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Monday, October 18, 2021

Georg Graeve, Kjell Nordeson, Jon Raskin Trio - Live at NIR Studios (Temescal Records, 2021) ****

By Flavio Zanuttini

Nowadays we are used to the streaming concerts. It was not so common before COVID-19, but now it seems like almost every musician on earth, professional or not, had to try this new way of performing. We can say it's a hybrid situation between the studio recording and the live concert: you don’t know how many people will listen to your music (like in studio recordings), and you have just one take, like in live concerts. You don’t have any feedback from the audience and you don’t have the possibility to make a second or third take or to choose which track to publish.

Here is something quite close to this situation, but coming from the past (more precisely, 2009). Jon Raskin performed three live-streamed concerts at NIR Studios in Oakland for the internet radio sfSound curated by Matt Ingalls, and for the third show the line up was Jon Raskin, Georg Graewe and Kjell Nordeson, which was recently released in March 2021 on Jon Raskin bandcamp site.

The music of this trio is amazing, well balanced with a constant tension flowing throw a big range of dynamics. The five tracks show pretty well how the three musicians can respect other’s space and silence but can also grow on dynamics, they are very reactive on what happens musically and this immerse the listener to a scenario that can change really fast but always in a natural way.

Graeve, Nordeson and Raskin explore all the possibilities of this ensemble giving space to solos, duos and, of course, a trio. They have different musicality that fits together in a complementary way: Raskin is the one who pushes more the tonal possibilities, Graeve on the other side is doing an intense work on piano expanding the conception of rhythm melody and harmony, and Nordeson is playing in a very respectful way pushing the direction of the music and emphasizing every little change.

A great record by a great trio, it would be nice to hear the same band play nowadays and see after 12 years how their feeling has grown.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Carina Khorkhordina

Today, something a little different. Carina Khorkhordina is a trumpeter and photographer from Russia, now living and working in Berlin. Some of her recent works are sound/site-specific videos that she has created showcasing some of the quickly disappearing 'verlassene Orte' (abandoned places) in the rapidly gentrifying city.

The first is set in a deserted Schwimmhalle in the Panow section of the city that Khorkhordina fills with sound. She writes:
It's a format of site-specific performances I've been planning to develop for a while. The initial idea of the collaboration with Axel Dörner (trumpet) and Burkhard Beins (percussion) came out of my photographic work about Berlin. In October last year we made our first video in an abandoned swimming pool in the part of the city called Pankow.

This next one comes from a spot not far from the Schwimmhalle, one that is already sporting banners from a demolition company.

In this video, Khorkhordina is working with Berlin based percussionist/vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa and electronics artist Eric Bauer. She writes
It is filmed in a former railroad yard. First part is the duo (Bauer / Khorkhordina) site-specifically circling around circular breathing on a plastic Abflussrohr-Didgeridoo and spinning the double wind wand bullroarer. Second part is a piece between the light and darkness with Emilio, Eric and myself.

Finally, one of Khorkhordina's photographs, which capturea in a stark, unadorned way, the out of the way - or perhaps quite typical - landscapes of Berlin...

12U Zehlendorf August 2020. Photo by Carina Khorkhordina

For more of Khorkhordina's work, visit:

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Henry Threadgill - Poof (Pi Recordings, 2021) ****½

By Landon Kuhlmann

Henry Threadgill has triumphantly returned to present us with another vision of his world: a swirling, expansive set of new compositions with his longest-running group, Zooid.

The last album we heard from Zooid was 2016’s with In For A Penny, In For A Pound, which won a Pulitzer Prize as well as continued acclaim from critics.

The sound of Zooid, 20 years into their existence, has long become something of legend and enigma. It uses an evolving and complex musical system invented by Threadgill, a singular language influenced by his concept of giving certain musical intervals to each member of the group as a launching pad for improvisations and accompaniments (or at least that’s my understanding of it). The result is Zooid unfolding their paths through emotional thematic material and instantaneous melodies in a way that is completely unique to this group.

These melodies, polyphonic and divined by the players themselves, are central to Zooid’s music and in great abundance on Poof. The arrangements here are some of the most nuanced works of Threadgill’s long career. At about half the length of its predecessor, these pieces feel more concise, and all the better for it. The colors in the music exist with more definition: Threadgill’s growling, bluesy sax on the opening track 'Come And Go' burns through the piece to the forefront without singeing the edges that the rest of the band had established, while Jose Davila’s trombone on 'Beneath the Bottom' makes statements through a series of introspections against a sparse, alien backdrop.

One of the most vital parts of Zooid’s music is its shifting nature, in particular the shifting of roles. Though percussion and tuba can be found locked-in to an intimate, central groove at the very start of the record, this inviting groove disappears as quick as it appears, giving each instrument (or pair of instruments) an opportunity to be the featured voice in a concerto or the accompaniment—and often both.

Zooid’s symphonic feeling and organization is continued here, most present on the title track, Poof, which stands as a great example of the evolution of Zooid’s sound. The band uses space on this song in a way that recalls the intentional use of silence revolutionized by the AACM. Contrast in timbre, tone, and intensity give the piece a density that reveals itself on repeated listens.

One doesn’t need to be intimately familiar with Zooid’s past work to understand this music, but it is an incredible joy and a service to Threadgill’s life and work to appreciate where it is now as viewed from where it’s been. Poof is a genuinely incredible record on its own terms but also stands as another reminder of Threadgill’s endless font of creativity, another revolution in the language.

Zooid is Henry Threadgill, Liberty Ellman, Christopher Hoffman, Jose Davila, and Elliot Humberto Kavee.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Satoko Fujii - 24 albums reviewed

 By Stef Gijssels

Last year we reviewed several duo albums by Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura during lockdown, we reviewed "The Great Tone Has No Sound" by Polish bassist Rafal Mazur on which both Japanese artists perform, and this we year we shifted our attention to the trumpeter with several albums  for his 70th birthday and for his solo trumpet release

As a result, we are a little behind to review the pianist's work, that has been prolific as ever and surprising as ever (actually, while writing this overview, it was hard to keep up with all the new music that she released). The albums below cover a broad scope and breadth of approach and sound, demonstrating the artist's openness of mind, her versatility and her technical brilliance to create music in different sonic environments. 

(It is as if an athlete going for gold in the Tokyo Olympics in a variety of disciplines. Mastering one olympic sport is already a challenge, Fujii is doing the same with modern music, to excel in various disciplines.) 

We will start with some straight solo piano albums, then move to her solo work released this year, which is more avant-garde and minimalist, with her trio, a new duo ensemble called Futari, some quartet work, and then a few albums by larger bands. 

The tone and scope of the music is full of paradoxes and surprises, showing the many faces of the artist: playful, meditative, dramatic, introverted and extraverted, poetic and epic, restrained and exuberant, traditional and ground-breaking, leader and band member, composer and musician, but above all an artist with incredible energy and musical vision. Her music also combines the struggle between the rational and the emotional, the more Appolonian need for structure, form, arrangements and the Dyonisian desire for abandon, freedom, emotional drive and intuitive play. This inherent tension makes her music so often sound like a sonic chiaroscuo of contrasting and even opposing approaches, that still in her hands undergo conflict-resolution through a very coherent focus on the music itself.  The black and the white don't become grey, but they rather intensify their nature by being put next to each other in a way that makes sense. 

Satoko Fujii - Hazuki (Self, 2020)

"Hazuki" was composed and recorded during lockdown last year, at home in her 'piano room'. The overall setting is relatively calm and quiet, a moment of personal reflection, gentle and sensitive, and not gloomy or depressed as one might expect from the context. No, despite the enclosed room in the appartment, and the raging pandemic, the sound is still bright and shiny. One track, "Beginning", is even relatively upbeat, while "Ernesto" moves between calm and moments of dramatic effects. "Expanding" does what it says, playing around with a short phrase and moving it around in her musical universe and back. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii - Solo Improv (Self, 2020) 

"Solo improv" offers us five relative short improvisations equally performed at home in June 2020. Fujii once told me that she followed her own music's inherent logic instead of having visual images or scenes that she creates (much in the same vein as how Steve Lacy describes his approach to music), but listening to these pieces, and with the titles accompanying them, I cannot help but see a kind of cinematic narrative or structure. Can it be that both composer and listener are right with opposing viewpoints? I guess it can.  

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii - Solo Concert (Self, 2020)

There is little information about this album. "Moscow" is a thirty-minute improvisation that oscillates between muted and crystal-clear sounds, between dark rumbling of the left hand and the more frivolous right. The suite-like improv evolves full of variation and a natural sense of tension, including the long almost silent middle part, when prepared piano elements come into play, with fragile sustained tones and gamelan-like sounds, as an interlude to bring the piece to a strong and powerful finale. 

The second track, "Maka Fushigi" (profound mystery), is more subdued and quiet, almost meditative, until the very end, when the piece seems to get swept away by some unexpected power. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii – Emaki (Self, 2020)

"Emaki" consists of two improvised pieces, equally performed in the artist's appartment during lockdown. The first track is thirty minutes, and builds the music up from silence and atmospheric rumblings directly on the strings. The subdued tone is maintained throughout, and its welcoming charm might give this even resonance to music lovers from outside jazz and improvised music. 

Being locked down results a lot in staring through the window, and like here "One Rainy Day" explains the inspiration for the short piece, in the same line as "Drizzle" on "Solo Improv". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii – Morning Dream (Self, 2021)

"Morning Dream" brings us eight longer improvised pieces, also created in the pianist's 'piano room' in Kobe. The atmosphere is bright and playful on "No Stopping No Standing", "Camilia In The North Wind",  "Path Ahead" and more subued on "Morning Dream" and "Sunrise". With the exception of a short passage on "Westward", the piano is played on the keyboard itself. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii – Step On Thin Ice (Self, 2021)

The last album in the solo series so far is "Step On Thin Ice", a title that clearly refers to the winter months, still during Covid and still recorded in Satoko Fujii's piano room. The opening piece and title track reflect the cautious steps on thin ice, the cracking of the ice, and its fragile resonance, the joy of the walker. Playing inside the instrument and on the keyboard give a great nice contrast to make the piece come to life. "Winter Sunshine" is upbeat and "Chasing" is uptempo. "Arpchords" is more serious and dramatic, while "Walking Wagtail" is fun (how is it possible not to see the visuals accompanying this music?). The album ends with the hopeful "Spring Is Right There". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii  - Piano Music (Libra, 2021)

In a way, this is not "piano music" at all, considering that it's a collage of piano sounds connected via computer technology, and it is far remote from Fujii's analog approach. “I started recording in my small piano room during the pandemic and while I was editing the recordings, I got this idea,” Fujii explains. “I thought I could put together small parts to make a big work, fitting the pieces together the way I wanted to. I could make music like building with Legos. This may not be a new thing for many creators, but for me it was new because I am a very analog piano player.

Despite the quiet atmosphere of the music, it is full of tension and dramatic effects, soothing and ominous at the same time, meditative and menacing. It is by Fujii's standards, in any case minimalistic, built up with little sounds, and little pieces, to create a larger structure that is not always certain of its own solidity. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii - Piano Music Vol 2 (Self, 2021)

"Piano Music Vol. 2" continues in the same vein as Volume 1. The digital album offers one long thirty-three minute track, called "Tomeru", which means as much as "to put something on hold for a while". Like the first volume, the music is a collage of recorded piano sounds, and it works beautifully. The multitude of different sounds create a totally new texture to Fujii's music, moving more to sound sculpture, leading the listener to a strange universe that is at once welcoming, familiar and eery, like a Murakami novel. The entire piece also has a strong resonance and reverberation, as if recorded in a cave. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii & Alister Spence - Any News (Alister Spence Music, 2021)

Possibly closest in sound to Fujii's solo piano albums is this duo release with Australian pianist Alister Spence. The music is also the result of distant co-creation between Sidney and Kobe during lockdown. Spence and Fujii have a long-standing musical relationship, with albums such as Kira Kira's "Bright Force", a duo recording "Intelsat", and Spence's compositions for "Imagine Meeting You Here" by the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe. He also performed as a pianist with Fujii's other Japanese orchestras (Nagoya, Tokyo, Kobe). 

The first track is a quiet and abstract piece, in which the pianos weave sounds together like chimes in the wind, naturally and organically. The second piece is happier and uptempo, with a great loose interaction between both musicians, in which ideas prevail over form. Throughout the album, the music remains relatively accessible, despite its abstract structures and themes. It is obvious that both musicians are focused on themselves, their ideas, their mutual challenges and interactions, more than on creating a collective sound for the benefit of the listener - I have the impression to be on the outside, somewhat excluded from what's happening - but that should not spoil the fun. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Futari ‎– Beyond (Libra, 2020)

But there is more than one innovation in Fujii's music this year. It also marks the birth of Futari, a duo ensemble with vibraphonist Taiko Saito. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first and only piano-vibraphone duo that we have reviewed over the years (but for the interested reader: piano-vibraphone albums have been released by Gary Burton and Paul Bley, Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone, Matthias Ståhl and Sten Sandell, Lewis Wright and Kit Downes). Interestingly, Taiko Saito already released a duet with German pianist Niko Meinhold on one of her earlier albums.

Like with the two "Piano Music" CDs, the approach is minimal, quiet, subtle and built around silence. "Futari" means 'pair' or 'two people' in Japanese. The co-creation of both musicians is quite astonishing. I do not know how much is prepared or agreed or written in advance, but the the effect of their single vision is uncanny, even if it sounds all natural and organic, and to make it even more special, both musicians rely on extended techniques to create strange effects. 

The press release mentions that the collaboration "has been 15 years in the making. Fujii and Saito first met when Fujii was performing in Berlin and Saito was still a student at the Universität der Künste Berlin. They stayed in touch and a friendship grew between them. While Fujii and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, moved to Berlin for a few years in 2011, Saito helped them adjust to their new home, but Fujii’s busy touring schedule meant they never got a chance to play. Finally, in 2017, they performed together in Puzzle, a quartet featuring percussive dancer Mizuki Wildenhahn. Saito suggested a duo tour of Japan in June 2019 while she was also home visiting family. Just after the fourth concert of the tour, they recorded Beyond". 

"On the Road", is the only somewhat surprising fully composed piece, rhythmic and with thematic patterns, it is the pivot around which the eight other tracks are organised, like a strong backbone in tradition that has more free improv wings going both ways. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Futari – Futari At Guggenheim House (Self, 2020) 

This album was recorded in June 2019 at the Guggenheim House in Kobe, Japan during the tour mentioned above. The music is understably of the same nature as "Beyond". They take the more European improvisation approach and integrate it in their own cultural legacy. The first track is like the album's cover and zen art: white space with sparse sonic calligraphy, precise and skilled. They give alternative renditions of "On The Road", "Mizube", "Todokani Tegami" and "Ame No Ato", which both also appear on "Beyond". We also get a version of "Aspiration", a Fujii composition that we got to know from her album with the same time title with Wadada Leo Smith, Tamura and Ikue Mori, and which also features on "Moon On The Lake", reviewed above. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Futari - Underground (Self, 2021)

The duo released three extra digital albums, all with the same name, and relatively short. The title of the series refers to the lockdown of last year, with both musicians performing from either Berlin, Germany and Kobe, Japan with the pieces being overdubbed afterwards. The music offers a combination of meditative subdued pieces while others are quite dynamic and I guess a more natural musical habitat for Fujii's energy levels. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Natsuki Tamura, Satoko Fujii & Ramon Lopez - Mantle (Not Two Records, 2020)

"Mantle" is a true collaborative effort between three like-minded musicians: Fujii on piano, Tamura on trumpet and Spanish percussionist Ramon Lopez. In 2019 they toured Japan for nine performances, and the band agreed that each member would write a new composition for each performance, resulting in 27 pieces of which 9 were kept for this album, with each musician contributing three. It was then recorded in the studio on September 22, 2019

The nature of the music is close to the duo albums of Fujii and Tamura, presenting music that ranges from the sensitive, solemn, romantic even at times to powerful and jubilant. The harmonies and themes keep a level of abstraction that allows for easy improvisation and development, allowing for the dynamics and the energy of the music to follow its own inherent logic. Interestingly enough, all compositions start with one instrument, in a rather quiet and slow form, with the two other instruments gradually joining, and once on board the pace and volume increase, as does the rawness of the sound. I tried to identify which musician had composed which piece but I failed miserably, which I hope is more due to the band's capacity to create a single and coherent sound, rather than to my lack of competence. 

Lopez is a drummer who mostly plays around the beat (think of Milford Graves, but often also Jon Christensen or Jack DeJohnette come to mind), and all three are in spectacular form on this album. 

Again, this is an easy to recommend album. 

Satoko Fujii - Moon On The Lake (Libra, 2021) 

I think this is the first trio album with piano, bass and drums that the pianist has released in almost a decade, At the beginning of the century she released several trio albums with Mark Dresser and Jim Black ("Kitsune-Bi" (1999) "Toward, 'To West'" (2000) "Junction" (2001), "Bell The Cat" (2002), "Illusion Suite" (2004), and "Trace A River" (2008)), and one with Tod Nicholson and Takashi Itani ("Spring Storm" (2013)).

After all these year's she's back with another trio, with Takashi Sugawa on bass and cello, and Ittetsu Takemura on drums. Fujii comments on the choice of her trio: "Most of my generation of Japanese jazz musicians are either very conservative or free, sometimes they were like enemies and only a few of them are open to what the others are doing. I like that Ittetsu and Takashi can combine the disciplines and can have fun playing both". And she is right. The music digs deep into jazz tradition, but I doubt mainstream jazz fans will appreciate the more adventurous moments in the trio's music, and there are many of those. 

The opening track is a typically Fujii composition, rhythmic, dynamic, exuberant with a little romantic counter element, with "stops and gos", opening in full force but very briefly, then leaving the space for a long bass solo, by way of introducing Sugawa, then the trio reconvenes for the theme, introducing a drum solo by Takemura, ending with a trio performance allowing Fujii to solo herself.

"Wait For The Moon To Rise" is of a completely different nature. It starts with an atmosphere of dread and tension, conjured by extended techniques on all three instruments, gradually picking up volume and shape, like scultping music out of fog, the theme remain a shimmering presence while the fog does not completely dissipate. 

Her composition "Aspiration", which we mentioned above, gets an 18 minute rendition, with ample space for Fujii to improvise and demonstrate her powerful sense of sensitivity and structural focus, but also with space for bowed bass and excellent percussion work. To the credit of the trio, this remains a very coherent piece with the development and individual excursions closely following the piece's destination. 

"Keep Running" showcases Takemura on drums for the intro, followed by the bass. As its title suggests, the music is uptempo and wild. 

The album ends with the title track, "Moon On The Lake", over which the fog and the darkness return, presented by the extened techniques, with the added vulnerability of quiet emotions. The day has come to a close, peace returns, together with calm and wonder. 

The trio's third date, on September 15, 2020, at the Pit Inn, was recorded for this album.

Like with her Orchestra pieces, Fujii lets the music have full priority, even if it means to take a step back and let the other musicians get center stage. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura & Ikue Mori - Prickly Pear Cactus (Not Two Records, 2020)

From trio to trio, from traditional jazz forms to the age of electronics. I am not a fan of electronics normally, and I have often wondered at some of the music made by Ikue Mori. What she delivers is kind of an acquired taste, but you have to credit her for her relentless and often uncompromising approach to music and to sound creation, often disruptive and pushing collaborating musicians outside of their zone of comfort. 

From what I found, the first collaboration between Fujii and Ikue Mori dates from 1999, when the latter made the design of the "Kitsune-bi" album on Tzadik. The collaborated with Mahobin on "Live At Big Apple In Kobe" (2018). The two other musicial collaborations were more recent: "Aspiration" and with Kaze's "Sand Storm"

On this album, the music was generated across continents during lockdown in 2020, with Satoko Fujii sending sound files with piano music to Ikue Mori, who's based in New York and who processed the sounds and added to them, with Tamura on trumpet adding his electronically altered performances. The whole set was then reorganised and post-produced by Fujii in Kobe, Japan. 

It's hard to assess whether my impression of the music's sad and frustrated tone is the result of my knowledge of the lockdown situation, or whether it is deliberately infused in the music. We clearly do not get Fujii's usual bright, extraverted sound. The atmosphere is eery and often dark, with odd sounds, noise and creepy electronics contrasting with the occasional crystal-clear notes from the piano. Fujii's wide span from quiet and lyrical playing to power chords and dramatic runs provide the foundation for a lot of surprises and fascinating explorations. 

A lot can be said about the lockdown, but it definitely led to creative innovations. We're far removed from Fujii's solo albums on this one. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Kaze & Ikue Mori - Sand Storm (Circum Disc, 2020)

Kaze is the French-Japanese quartet with the double trumpet front of Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura, with Fujii on piano and Peter Orins on drums, and with Ikue Mori as a guest musician on electronics. The five musicians had just toured in Europe (Austria, France, Russia) prior to the recording of this album in February 2020 in New York. 

This is the band's fifth album, and as usual the sounds of wind and sea are the inspiration to evoke and transform. That also means that the listener is in for a ride which requires solid footing and at times a tough stomach. 

Both trumpeters are experts at extended techniques on their instrument, including the voiceless breath of wind and air, here enhanced by Mori's electronics, Fujii's rumblings on the inside of her instrument, occasional and arhythmic percussive beats by Orins, and you get the larger part of the opening track. It's fascinating, with a kaleidoscopic change of colours to evokate the strong sound of a hurricane, until suddenly the core theme emerges in its full beauty, with the unison trumpets reinforced by the harmonic chords of the piano. 

The whole album offers brilliant contrasts between inside and outside playing, beautiful themes and the disruptive electronics of Ikue Mori. Some tracks are compact, intense and powerful ("Poco A Poco"), others long sound explorations ("Kappa"). Describing the music is impossible, but it surely figures among the most adventurous, skilled and challenging music today. 

The band's strength is their seamless interaction and vision on their music, however unfamiliar it may sound, but they have been performing together for ten years now. 

To conclude, here are some tips on how to survive a sand storm. It's best to be prepared. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Tobifudo - Tobifudo (Self, 2021) 

Tobifudo is a re-issue of the first album by Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura from 1992, now released on Bandcamp. The quartet further consists of Keiichi Kanai on bass, and Hidemaro Mise on drums. It is a great archival piece, offering us a glimpse into the early past of Fujii and Tamura. Already then, their sense of insistence, instrumental proficiency and compositorial rebelliousness is present without straying too far from post bop as a genre, with integration of some other musical styles, not all necessary within the jazz genre. All compositions are built like narratives full of dramatic changes and stark contrasts in style and tone, all brought with the insistence of young artists who are confident their music should be heard. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Gato Libre - Koneko (Libra, 2020)

True, Gato Libre is more led by Natsuki Tamura than by Satoko Fujii, but for completeness' sake, we love to mention it here. Fujii plays accordion here like on all Gato Libre albums, and the third band member is Yasuko Kaneko on trombone. 

As with all Gato Libre albums, this is also one to savour. Tamura's folk-jazz style is unique and almost universal, in the sense that even if European popular village music of centuries ago shimmers through the surface, it still resonates with people everywhere. The agility of the arrangements and the subtlety of the performances, together with the precision of the musicians continue to make this exceptional and unique music. The music is unhurried, with nothing to prove, no position to claim, no audience to be surprised, just the pleasure of melodies and sound. It almost comes with a guarantee to make you smile. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Wandering The Sound Quintet - What Is (Not Two, 2021) 

Last year we reviewed Polish acoustic bass guitar wizard Rafal Mazur's "The Great Tone Has No Sound", on which one of the four CDs consisted of improvisations by the quintet of Satoko Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet, and Ramon Lopez on drums. 

This album continues this very succesful collaboration. It is unclear from the information we received whether this was recorded during the same tour, but it is likely, considering that all musicians are from different parts of the world (Japan, Poland, Argentina). 

The first track is a 44-minute improvisation that meanders between silence, extended techniques on the various instruments, moments of brilliant co-creation when collective ideas arise out of the shimmering sounds that precede them. Fujii's piano is essential as the instrument that keeps it all together, and gives direction to the music. The length of the first piece is worth every minute, because it allows these natural story-tellers to move the music forward and make it evolve, to give it depth, variation, contrast, new avenues and ideas, with every ten minutes a moment of quiet or even absolute silence, making it sound more like a suite. 

The two following tracks are shorter (almost 12 and 9 minutes respectively). "...Wind" is introduced by piano and clarinet, starting gently but picking up force as it moves forward, with bass guitar, drums and eventually trumpet joining. Even if there is a lot of soloing, the collective sound is truly impressive, also in the transitions between solos, duets and full quintet interactions. "... Mind" starts with solo clarinet, free-spirited and joyful, but of course it doesn't stay like that, and the music picks up volume and even reaches moments of violent interaction, with Tamura shouting and using his suppressed trumpet sounds. 

The production of the album is excellent, and despite the different volume of instruments like trumpet and clarinet, their quality is extremely well balanced. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp. 

LEONE Surprise feat. Satoko Fujii, Syvain Kassap & Natsuki Tamura - Live in Paris (Self, 2021)

And now for something completely different (again). LEONE Sauvage is a French mini big band of young musicians who get together for concerts once a month ("Leone sauvage is a wild group of untamed young parisian musicians, dancers, artists, time a month, a cave of Paris is turned into an anarchique concert, making you dance, making you yell" I read on one of the musician's website), in an atmosphere of Art Ensemble attire, Escalator over the Hill musicianship, and Angles collective spirit. This album has Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura as guest musicians, together with French saxophonist Sylvain Kassap. 

The band consists of Sylvain Kassap, Luise Volkmann, Gabriel Boyault, Pierre-Marie Lapprand, Rémi Fox on saxes, Clement Admirault on trombone, Natsuki Tamura, Jerome Fouqet and Timothée Quost on trumpet, Thibault Gomez on piano, Quentin Coppalle on flute and percussion, Paolo Gauthier on guitare-cithare, Victor Aubert on bass, and Baptiste Thiebault on drums. They all sing as well, sometimes solo, but mostly as a choir. Fujii's role is mostly conducting the band - although she does play some piano - and she composed the second set of the album, while the first set was composed by Volkmann and Coppalle. 

From the very beginning you sense that you are part of something unique, a little strange, a little mad, a little totally out of the box, with a first track that sounds like a hymn or a funeral march, constructed around a quiet vocal piece that is itself surrounded by unravelling horns. It is sad and exuberant, attractive and compelling like village music, something close to people to share their common sentiments of grief, but it is at the same time so over the top that it makes you laugh. With a little reference to "We Will Rock You" by Queen, the next substantive composition is called "Satoko Reborn As A Rock Star", and it is guaranteed to make you laugh even harder. It is fun, it is funny, it is excessive and wild. 

"Zwei Ansätze" (two approaches) starts with the big band in full force, blowing its solemn theme, before the whole thing collapses in itself with chaotic shouting, rhythmic madness, a howling trumpet and the total desintegration of the composition until almost complete silence, after which it puzzles itself back together. 

Fujii herself composed/conducted the next two pieces: "Fukushima Part A" and "Fukushima Part B", music we already know from her Orchestra New York album with the same title, although the delivery here is of a totally different nature. It starts with single instruments creating an eery atmosphere until the full band marches in after around five minutes with the core theme. Despite the difference in composer, the sound of the band remains intact: it is wild, with shouting and singing, consecutive soloing but all with a solid foundation. The finale mirrors the quiet and hesitant intro. The second part is equally strong, equally long, equally contrasting quiet moments of individual instruments exploring their way with high volume power, with collective rhythmic moments and collective singing. 

In short, it is wild, ebullient, joyful and agitated at its core, which make the moments of quiet sadness even stronger. An album of communal joy and sadness. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Entity  (Libra, 2019)

We will end our review overview with two of Fujii's larger ensemble, starting with Orchestra New York, already the 11th album of this band. It consists of Oscar Noriega and  Briggan Krauss on alto sax, Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor, Andy Laster on baritone, Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson and Dave Ballou on trumpet, Curtis Hasselbring and Joe Fiedler on trombone, Nels Cline on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on bass, and Ches Smith on drums. Fujii herself 'limits' her input to composition and conducting. 

Her orchestral music is closer to classical music in its structure and arrangement than to jazz. This is not a big band where all musicians are active all the time, quite to the contrary, the moments when the orchestra performs in full are rather sparse, functioning more like anchor points in between the interaction of smaller subgroups of the band. This gives a wave-like impression, with quieter moments getting the time for a few instruments to interact, carving out themes and ideas that then fully develop in the full orchestral volume. Each time two instruments engage in timbral dialogue or exploratory soloing, against the majestic groundswell of the full orchestra. The intimate converses with the inevitable, the fragile with the solid, the individual with the collective, freedom with planning. Each band member gets his space to solo (maybe with the exception of Tony Malaby?), and Fujii conducts at specific times to bring their collective force to the foreground, sometimes as agreed parts, often as the result of real-time conduction by prior agreed hand signals (to determine length, volume, dynamics). 

Despite the totally different nature of the band, the ambition and the context, Fujii's sonic chiaroscuro is as present with her orchestral works as with her smaller ensembles. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo - Live!! (Libra, 2020)

Thanks to digital platforms such as Bandcamp, the "Live!!" album of the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo is now also available digitally. The original CD dates from 2006. 

The orchestra consists of Sachi Hayasaka on soprano and alto sax, Kunihiro Izumi on alto sax, Kenichi Matsumoto and Masaya Kimura on tenor, Ryuichi Yoshida on baritone, Natsuki Tamura, Takao Watanabe, Yoshihito Fukumoto and Yusaku Shirotani on trumpet, Haguregumo Nagamatsu, Tetsuya Higashi and Yasuyuki Takahashi on trombone, Satoko Fujii on piano, Toshiki Nagata on bass, and Akira Horikoshi on drums. 

In contrast to "Entity", the music is more composed, more structured and more collective throughout

Listen and download from Bandcamp

In sum, this is remarkable output again. Fujii's openness to collaborate with others, and her willingness to be challenged by new sounds created by other musicians is only equalled by her musical voice that remains recognisable throughout (even when she doesn't play piano herself). I know you will ask me which albums I would recommend. I'll answer that it depends on my mood and the time of day. I hope the descriptions above will guide the interested listener to the music she or he likes. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Vinny Golia - Even to this day…Movement One: Inoculations for Orchestra and Soloists (Ninewinds & pfMENTUM, 2021) ****½

This is a MASSIVE musical contribution from the musical polymath and Creative Music luminary, Vinny Golia. Inoculations for Orchestra and Soloists is the first of three movements in the work titled, Even to this day… This single movement alone is 10 hours and 32 minutes long and comprised of 158 tracks for orchestra and 21 improvisers. The second and third movements forthcoming in 2021 are described by Golia as: “Part Two: Syncretism: for the draw…is for metal band and orchestra…yet unnamed, the third movement for symphony orchestra and large ensemble with improvisers will be completed at the end of 2021.”

Inoculations for Orchestra and Soloists is a huge undertaking that displays the full scope of Golia’s musical artistry. It showcases his range of interests in jazz, art music, composition, improvisation, and collaboration across the 158 tracks of seemingly endless creative output. One of the most impressive aspects of this release is that each track leaves the listener eager to hear where the next track will take them, even after the first 157! This is in part due to the widely diverse instrumentations and improvisational approaches from the 21 improvisers, and also in large part due to Golia’s broad musical aesthetic and skill set applied to this creation.

Golia describes the origins and the work itself as follows:

I started writing Even to this day... for my upcoming 75th birthday a year before it was to happen at the request of Rent Romus, who was organizing a concert of 75 musicians to perform the piece, unaware that Covid lurked around the corner. The performance never happened. So, I decided to go for what I wanted using real and virtual musicians performing composed music combined with improvisation—which always seems to be the best way to get what I want musically—a blend of serenity, intensity, and stability that shifts like the sands in a desert. And, as I wanted to have many of the West Coast musicians I play with represented in the music, I came up with a plan to have soloists play over a large and continually changing symphonic setting.

Even to this day... includes soloistic journeys, short interludes, transitional forms, and improvisations involving orchestral textures. Performed live, I would have used a combination of conducting techniques I have been refining since the first concert of the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble in 1982. Unfortunately, I could not do this live because of Covid restrictions and instead created an alternate composition system to supplant and expand on those techniques.

There is so much music here it is challenging to summarize it in a few paragraphs. There are deep, complex orchestral textures, grooving small group excursions, stark solo statements, and just about everything in between. A throughline to the entire movement could be described as a modern reimagining of the concerto grosso, i.e. multiple soloists with ensemble, here on a grand scale. Golia places the 21 soloists in varying environments from grounded rhythmic jaunts to scenes of unpredictable rhythmic dodge ball, and lofty textures of soaring brass and strings to foggy, timeless, stretches of multi-layered sound. Golia composed tracks for specific soloists, matched improvisers to tracks after they were composed, and as Golia stated, “even orchestrated some improviser solos to create new compositions.” The improvising soloists respond to these environments appropriately and often with great and novel surprise. A few of the outstanding tracks, among many, that deserve mention here include:

Track #13, so many forms, the low frequencies features Wayne Peet on electric piano and Ellington Pete on drums and sounds like something that could have come from the Chick Corea, Barry Altschul, and Dave Holland trio of the early 1970s. Also featuring Wayne Peet is track #26, Low Toaani, a wonderfully quirky, pitch-bending romp on “organ & FX”.

Track #37, Doctor Savaard explains his theory eloquently, .but no ones listens [sic] features trombonist, Steven L. Ricks in what sounds like storytelling in the language of plunger-muted trombone–wacky and mesmerizing–that combines perfectly with Golia’s composed material.

Track #40, Kyle! showcases Kyle Bruckmann on English horn. Beginning plaintively, the solo evolves into a twisting, seething microtonal brawl that resolves into multiphonic long tones sounding more electronic than acoustic in origin.

Track #53, By which they lead features soloists, Tim Feeney on percussion and Miller Wrenn on acoustic bass. The first half of the track is a free, slow-building duo of Feeney’s metal percussion and Wren’s bowed bass. The second half of the track is in rhythmic unison and sounds like the most tightly composed material between soloist and orchestra in the entire work.

Tracks #30 Message from Time and track #152 Gombus! feature some of the most curious and delightfully unpredictable improvising from Sarah Belle Reid on “Trumpet & FX”. Buzzing, whirring, and chirping electronic processing intermixes with scrambled trumpet lines in a truly novel and fresh voice.

Tracks #55 Ken, and #48 Mr. Fletcher now heads towards Mexico to find his first move,…..or else, it ís up to him showcase outstanding solos from the venerable bassist, Ken Filiano. Ken has Filiano in a relentless walking bass line over a relatively stark orchestral accompaniment. Track #48 has Filiano’s slashing bow strokes over a hyper-rhythmic piano accompaniment, abruptly switches to a wonderfully energetic pizzicato solo, and finishes with a short recap of the arco bass/piano section. Filiano’s gritty, noisey solo on track #107 is also quite good and quite different from the two aforementioned tracks.

And of course there is superb playing from Vinny Golia all over this work, some standouts include:

Track #5, from the ancient race features Golia on alto saxophone and Dan Clucas on cornet trading energized solos over a restless rhythmic orchestral background.

Track #59, The Wilhelm Scream (not alligator shoes I hope!) features a roaring baritone saxophone solo that is classic Golia, along with Randy Gloss on a larger-than-life sounding Daf and a dense, cluttered orchestral texture. Also of note from Gloss is track #47, Trapazoid which sounds like something from Kid 606’s P.S. I Love You album; it features an electronic texture and electronically processed frame drum.

Track #100, Pharoah at the chord change is beautiful chaos, created from two fierce tracks of Golia on tenor saxophone and a raucous orchestral accompaniment.

Track #124 double duos, has Golia on soprillo saxophone and bass clarinet (2 tracks of each instrument) in interwoven duos, trios, and quartets with himself. The soaring soprillo playing is divine.

Track #154 Waterflute Piece (Susan makes glorious instruments!), showcases Golia on alto flute, water flute, and globular flutes in an otherworldly soundscape made from lush, mysterious layers of sound that are difficult to identify and to describe…

Those averse to the sound of MIDI may at times be disappointed by their use here (see track #155 for example where those sounds are predominant), but it was a pragmatic choice by Golia to realize this artistic behemoth in extraordinary times. For the most part the MIDI sounds are not readily noticeable as such because they are skillfully integrated and balanced with the soloist’s sounds; it’s often difficult to parse the electronic from the acoustic. Nonetheless, the creative aesthetic and compositional integrity behind those MIDI sounds, and the high-level improvisations do prevail, as in the aforementioned track #155 that is dominated by MIDI until Golia enters with a hard charging clarinet solo for the win.

Aside from the remarkable amount of creative labor and heavy artistic impact of this music, Golia shows a trademark sense of playfulness and cheeky humor in many of the track titles, such as: Public Swimming Pool; Dixie cups & Strings; Bad Dentist; The Stretchy, Walky, Thingy; along with many others. He also shows a deep esteem for his collaborators in this music and beyond with titles such as: for Vickie; dedicated to Bobby, John, and Horace; A gift for Mike; Bowed Interlude-for Mark Dresser; and through the sheer effort to involve so many musicians in the creation of this work.

Lastly, if the audio wasn’t enough, Golia collaborated with video artist Carole Kim to create five videos for select tracks that can be found at . Needs & Uses has particularly striking, abstract visuals that capture the austere grandeur of the audio, track #149 The Rolisican government questions Fukoda's support in the cave of Neon (Perhaps it's the radiation?).

Inoculations for Orchestra and Soloists is a compelling listening experience because of, and in spite of, its unusual duration (which will encompass a 12 CD box set in the near future), and because of the wide variety of improvisers and their unique and unpredictable musical responses to Golia’s compositions. Whether the listener buckles in for the entirety or drops the needle on random tracks, they will want to keep listening; just imagine what is in store for us with movements two and three…!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bruno Duplant - Nocturnes (3 Études) ( Inexhaustible Editions, 2020) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

This has been a review that took a lot of time in the making. Not because of the size of it, but because it really puzzled me and I encountered many obstacles in understanding the music. I truly believe that the listener must also work hard in order to digest and understand what goes on in a musician’s/composer’s mind. Many times the different interpretations are the ones that give certain value to musical works. But let’s start from the beginning a bit.

I’ve been a fan of Bruno Duplant’s work in the field of free improvisation. As a matter of fact some of his most original music from the late 00’s and early 10’s have been documented and reviewed on this site. I followed his slow transition from his earlier improvised works to scored music closer, or in a more descriptive manner, to traditional or classical European style. During this trajectory, Duplant never left improvisation entirely out of the big picture of his music. I believe that being a multi-instrumentalist allows him more info on how to evaluate the music.

The Fender Rhodes carries some recent jazz burden on its history. I’d comment that it’s a rather bold and risky move to incorporate this instrument on the three etudes that constitute the bulk of the CD. Nocturnes is realized by Frédéric Tentelier whose work in sound installations and theater performances has given him, I believe, the experience to act more as a performer and less as a musician. Any audio documentation has, by definition, the disadvantage that we can only listen and not watch or be close to the performer.

Tentelier has managed to present the three etudes in a way that it is as theatrical as it can be –considering the medium of the CD. He allows silence to take over sometimes; his touch on the keyboard distinguishes and highlights parts of the score. There’s a field recording quality on all three etudes (that last almost an hour) that certainly transport the listener out of the confined space that he or she is using to enjoy this CD.

The music is slow moving, esoteric and, at some points gave me the feeling of willing to de-compose what’s there from the original work in order to let the performer free to improvise and put his signature on the score. This mentality of open-minded experimentation borders with free improvisation and gives me, the listener, the feeling of an egalitarian project in progress between the composer and the performer.

You can buy the cd here:


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Katharina Ernst - le temps (Trost / Ventil Records, 2021) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Katharina Ernst presents five solos for percussion on the 25’ le temps.

To provide a small sampling of Ernst’s work so far, she performs as ALSO with guitarist Martin Siewart (who has technical credits here), which has released Live at Wirr and Live at Celovec , and she has recorded another powerful polyrhythmic solo statement for percussion and electronics in EXTRAMETRIC .

There is a beguiling sense of simplicity in the complexity of le temps. In the scale of its orchestra - containing at least samulnori, clubs, bicycle bells, and bathtub plugs - that could be confused for just the kit. In the breadth of technique, in opening, closing, rubbing, and other gestures that confront the ear with a blown snare but could otherwise pass as traditional play. In the seemingly singular focus on one aspect of the kit in each vignette, the metal of rims and cymbals in “ouverture,” the skin in “vague,” the shaking in “flux,” so on. But almost every strike illuminates its coordinates in relation to the whole, a talking tom conveying not just the triangulation between strike, mute, and rim but the collateral jangle of snare and resonant vibrations of cymbals and the decaying reverberation of the room too. In doing so, soundings emphasize the radial nature of their waves, a sequence of contextual markers in decreasing amplitudes from the source. Next strikes appear to fall on lesser amplitudes of those previous, and their convergence produces new peaks that the beat appears to follow. Whether in the slowed cicadas, scissor sounds, sand of shaker and snare, and jam jar top in infinite twist of “vague,” in the clanging distorted cymbal washes of “ouverture,” or in the whole-kit, multi-limbed groove of “début,” what results is a shifting polyrhythm. Marches morph to stumbling arrhythmias change to something baffling but propulsive. The dimensionality of sounds lends a heightened awareness of their time, but the ensuing expansion and contraction of meter challenges the constancy of that substance.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Unscientific Italians - Play the Music of Bill Frisell, Volume 1 (Hora Records, 2021) ***½

By Stephen Griffith

How can you not be curious about an album with this title? Here's an iconic guitarist with an instantly recognizable sound, like the previous generation’s Mary Halvorson, being the subject of the first of a multiple volume release of an 11 piece guitar less ensemble, the concept of which had been percolating since 2008. Tribute albums are persistently recurring flocks of odd ducks; meant to be more than slavish note for note copies while still retaining something of the embedded essence of the originals and being different enough to be reflective of the performing group’s persona. Frisell lent his approval and support by providing sketches for the cover artwork. This volume concentrates on releases from the late 80s and early 90s (except one 2008 outlier in History, Mystery, although some songs were recorded multiple times) with small groups primarily on ECM and Elektra, mostly featuring Hank Roberts, Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron.

Although the songs were much more than elementary structures by which to showcase the guitarist’s prodigious technique, his proficiency was so jaw droppingly advanced for the time that the first few listens usually were devoted to marveling how he made the sounds while bathing in them. Since Frisell’s partial task was to create a lush full sound out of sparse instrumentation, the Unscientific Italians were already there. By using soft tonguing and slurs with crescendos they're able to emulate the guitarist’s gauzy sound along with twittering clarinet and soprano sax notes emulating whatever electric sound modifiers resemble a swarm of gnats briefly in the background.

But the main appeal is a somewhat unexpected reminder of just how good these songs consistently were. Starting with an abridged version of the beginning of “Before We Were Born”, everything sounds familiar despite the passage of time; and, researching the original songs, “Unscientific Americans” was on This Land, to solve one puzzle. On “Unsung Heroes”, once the melody is established, rather than try to emulate the extended cello/guitar herky jerky back and forth between Roberts and Frisell they opt for shifting instrumental duo tradeoffs before a resolution similar to a Basie/Ellington power brass attack with the sheer blaring force of the horns lifting everything before fading to a quiet ending.

Throughout all the interpretations the Unscientific Italians maintain a certain yearning and appealing quality of Frisell’s playing that we've become conditioned to throughout his not small body of work. When my youngest daughter visited a few years ago she asked for some music I thought she'd like. I gave her Bill’s Big Sur; she never took it out of the player until she left. I'm already looking forward to the next volume by this quirky group.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Zoe Efstathiou/Oda Dyrnes – Kyaness (Allekung Records, 2021) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Kyaness, which comes out only on vinyl, is the duo of Zoe Efstathiou, a Greek expat pianist based in Sweden and Oda Dyrnes who comes from Norway and plays cello. Kyaness is a women’s duo, a fact not too often encountered even in the, supposedly, much more open field of experimentation. From the little I have discussed this subject with Zoe Efstathiou, I can certainly comment that she is preoccupied on all this. More on a later interview, I hope to believe.

Since some of us notice such things, one comment on the vinyl: Kyaness comes out as a thick one hundred eighty grams of vinyl which along the artwork and layout, make it a great buy…

It’s of great importance the fact that the quality of the sound is really-really good. Both musicians focus on their instruments as devices of making sounds, pushing them t their limits, allowing them to be something different than that they usually (and than their musical traditions want them to be) are. Both the cello and the piano are sounding objects and not just instruments that someone (technically articulate or not, it doesn’t matter) plays in the orthodox way. The focus in on the detail.

What I really enjoyed from listening to the risks both musicians took, is that they proceeded with the passion of the newcomer. They seem perfectly happy to challenge the instruments, so to challenge themselves and the years they have spent playing and studying. They play in unison, as a duo, and not like two individual voices that are able to cooperate. This is the trick, I believe. To be able to intertwine and interact collectively. The listener gets a unity of sounds out of this, when it never matters who is doing what. Apart from the aforementioned passion, they succeed in this not by luck, but by hard work, I believe, and a masterful approach to both instruments. No one ever said (or, at least, I believe so) that being technically advanced is a bad thing per se. It’s how and why you put your skills into practice.

Kyaness definitely falls into the category of experimental music. But again it’s how you do things that discriminates something new (a procedure which involves a lot of risk) than someone who only uses a word with some burden on it, but it’s just another mannerism. The recording and mixing by Egil Kalman manages to bring to life, like a live recording, all the micro-sounds and micro-moves: the reverberations of the inside of the piano, the micro-sounds of the bow and the strings of the cello, the sudden silences of the limited spaces occupied by the instruments.

Kyaness is one of the best electro acoustic recordings of the past couple of years for me. If you want to listen and buy it, go here:


Saturday, October 9, 2021

René Lussier - Le Trésor De La Langue (ReR Megacorp, 2021) ****½

Le trésor de la langue (The treasure of the language) is a 3-discs box set reissue of one of the most ambitious and masterful works of Canadian, Québécois experimental guitarist René Lussier, originally released by Ambiances Magnétiques (a label Lussier co-founded) in 1990. This is a loving aural celebration, or “audio road movie sculpted in the heart of words” for the spoken French dialect of Québec, its unique and quintessential tones, melodic inflection, phrases and rhythms, depicting the importance of the language for the Québécois culture. Lussier commented recently in an interview with The Wire that his music “is fed with everyday life”.

The box set includes the original album, a live version with new arrangements, captured at shows at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville and the jazz festival of Montréal, and few European festivals during 1994, and other live performances documented by filmmaker Fernand Bélanger and released as Le trésor archange in 1996. The three parts of this ambitious project were released by Lussier in 2007 but were out of print, until ReR’s Chris Cutler offered to rerelease all as a boxset, with notes by Lussier, the original liner notes by Robert Marcel Lepage, and notes on all three versions. This boxset is the second reissue of Lussier’s music by ReR, following Complètement marteau, released with Circum Disc earlier this year.

It is important to note that Le trésor de la langue is by no means favors Québecoise nationalism. The album includes poet Richard Desjardins’ "Qui s'en souvient?” (Who remembers it), relating to the demise of Native American societies by Spanish, French and English colonialism (“If I have the right to speak French or English? / From the bottom of my heart, from the bones of my body, / go ask the Iroquois / And hurry up while there’s still some”). Lepage refers in the liner notes to the Québécois French language as a “thorny issue” and relates to the heated events in Canadian politics in the seventies and eighties about separating Québéc from Canada as "poisoned snag" for the preservation of the language.

Obviously, an intimate knowledge of Québécois French would intensify the joy of experiencing Le trésor de la langue, but even without any knowledge of the French language, it is clear that Lussier has done a highly imaginative work. His sensitivity to the nuances in each syllable, word, phrase or inflection - taken from interviews with residents of Québec or samples of politicians’ interviews and speeches - transforms expressions into corresponding musical gestures, arranged and orchestrated as evocative and sometimes even shocking textures. Lussier was assisted in the live performances of Le trésor de la langue by Bob Ostertag, known for his sampling expertise, and even though Ostertag does not speak French he handled the spoken samples of Québécois French as sonic material, ready for free improvisations and hilarious coincidences. Other comrades in this project are fellow Québécois reeds player Jean Derome (another co-founder of Ambiances Magnétiques), Fred Frith (who played with Cutler in Henry Cow, and hosted Lussier in his Guitar Quartet), late cellist Tom Cora, among many others.

The self-taught Lussier is a one-of-a-kind guitarist with a compositional logic like no other, unbound by genre or style conventions. He is known for his sharp and boisterous sense of humor, and his infectious musical enthusiasm, all found with healthy doses throughout the almost three hours of Le trésor de la langue. For Lussier, the spoken Québécois French language is an extension of the daily soundtrack of our chaotic life, where contacts and jump-cuts are integral elements. He took these contrasts to some extreme detours and cast some of the influential politicians of the era into a circus-like sonic spectacle. For example, the French president Charles de Gaulle 's famous "Vive le Québec libre!" speech of 1967 and the recitation of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) Manifesto are matched with subversive and distorted arrangements that strip these pompous, strict speeches from its inflated, condescending importance. In the same manner, Lussier played and edited the melodic flow of the voice of Pierre Bourgault, a Québécois politician and foremost advocate of for sovereignty for Quebec from Canada, reduced the speed of his voice by half, thus emptying the pathos from this voice, and there are many more likewise sonic inventions.

Three decades after it was originally released, Le trésor de la langue may be experienced - for one who has never been to Québéc or speaks French at all, as a prophetic sonic document that rejects separationist and isolationist politics, despite its great love and intimate knowledge of Québécois French language. And, of course, a wild, uplifting sonic roller coaster.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Vinicius Mendes, Alex Dias, Gabriel Bruce, Victor Vieira-Branco - Duascidades (s/r, 2021) ****½

This apparently self-released recording on Bandcamp brings together Brazilians Vinicius Mendes on sax (seemingly alto, though the liner notes do not specify) and flute, Alex Dias on bass, Gabriel Bruce on drums, and Victor Vieira-Branco on vibraphone. The “two cities” of the title are São Paulo, home to Dias and Vieira-Branco, and Belo Horizonte, home to Mendes and Bruce. The product of a four-hour session when the four happened to be in the latter city in mid-2019, the music’s drive suggests the vitality and diversity of contemporary Brazilian jazz. The liner notes describe the scenes in the duas cidades as “very different,” but these musicians come together nicely in a set of tunes based on ideas that each brought into the studio.

“The Dark of Your Embrace” (in two parts) opens the record with some eerie vibraphone soon joined by the rhythm section. Through numerous changes in tempo that keep things unpredictable, Bruce holds together the tension within the group and rounds out the track with a solo. The pace picks up with the interlocking sax and vibraphone of “Guarda Vermelha,” which are propelled by rapid walking bass. Dias also contributes a dizzying solo, and Mendes’s sax alternately shrieks and sings amid Vieiera-Branco’s showers of echoing notes.

After these fairly challenging tracks, the mood changes with “Dias Gentis,” which lives up to its title with a gentler pace and airy melody on the flute and (on the assumption that the title also puns on the bass player’s name) a pleasantly bubbly bassline. Maintaining the somewhat traditional feel, “Miniatura IV” swings in a manner slightly reminiscent of “Bags’ Groove,” with Mendes’s restatements of the theme gradually moving from bop to freer phrasing.

“If I Told Him” again slows the pace as the musicians navigate a ghostly space beyond time signatures, with long sax phrases intertwining with tentative bass amid washes of cymbals and vibes. Similarly experimental, but more snappy, the closing number, “Notas Teleguiadas,” begins with another boppish theme that quickly resolves into a pool of sound from which rattles of drums, tendrils of sax, and some bowed bass emerge before coalescing into the theme again at the end.

Perhaps because of the somewhat uncommon line-up, the playing of Vieiera-Branco in some respects dominates the sound, often blending with Bruce’s cymbals. This is not to discount the contributions of the others, for all four clearly established a good rapport even if the group came together spontaneously, and Mendes is credited with composing more than half of the tracks. Notably, Vieiera-Branco and Dias also have a release as a duo, Três Peças (2019;, recorded at about the same time as this session, that makes for a bit more challenging listen but is worth the effort.

Duascidades has a live feel, with the musicians’ exclamations and grunts occasionally audible in the background. The fact that a four-hour session yielded this much interesting music speaks to their mastery of their craft and knack for improvisation. Notably, there is nothing particularly “Brazilian” about this recording; these adventurous tunes are close in spirit to the kinds of sounds heard on recent releases from Porta Jazz, or Intakt or Relative Impact, for that matter. It seems that there is some compelling free jazz currently being made in the land of bossa nova and samba.