trained pianist and has three releases to his name, two of which with Przeździecki.  Unfortunately, I cannot offer any reflection on how this album relates to their previous releases.  I can say, however, that the two musicians seem to share a vision for whatever hybridity of musical forms this is.  One hears elements of house music and soundscaping’s deep textures and wide-eyed wandering. In part because of Karałow’s disciplined curiosity, however, this also has an intentionality and direction not always present in these types of postmodernist collaborations. In fact, rather than simply discarding the rule book or rewriting it, Przeździecki and Karałow gracefully merge different stylistic conventions into an electro-classical experimentalism that generally works.  

With music like this, this reviewer has the tendency to spew out a dense stream of adjectives, onomatopoeic comic-book sounds, and other descriptors to see what fits.  I am trying to avoid that, here.  But, to finish, Pedestal’s Complement is an interesting listen that blends the dark and twinkling, the experimental and neoromantic (?) into a coherent and convincing package.  Although it does not always hit its mark, it does often enough to make a rewarding listen.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Kind Mind - Kind Mind (Self, 2020) ***½

By Stef Gijssels

'Inspired and gentle', 'intimate and inventive' are words that come to mind to describe the warm and quiet improvisations of "Kind Mind", a trio with a very apt name, consisting of Josh Cole on double bass, Karen Ng on alto saxophone and Michael Davidson on vibraphone. 

The first track, 'Inside Voices', is a warm, low volume interaction that sounds like a collective 'monologue intérieur', a common way of expressing feeling, some quietly meandering, others more stinging. Including the quiet middle part, all three musicians share the same voice and demonstrate a wonderful sense of control. The piece is improvised with some composed parts into which it evolves, as if it was the result of the musings that preceded it. 

'The Whale' continues in the same vein: tender and pleasant. There is barely a harsh tone to be heard, no voices are raised, no anger present, let alone rage. The improvisation unrolls like a beautiful lullaby, full of quiet beauty, wonder and surprise. Its subject is clearly not the whale hunt, or the grand size of the animal, but rather its harmonious and noiseless gliding through pristine waters, gradually gaining intensity as it moves forward. 

The third piece, 'Outside Voices', ends the relatively short album. It starts quietly and slowly, again demonstrating a rare intimacy of sound, exchanged with hesitance and surprise by each musician, like precious little offerings given to each other. 

I like the trio's unique musical vision, its tender and determined sound and the way it is delivered: with quality and precision. To create your own voice in the crowded musical environment of today is a feat. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns (Valley of Search, 2020) ****

By Matthew Banash

The Fire Still Burns is Alan Braufman’s new recording, on Valley of Search, the small label that re-issued his 1975 recording of the same name. Like the reissue from 2 years ago, this new release is welcome addition to Braufman’s slim discography.

The multi-instrumentalist Braufman joins forces with Cooper-Moore (piano), the lone holdover from the earlier release, and James Brandon Lewis (tenor sax), Andrew Drury (drums) and Ken Filiano (bass). The album was recorded mostly live at Long Pond (The National's studio) in upstate New York's Hudson Valley. This quintet runs the gamut in a tight, powerful, soulful 36 minutes that reaches into the past but is always in the moment. Oh, and the song titles help pointing your ears in the right direction. Let’s dig in, shall we?

On the opener “Sunrise” the music glimmers and shines at its own slightly languid pace like a sunrise before Cooper-Moore enters to stretching out the kinks of the previous night slumber. Braufman’s wakes up his horn and blows some forceful, strident yet controlled notes that sustain that rise and shine feeling as the band wakes up.

Cooper Moore starts the next track “Morning Bazaar" with soulful piano as Drury drops some nice shuffling grooves behind him and Filiano locks in. Then Braufman and Lewis join horns to sing before acceding to Braufman’s lithe flute. It’s an upbeat tune that lays a template for much of the later record. The musicians find freedom in that template rather than a dead end. In this case exploring a 70’s vibe with Lewis full-toned tenor taking it out.

“No Floor No Ceiling” kicks in with raucous unison horns and then Cooper-Moore’s piano threatening to go off the rails. Drury keeps a mean time and the cacophony settles briefly for Lewis to enter honking and screaming, too. There you are suspended, weightless as barbed phrases and percussive piano transport you to the New York loft scene. You think you need to catch your breath but just put your head down instead.

Filiano and Cooper-Moore head “Home” with a perseverant groove that invites the horns and drums to join them. Unity with many heartbeats making one pulse. Lewis gets a lot of air here, using the tune to scale the heavens of his horn. Ecstatic!

Here’s where you flip the record least that’s how it feels to me.

“Creation” goes back to the beginning with horns in sync giving way to a piano-bass-drums interlude that packs a dissonant wallop. Pure energy. The horns return and state the them a few times in a what at first blush sounds like a loud beautiful mess but coalesces into counter points and cymbals crashing as music comes to life.

Whew, “Alone Again” is as close to a full stop as the record gets, the album’s Slow Jam, like going from 100 mph to cruising at 70. Cooper-Moore shines again with rolling notes accent by Drury’s forceful but not heavy-handed drumming. The horns sing low and slow

The closer, “City Nights” is a funky number with a Latin feel that makes sure you’re ready for the night ahead. Filiano grooves a bowed bass against the steady beats of Drury showing just how much a good band is comprised of individual talents. Braufman and Lewis dance again, at times it’s tough for my ear to differentiate between the two on tone alone. Dueling saxes find their way around the groove, teetering on its edge before they find intersection and unity in it. That’s when I just let my toes start tapping and be done with it. Congas take us out and it feels like the cab ride through the city is over.

The Fire Still Burns is a truly a group effort with an appealing balance of moods and tempos. It’s the sound of a band packing as much in a recording as tight and grooving as possible. The mostly live recording sonics accentuate the band’s dynamics. Braufman and the others make ebullient music that fuses talent and jazz touchstones to create a deft tapestry of sound and soul.