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Monday, April 19, 2021

Bye Bye Free Jazz Blog by Email

Dear Email Subscribers,

We are very unhappy to report that Google is removing the automated email function from Blogger (which is used to host the Freejazzblog).

Here is what they say:

"FollowByEmail widget (Feedburner) is going away
You are receiving this information because your blog uses the FollowByEmail widget (Feedburner).
Recently, the Feedburner team released a system update announcement, that the email subscription service will be discontinued in July 2021.
After July 2021, your feed will still continue to work, but the automated emails to your subscribers will no longer be supported."

While the RSS feeds should continue working (we hope, we use those too!), we are unsure if we will be able to re-establish the daily email digest at this time - the previously working solution was simple and free. Damn it. 

So, please make sure you visit us on the site and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter!

Free Jazz Blog

PS- if anyone has a suggestion how to generate an automated, free email to the list, we're interested!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Thumbscrew - Never Is Enough (Cuneiform Records, 2021) ****½


By Anthony Simon

We listen to music for many reasons: to relax, for inspiration, to connect to feelings both held deeply within and shared among others—the reasons are manifold. The critically-praised works of Thumbscrew have offered satisfaction in all these ways and more, and they continue to build on their impressive oeuvre with a sixth album of all-original compositions titled Never Is Enough. A widely-revered trio of diverse artistic statements and virtuosic playing, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Michael Formanek, and guitarist Mary Halvorson each contribute three pieces to this album, recorded during the same sessions that resulted in their brilliant tribute The Anthony Braxton Project (Cuneiform Records, 2020).

Fujiwara’s “Camp Easy” begins the album by conjuring visions of strolling through a grassy meadow, but with a kind of wobbly giddiness imparted by Halvorson’s signature slippery sound. The rhythm has a lumbering propulsion, and folksy melodies feel like warm sunlight on your face. The second track, composed by Halvorson, takes us into driving rock territory, delightfully askew with discordant harmonies from the guitar and a melodic line anthemically declared by Formanek’s electric bass. His excellent double bass playing is frequently featured on this project through inspired soloing, sound mixing that puts his instrument prominent and clear, and the judicious use of electric bass on a couple tracks widens his sonic palette in service of the song. A mesmerizing example of the latter is his brooding composition “Scam Likely,” which has us drifting in an extra-terrestrial sonic drone, sparsely punctuated by sundry percussive taps and textures from the masterful Fujiwara. When Halvorson enters with chiming notes that announce and uplift, the percussion gradually combusts before the song eventually returns to the hazy electric space from which it arose.

Never Is Enough can be challenging in all the satisfying ways that devotees of creative music crave, but its occasional touchpoints in rock’s rhythm and structures will give it an appeal to a wider audience. This music is beautifully communal, with each member equally sharing their unique voice to create an artistic statement that indeed may never be enough.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Ingrid Schmoliner, Adam Pultz Melbye & Emilio Gordoa - Griff (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

The first track of the album starts with a single repetitive bass tone, played with power and insistency. After 2.30 minutes, a single piano tone brightens the sound of the bass, with ascending notes, after which the vibraphone joins too. The single insistence continues, as does the anticipation and tension. The trio are Adam Pultz Melbye on double bass, Ingrid Schmoliner on piano, and Emilio Gordoa on vibraphone. Gradually the piano and vibraphone chords start moving at different rhythms and instead of emphasising the bass, they now alternate in shifting movements. The listening experience is at the same time refreshing and destabilising, especially as the overall tone gets more dramatic and keeps shifting, slowly moving back to a somewhat altered initial state.

The second track starts with repetitive piano chords, an opening for the other musicians to color the space between, with quiet rumblings, percussions and other sonic bits.

The third track opens with an maddening uptempo neverending circular loop, supported by a slow arco bass and interspersed with high feedback tones. Again, the rhythms shift, and background and foreground switch places. The effect is mesmerising, especially as the density increases and heavy piano chords create a sense of foreboding. The piece turns into an industrial mechanic machine, relentless and tense.

The last track continues in this totally mad intensity of repetitive insistency, and the world sounds different when it suddenly stops. 

The CD also contains a hidden track, called "Which Itch", which I unfortunately do not have.

The trio has managed to create its own personal type of music, merging minimalism with repetitiveness (à la Reich and Glass) and more modern influences from jazz and improvised music. The result is unique and performed with skill.

More than worth looking for.

The titles on the album are based on this poem by Andrew Choate which - I assume - itself is based on the performance by the trio. The bold underlined parts are the titles of the tracks.

Candles Aren’t Water But Still: Drink Drink Drink

We want language to be real, or maybe we just want it to sound real.
Or do we want language to not sound real, but be real, or make real.
Real language is the stuff we hear, they say.
The sound makes it real.
When it goes from real – outside the body – back into the body, via earhair and fleshcushions, more realness.
Undulate with me, but preferably against me.
Reverberate like flesh.
Piano to double bass to vibraphone: which itch, what scratch?
Reverberant bell skin.
Tin rattle pitched to dent.
A new bell, a new skin.
Off-pitch dent muster, creeping plant vine.
Moss on rock.
Rock with moss.
Glow of moss on rock.
Race to slow down, longest.
Growth of fire from two stones.

Music as the ultimate time-lapse sequence.
Real-time zoom-in magnification of infinitesimal to durational.
Shimmering in thanks as response to doubt: now can walk further afield.
Finally unbaffled.

The fatally thankful clunderclap: now a single loose string to tauten or not.
Achieving inexactitude perfectly.
Measures and methods of perfecting inexactitude.
The just-so of an exact presence purring with immateriality.
Practiced polysemy, practical polyphony.
Make a sense to exercise the sensation of meaning.

The how? No please; no thanks.
Pleasure and gratitude are better than that.
Bones are made of flutes not the other way around.
Forget opposites, it’s contradictions in thirds, the better to stick and fit.
The strength of triangles for the ultimate supportive throb.
Candles aren’t water but still – drink drink drink
The moment of losing the intimidation of plants.
An angel made of water lighting candles.
Wilderness of detail delivered in static reframing.
Big, dark, open spaces illuminated with small, light, faint things.
A candle flame always roughly the same size.
But O the shapes.
Half human, half fire.
Half candle, half water.
The parabola of the vital thwack of life.


Friday, April 16, 2021

A Context for Mutual Aid Music

By Keith Prosk

Mutual Aid Music has a history. Its first audible bud might be Battle Pieces from 2015, featuring half of the double quartet from Mutual Aid Music - with Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones, Matt Moran on vibraphone, and Nate Wooley on trumpet - which would continue to develop Wooley’s social music on Battle Pieces 2 (2017) and Battle Pieces 4 (2019). The title, Battle Pieces, still given to the framework notations that constitute Mutual Aid Music, is presumably assumed from the collection of poems by Herman Melville - a Wooley favorite - that calls upon the charity of the national community during reconstruction after the US civil war and notably approaches history not through policy, economy, or tactics but through people and personalities, signaling the intentions of the music. Knknighgh (Minimal Poetry For Aram Saroyan) from 2017 - with Dre Hočevar on drums, Brandon Lopez on contrabass, Chris Pitsiokos on alto saxophone, and Wooley on trumpet - uses a similar approach. And so too does Seven Storey Mountain and its ever-evolving ensemble, perhaps beginning with the first in 2009 but most explicitly in Seven Story Mountain VI (2020), its Wooley-written liners describing the individualized direction, communal choice, and the risks and benefits of challenging the self and the community towards directions new to all. In the 24th, Winter 2020 issue of Sound American, the vital experimental music journal for which he is editor-in-chief, Wooley further expands on the intentions of the approach in “ Social or Mutual Aid Music,” with thoughts on leveraging the natural complexity of the people making this music and their social interactions to make complex music, creating an environment structurally distinct from previous models of improvisation and indeterminacy to cultivate the communication of these people, and illuminating the cardinal moral that the community of an ensemble ought not only make something complex and new but model the society they wish to see, in which power is balanced and the input of all is equally valued. A conversation between Ash Fure and Wooley in the 2021 Winter issue of Chamber Music Magazine expands on this purpose and reveals some recent collaborations that influenced it, including: Fure’s own approach to cultivating the mood, communication, and synergy of people outside of the music to intensify and amplify the immediacy and intimacy of the music they perform; Éliane Radigue’s individualized, mutual, variably-communicated composition style for her occam series; and Annea Lockwood’s openness and generosity to new environments, new events, new sounds, and the personal narratives intertwined with them. Bringing us to the present are the succinct and thorough liners of the release, Mutual Aid Music, which serve as a digest of the context above but I think are too humble in conveying the radical yet simply humane convictions that form the foundation of Mutual Aid Music.

What is Mutual Aid Music? On this release, it is performed by the Battle Pieces quartet, people known for pushing the boundaries of improvisation in music but with strong interpretive capability, plus Russell Greenberg on vibraphone and percussion, Joshua Modney on violin, Mariel Roberts on cello, and Cory Smythe on piano, people known for pushing the boundaries of composition interpretation in music but with strong improvisational capability. The nuts and bolts of notation and process are best described in the liners. But each person receives their individualized Battle Piece, or a framework score, along with additional materials concerning dynamics, timbre, concepts, and other aspects of sound; it’s my understanding that these are conveyed according to the comfort of the individual and the capability of the composer, in traditional notation, text, images, and/or other preferences. Each concerto consists of a Battle Piece, with one person asked to freely improvise their contribution, and the others given the choice to improvise or choose among the additional materials to build upon the framework. Every step of the way, from germ through the moment-to-moments of performance, asks the people to communicate mutually and always requires a choice in consideration of their own needs and wants and those of the ensemble community. It might remain unclear how this structure is much different than other music along the spectrum of through-composition and improvisation or indeterminacy, or how it challenges individuals and the ensemble towards new music but, returning to the primacy of the people making this music, I suspect the ensemble culture and a complicated collective communication outside and through this open musical structure encourage the subversion of traditional models.

Why is Mutual Aid Music? The aforementioned history discusses the intention behind the model, with the assumption that something new and something complex, generously interpreted, is desirable, choosing a solution that tries to avoid tired paths of genre or music theory and build upon the already complex people making the music and their nuanced social interactions. Wooley is quick to point out that the approach isn’t necessarily new, referencing some music of Lester St. Louis and Christian Wolff & Ryoko Akama in “Social or Mutual Aid Music.” Practically, how might this make something new? Using composition or other methods to subvert the personal performance idioms that form in free improvisation is an old issue. While indeterminate events create unique outcomes, the uniqueness of the performer’s language is often muffled if not silenced in favor of the composer’s conditions. Through mutual decisions outside and through the music, Mutual Aid Music strives to equilibrate the power balance between the will of the performer and the will of the composer, as well as the needs and wants of the individual and of the ensemble. It offers comfort in real community and the value that instills in others and the self. So too does the individualized conveyance methods for the sound material. And that’s the difference. Whereas Ornette Coleman suggested using unfamiliar instruments to create pure improvisations or new sounds, and whereas Company dropped classical performers and folk musicians into foreign improvisation environments for something new, Mutual Aid Music offers every comfort capable so musicians can focus all of their energies on the taxing task of actually listening to and engaging with the sounding ensemble community. Not soloing their style, not automatically aping the page, engaging. Rather than agitating people to see what will happen, it tries to provide ideal conditions to grow and develop together, to take risks together.

A lot of the language around Mutual Aid Music is about risk. The Seven Storey Mountain VI liners state “virtuosity is the possibility of collapse;” in the liners for this release, “Mutual Aid Music is as much a conceptual risk for me as a composer as it is a performative one for the musicians;” and in email exchanges with Wooley, “Mutual Aid Music is about the possibility of failure for all of us.” In reference to my own perception of similarities to Sarah Hennies’ treatment of failure - including Monologue for Wooley, the title of Primary Material for Failure One, and the expressed desire to expand the language of the trumpet from something like the theatrical extremes of “singing, crying, screaming, laughing” towards something more like “the sighs, the intimate way we talk to the people we love and are comfortable with, the unintended sounds, the sounds when we’re not being our best selves” “to create the feeling of intimacy in performance that one gets from being in a room with a person humming, sniffing, mumbling, talking about things that are not deep,” “to lift the everyday humanity of the voice by appreciating the profundity of things we take for granted,” and “to find a way to express that kind of flawed humanity,” Wooley says via email that “the virtuosity of failure is something I think a lot about right now, stemming from a questioning of what virtuosity is.” It might be hard to imagine someone collectively considered a master like Wooley could engage in real risk when evaluations of their work are so often laudations, but the feeling is genuine, even wearily saying of the instrument for which he is a leading light, “the trumpet and I battle every fucking day.” I assume the product of virtuosity in a creative field is creation - something new - and new is risky. But community absorbs risk. Like the resiliency of extended family, the collective boon of co-operative models like Catalytic Sound and their answer to Spotify in Catalytic Soundstream, or, conversely, the absurdity of the genius alone, community makes something risky, something new possible through real stability. And I believe Wooley recognizes this, stating in the Seven Storey Mountain VI liners, “It is terrifying to tempt failure in a solo setting, but the act of throwing yourself off a musical cliff within an ensemble takes on a singular dimension: you have to consider that the people around you are doing the same thing. The best way to avoid failure is to embrace those that jumped with you in an attempt to create something buoyant.” So, the natural complexity of the people that make the music and their nuanced interactions, with enough available energy to actually engage, practically necessitate making a music that is complex and new, and the comfort and stability of community create sustainable, reliable conditions for it to happen recurringly.

“The point [of Mutual Aid Music] is to give material in which the musicians make very personal decisions and the social interactions around those decisions make up the structural elements of the music” says Wooley, “it’s really quite messy, but so is any social interaction.” “We are all moving in different directions, with shifting priorities, and rapidly changing perceptions in ways that are profoundly rapid and deeply complex. Let’s fucking celebrate that! How insane! It’s incredible when you think about it.” And I think it’s incredible that Wooley has the ingenuity to tap that endless well of humanity for one of music. All of this is to say nothing of the success of the sound itself, but Wooley has cultivated a musical community of ethics and intention and sustainable development with Mutual Aid Music. Development not just through compounding the personal growth of the musicians already involved but with an eye towards expanding the community. I think that’s something worth celebrating.

Nate Wooley - Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure of the Text Records, 2021) *****

By Paul Acquaro

I think it is easy to get a little intimidated by a new Nate Wooley recording. There is usually a concept that tries to answer a question about the process of creation and creativity that he presents eloquently and humbly, but as a listener you may be inclined to wonder, as I sometimes find myself doing, 'will I get it?'

It's easy to let this happen, but let me say right now, 'don't let it!', especially with Mutual Aid Music, there is no professional development needed to enjoy the music that pours forth from this generous recording. You can just as easily forget discussion of battle pieces and mutual aid, and realize that what the composer and trumpeter has done is entrusted a group of top-notch musicians to co-develop his musical vision by relying on - and sometimes questioning - their musical intuitions. The result, as I have already more than hinted at, is a marvel.

So who here is involved? Wooley plays trumpet and he augments the group that has played on the previous Battle Pieces recordings, namely saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, vibraphonist Matt Moran, with additional piano from Cory Smythe, percussion from Russell Greenberg, and string work from violinist Joshua Modney and cellist Mariel Roberts. The aforementioned Battle Pieces group has released three albums to date on Relative Pitch, vols 1, 2, and 4, and following the extensive liner notes, it seems that this enhanced group is building on the currently unaccounted for vol 3. A Battle Piece, as far I currently understand it, draws on composed snippets of music in the service of constructing longer pieces. As Wooley himself puts it, “Mutual Aid Music provides material as a form of limitation that allows the mind to free itself of egoistic concerns, in turn, keeping the players from relying on muscle and musical memory as they enter and retreat from the slowly forming chaos of the group sound." For more context to this approach see Keith Prosk's excellent piece 'A Context for Mutual Aid Music.' For my purposes, what is most important here is that what Wooley and company develop is engrossing from the start to end of this double album.

The album begins with 'Mutual Aid Music I' and over the course of 10 minutes it shifts and morphs in unexpected but inviting ways. Moran's vibraphone and Wooley's trumpet are the first sounds to be heard. The shimmer of the slowly shifting tones of the vibraphone gives the trumpet a supportive and open canvas to work on. One of the pianos slowly takes over the harmonic layer, as Laubrock fills in some of the sonic gaps. Halfway through the track, the cello leads the group to a close after which a new movement begins. Now, the strings are more prominent. Modney's violin skates, scratches, and skips along with the other instruments for a while before the focus again shifts.

I started looking for parallels or obvious structural elements in the set up on the recording and jumped to the next 'disc' (virtually, as I'm listening to mp3 files) to listen to 'Mutual Aid Music I-I' but did not locate them. This version begins with a strong statement from the percussion family, but instead of the vibraphone, it is the crash/splash of a gong, which is then followed by the two strings in an extended duet. The violin skitters across the octaves while the cello provides a shifting foundation of low drones and slippery runs.

Flipping back to disc one, 'Mutual Aid Music II' starts with Laubrock and Wooley edging into the sonic center from opposite sides. They connect with snippets of melody and counter-melodies and eventually are joined by the vibraphone, giving the configuration a unique, floating sound. This piece in particular picks up the tempo with a piano's energetic contribution. To stick to the pattern I've begun, 'Mutual Music Aid II-I' on the other disc begins like a gentle ballad, the piano introducing a gentle melody, to which the violin provides textural plucks and a sonorous improvised line from the cello. Some of the passages on this track grow tense at times, while others introduce more playful moments.

I suppose one could keep flipping back and forth for a bit longer, as there is a lot of music to discover. It is also probably safe to say that there is not an uninspired part of the album over the course of the two discs. So, either the system that Wooley has been developing has worked to great effect or the musicians involved have brought such an invigorating and fresh perspective to the performance that nothing could derail them. I suspect the final output here is a mixture of the two, and regardless of how it is constructed, Mutual Aid Music is a fantastic listen.

Watch a performance at Roulette in NYC: 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Andrew Barker + Jon Irabagon Duo – Anemone (Radical Documents, 2021)****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Livingon the margins of Europe makes it very easy to miss out a lot of the current interesting stuff happening in the world of free jazz and free improvisation. Especially when we are talking about what has always been (and will be) the nucleus of jazz based music –the live performance- not many artists come to play in a country torn by an endless financial crisis and amoral politicians. I know by fact that many othem would be thrilled to visit by the way…

This would be the case for Jon Irabagon (who plays tenor saxophone on Anemone) if I hadn’t caught, live in Athens, Mostly Other People Do The Killing, a quartet that incorporated all the basic elements of free improvisation and free playing – humor, collectivity and not taking yourself seriously. Even if I haven’t listened to many other of Irabagon’s recordings, this gig made me realize how open, engaging and ready to go everywhere his playing was. I have written before about Andrew Barker (here on drums and percussion) here. His balance between playing freely and integrating parts of the great jazz tradition in his playing adds up to, already, being one of my favorite percussionists in duos with reedists (for example: Charles Waters).

It was about that time that I wrote something about Radical Documents, a Los Angeles based small label that (I do not want to say specializes, I hate this word) focuses on weird sound ranging from acoustic improvisation and experimentation up to free jazz blow outs. For all of you free anything aficionados, I urge you to check out the duo of Ben Hall and Don Dietrich from 2019, some stuff from Crazy Doberman (John Olson from the Wolf Eyes is involved there) and the latest quartet from Fritz Welch, Pat Foley, Andrew Barker and the great Daniel Carter. They are all amazing and worth buying.

What about Anemone though? This four track recording is a free jazz, quite improvisational workout that ranges from noise blowouts up to the almost microtonal percussion work of Barker. The two artists know their way into collective playing, sharing thoughts and ideas, leaving room to each other. But Anemone is not about soloists who also leave space for each other. There’s a constant flow of duo playing (one that could remind us the seminal Rashied Ali/Frank Lowe duo perhaps) that grasps you, leaving you no other choice than to listen and is so relaxed at the same time. I, kind of at least, believe that Barker’s playing is responsible for this. His presence is commanding and crucial to Anemone, but not by getting in they of his fellow musician

There’s a leaderless ethos in all four tracks of the cd –another integral part of playing free. The tenor sax of Irabagon is a treat but you need to listen repeatedly. In the beginning he seems like he is following, trying to bring some melody into his fierce playing, but as the music evolves, one has no other solution than to realize that he was at the front from the beginning, exchanging ideas and energy with the drums. Not so many silences, but a continuous play (and playful) in all four tracks. Go buy the cd, both the artists and the label deserve it.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Zeena Parkins / Mette Rasmussen / Ryan Sawyer - Glass Triangle (Relative Pitch, 2021) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Glass Triangle offers a new free-improv trio of electrified, voicing strings, breath and bell and horn and drums. New York-based electric harpist Zeena Parkins has performed live with Danish alto sax player Mette Rasmussen a few times in recent years and recorded with fellow, New York-based percussionist Ryan Sawyer as the trio Green Dome (Thinking in Stitches. Case Study, 2019, with keyboards player Ryan Ross Smith), but Glass Triangle - titled after the glass sculptures of Josiah McElheny who contributed the cover art - a glass triangle - and short liner notes to this album, is the first recording of these three musicians together. This album was recorded at Thump Recording Studios in Brooklyn in June 2019.

Parkins’ remarkable, and ever-inventive spectrum of sounds, rarely associated with a conventional harp, is at the center of the intense dynamics of this meeting. Rasmussen suggests the urgent, sharp and ecstatic edge of this trio, always pushing forward, while Sawyer adds like-minded frantic, fast-shifting and fragmented rhythmic patterns, but it is Parkins who cements the syntax of this trio, with her heavily-processed and effects-laden electric harp, but insists on a democratic, conversational interplay. Parkins cleverly crisscrosses the high-octane attacks of Rasmussen and Sawyer on the opening “Begiunners, begges, beattle, belt, believers”, sounding like a twisted electric guitar; she intensifies the mysterious, ritualist atmosphere of “Not Bygone, Just Biggone” with eerie, ambient sounds; and she anchors the nervous energy of Rasmussen and Sawyer on “Flod of Trees” with a storm of alien noises.

Rasmussen experiments with extended breathing techniques and damped tone on “The crystal chain letters” compliment beautifully the ethereal tones of Parkins, and both soar over Sawyer’s powerful drumming. This trio goes extreme as a three-headed wild beast on the brutal “Merlin and the Gleam”, creating tight masses of explosive sounds and noises. The last piece “Melts into surface” surprises with its gentle and contemplative tone, stressing the great affinity of Parkins, Rasmussen and Swayer and their shared commitments to challenge themselves constantly and never surrender to the known and familiar.

McElheny suggests an alternative way of listening to Glass Triangle: “Read closely the new language in the titles of this first movement of Glass Triangle, utter them, enunciate them, out loud. Tickle the tongue, hear the rhythmic tone of your throat echoes: these will introduce you then to the way angles, lines, turns, returns, all crystalline, all vibrating, quiet sometimes, soft never, sharp and sweet, build a mountaintop of sun, ice, fog, rain, snow, sky, light, transmission and cosmic rays”.

Either way, Glass Triangle is an excellent meeting of fearless improvisers who cherish risk-taking. Hopefully, there will be more movements of Glass Triangle.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Solo Sax

By Stef Gijssels

Catching up with some albums that have been waiting to be reviewed. A whole bunch of solo sax albums. Here is music for everyone's taste, from the poetic to the ferocious, from the gentle to the adventurous. I will not review them in much detail. I just want to update readers interested in solo saxophone about new releases. I'll try to capture the album's essence in just a few words, and the links should allow you to discover some more. The albums are in no specific order, apart from starting with the ladies. 

Alexandra Grimal & Benjamin Lévy - The Monkey In The Abstract Garden (OVNI, 2020)

French reedist Alexandra Grimal plays solo soprano on Disc 1 and she performs on vocals in the company of Benjamin Lévy on electronics on Disc 2. I am a great fan of the purity and the austere lyricism of Disc 1. Obviously Disc 2 is a relevant part of the total picture, and you can admire her singing - the purity, the austere lyricism - and Lévy's electronics, but it's less my cup of tea. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Rhonda Taylor - Afterparty (Self, 2020)

Recorded from her home in Mesilla, New Mexico, saxophonist and singer Rhonda Taylor surprises even the most experienced listener with her own idiosyncratic approach, ranging from gentle musings to raw and sometimes even brutal explorations, trying to live through Covid times. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Catherine Sikora - Sanctuary, Live At The Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris (Self, 2020)

Irish saxophonist Catherine Sikora performed this improvised piece at the Irish cultural center in Paris. It is not long. It is happy. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Lara Jones - Saxophone - Ensō (Self, 2020)

British saxophonist Lara Jones creates soundscapes, altered with electronics and ambient pieces. Even if the saxophone is the real lead instrument, it often disappears in the total picture. Not jazz, not really improvised music. She creates her own aesthetic in a very coherent way. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Chris Pitsiokos - Milquetoast (Self-Released, 2021)

A live performance by the young New York saxophonist. The sax resonates in the concert space. Pitsiokis uses this well. Silence, gentle sounds develop into deeply emotional multiphonics and back. The four tracks are not long, but worth checking out. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Dave Rempis - Coast To Coast (Aerophonic Records, 2020) & Dave Rempis ‎– Scratch And Sniff (Catalytic, 2020)

In 2017, master saxophonist Dave Rempis toured the United States, performing 31 solo concerts in 27 cities. "Coast To Coast" offers improvisations from the concerts in Washington DC and Los Angeles. There's lots of variation in his music, not only because he switches between saxes (alto, tenor, bari), but also because of his creative approach to improvisation. "Scratch And Sniff" offers us a live performance in Chicago, also from 2017. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp and Bandcamp

John Butcher - On Being Observed (Weight Of Wax, 2020)

The British saxophonist offers us six improvisations spanning the years 2000 to 2006, starting and ending with wonderfully resonating performances at the Oberhausen Gasometer. Between the expansive sound of these two tracks, you get more intimate and private pieces, providing sonic surprises and even moments of fun. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Martin Küchen — Det Försvunnas Namn (Thanatosis Produktion, 2020)

This album "The Name of That Which is Lost", is the last installment of the trilogy that already consists of "Hellstorm" and "Lieber Heiland", both of which received 5-star ratings. It is again a very personal and beautiful album, augmented with electronics and other sound snippets (the voice of Trotsky, Vivaldi, Glenn Gould, ...). The Swedish saxophonist goes very deep emotionally and into uncharted territories musically, continuing the sound created on the other two albums: one of sadness, melancholy and desolation, with little moments of anger, driven by a deep sense of injustice. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Mats Gustafsson - Padova Solo (Catalytic Sound, 2020)

Recorded at a concert in Padova, Italy in 2016, the Swedish saxophonist brings us six improvisations, some dedicated to football players. He plays piano mate, slide saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass saxophones. Gustafsson is powerful, gentle, subtle, massive, creative, funny and often surprising. Even with the unwieldy bass saxophone, his howls reach all levels of sensitivity. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Patrick Shiroishi - Eye For An Eye (Armageddon Nova, 2020) & Patrick Shiroishi - Resting In the Heart Of Green Shade (Tripticks Tapes, 2021)

On "Eye For An Eye", the Los Angeles saxophonist brings one half hour long improvisation on sopranino sax. The high-pitched instrument is a wonderful tool in Shiroishi's sonic lament. It allows for subtle expression and adventurous timbral explorations. "Resting In the Heart Of The Green Shade" is more ambitious and more varied, if only because he plays alto, soprano and tenor. Like on his previous albums, Shiroishi is not afraid of dramatic effects and of uncompromising emotional delivery. At times harsh, but always lyrical and coherent in his narrative. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp and Bandcamp

Seymour Wright - (If) I Remember Rites (2020) (TakuRoku, 2020)

We're back in England in 2020. Saxophonist Seymour Wright performs a lockdown live stream consisting of our pieces, called 'Rites'. For this album, only two 'Rites' were kept. The first one is a "solo for alto saxophone on window, shutters, radiator and wall", and is a high-pitched almost single-toned 15-minute piece . The second track is its exact opposite, "solo for three alto saxophones and their feedback", a deep-toned raw oscillating piece with rhythmic elements built around a tonal center.  

Listen and purchase from the label

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Evan Parker Quartet - All Knavery and Collusion (Cadillac Records, 2021) *****

By Sammy Stein

Evan Parker has been a fixture on the UK jazz scene for many years. His original delivery makes him distinctive, and his support for fellow musicians is well known. His monthly gig at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston has become a more or less permanent fixture and serves to demonstrate Parker's close ties with the fragile ecosystem of clubs that support the jazz world; the small venues that allow an intimate and powerful connection between the artist and audience that is at the heart of jazz creativity.

The gigs have included work with John Edwards on bass, the late, great John Russell on guitar and other musicians. John Edwards told me once that playing as a group with Evan is like being part of a team - each musician catches the others. On this album, Parker is with Paul Lytton (percussion), John Edwards (double bass) and Alexander Hawkins (piano), who came together for a gig at the Vortex on June 20th 2019. The album was recorded the next day in Rimshot, Kent. The subsequent mastering and producing of the album coincided with the first Covid lockdown.

The last time I saw Parker with Edwards and Russell, there was some amusement because I had got myself invited to two gigs - one at the Vortex and one at nearby Cafe Oto to see another musician. I left early to go to the Oto gig but returned shortly afterwards. As we walked back in, Evan grinned and said, 'I knew you would be back.'

The album starts with 'All Knavery and Collusion', which sees sax, piano and percussion gently feeling their way along musical pathways as yet undecided before there is a sudden alteration in direction and the sax leads in melodic phrases, to which the response is punctuated with rhetorical phrasing from the piano and drums whilst Edward's double bass adds filling. The melodious meanderings of the sax create cohesion and direction whilst, on occasion, the piano's sharp, transient reaction creates dramatic contrast, particularly in the final third where staccato notes puncture the phrases before the final phrases where the piano and sax reflect each others' motifs.

'The Alchemy of John Edwards' is aptly named as Edwards and his bass take the listener in many directions. From warping strings to percussive drumming on the frame to the deft plucking of strings and intricate and delicate combinations, the double bass proves a versatile fiend. The piano, sax and percussion interlace the bass with their voices and the track develops into a slightly chaotic free for all before the bass voice emerges and the ensemble duly follows its lead. The quieter interludes on this track are a joy because they create moments of stillness into which drops either sax, drums, or, more often, the deeply resonant bowed bass. Edwards is the alchemist, but the others provide the ingredients he brings together.

'A Well staring At the Sky' begins with Parker's sax dictating the rapid-fire tone in a series of well-worked phrases before the bass adds deep undertones, with piano and percussion joining to provide more layers. Short but very sweet.

'The Influence of The Dog Star' is atmospheric and a series of silences punctuated by bass and later percussion before the piano adds rivulets of sounds. The bass responds with contrasting growly phrases. The intensity builds as the track progresses, and additional colours and layers are woven in. The use of silence on this track is creative, and entries are instinctively timed.

'A Blazing Star or Comet' continues the atmospheric tone, this time with piano leading the way with a series of chords and runs, interspersed with reflective reactions from sax, bass and percussion, which increases the volume in the second part of the track, to which the piano and other instruments respond until the whole ensemble is united in travelling together for a while before the piano emerges trinkling across the top and we are led gently back to solid ground.

'The Weather Set in Hot' is the highlight of the album, with just over 24 minutes of exemplar improvisation and connection between the musicians. At times the piano leads with sax gently adding its voice over in-fill of bass and percussion, whilst at others, the bass offers a characterful interlude. At times the sense of 'let's wander this path for a while, see where it leads us' is strong, whilst at others, one of the instruments leads, and the rest follow. The diversions are many, but the return to the harmonic path is always a possibility. The middle section is a delight, with the ensemble interacting and bouncing off each other with precision and an almost ecstatic delight. Parker delivers a lengthy solo that is both rapid-fire and beautifully textured. The piano and percussion gently ease their way in, and bass joins to create another ensemble section before the piano solos, delivering rivulets of rolling, interweaving notes before the percussion picks up the off beat, and the bass adds its voice with Parker rejoining. The sense of abandonment at the ending is just beautiful.

'Art Is A Science' closes out the album. It is led initially by piano chords over a repeating top note before the phrases become more complex and the percussion and bass join to create an almost delicate finale to the album.

This album is a joyous listen, and hearing four such natural improvisers engaging with each other closely yet retaining the individual voice of their own instrument and their characters is a wonderful thing to hear.

Free Jazz on Air - Digital Edition (Link available)

freejazzblog on air, featuring free jazz blog writer Martin Schray and public radio host Julia Neupert, will broadcast on SWR2 in southern Germany at 11 p.m. Central European Time (5 p.m. in NYC) this Friday, April 9.

For those of you unable to listen when it airs, it will be available online for week following the broadcast.

The theme of the show is "Digital Edition" with music almost exclusively available on the internet (and/or as a download). It will also delve into the situations that musicians have found themselves in during the pandemic. The play list includes selections from Ignaz Schick and Oliver Steidle, Leap of Faith's PEK, Marina Kifferstein, Xenofox, and Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey, among others.

Link will be published here when it is available.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Sonny Simmons (1933 - 2021)


Sonny Simmons (photo by Peter Gannushkin)

By Martin Schray

If one had to name great saxophonists in free jazz, one would probably list (except for Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, of course) Pharoah Sanders, certainly Anthony Braxton, David Murray and Archie Shepp, and of course Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker from the European players. However, there are - not only in free jazz - these musicians who have been somewhat overlooked in the course of their career. Sonny Simons was one of them. Now he has passed away.

Simmons was born in Louisiana, but grew up in Oakland, California. He was the son of a preacher and a choir singer, there was always music around him. His first instrument was the English horn (he preferred to call it cor anglais), but at 17 he saw Charlie Parker at the Oakland Auditorium and immediately told his parents that he wanted to have an alto saxophone. Although he never wanted to sound like a mere Parker copy, the great saxophonist would remain his conceptual idol throughout his musical life. At the beginning Simmons played with Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon and in the early 1960s he joined Charles Mingus’s band. Soon however, he turned to freer forms, initially in an ensemble with Coltrane musicians Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner, and with Eric Dolphy (you can hear him on Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions). In 1962 he co-founded Firebirds, a quintet with Prince Lasha, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Peacock and Charles Moffett. His career took off when he was able to release albums for both the hip labels ESP and Contemporary Records. But then, after the sudden death of Lester Koenig, the boss of Contemporary Records, Simmons disappeared from the musical scene for 20 years. Officially it was said that he had to take care of his children's education and therefore took better paid jobs, but in an interview with Fred Jung, Simmons himself told a different story: “After Koenig died my whole thing went down the drain. After they released Burning Spirits, they blacklisted me because I spoke out about politics (…) and they thought I was starting some kind of political thing. (…). I couldn't get no dates no more. (…) I couldn't even work in clubs anymore.“

It was not until 1992 that Simmons made a comeback; in the following years he played at festivals and recorded more records (with Horace Tapscott, among others). In the early 2000s he formed the formation The Cosmonautics with James Carter, William Parker, Jay Rosen, Karen Borca and Michael Marcus, with whom he released two albums. In 2003 he finally released his first solo album Out into the Andromeda.

If you want to dig Sonny Simmons’s music, essential releases are the two ESP albums Staying on the Watch (1965) and Music from the Spheres (1968), both with his wife Barbara Donald on trumpet, as well as Firebirds (Contemporary Records, 1968), together with Prince Lasha. From his later years, Reincarnation (Arhoolie, 2015; the music was recorded in 1991), is worth mentioning, and finally Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom and Brilliance / Chasing the Bird (Improvising Beings, 2014), an ambitious 8 CD project.

Sonny Simmons’s death is a sad loss. But his music is immortal and a comfort for us.

Watch Mr. Simmons live with Dave Burrell at the Vision Festival 2013: 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Orkester Brez Meja / Orchestra Senza Confini ‎– Live In Nova Gorica (Klopotec, 2020 ) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

For all of us who favor improvisation instead of composition, who prefer an egalitarian non-hierarchical music, it’s easy to forget that there is plenty good music outside the aforementioned parameters. Improvisation might be (to quote Derek Bailey a little bit) at the core of all musical traditions, especially the non-western ones, but it is not the only way to go forward and progress. Thankfully it is not.

The Live In Nova Gorica CD is mostly made of improvisations but the twenty musicians involved (check on the link below for details) are following the orders from their conductors, Giovanni Meier and Zlatko Kaučič. This CD, recorded late summer of 2018, was a celebration of Kaučič’s career spanning four decades. To maybe find a point of reference, one might say that Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble come first to mind. But this orchestra of twenty people is much more than just a sparse (this is their third cd in six years) gathering of musicians that follow paths opened up by others.

Twenty people playing music all together give the listener the opportunity of a variety of instruments and timbres. Probably it is the conductors will, so the cd, fifty four minutes as one long track, seems to follow a narrative. It is built in a way that music who accompanies films or children’s stories is made of. Quite fascinating is how the soloists come forth in different combinations, covering different parts of the same musical narration. Of course, one big change from the aforementioned purposeful musics is that parts of Live in Nova Gorica are improvisations.

There are some complex arrangements on this cd, sometimes improvised, many times (I’m guessing here) thought before as compositions –at least the basics of them. Everything is conducted, and, here, it raises my question if all this was rehearsed even a little bit. I would comment that most probably all the musicians got some fundamental instructions on how to proceed.

Nevertheless, the feeling of this live recording is easily captured on this cd and it consists of really-really good music. Music that comes not from a certain area (like improvisation for example) of the musical spectrum but, also, mirroring the musical progress of jazz based music in the 20th century. You will find solace in this music as much as joy, energy and fulfillment. Great stuff.


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Jeremiah Cymerman & Charlie Looker - A Horizon Made Of Canvas (Astral Spirits, 2021)

 By Stef Gijssels

Two deep impressions about this album. First, musically, it's again an incredibly strong listening experience, full of agony and despair. Second, conceptually, I had to struggle ethically with the incoherent extreme right rantings of the author behind the title of this album. 

"A Horizon Made of Canvas" is the title of the first chapter of a very long text by the far right blogger Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Guy Yarvin), who questions concepts such as equality, progress and democracy. Evidence and scientific knowledge are not his forte, and neither are intellectual rigour and methodological discipline. He is inherently racist in his chaotic and often deranged rantings, in which hundreds of concepts and facts are thrown together without any clear line of thought or even a coherent system proposal. What he does create through his writings is a world of dread, in which everything is wrong, everything is manipulated and values do not exist, except biological inequality, and in the illogical chaos he creates he totally confuses principles of ethics such as universal human rights and legal ones such as equality with biological and genetic diversity. 

To clarify things, Cymerman and Looker do not support his worldview. Charles Looker explains his history of dealing with Moldbug in one of his blogs, explaining his very personal situation, his vulnerability of the moment, his emotional state and the notions of the author: "My disdain for the Alt-Right is well documented, but Yarvin wasn't Alt-Right, whatever his Wikipedia entry might say. I certainly can't get behind a lot of what he says about race, to say the least. But he's been really inspiring to me in how thoroughly he deflates some of the most fundamental assumptions of the entire modern secular humanist worldview (egalitarianism, democracy, progress). There's a really scary vertigo in encountering a coherent system of thinking that's totally alien, even anathema, to the system of thought you didn't even realize you were living within." I believe Looker needs some more reading and thinking, as well as to reconsider - again - that the core principles of democratic society such as as human rights, equality are not assumptions. They do not exist, yet. They are aspirations, a reality to strive for, for the benefit of everyone. 

I can understand the philosophical questioning, the existential despair, and the emotional destabilisation by reading all this, leading to a deep-rooted angst about our presence and place in the world and the universe. 

The other titles on the album are also inspired by authors and thinkers whose worldview is inherently pessimistic: 

French novelist Jean Genet (1910-1986) (The Ecstasy of Betrayal) - "Anyone who hasn't experienced the ecstasy of betrayal knows nothing of ecstasy at all."

Another French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) (Speaking of Dust) - “Speaking of dust, 'out of which we came and to which we shall return,’ do you know that after we are dead our corpses are devoured by different kinds of worms according as we are fat or thin? In fat corpses one species of maggot is found, the rhizophagus, while thin corpses are patronized only by the phora. The latter is evidently the aristocrat, the fastidious gourmet which turns up its nose at a heavy meal of copious breasts and juicy at bellies. Just think, there is no perfect equality, even in the manner in which we feed the worms.

And another French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961), the author of very pessimistic novels of high literary value (eg. Voyage au Bout de la Nuit), which also offers a bleak view on the human condition. 

As Cymerman writes: "Each of these writers (and many more!) have opened up ways of thinking for me that require questioning the world around you and participating actively with subversion (in this case free improvised music)". 

I truly did have to get over the sick thoughts of Moldbug to get to the music, read it, try to capture what he wrote (and I have read a lot of philosophy in my life, but clearly this does not qualify as anything close to a coherent philosophical argumentation). And despite the explanations, it still bugs me and even made me hesitate to review the album. It meant reading ideas that are morally and ethically rejectable by any human standard. When you reject equality, by implication you assume some superiority (biological, ethnic, religious, ...). When you reject democratic principles, by definition you advocate for the power of the few over the many. 

Back to the music now. The duo are Jeremiah Cymerman on clarinets and Charlie Looker on guitars and piano. 

Like with the other albums by Cymerman, the sonic universe created is one of desolation and despair. The dark and moaning sounds of the clarinet are perfectly balanced with the somber and raw tones of the guitar or piano. The music is slow, carefully crafted and deeply emotional. 

"The Ecstasy of Betrayal" starts with sparse single piano tones, and absolutely haunting clarinet sounds, which slowly, gradually develop towards a crescendo, pushed forward by a deep foundation of dark electronic undertones. The inherent contradiction and conflict of the title is a sensation that pushes you to feel, and to feel deeply. 

In "Speaking Of Dust", Looker switches to guitar, in a very like-minded structure: limited guitar tones, a dark and solemn dialogue with high reverb of the clarinet. We are somewhere at the edge of infinite space, taking a step further than we are allowed. The piece is full of foreboding and dread. 

"I'll Show You What You Are", is the short centerpiece of the album, with arpeggiated chords on the guitar creating an eery atmosphere for Cymerman's clarinet. The long title track is the real 'pièce de résistance', again introduced by single piano chords and dark electronic rumblings inviting you straight to hell. It is slow, it does not really evolve, but just changes shades of darkness, like a grand panorama of severe devastation and ominous desperation. 

The last track continues in the same vein, with a repetitive chord progression on the electric guitar setting the scene for horrifying clarinet phrases. 

The music is all about the uncanny sensation that reality is not as it seems, that there is something darker and more ominous behind it, something that we are not allowed to qualify or even to name. The only thing left is this experience of existential angst expressed in the only way possible: music, this music. All the references, all the solid foundations have disappeared, as well as the frameworks that kept us together, and possibly kept us sane. It's the terrible personal experience that you, as the individual are alone in a very hostile and incomprehensible society and universe. 

You can only appreciate the quality of the music, and the deep commitment of both musicians to go very deep and very far into unpleasant territory. That's what you expect from art, to be uncompromising and radical and daring. 

As a true democrat, I will let them the opportunity to have their opinions and and worldviews, even if from what I understand it's more the questioning that attracts their attention than the actual answers provided. 

I will let the listeners judge. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Dorf Aliens - Industrial Memory (s/r, 2021) ***½


By Paul Acquaro

Emerging during the depths of the Covid winter, the Dorf Alien Trio's album, Industrial Memory, is the output from a trio of young players from Ahaus, Germany who seem to be, on the one hand, steeped in the jazz tradition and, on the other, poised to make it their own.
The group is led by woodwind player (sax and bass clarinet) Francisco "Pacho" Davila from Colombia, and his sound, which is often restrained, can also deliver a punch. His international career includes a stint in the USA, and currently, groups in Wuppertal and Berlin. His cohorts in The Dorf Aliens are German drummer Karl Degenhardt and bassist Luca Müller.

The recording begins with 'Secret Chant,' which features Davila playing a reserved melody, confidently supported by his partners. Degenhardt provides a swath of rhythmic accompaniment while Müller quietly fills in any obvious gaps. The track is careful and engrossing. The next track, whose title will not gain them any friends, is only 1:22 long but starts off strong and keeps up a steady energy. In fact, one can hear the session gaining steam track by track, and by the third one, 'semblante', the group's telepathy is on full display. The later track, 'Gayle Around,' the title possibly in reference to saxophonist Charles Gayle, features Davila on bass clarinet and the woody vibrations of that wonderful instrument is testimony to the group's aforementioned fit. Mueller's pizzicato bass lines bounce around perfectly in tandem and Degenhardt's pulse carries the music forward lithely.

Industrial Memory is an impressive recording with a steady energy. From the emerging and flowing melodic ideas to the supportive and imaginative support work, it is a really nice introduction to some up and coming players. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Binker Golding, John Edwards, Steve Noble - Moon Day (Byrd Out, 2021) ****½

By Sammy Stein

Binker Golding is releasing Moon Day on Byrd Out records, in a trio with John Edwards on double bass and Steve Noble on drums. Just 300 will be pressed in the first run with more to follow and on digital platforms.

'For S.K'( Stage H Edit) opens the album, and this is a free-flowing rolling number with the sax sounding like it is travelling its own road, the drums and double bass providing percussive lines which follow the sax's melodic phrases with countered, off-set rhythms, the bass at one point repeating and then rising glissando from the depths of its body like a Kraken awakening. At times the deep notes of the drums meld with the bass to create almost chordal lines. A beautiful and freely played opener.

'For S.K' is ethereal and packed with rhythmic diversions as the sax flits through keys with reedy efficiency whilst the double bass creates resonant, steady support. There are several sections where the bass settles around repeated lines with sax and drums answering with changing rhythmic diversions, creating an exquisite sense of orbiting around the steadiness which the bass provides. This is a track of many parts, and each musician leads then follows as they listen intently to what is going on around them. There is a quieter, atmospheric section followed by a loud, busy, bustling period before the bass rises, deep and sighing. A single strung note creating the backdrop on which drums and sax build. The quiet returns before being pounded out of existence as the sax get busy, followed by the bass and drums until the sax sings out loud, bass and drums follow, the drums almost swinging, and the finishing phrases are developed—over twenty minutes of joy.

'Lunar Wind' sets off at a pace with sax running amok along the keys, the bass joining first with single notes and then with increasing complexity. The trickering of the drums is impressive as they wicker away behind the sax and bass, now in higher mode before dipping down again. The sax gives hearty, reedy notice, accompanied by sliding, squeaky bass and gentle percussion before the bass dips down to deeper levels and the sax flows freely around the keys. The bass and drums then rise and swell around a held sax note, and the bass is left temporarily alone, with drums joining and sax, now more melodic, providing a simpler lead.

'One Giant Step, Part iii (Laika's Short Orbit edit)' begins with bass and drums each on their own pathways, which diverge and join, weaving in and around each other, before the sax enters high and loud with yet another rhythmic pattern. The track then develops as the instruments reflect and flow around each other's changes, and it works well. The sax lines are almost short, curt inserts into the background solidity created by bass and drums, only in the final third does it take on more of a lead, which is the best part where each instrument supports the others.

'One Giant Step Parts i-iv is 23 minutes of interesting, free form music with the sax creating bluesy, soulful melodic lines - improvising around the chosen keys for the first part, bass joining in with gentle, deep, rich belly notes, percussion entering subtly and then emerging with its own interpretation of the atmosphere. What follows is twenty minutes of sublime interaction, the atmosphere created mostly by the double bass, which seems to be in a world of its own with the sax and drums working around it. There is a lovely section where the sax is up high, percussion adding shakers and gentle percussive noise before the bass adds the textures and depths before a wonderful conversation episode happens between the three musicians, culminating in a bluesy, temporal floating coalescence. Beautiful

'Reflection' finishes the album, and this is another example of 3 musicians at the top of their game, intently listening, interacting and reflecting each other. The sax, at times, runs wild, with the others following in close musical pursuit. At other times, the bass and percussion lead the way with sax, setting the tempo and rhythm changes.

This is a great release, sublime, soulful, bluesy and free. Each musician is superb, and the understanding and interaction between them is something to behold. A release worthy of success and a release that is both free and yet contains enough melodic music to engage listeners.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Turntablism Schools of Joke Lanz and Ignaz Schick

By Eyal Hareuveni

Berlin-based turntables magicians Swiss Joke Lanz (aka Charles Testa) and German Ignaz Schick offer two perspectives to the evolving art of real-time turntablism improvisation.

Joke Lanz & Ute Wassermann - Half Dead Half Alive (Live in Nickelsdorf) (Klanggalerie, 2021) ****½


Lanz is not only a master turntablist bat also a modern-day,punk-dada prophet, noise musician and sound artist, known as the leader of the art-rock group Sudden Infant. He has worked before with Vocal artists like Shelley Hirsch and Audrey Chen. Ute Wassermann is a German, fellow-Berliner extraordinary vocal artist and sound artist who has developed highly personal vocal techniques. She extends the many sounds of the human voice and body with bird whistles (her website is:, resonating objects, prepared loudspeakers and different microphones. The duo has been playing together since 2016 and their debut album was recorded live in the 2019 edition of the Austrian free-improv Nickelsdorf festival.

Lanz and Wassermann are imaginative sound sculptors and on Half Dead Half Alive they offer a wild ride, often a manic and totally eccentric one, but a highly communicative and engaging one. The hyperactive, puzzling vocal gestures, free of any linguistic usage, and the fragmented, cartoonish sounds shift and reshape instantly, faster than the speed of sound itself, never attach themselves to any pattern, narrative or deep emotions for more than brief milliseconds. The unpredictable Lanz and Wassermann keep courting each other while busy deconstructing and twisting each other's ideas in their very own subversive dance, as both are equipped with generous doses of irony and humor. Their sonic references encompass everything from exquisite operatic singing to refined Japanese royal court music.

The listening experience may leave you shocked but guarantees tons of fun. If you can imagine rare, colorful birds, with a flair for dadaist mischief, dance along anarchistic techno grooves that threaten to melt your brain, you may get closer to what happened in this outstanding performance. 

More here

Almut Kühne / Joke Lanz / Alfred Vogel - How Noisy Are The Rooms? (Boomslang, 2020) ****


How Noisy are the Rooms? takes the provocative, hyper-fast anarchy of Half Dead Half Live and adds a strong rhythmic drive to the volatile recipe. Lanz meets here the Berlin-based vocal artist Almut Kühne, known for her collaborations with German reeds player Gebhard Ullmann and pianist Achim Kaufmann, and Austrian drummer Alfred Vogel, known for his collaborations with reeds titan Mats Gustafsson, his own trios Edi Nulz and Hang ‘Em High and his Bezau Beatz festival. Vogel initiated this project, recorded the debut album of this new trio just before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, and released it on his own label. 

Kühne, Lanz and Vogel, unlike Lanz and Wassermann, do seek to suggest sketchy, labyrinthine songs out of their concentrated energy and constant collisions of manic vocal gestures, alien, futurist sounds, and powerful, often ritualist groove. This trio also opts for a wild ride, still a restless and merciless one, but one that tosses the listener mind back and forth, always at all points at the same time, as if the listener - voluntarily, or by sheer innocence - is a pinball machine game. Naturally, there are subversive and quite hilarious games that flirt with and twist anything from noise, through trip-hop and hip-hop and free jazz. Kühne explores touching emotional layers in “Love Song”, but Lanz and Vogel do their best to squeeze out all traces of sentimentality from it. On “Amma Chenne Cha” the trio united for a clever wordless parody of macho-packed hip-hop. “Detox Zombie Porridge” drowns and resurfaces again and again from a noisy, manic swamp. “Heart Attack” resurrects the pixies from Daevid Allen’s Gong for a romantic but epileptic dance. The last-title piece sums the wonderful and addictive chaos of this anarchist trio.

Achim Kaufmann & Ignaz Schick - Altered Alchemy (Zarek, 2021) ****

Keith Prosk recently reviewed Schick's ILOG2 duo with Olie Steidle, the drummer known from the free jazz bands Klima Kalima, Der Rote Bereich and Oli Steidle & the Killing Popes, which follows in the  spirit of Lanz's albums reviewed above. Altered Alchemy, however, is a completely different project. Fellow Berliners, prolific pianist Achim Kaufmann and Schick performed together for the first time in 2015 when they toured Finland as part of the pan-European sextet Sestetto Internazionale. In their duo, Schick opts for a more experimental but refined and subtle sonic territory, compared to the restless cut-ups of Lanz, still, his interplay with Kaufmann is still intimate despite the abstract tones. Kaufmann enriches the sonic universe of Schick with his multi-layered sounds and advanced harmonic concepts. Altered Alchemy was recorded in February 2016 over the course of two afternoons, but Kaufmann and Schick continued to perform in 2020, right before the second Covid19 pandemic lockdown in late October. 

The double album Altered Alchemy is Kaufmann and Schick’s very first-ever session before they even started performing live concerts. The sequence of the pieces was not altered, and only a few sections were shortened. You can sense how this collaborative process develops, from the traditional piano playing and unconventional piano preparations, with some pedal-echo effects of Kaufmann, contrasted instantly by Schicks’s noisy loops, alien sounds and heavily-processed and mostly unrecognizable quotes produced by the turntables, sampler and live electronics. Kaufmann and Schick are busy investigating distinct and inventive ways of matching acoustic and electronic sound, in a compelling, mysterious mutual play. Later on, as all sounds are morphed, shaped and manipulated it becomes difficult to tell who is doing what. The eight extended, spontaneously-improvised “Alteration” soundscapes sound as adopting a John Cage-ian ethos (“everything we do is music”), referencing the methodical search for new sonic options by the European school of sound-oriented free improvisation and the compositional strategies of Musique Concrète. 

Kaufmann and Schick succeed to create a highly expressive, nuanced and surprisingly intimate sound universe of their own, even in its most tense and abstract moments. Their organized chaos of colliding sounds has its own cryptic logic, a very suggestive vocabulary and syntax and an inquisitive and twisted mode of playfulness.