Click here to [close]

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Scene Spotlight: Sidebar (New Orleans, LA)

Andy Durta, booking manager for the
New Orleans club 
Sidebar with Ken Vandermark

By Nick Ostrum

I first dropped the idea of an interview to Andy Durta, booking manager for the New Orleans club Sidebar, at the end of 2019. I had envisioned a quick discussion about the New Orleans improv scene and Sidebar’s unique place within it. Coming around the 3 rd anniversary of the Scatterjazz music series at venue and just before the venue, bar included, celebrates its 5th anniversary this August, I had originally thought the discussion would be somewhat more triumphant than what transpired when Andy and I finally got to sit down on Zoom on May 30. By then, we (New Orleans) had been under quarantine for two months. Andy and Sidebar mastermind Keith Magruder had meanwhile converted all of Sidebar’s programming first to audience-less performances in the venue itself, then to DIY live streams from people’s living rooms and attics. In true New Orleans fashion, these shows broadcast for free with an encouraged donation to the artists and venue.

Many of you may have visited New Orleans in the past. If you were really committed, you might have spent some time searching the free papers or online for non-traditional venues and acts with the hopes of eschewing the throngs of Frenchman Street. And, if the stars aligned, you might have come across shows with the likes of Jeff Albert, Tristan Gianola and Jason Mingledorf (three local jazzers) or Gordon Grdina (Vancouver) with Simon Berz (Switzerland) and Cyrus Nabipoor (New Orleans) or Tim Berne (New York), James Singleton and Aurora Nealand (both of New Orleans). Add another Gordon Grdina night and a trio with local lap-guitar wizard Dave Easley, and these are the first shows I attended at Sidebar. And this spread of musicians was hardly a fluke. Instead, it is emblematic of what the venue has so effectively offered. A local club, most of its shows consist of New Orleans-based musicians, many of whom have made their name in other musical circles but have meanwhile maintained a deep interest in experimental music. Think: Nealand and Albert, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Nicholas Payton, and, of course, the incomparable Kidd Jordan. Often enough, Andy is also able to get national and international musicians – ranging from Berne and Grdina to Frank Gratkowski, Ingrid Laubrock, and the Humanization 4tet – to join these locals and create some pretty magical evenings.

Alright. This is too quickly turning into a love letter to a club and a time temporarily past, so I will get to the point. I am not exaggerating when I say that in just five years, Sidebar has become the epicenter of free jazz in New Orleans and Andy Durta has been central to that process. The interview above is somewhat sprawling. It starts with a recent show by Swedish concert-hall trombonist Elias Faingersh and wends into stories about years of concert organizing, gratifying passages of name-dropping, and an interesting claim about how many of the most exciting shows that Andy has organized have simply “fallen into (his) lap.” More seriously, the interview also digs into some of the real challenges and frustrations of organizing shows both before and during Covid, and the merits of the struggle to keep improvised music live and accessible. And, if you bear with us for the entire hour, you will hear some colorful stories about Andy and Louis Moholo as they raced to the Yells at Eels show that Ayler Records would later release as Cape of Storms, as well as some beautiful final thoughts.

NB: This interview was recorded at the end of May. The references to upcoming events are therefore outdated. However, I just got word that the Sidebar is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a Webathon of performances from some local jazz and blues musicians (including the local legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington) and sprinkling of more progressive players such as Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautzinger, both of whom are featured in the interview. Shows will run August 7-9. Afterwards, the venue will go quiet for a few weeks as Keith and Andy take a well-deserved break. Here’s hoping the hiatus does not last too long.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Miracle –s/t (Mr. Nakayasi Records, 2020) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

If I had to put a subtitle to this recording in one word, it would be flexibility or mobility. The three musicians that make The Miracle move easily between genres (call it jazz, rock, funk) and seem ready and able to exchange ideas on the spot. Giotis Damianidis’ fluid bass works tremendously well with Joao Lobo’s free drumming. They leave enough room for the soulful sounds of Giovanni Di Domenico’s Hohner Pianet. The Pianet, a risky choice by itself, is a type of electro-mechanical piano, an instrument that produces a mix (to my unskilled ears at least) of jazzy and funk melodies at the same time.

The two side-long tracks that comprise this vinyl, Eulogia which means blessing in greek and Aforismos which means expulsion from the church literally, follow a basic trajectory. Both, in their more than 20 minutes durations, evolve slowly incorporating on the spot interaction from the three musicians. At first you can’t avoid the remark that the pianet seems to dominate in both tracks.

But as you devote more time to The Miracle, you realize how disciplined is Di Domenico’s playing when it comes to do exactly the opposite: to allow time and space for the rhythm section to evolve and get involved in lengthy dialogues. Those dialogues are so joyous and energetic that you never want them to end. All this energetic joy, these good vibrations so evident throughout the 43 minutes of The Miracle, comes in a crossover package that defies categorization. Is it a jazz record? Certainly it is. How funky it is? Too funky I’d say and that’s a big advantage in my agenda.

All three of them can really make you move, while you listen to The Miracle. They swing in the good old-fashioned way. I have commented before for this blog, that sometimes improvisational recordings have the tendency to be really dry and unplayful. While free jazz, even at its peak in the 60’s and 70’s, incorporated the element of playfulness and joy. All this mobility that I initially wrote will make you move your ass in an improvisational way.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kahil El'Zabar - Spirit Groove (Spiritmuse Records, 2020) ****

By Stef Gijssels

No need to introduce Kahil El'Zabar's percussive and musical power to you, nor to introduce tenor saxophonist David Murray either.  El'Zabar and Murray have collaborated on previous albums, "Golden Sea" (1989), "One World Family" (2000), "Love Outside Of Dreams" (2003), "We Is - Live At The Bop Shop" (2004), mostly for duo performances and once with Fred Hopkins on bass. This is the first time that they play in a quartet with a harmonic instrument. They are joined by Justin Dillard on keyboards and Emma Dayhuff on double bass.

Fans of the master percussionist will enjoy this fully and "Spirit Groove" is possibly the most aptly chosen title possible. There are no real surprises musically, because the band stays within the sonic language that El'Zabar has developed and been perfecting over the years, with trance-inducing never-ending repetitive rhythms and vocals sung like incantations. No surprise either with the strong and authentic emotional and spiritual feel of the music. There's no surprise either about the strong musicianship and the great interplay.

The real surprise is that after all these decades, the music has not lost anything of its infectious nature. This is not free jazz, but jazz that reaches back to many roots: blues, jazz, African music, but it is brought with a freedom of structure and freedom of harmonic development that makes anything possible. This is, as El'Zabar says himself, music that "intends to move you nakedly with a deep sense of dance on a Mind/Body/Spirit level".

The power of the music is its intimate connectedness with the audience, even for the parts that were not recorded live. This is music that wants the listener to join in, to dance along and sing along and play along.


Listen and download from Bandcamp. Also available as a double vinyl LP.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Jazz 2020, Lisbon, Portugal. Part II

© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

By Paul Acquaro

I'm very thankful for the excellent condition of my rented mountain bike's brakes at the moment. Since picking it up from a shop near the river, I had been riding up, up the Avenue de Liberdade, past the tourist shops with cork hats and colorful tiles, past the many restaurants and upscale shops, past the tree lined pedestrian strips, up into Parque Eduardo VII, and beyond. Now, I am headed quickly down a winding street, the ancient Roman aqueduct towering on my left, as well as large panel truck. I finally get to an underpass that takes me to the other side of the highway where I pick up what seems to be a newly created bike lane, which winds it way back up to my destination, the Parque Florestal de Monsanto. 

At the top of the hill is a transmission tower and what seems to be an old listening station, a modern ruin serving as an observation deck, but currently closed due to COVID. Regardless, the sculpted hiking and biking trails offer plenty of other views, old ruins, and opportunity to get lost among the trees. Then, it is time to go down again, and I praise my brakes once more as I descend towards the Tower of Belem, by the riverside. Back at the aptly named Lisbon Bike Rentals, the fellow running the store tells me that he likes to get his morning biking-laps done up on the mountain, and I cannot think of a better way to begin a day myself.

So, yes I'm a bit tired by the time the concert starts in the evening, but it's a good tired, and I'm ready for the transcendent experience that trumpeter Susana Santos Silva's Impermanence band delivers.

Night 2, Aug 1: Susana Santos Silva's Impermanence
Susana Santos Silva's Impermanence 
© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva has been beguiling avant-garde and improvised music fans for a number of years already. In fact, if you were looking for an international star in these concerts, it is likely her. From early works like 2011's Oneiros to haunting solo works like 2018's All the Rivers – Live at Panteão Nacionalboth on Clean Feed, to 2020's The Ocean Inside a Stone on Porta-Jazz, with several in between (read an interview from 2015 with Silva here.)

My colleague Lee Rice Epstein gave Impermanence's new recording Ocean Inside a Stone a rave review, writing:
"In a manner of speaking, Impermanence has evolved its sound both vertically and horizontally. In a more straightforward reference to itself, the quintet has embraced its name and moved on. Where they’ve gone to, however, is quite a bit trickier to put into words. Santos Silva’s syntax is as varied and robust as any trumpeter on the scene."

For a little background, the band Impermanence, I believe, first appeared on the album Impermanence from 2015. The line-up is Silva on Trumpet, João Pedro Brandão on saxophone and flute, Hugo Raro on piano and synthesizer, Torbjörn Zetterberg on electric bass and Marcos Cavaleiro on drums, so some intersection with the group Coreto from the previous evening, and the chemistry of the tight-woven Porta jazz scene is apparent from the moment they hit their first note.

They begin with a punchy rock inflected drum beat over an elastic bass line. The trumpet and sax join with an octave jumping, fractious melody creating friction with the atmospheric bass line. Maybe that is giving too much credit to the bass alone, as the synthesizer adds a great deal of depth and ambiance. The overall effect however casts a slightly melancholic parlor over powerful psychedelic rock. The solos in general are not vehicles to impress, but rather channels that enhance the moods of the pieces. Mood is what this music seems to be about, the music invites - or rather demands - the listener to hear visually. Images that come to my mind are natural, organic, flowing. As the pieces morph from hard charging rockers to ambient rolling movements the crashing waves become eddying streams. Rivers run through this visceral music, you feel the pulse even when you cannot discern a structure.

Free improvised passages merge into bifurcated solos. Silva and Brandão play off, around, and with each others lines. Brandão's switching between sax, alto clarinet, and flute adds new tonalities, as does the shifting sounds of the synthesizer and piano. A captivating passage begins with a Hammond organ patch on the synth that quickly adopts a circus-like cadence, which is then matched with an appropriately off-kilter melody. The mental images switch from the flowing waters to gracefully arching trapeze artists and then to clowns riding elephants. However, even this seemingly joyful moment is underscored with a bit of a brooding, unidentified menace. An explosive bass solo, full of distortion and feedback, ends this spectacular old-time reverie, and ushers the group into a unique vision of sludgy stoner rock. A later highlight is a duo exchange from Silva and Brandão, unfettered and free, it is an exciting duet before a drum solo that becomes a world-music piece as the horn players exchange their typical instruments for penny flutes.

The constant, uninterrupted shifts of tones, timbres, and tempos keeps the music flowing, and it's focused and precise nature makes it an utterly compelling listening experience. The set was just over an hour, but the distance traveled was immense.

Night 3, Aug 2: Angélica Salvi and The Selva

It's windy this evening, colder as well. The day was brilliant however, as I walked through some new neighborhoods from the Gulbenkian grounds where I had been sitting to finish up the previous nights write up (and ate a Pastel de nata from the cafeteria) to the ruins of the Moorish Castelo de São Jorge,  perched high above the river front. With few tourists, it was a pleasure to take in the views and walk over antiquity.

Angélica Salvi 
© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

Spanish born, but a long time Porto resident, harpist Angélica Salvi is a wispy presence on the stage. She quickly slides behind the imposing and beautiful concert harp, all but disappearing. From my vantage point, she is essentially just two arms with hands gently curled around the vertical strings. To her left is a set up of electronics that she uses to enhance and loop her primarily acoustic sound. She begins with a delicate thrum of the strings, then proceeding to pluck out an emergent tune through richly amplified tones. The songs have a folk-like feel to them, though presented in a proper classical manner. The mixture works remarkably well.

The second song is enhanced by the electronics, the melodic arpeggios are captured, reversed, and returned, providing a shadow of accompaniment. Salvi uses this combination of acoustic and electronics to weave a hypnotic sonic web, building up to gentle cascading crescendos, and dissolving into barely perceptible whispers. The last song breaks this silky sound tapestry with its purposefully struck deep melodic tones. The phrases themselves move mysteriously, drawing on Middle Eastern modalities. The song is also the fiercest, as Salvi begins to duet with her effects, her sound splitting into a swarm of insects. 

It's a brief but mesmerizing show. My only other introduction to Salvi was through he absolutely stunning 2015 duo album Concentric Rinds with guitarist Marcelo Dos Reis from Cipsela, and I will be searching out more.

The Selva © Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

After a brief pause, the three members of The Selva silently approach the stage: Ricardo Jacinto on cello, Gonçalo Almeida on double bass, and Nuno Morão on drums, a small group that generates an otherworldly sound.

They begin with the rumble of the bass and scraping overtones from the cello. Almeida proceeds to use mallets on his basses body, turning it into another drum. Supported by the 'real' drums, the band starts to hum, creating a dark, trepid thrum of sound. Jacinto tosses in a haunting theme to top it off. Then, the drums begin playing with a free-jazz style pulse, over the basses texture. The stage, suffused in red light, charges the ampitheater with a pregnant sinister atmosphere.

The Selva have two recordings out on Clean Feed, the self-titled 2017 debut and last years Canícula Rosa. They are described in various ways: minimalist, abstract, textural, and post-rock. Suffice to say, this is all true, and more. Emerging from the dark place that the trio just musically achieved, there is a repeated, simple figure from the cello and a groove amplified by the drums, making it safe to add 'prog-rock' to the list of descriptors. This movement, or section, builds in intensity and heft. Interestingly, it is only the drums that is offering any sense of melodic movement at the moment, the others are building layers of sound. This eventually dissolves, and the the bass takes over with a clean rhythmic figure, as the cello begins a new Gamelan-like phrase. The two begin stacking sounds anew, with moments of interlocking rhythms and textures. The final movement features Almeida and Jacinto bowing, the sound is awash in overtones while Morão finds an asymmetrical groove to ratchet up the energy. Settling into long, static lines, the drama increases until the gut wrenching tension breaks. 

The next piece (after this 25 minute epic, the pieces get shorter in duration, but even more intense) begins with some playful mayhem, which leads to some intense sawing at the strings. Then, a classical-tinged melody appears. The following piece begins with some feedback from the cello - it's not entirely possible to tell if it's intentional or not, but the bassist picks up on it and begins an insistent line. The drums then clicks into a minimalist groove and the bass line transfers to the cello, and the trio begins spinning a captivating sonic net.

As the following piece begins, a group of people leave the amphitheater. Astounding. The music isn't of course traditional jazz, nor is it gentle, rather it is texture, tension, and time, spinning around in the air before you. This is musical energy, and the group is now playing with space, the bass going deep, offering deep oscillating tones (there are electronics being used as well) as the cello delivers a mournful droning melody. Single pizzicato notes carry the listeners across the chasm. I found it hard to leave, even after the music was over.

Jazz 2020 continues next weekend. More info here.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Jazz 2020, Lisbon, Portugal. Part I

© Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

July 31, 2020


It is quiet in Lisbon, relatively speaking. The same streets that were teeming with tourists this time last year, even impassable at times, now allow for wide berth. Even the precipitous, winding streets of Barrio Alto, with its (at best) foot wide sidewalks, seem spacious.

The seats of the Gulbenkian amphitheater, a mid-century modern theater, which sits on a carp pond ensconced by trees and surrounded by lush garden, are also more spaced out this year. One seat open, two seats taped off. Reducing capacity by two thirds is a big deal, but the Gulbenkian Foundation has taken recent health measures seriously, from social distancing to requiring masks for the entire time anyone is in the theater. However, they feel it is worth it to continue the tradition of the Jazz em Agosto in light of the global pandemic that has impacted just about every aspect of public life this past year. It is also worth noting that Jazz em Agosto is not necessarily happening this year either ... rather Jazz 2020 is a modified, re-thought festival, both more local and more spread out than Jazz em Agosto, with a solid roster of Portuguese musicians and groups peppered over two weekends in Lisbon and the cities of Porto and Coimbra.

It is around 6 p.m. on the first night of shows (like Jazz em Agosto, there are shows Friday - Sunday on two consecutive weekends) and the evening big-band, Coreto, from Porto, is sound-checking. It's exciting to hear some live music - even if it's just snippets - in the air.  

"The musicians haven't really had work in 3 or 4 months," says Jazz em Agosto musical director Rui Neves, "it's really important to do this."

The Jazz em Agosto concerts have been going on for 36 editions, and number 37 was ready to go. "We were going to announce the line-up," says Neves, "but it became obvious that it couldn't happen as planned, so we decided to do something different."

At the at the start of the pandemic, the Gulbenkian Foundation put together funding to support artists, José Pinto, Deputy Director, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Music Department, adds. Then, re-thinking the festival concept, they began to work in cooperation with the Jazz ao Centro Clube (JACC) in Coimbra and Porto Jazz in Porto, two groups that support musicians and create opportunities in their respective regions of the country, and organized Jazz 2020, featuring more local talent. 

The local focus is nothing to sniff at says Neves. In fact, readers of this publication will have no trouble identifying albums and musicians that support this sentiment. Especially in regards to labels like Lisbon's own Clean Feed, Creative Sources, and Coimbra's Cipsela, to just name a few, the impact of the region on improvised and avant-garde jazz has been astounding. Ironically, the organizers note that if that there is one good thing from this situation, is that it is nice to have a chance show off these musicians.

The band finishes up their soundcheck and the bits and pieces of sound wafting over the empty seats subsides. Soon enough, those seats will be full, as the weekend's concerts are already sold out.

Night 1: Coreto

Coreto © Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

The day was cooling off, the breeze was picking up. The sky a deep purple and a few bats flittering in the air above the stage reflect from the lights below. The amphitheater has a calming atmosphere, the trees towering over and the orange glow on the stage makes it feels cozy. The band emerges from a stair well that pops out of the lawn behind the stage and take to their instruments. Coreto is a 12-piece band led by saxophonist/flutist and composer João Pedro Brandão. The players arrange themselves in two layers: a semi circle of wind instruments: alto sax, two tenor sax, baritone sax, two trumpets, and two trombones, and in front, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. It is a big group with a lot of musical possibilities, of which Brandão's compositions and arrangements makes expert use. 

The group opens with a repeated arpeggiated figure played by the guitar. This is overlaid with a somber melodic line from the horns, chord tones shift a bit and then the ostinato moves to the piano and the group kicks in with a graceful lumbering melody. The first solo passage is from trumpeter Ricardo Formoso, who introduces flowing lines over the undulating rhythm. The next piece begins with an austere bass figure, which is soon joined by a languid, full-bodied melody. The tune could almost be described as smooth, except there is some rhythmic mischief happening. Ripples of polyrhythms bubble up under the smooth surface. These figures grow stronger, a more forceful presence measure-by-measure. When trumpeter Susana Silva Santos takes over the solo line, she overlays elongated tones with touches of dissonance. The accompaniment reduces to the front-line, which helps the trumpeter outline the unseen edges of the music. A promising start, by all means. 

The next tune began in the free jazz tradition with blips and whooshes, percussive taps, and spluttering horns. Soon solidified by a bass and drum pattern, the reeds take over with an interval leaping melody. Guitarist AP takes the first solo, playing with an effected modern jazz guitar tone, he builds slowly and without flash, slowly picking up tempo and playing denser and denser lines until reaching a solid peak. Then, there is a contrast for Andrea Santos' trombone solo, which she plays over a much starker accompaniment. 

The fourth tune was perhaps a centerpiece, not just in the timing of the generous hour and a half show, but also from the recording that most of the songs of the evening's show were sourced. Analog, from 2017, and out on the Porta Jazz label, is built around Brandão's music. The songs are detailed, and robust combinations of styles and approaches, appropriating a lot from traditional big band voicings and tropes, but interjecting unusual transitions, unexpected twists, and shifting time signatures that keep the listener hooked. There is plenty of room for improvisation, which all of the players use to breath even more life into the songs. However, back to the fourth tune, 'Analog II: SOS,' begins with a series of 'bits' of morse-code, overlaid with a recorded voice over saying "rhythm is the key to good sending. If your code is to mean anything to others over the radio-net, then you have got to sent rhythmically." A bit tongue-in-cheek, but also seemingly a mission statement for the group.

The band has the potential for creating a powerful sound, but this is approached with discretion. Precision, smart arrangements, and a mindfulness of tradition, and of each other, helps craft their use use of volume and balance. No one voice dominates, though there are some stand-out moments. For example, on a later piece pianist Hugo Raro's near solo interlude is one. With his hands in seeming disagreement, he developed an off-kilter and delicate melody leading back to the powerful entry of Rui Teixeria on baritone sax. To interject one criticism, there were also moments of near kitsch, purposely so, but after stronger moments like the aforementioned one, the lightness of these moments seemed perhaps a bit too light. Coreto wrapped up with a tune that featured a powerful, edge trombone solo from Diniel Dias and an engaging moment with Brandão on flute and the other horns providing squiggling accompaniment.

So, perhaps the concert could be seen as a wonderful re-entry to live music for many in attendance. Set in the amphitheater against the lush gardens, with generous musical arrangements from the stage, and a socially distanced audience ready for the experience, there was little more to hope for - except for maybe no global pandemic.

Listen to Coreto's "Analog" here: 

Coreto © Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Vera Marmelo

The band:
João Pedro Brandão Alto saxophone / Flute
José Pedro Coelho Tenor saxophone
Hugo Ciríaco Tenor saxophone
Rui Teixeira Baritone saxophone
Ricardo Formoso Trumpet
Susana Santos Silva Trumpet
Daniel Dias Trombone
Andreia Santos Trombone
AP Electric guitar
Hugo Raro Piano
José Carlos Barbosa Doublebass
José Marrucho Drums

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Sam Eastmond: Spike Orchestra and Gulgoleth

Spike Orchestra - Splintered Stories (Tzadik, 2020) ****
Sam Eastmond - Gulgoleth (Chant Records, 2019) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

In the years since Sam Eastmond and his big band joined the Tzadik roster, Spike Orchestra has recorded John Zorn’s Masada books Book of Angels and The Book Beri’ah. Now, on their fourth proper album, Eastmond and co. return with all originals, composed with all the layered, allusive density that’s become a hallmark of Eastmond’s other bands. As before, Spike Orchestra features Noel Langley, George Hogg, and Yazz Ahmed on trumpet; Mike Wilkins, Damon Oliver, Josephine Davies, and Gemma Moore on saxes and assorted winds; Harry Brown and Tim Smart on trombone; Jeff Miller on tuba; and a rhythm section of pianist Olly Chalk, guitarist Moss Freed, bassist Otto Willberg, and drummer Will Glaser.

The album cover, a photo featuring books by George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Charles Bukowski, Lenny Bruce, Ian Fleming, Margaret Atwood, and others, hints at the depth of references, as well as the compositions’ wry wit and sustained drama. Opener “The Pink Shagpile Carpet Story, aka The King of Spank,” kicks off with four minutes of call and response between brassy explosions commingled with the rhythm section and teasing invocations from the woodwinds. When the melody drops into place, trumpets swing at multiple octaves above the saxophones, creating a thrilling vertical space—it’s an excitingly Thad Jones/Mel Lewis-inspired moment that shows off the tremendous skills of Spike Orchestra’s lineup. Propelled by Freed’s Morricone-esque commentary, the orchestra shifts into a lengthy, hard-charging finale that positively jumps and shouts—in another, better time, you and a club of patrons would not be able to sit still for this one (n.b., my family’s been up and dancing about the living room to this album several times already). I’ve written about Eastmond’s Ellingtonian flourishes in the past, but the penchant for orchestral movements comes to the fore on Splintered Stories. “Here & Now” probes some deeply conspiratorial territory (echoes of Darcy James Argue from across the pond and amped by several more years of dread and disappointment), with a “Peter Gunn”-quoting churn, driven by Chalk, Freed, Willberg, and Glaser’s unrelenting funk undercurrent. Midway, a duo of trumpet and sax solos crisscrosses several countermelodies, disrupting the aged spy motif with the chaos of the present. We often use words like “elegiac” to describe something soft or plaintive in music. But Wilkins’s clarinet solo sounds closer to a true elegy, a reflection on what’s lost when the spy fantasies of our youth ripen to the tangled, sickening truth of the current moment. Though, perhaps, we can invert that interpretation, and hear this as a lament for what we’ve gained. That, like Odin, we sacrifice willingly, losing not our literal eye but our metaphoric vision of the world as it was. Heady stuff, for sure, but that doesn’t undercut the amount of plain old fun to be had with Splintered Stories. For readers who haven’t heard them yet, Spike Orchestra is a kindred spirit of our beloved Angles, whose biting wit and superb musicianship can be heard on songs like “Let’s Speak About the Weather (And Not About the War).” Like Martin Küchen, Eastmond is a master composer and arranger, and he and his band have delivered one of the most dangerously delirious albums of the year.

In the US, order direct from Downtown Music Gallery

In the UK or EU, order direct from Rough Trade.

Earlier this year, Eastmond debuted a new set of compositions, Gulgoleth, featuring his standing rhythm section of Freed, Willberg, and Glaser, joined by pianist Elliot Galvin. The album includes a version of “Standing On the Shoulders of Giantslayers” that’s markedly more nimble than the Spike Orchestra version from Splintered Stories. In place of the tapestry of horns, the quartet’s performance is buffeted by Glaser’s outstanding drumming set against Galvin and Freed’s rich, flowing performance. From the jump, the music is angular, raw, and driving. I don’t think Freed is as well known on this side of the Atlantic, which is something worth remedying. He has an especially playful approach, pivoting from echoey space-age chords to thrashing jazz metal riffs. Similarly, Galvin’s piano playing encompasses the wide range of styles on display here—the 10-minute “In the Grip of the Lobster” is one standout song that really highlights Galvin’s mutability. On a recent episode of Huw Williams’s podcast, Galvin talked about the influence Craig Taborn has on his piano playing. Throughout Gulgoleth, that’s more apparent than ever, I think, in part because you can hear how adeptly he moves from supporting player to lead, and how expertly he responds to Eastmond’s blend of abstract concepts and genre motifs. And then there are Willberg and Glaser, who form the dark heart of this music, driving both groups forward with great skill and a sense of humor that nicely complements Eastmond’s.

Of note, during the pandemic, Eastmond started working with arrangements of the Gulgoleth book for solo performers. The first is Brice Catherin on solo cello and electric cello.

Order Gulgoleth from Bandcamp

Order Gulgoleth: Solo Works from Bandcamp

Friday, July 31, 2020

Muhal Richard Abrams – Celestial Birds (Karl Records, 2020) ***½

By Troy Dostert

One of the great innovators in avant-garde jazz and an essential figure in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Muhal Richard Abrams established a formidable legacy during his almost five-decade recording career. A fearless, trailblazing pianist and composer who drew upon the full scope of African-American music yet ultimately pointed toward still-unexplored territory, Abrams’s influence can’t be overstated, and hence it’s inevitable that archival releases begin to consider specific facets of his oeuvre. In this instance, Karl Records has assembled four of Abrams’s pieces from across several landmark recordings, with the intent of focusing on his “widely unknown electronic compositions.”

Whether these pieces are “unknown,” at least to readers of this blog, is debatable, since all four have been previously issued, on albums most fans of Abrams will already be familiar with. But that’s not the only ambiguity here. The bigger question concerns the criteria for “electronic” music, and whether “Bird Song,” the first and most substantial cut on the album at over 22 minutes, qualifies. Taken from Abrams’ first record, Levels and Degrees of Light (Delmark, 1968), the music includes some of the pillars of the free jazz community in the late sixties, such as Anthony Braxton, Thurman Barker, (Kalaparusha) Maurice McIntyre, and Leroy Jenkins—and it’s quite a feat of music-making, with an intricate compositional logic that still accommodates a maelstrom of collective improvisation during the second segment of the piece, after a lengthy spoken-word section featuring David Moore. But where are the electronics? Unless the numerous bird sounds during the second half of the track count (and there’s no indication in the liner notes or credits that these were electronically produced), this is a head-scratcher. The liners do emphasize the presence of substantial reverb on this version that was for whatever reason removed from the Delmark CD reissue in 1991—and there is a lot of reverb here— but even though many listeners may not have heard this version, it’s hardly a pathbreaking use of electronics, especially compared with some of Abrams’s other efforts (see below). Moreover, from a listener’s point of view there is the additional question of whether this version actually suffers by comparison to the other one, especially as the reverb exacerbates the noisy, somewhat cluttered mix that is one of the record’s shortcomings. In any event, in terms of electronic innovation, the other three cuts arguably have a lot more to offer.

“Conversations with the Three of Me” is a solo piece taken from a much later album, The Hearinga Suite (Black Saint, 1989). It highlights the more reflective side of Abrams’s playing, at least at first, delving into his distinctive chromaticism with a series of patiently-developed chords before abruptly turning to the synthesizer, after which the piece becomes significantly stranger, almost wholly disconnected from what’s come before. Multiple voicings and effects are used, creating an unusual mix of sounds possibly requiring overdubbing. It’s a startling piece, particularly with the juxtaposition between the piano and synthesizers, and offers a glimpse of Abrams’s eagerness to unsettle his listeners, but the music does have a transfixing quality. Then we have “Think All, Focus One,” the title track of Abrams’s Black Saint album from 1994, and it’s another solo piece with a cornucopia of electronics, including something akin to an electronic harpsichord and even a drum machine. Anyone wondering where Abrams found the creative wherewithal to orchestrate some of his most memorable big-band charts should look no further, as the breadth of his vision is absolutely evident in a piece lasting just five and a half minutes.

The album concludes with “Spihumonesty,” perhaps the most fully realized use of synthesizers on the record, and the title track from Abrams’s 1980 album on Black Saint. This piece sees Abrams alongside George Lewis (also on synthesizer) and Yousef Yancey on theremin. Listeners familiar with Lewis’s (and Richard Teitelbaum’s) electronics on the iconic Homage to Charles Parker (Black Saint, 1979) will hear echoes of that here, but really the track is quite remarkable in fusing the playing of all three musicians, creating a hypnotic piece of music that is more than the sum of its parts, a devilishly clever use of synthesized sound in a cohesive, atmospheric musical statement, with enveloping waves and tones that possess an almost mystical power. It does leave one wondering about what Abrams might have been able to do with a sustained opportunity to develop his interests in synthesized music, instead of sprinkling his more experimental efforts piecemeal throughout other projects. Quibbles aside, Karl Records has gone in the right direction in opening up that question.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jo David Meyer Lysne & Mats Eilertsen - Kroksjø (Hubro, 2020) ***½

By Kian Banihashemi 

Jo David Meyer Lysne and Mats Eilertsen are two Norwegian musicians who have come together once more, on the Hubro music label (also originating from Norway). This encounter seems to place focus on the textural environment and less so on the improvisation techniques of Lysne (on acoustic guitar) and Eilertsen (on bass). The title Kroksjø is the Norwegian word for an oxbow lake, in which a "U" shaped lake is formed after being cut off from a river. Lysne has stated that these geological formations helped inspire this endeavor and that he views them as a symbol of the artistic effort, being impermanent and forever changing. Hypnotic motifs are lost and found on this record, and with the help of a turntable, the comfort of physical home audio is brought forward. Sounds from the natural world and folk musings seep through to the heart of this record, providing points of focus that solidify the artists' intentions. The first three tracks appear fragile, adding a glimpse of a wild landscape that is only truly masterfully harnessed by the artists later.

The icy strings are brought alive by the crackle of the turntable and droplets of water turn into wooden rhythms as if it is intended by nature's will. The sustained flourishes on the guitar are a welcome blaze of warmth on "Forve" and tease what instrumental themes are to come. The record takes a turn on the fourth track, "Byakjela" which begins with that signature sound of a record run-off, which has finished its side. This recurring blip plays into the acoustic guitar which enters shortly thereafter. This is followed by "Snoensøya" which serves as a fairly simple guitar interlude, leading up to the more impressive "Ålykkja". The synthesizers here seem to whirl around the listener in a very fluid fashion, with strings popping up to guarantee that the sounds don’t drown. The bleeps and bloops are reminiscent of Morton Subotnick’s work and serve to contrast with the bass playing that shakes beneath the surface, sending ripples in every direction. This is one of the more impressive tracks I've heard from these two artists thus far and demonstrates the heights they can reach through their meshing of instrumentation and feel for the environment they create.

The last two pieces help serve as a total bookend to this aural landscape, mostly through the utilization of the techniques used prior, but done in a more condensed and easily digestible fashion. On "Finna", the bass and guitar improvisations are played in such a cooperative and warm fashion that I wish there was more of this style throughout the album. The beginning vinyl crackle and repetition of the piano at the end satisfies the itch for some alluring, recently discovered atmosphere. The closing track "Furumokjela", sees the return of those liquid and wooden drops that render such a gratifying rhythm alongside the squeaking synths and melodic guitar plucking. These drops increase in pitch and frequency, contrasting with the sustained echo of the guitar, culminating in an ending which had me begging for more. This finale is somewhat short, and I wish more time was given to explore the soundscapes introduced throughout this album.

This is an album to get lost in, with a short enough length that allows more intense listening each time. The distinct focus on sound quality and textures supplies a sense of contentment that is very gratifying to the listener. Lysne and Eilertsen bring the sounds of an ever-changing world into our dwellings, with the use of crackling records and intimate instrumentation. In a very claustrophobic and nervous time, this album can serve as a momentary, fresh escape into the natural sounds of summer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Ornette lives ...

By Stef Gijssels

It's been five years now since Ornette Coleman passed away, yet his musical legacy is still very much alive. In the last months several albums were released that perform his music or pay tribute to him.

The albums in question may receive a more indepth review later on, but I just wanted to point out how his compositions are still an inspiration today, from tribute bands like Broken Shadows, over some creative renditions of Coleman compositions, and ending with some albums that dedicate music to him.

In the early 60s Ornette Coleman's unique take on music was rejected by the music establishment, as it possibly should be with boundary-breaking art, then he was embraced near the end of his life by that same establishment. The most important thing is that his music is still alive today, vibrant, inspiring free jazz musicians, mainstream musicians and avant-garde ensembles.

We receive a lot of music, but all these album are from the last month or so. It struck me how present Ornette Coleman still was on so many albums. Ornette Coleman's music is very much alive.

Broken Shadows - Live (Screwgun, 2020)

The first album to be reviewed is the quartet of Chris Speed on tenor, Tim Berne on alto, Dave King on drums, and Reid Anderson on bass. They are an Ornette Coleman tribute band and the only tracks on this album are composed by Coleman, well not all, you also get nice renditions of Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." and "Body". The most known Coleman compositions are surely "Song For Che", and "Broken Shadows", two classics from the Coleman songbook.

Rudresh Mahanthappa - Hero Trio (Whirlwind, 2020) 

On "Hero Trio", altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa pays tribute to some of his heroes, with François Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

The Coleman composition performed here is "Sadness" (Town Hall, 1962), originally also performed as a trio by Coleman, Charles Moffett and David Izenzon.

The Good Life - The Animals Took Over (Self, 2020)

"The Good Life" is an all-star band, with John Dieterich and Nels Cline on guitar, Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Trevor Dunn on electric bass and Scott Amendola on drums. The band's name refers to the Coleman song on "Skies of America" (Columbia, 1972), which gets a performance that lasts ten minutes longer than the short original. Also "Congeniality" - from "The Shape of Jazz To Come" (Atlantic, 1959) - gets a lengthy take. This is a guitarist-led band that also performs own material and one Giuffre piece. It is all very raw and energetic as you can expect from an occasional band performing live.

Roots Magic - Take Root Among The Stars (Clean Feed, 2020) 

Roots Magic is an Italian band with Alberto Popolla on clarinets, Enrico De Fabritiis on alto and baritone sax, Gianfranco Tedeschi on Double Bass and Frabrizio Spera on drums. The perform "A Girl Named Rainbow", possibly lesser known because it was first released by Jocque & Le Scott on "The Ornette Coleman Songbook" in 1978. It's a respectful and warm piece that fits well within the overall tone of the rest of the album.

Patty Waters - An Evening In Houston (Clean Feed, 2020)

This album was already reviewed by Cam Scott in May of this year, so I won't go into much more detail. She sings her version of "Lonely Woman". There are many vocal covers of this composition, making this almost a mainstream standard. Waters goes beyond expectations, but vocal jazz is beyond my taste levels, so the reader better sticks to Cam Scott's appreciation.

Raphaël Pannier - Faune  (French Paradox, 2020)

French drummer Raphaël Pannier brings a tribute to Ornette Coleman on his debut album "Faune", by performing "Lonely Woman" with Miguel Zenón on alto, Aaron Goldberg on piano, François Moutin (again) on bass. The musicianship is very strong but the musical vision is unfortunately relatively bland and mainstream. You would have expected more creativity from a young musician with the skills of Pannier.

Jorge Roeder - El Suelo Mio (Self, 2020)

Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder brings his version of "Lonely Woman" on his latest solo album - about which more in the future. The track is not long, but his take is quite good, with arco playing both the tune's melody and the background chords too, with an improvisation that well captures the inherent drama of the composition.

The last four albums in this series do not perform Coleman compositions but are/contain tributes to him.

Chris Pitsiokos - Speak In Tongues (Relative Pitch, 2020)

On his first live solo saxophone album, Chris Pitsiokos pays tributes to his musical inspirations and heroes: Charlie Parker, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Eric Dolphy, John Zorn and of course Ornette Coleman. The track "To Ornette Coleman" is a long monotonous and fierce lament with little variation, lots of energy and power.

Stefan Karl Schmid - Pyjama (Tangible Music, 2020)
German saxophonist Stefan Karl Schmid pays tribute to "Ornette" by improvising on an arrangement that holds the middle between medieval polyphonic sounds and jazz. The other musicians on this track are all horns, with Shannon Barnett on trombone, Heidi Bayer and Bastian Stein on trumpet, and Mattis Cederberg on bass trombone and cimbasso. The piece is subdued, reverent and has its own beautiful aesthetic.

Zeitkratzer and Mariam Wallentin ‎– The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Zeitkratzer, 2020)

The German avant ensemble Zeitkratzer "plays jazz" on this album, using one of Coleman's seminal early albums for its title.

The choice of their jazz material is more traditional, with tracks such as "My Funny Valentine", "Cry Me A River" and "Jelly Roll Blues", but at least they turn these compositions into something new, unexpected and fun. The vocals are by special guest Mariam Wallentin.

Zeitkratzer is directed by Reinhold Friedl
Frank Gratkowski alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Hayden Chisholm alto saxophone, clarinet
Hild Sofie Tafjord french horn
Hilary Jeffery trombone
Reinhold Friedl piano, celesta
Maurice de Martin drums, percussion 
Lisa Marie Landgraf violin
Ulrich Phillipp double bass
Martin Heinze double bass

Thomas Hass & Thomas Agergaard - Double Drums, Vol. 1 (Gateway, 2020)

Danish saxophonists Thomas Hass and Thomas Agergaard bring their own tribute on the track "Night Drive With Ornette", a nervous and boppy harmolodic composition performed with skill.

In sum, it's amazing how Ornette Coleman's music is still a strong influence on today's jazz scene, and this in all stylistic subgenres. Somehow it beats me that mainstream jazz musicians incorporate tributes to Ornette Coleman without really understanding his true legacy of getting out of the mainstream into musically uncharted territories. True, his compositions have strong themes and are possibly easier to recognise and cover than Ayler, Coltrane or Taylor. Regardless, I think it's great that  Coleman still has this presence.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Peter Brötzmann & Paul G. Smyth - Tongue In a Bell (Weekertoft, 2020) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

From the jump, Paul G. Smyth’s newest duo album, this time featuring Peter Brötzmann, is a rumbling, growling affair. Opening with Brötzmann in a haunted cousin of a middle register, Smyth’s early playing is equally haunted. “Tongue In a Bell” progress as a moving meditation, a deeply emotional pairing of the great saxophonist with one his rarer partners, a piano. It’s something easily forgotten, considering how vital Fred Van Hove is to Brötzmann’s catalog, but he seems to prefer guitars as an improvising partner. With Smyth, of course, the pairing results in a curious treasure, by which I mean a recording that wears its players’ curiosity on its sleeve. On “Falling Out of All the Towers of Space,” Brötzmann switches to tarogato, as he and Smyth head into a new soundscape. There are no assumptions presented here. Both players seem to be alternately asking and discovering, in equal measure. In that way, Tongue In a Bell is another in an increasingly long line of late-career Brötzmann albums that show him daringly vulnerable, as in his duo with Heather Leigh and his recent solo album.

Occasionally, albums get referred to as slabs, thick and heavy. This slab, however, remains a bright and energizing object. If its edges appear ragged, that’s entirely by design: look closer, each is honed to a razor-sharp point. It’s a testament to both the performance and the production. A live album, Tongue In a Bell is, like others in the Weekertoft catalog, expertly produced. The depth and clarity of the recording is exceptional, something Weekertoft continues to excel at.

Available through Bandcamp.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Polwechsel & Klaus Lang - Unseen (HatHut ezz-thetics, 2019) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The current incarnation of the experimental Austrian-German quartet Polwechsel featuring founders cellist Michael Moser and double bass player Werner Dafeldecker, and the two percussionists who joined the quartet later on, Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr. The group teams up with Austrian contemporary music composer, concert organist, and improviser Klaus Lang (who recorded before with Dafeldecker, Lichtgeschwindigkeit, GROB, 2003) for Unseen, recorded at the Grosskirche of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Austria, in November 2018.

Unseen plays with the old - the acoustic, resonant space of the centuries-old church with its built-in organ and its vast range of both frequency and tonal colors and the vintage, analog synthesizer sounds, played by Lang, together with the so-called classical instruments, and the new - sonic ambiguity, strange hybrids, illusory associations, and instruments that are rendered unfamiliar by the smoke and mirrors of ‘acoustic’ mixing, masking, and reverberation. Unseen is tuned into the boundless power of the acousmatic, the idea that when we can’t see the source of what we hear, the listening individual - or the musician - is given an opportunity, freedom even, to interpret that sound in any manner that they can possibly imagine. Polwechsel and Lang irreverent approach to genres, sounds, silence, and extended techniques, all blur the distinction between composition and real-time improvising, and realizing of the score and between free-improv and contemporary music.

The first composition, Lang’s “Easter Wings”, makes full use of the acoustic space qualities in order to create an elusive, illusory conception and to suggest an atmosphere of abrupt noises, sonic clusters, and natural harmonics. The church organ of Lang fills the resonating space and affects the instruments of Polwechsel, modifying their acoustic sounds to the point of being unrecognizable. All sounds seem to be lost in the resonating, low tones mechanical forest that the organ, or shaped by its low register, including the fascinating rustle of the metallic cymbals. But out of this ethereal, reductionist forest of sounds surfaces a delicate and enigmatic melodic vein then the bowed cello and the double bass and the percussion instruments sound more clearly.

Moser’s “No sai cora-m fui endormitz” (“I don’t know when I’m asleep” from a poem by the troubadour Guilhem de Poiteu) puts again the church organ and the acoustic space in the position of conspiring with the other instruments to produce a sound that is more than the sum of its parts. This kind of hybrid instrumentation plays in highly disciplined, rhythmic unison that slowly mutates, and rearranges its constituent parts into various combinations and layers of overlapping sonorities, and patiently builds a tension of sustained, resonating sounds.

Dafeldecker’s “Redeem” concludes this unique collaboration. This piece offers another elusive atmosphere as the low, saturated tones of the organ and the double bass are disturbed by ripples of mysterious noises but are determined to reach a desperate kind of musical stasis. Later on, the organ re-enters with brighter, lighter chords, together with bowed metal instruments, and this composition is concluded with layers of sustained, inventive organ and noisy percussive sounds, all seem to be liberated from the concrete realities of instrumentation by this distinct acousmatic context.

You may need few, intense listening to Unseen, but then there is no way back. You probably would acquire new sensitivities and perspectives about sound over all, acoustic vs. electronic, layers of sound, sound, and space, and most importantly, the ambiguous qualities of sound.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

85bears - s/t (Eyes and Ears Records, 2020) ****

By Paul Acquaro

A number of relatedly unrelated things come to mind each time that I listen to 85bears. First there is  how the winding lines of the windy instruments in the foreground bop and weave around each other with melodically free abandon, kind of like the early recordings of Ornette Coleman. Then of course, Chicago. Allusions to the Chicago Bears football team lineup from 1985 are scattered throughout the work, from the name of the group, to the titles of the songs, and Chicago is where saxophonist Greg Ward, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, bassist Matthew Lux, and dummer Marcus Evans are based (the only odd-man-out here is Philadelphia based drummer Chad Taylor, who adds overdubbing on three tracks). The final thing is the theme from BoJack Horseman, the acerbic cartoon series from Netflix.

The BoJack reference is the weakest one, but it comes to mind every time that I listen to the opening tracks of the album. 'Lament for Sweetness' begins with a gloopy electronics introduction with an improvised sax line that seems to recall 'Chattanooga Choo-choo'. This (imagined) one minute long mash-up grabs me each time. The following track 'Samurai Singletary', which is double the time at the opener, eschews the electronics for a slippery backbeat (so slippery it's sometimes in front), and a sympathetic rivalry between the two woodwinds. 

About those horns: Stein and Ward have both, over the course the past decade or so, released a bunch of progressively free as well as carefully composed recordings. Stein's Hearts and Minds and Locksmith Isodore groups are consistently engaging and enjoyable. Heart's and Minds debut (Astral Spirits, 2016) recalled Sun-Ra, while Electroradiance (Astral Spirits, 2018) took the listener down an early fusion path. Ward's Touch My Beloved's Thought (Greenleaf Music, 2016) was an ambitious and successful large-scale work based on Charles Mingus' music. The two have also worked together in other combinations, such as 2019's evocative Nature Work (Sunnyside Records), which all simply means this is music supported by deep mutual understanding.

Back to the album at hand. The following track, clocking in at 7-minutes, is 'Willie', which showcases each player in some manner. The opening takes a moment to pick up as Stein offers from breathy tones, and Ward shadows him. Evans and Lux provide some textural fills and support as the two woodwinds seem to be gently prodding each other. About two and half minutes in, Lux and Evan seem to agree on a reserved groove, and Stein and Ward begin layering on individual, complimentary ideas. 'Gault', which features Taylor's additional drumming, represents the more aggressive side of the group, at least rhythmically. While most of the songs are built on unusual grooves, or elements thereof, this track thrives on a solid pulse, but ends too soon. On the other side, 'The Butler' may be the free-est track, deeply exploratory with only a gentle cohesive development, but which leaves a lingering desire for more.

This tape/digital release is available through Bandcamp, which means there isn't much standing between you and your Paypal account to stop you from enjoying this excellent album.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Polyorchard - ink (Out & Gone Music, 2020) *****

A while back, I casually mentioned on Twitter that I was writing a 4 ½-star review of North Carolina bassist David Menestres’s newest Polyorchard release, a double-album of duets with trombonist Jeb Bishop, recorded live over three days in April 2019, in Bloomington, Nashville, and Columbus, Ohio. As you can see above, in the intervening time, I’ve re-scored this release, and it’s become one of my must-own recommendations for the year. To try and answer why, and to seek something of a design in my own experience with the album, it’s important to remember where we’re at in the history of now. At some point, years in the future, listening to this album will inspire reminisces, remembering its release predated the pandemic, but its audience was subsumed by it.

Now, then. First, how did I arrive at “must-own”? There are a few trombone and bass duo albums that I pulled out while writing this: Tristan Honsinger and Günter Christmann’s Earmeals, Paul Rogers and Paul Rutherford’s Rogues, and I also dipped into Maarten Altena’s discography to revisit his and Wolter Wierbos’s interactions, and played loads of Steve Swell albums, plus a few random curveballs. Easily, without hesitation, ink stands alongside the best of these, in the sense that it demonstrates the breadth of interaction between two talented musicians, each performer pushing themselves and their instruments to occasional extremes. Ink draws its inspiration from free improvisation, visual art, poetry, outsider art, and threads tenuous connections that continuously strengthen and rewrite themselves upon further listening. The performances play with the audience’s desire for more traditional improvisatory drama. Starting with “early blooming parentheses,” Bishop’s physicality is an invitation to deep listening (Emily Leon likewise notes his breath as “a third player” on the album). We, collectively, talk sometimes about music that transports a listener to faraway spaces. There is a similar effect listening to ink, although where one is transported to may be different for each listener. By the time I got to “written in water” and “the caesura between”—roughly the midpoint of the album—while listening on noise-canceling headphones, with Menestres’s bowing ringing deep, resonant echoes within, I found myself in a space of suspended reflection. The final two tracks, “a civil tongue in your mouth” and “genesis of the blue cell” are tremendous performances, 30 minutes worth the entire price of admission. Starting with Menestres’s strident bass, Bishop enters with a muted solo response, and the give-and-take gives way to a funky, swinglike duet. As the first morphs into the second, and final, song, the players temporarily displace themselves, sounds scattering to open the way for a lengthy solo from each player. “genesis of the blue cell” brilliantly showcases the duo’s use of silence. I was reminded of the great Joseph Jarman and Famadou Don Moye duo album Egwu-Anwu, one of the finest duo albums that likewise showcases silence as something of a shared instrument. In the current era of distancing, hearing two musicians connect so deeply and meaningfully evokes the transcendent power of human interactions. More than remembering or commemorating these moments—or, more often, gamely trying to recreate them in virtual space—there is great value in experiencing them, as ink magnificently allows.

Album is available for through Bandcamp:

Alternately, support a small business and order direct from SquidCo.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Nate Wooley - Three Studies for Future Uncertainties (Tisser Tissu, 2020) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Nate Wooley (trumpet, electronics, text) presents three sketches - two 18-minute solos and one piece of prose - that he might expand on at a later date on Three Studies for Future Uncertainties. This is the first release of the Tisser Tissu label, an imprint of Wooley’s Pleasure of the Text label, which intends to accompany each release with contextual information and media. For example, the two tracks here have accompanying explanations but also visual art to enrich listeners’ understanding of the works. To explain the context of the label, Wooley provides a brief etymological lesson on the name, explaining that these Old French words for weaving and fabric derive from the Latin that gives us the English word for text. And he goes on to explain the perspective of literature as a weaving of many threads, to be unraveled and rewoven by the reader into a tapestry of their own understanding, and unraveled and rewoven again with each revisit as the reader collects new experiences that change their interpretations. Presumably context provides an understanding closer to the creator’s intent (whether they’re an unreliable narrator or not), but the explicit purpose here is simply to provide more material to chew on, with the hope that it provides a more engaging, dynamic experience. Three Studies for Future Uncertainties certainly provides that.

The context for “Study for a Mass” includes: the music of Harry Partch, Chris Brown, James Tenney, and Catherine Lamb; David B. Doty’s three-dimensional lattices for just intonation in Just Intonation Primer; a “creative misunderstanding of Kant’s idea of form and content;” the grid drawings of Agnes Martin; the parts of a mass service, inspired by Wooley’s perceived quietism in Martin’s works; and the embroidered graphic scores of Jen Mesch’s Soft Red, Hard White, details of which are included in the physical booklet and on the cover. The compositional process involves drawing grids inspired by Martin within lattices from Doty to explore harmonic shifts in just intonation. While the intention is to use this compositional process within the framework of a mass (Kyrie, etc.), the track here is a proof of concept and not a mass movement. The music is all electronic sine waves, multitracked to produce a grand polyrhythm of undulations, oscillations, purrs, hums, throbs, ringing, and singing. You can hear synthesis. And a portion of these frequencies seems to replicate the warm whirr of an organ, contributing to the spirituality invoked by the subject matter. Most of the music I’m familiar with that explores elements of drone and just intonation are glacial compared to other music, but this is quite lively, dynamic, and almost hyperactive. I’m enthusiastic about Wooley exploring this aspect of music and looking forward to the full mass but, while the pacing is probably more engaging than similar musics, I feel it would need to be adjusted in some way to reflect the gravity and gnostic quietism presumably intended.

“Intermediate Wobble Study” is an expansion of a commissioned piece with the prompt, “what is the sound of creation?” Wooley’s concept of creation is less big bang and more planetesimal accretion, with changes in mass causing a gravitational wobble before the system tries to approach equilibrium, only to accrete more and wobble again. The music is tape-manipulated snippets of acoustic extended technique from trumpet, with air notes, ‘dead’ notes, whistles, close-mic’d embouchures, and more cut to collide in sonic space, seemingly mimicking accretion. Every few minutes, Wooley cuts in sine waves to create a stacked melody that then dissipates, signifying the wobble. For fans of the clicks and cuts of glitch and similar musics, you’ll find this sounds very similar to Vladislav Delay’s “Anima” with the melody from Autechre’s “IV VV IV VV VIII.” Though the sound itself seems derivative of another kind of music, I’m excited to see Wooley exploring tape manipulation and post-production of acoustic extended technique, which I believe opens promising doors to an already genius musician.

“A Story Based on Robert Graves’ The White Goddess” is a very short prose piece inspired by Wooley’s solo series, Coyote, as well as the work in the title, which he read during the composition and/or performance process of the series. I’m not aware of a recording of Coyote, but the process he describes recalls his Syllables music, in which he translates textual or linguistic elements to embouchures for new sonic possibilities. And while I’ve not read The White Goddess, I’m vaguely aware of its almost structuralist approach to myth and criticisms concerning its characterization of women and Judaism as well as its historical veracity. This story is broadly about a man ecstatically describing a mythical image of a woman and the boon he receives from her out loud while the woman sitting next to him is more realistically describing this man and the absurdity about him in an inner dialogue. The man’s description is mostly symbology, often recalling classical goddesses, to create a single liminal persona embodying life and death. I get the sense that Wooley is romanticizing himself as a rough, handsome sailor through the woman’s description, but it’s comparatively real. My general interpretation is that the story is directly related to and siding with the criticisms concerning the characterization of women in classical symbology. The story’s brevity and the very direct inspiration from The White Goddess make it difficult to showcase or even discern Wooley’s style in the piece but, given his work with translating linguistics to embouchures, poetic inspiration to music, and editorial duties with Sound American, it makes sense he would take a stab at stories. The emphasis of composition, process, and symbology in his music is here, but the tonal and timbral vocabulary of his music doesn’t quite seem reflected in his diction.

Despite some nitpicking, I consider this an addictively listenable (and readable) release demonstrating the groundbreaking depth we’ve come to expect from solo Wooley releases with new breadth never before recorded by the musician. There’s a thoroughness of concept in these studies not often seen in fully-developed pieces. If any one of these sketches were presented in completion, they would surely each be “five stars.” For now, support these endeavours - each robust listens and reads even in these germinal stages - in the hopes that we do get the full mass, the advanced wobble, and the first full publication of Wooley’s fiction.

The sound of Three Studies for Future Uncertainties is a digital-only release; the text is available digitally and physically.