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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tributes and Homages (II of III)

 By Lee Rice Epstein

Tropos - Axioms // 75AB (Biophilia, 2020) ****½


In a similar vein, the quintet Tropos divides their debut album Axioms // 75 AB neatly in half, with “side A” featuring a set of originals, and “side B” given over to inspired takes on ’70s-era Anthony Braxton. Tropos augments a traditional sax quartet lineup—Raef Sengupta on alto sax, Phillip Golub on piano and percussion, Zachary Levine on bass, and Mario Layne Fabrizio on drums and percussion—with Laila Smith on vocals. The voicing is not dissimilar to some Braxton has toyed with, and truly, the Tropos Braxtons are splendid interpretations. Yet, Sengupta, Golub, and Fabrizio’s compositions stand compellingly alongside them, like Douglas’s set, the inspiration isn’t directly present in the construction of the pieces as much as it provides a schema for interpretation. A key ingredient in the album is Ted Reichman, who serves as producer. He burnishes the mix with a warmth that references classics like Fall 1974 and Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds. Of course, the title Axioms // 75 AB references the maestro’s 75th birthday, an occasion that’s been sadly atrophied by the cancellation of performances due to COVID-19. And so, the primary artifacts of 2020 remain this and Thumbscrew’s The Anthony Braxton Project albums.

In the case of Axioms // 75 AB, the set highlights a set of compositions that are likely well known to readers, “23 C,” “23 E,” “40 (O),” “40 B,” “23 H,” and “6 I.” And, as Reichman points out in the notes, these compositions ought to be included in the Real Book, for all their avant-garde-ness, “[t]hey fit on one page. You can improvise on them in ways that aren’t totally foreign to mainstream jazz practice.” And, like the Real Book, these compositions are always ready for new takes. The freshness of these Tropos readings is to be celebrated and rewarded.

Edward "Kidd" Jordan, Joel Futterman, William Parker, Hamid Drake - A Tribute to Alvin Fielder, Live at Vision Festival XXIV (Mahalaka Music, 2020) ****


When drummer and percussionist Alvin Fielder died in 2019, there must have been a sense among many of us that his spiritual and artistic partners Kidd Jordan and Joel Futterman were going to do something special in his memory. In fact, this special, improvised performance was recorded at the Vision Festival just months after Fielder’s passing. The lineup is a reunion (of sorts) of a recording featuring Jordan, Futterman, Fielder, and William Parker live at the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival. Of course, for this rousing tribute, Hamid Drake fills the role of drummer, subtly hinting at Fielder’s rhythmic idioms. Jordan and Futterman have crafted a dynamic musical language that enables them to synchronize improvisatory motifs, moving in parallel lines. There are moments reminiscent of their 1997 trio album with Fielder, Spirits, and Parker and Drake pull off a brilliantly inspired conjuring of the group’s New Orleanian/Southern-tinged sound. So much of improvisation depends on the specificity of the players, there’s no strict set of notes or inflections defining any so-called jazz. Jordan, Futterman, and Fielder were always fascinating because of the personal influences they drew on and molded into their particular sound, merging Louisiana, Illinois, and Mississippi, bringing into their improvisations deep roots and shades of blues, Dixieland, folk, and yes, of course, jazz. This tribute is a glorious celebration of everything they’ve done and keeps the spirit alive for the torch to be passed along.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Tributes and Homages (I of III)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Dave Douglas - Dizzy Atmosphere (Greenleaf Music, 2020) ****

Trumpeter Dave Douglas has long been a likely candidate for the mantle of our generation’s Dizzy Gillespie. With similar wit and verve, as well as a groundbreaking partnership with a fiery altoist, Douglas has so far produced a discography as thrilling and surprising as Gillespie’s, and it’s on his early 2020 release where the two champions finally merge. In addition to advocating universal healthcare and jazz education in public schools, Gillespie called for sending a Black astronaut to the moon, volunteering himself, if needed. Douglas takes this long shot and reimagines it for 2020, a time when Gillespie’s ideas are still considered radically leftist. With cover art imagining a trumpet-inspired space station, Douglas’s Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity brilliantly reinterprets and renews Gillespie’s music. The group is a new sextet, with a double-trumpet front line of Douglas and Dave Adewumi, and a dense rhythm section, featuring Matthew Stevens on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, Carmen Rothwell on bass, and longtime collaborator Joey Baron on drums.

Something that’s always been as true of Douglas as it was of Gillespie is the leader’s lineups continually evolve and rotate. Pairing himself with Adewumi—for whom the term “emerging” undercuts how much he’s accomplished this early in his career—gives Douglas the chance to obliquely reference Gillespie’s celebrated collaborations with Arturo Sandoval, among others. For example, on their cover of “Manteca,” Douglas and Adewumi toy with the famous melody, comfortably playing it inside and out, while Almazan, Stevens, Rothwell, and Baron lean back on a slightly relaxed groove. Perhaps the most notable aspect of their performance is this looseness. Where others have constricted “Manteca” to straight time, the sextet brings back the raggedness of Gillespie’s lively performances. Mixing things up, on “Pickin’ the Cabbage” (the second of two Gillespie originals), the group locks into a textbook swinging performance of the classic. On the rest of the album, Douglas presents seven new compositions written not in Gillespie’s style as much as in his mood, blending music styles and voicings in imaginative settings. Titles like “Con Almazan” and “Cadillac” nodding towards Gillespie without directly quoting his music. Stevens and Alamazan practically steal the album, playing some fantastic solos and supporting the band with a zip that suits the mood.

Martin Archer - Anthropology Band (Discus Music, 2019) *****


Miles Davis’s so-called electric period parallels Bob Dylan’s in many ways, crucially its embrace by younger generations in the decades that followed. One of those influenced by Davis, in particular, is British saxophonist Martin Archer. Actually, to call Archer a saxophonist only is to do him a disservice. Among his many instruments, he’s a supreme composer and collaborator, creating some of the most dynamic electroacoustic jazz of the moment. Anthropology Band takes Davis’s electric phase as inspiration for a massive, gorgeous double album of the same set of compositions in two settings: first with a septet, and second with a big band featuring sixteen players in all. The core septet has Archer on saxophones and electronics, Chris Sharkey on guitar and electronics, Pat Thomas on keyboards and electronics, Corey Mwamba on vibraphone, Dave Sturt on bass, and Peter Fairclough on drums. For the seventh, and in some ways the most important seat for a Davis-inspired group, Archer features Charlotte Keeffe on trumpet and flugelhorn. Keeffe also serves as arranger, and the results of her collaboration with Archer are quite simply perfect. The septet sparkles throughout the album. Much like Douglas’s group, again it’s Sharkey and Thomas who anchor the compositions with dazzling interactions, with the added delight of Mwamba’s superb vibes. Sturt and Fairclough sit in the proverbial driver’s seat, and Keeffe and Archer blast out front with confident, catchy riffs. At sixteen players, the full ensemble set is an unleashed monster birthed from the realm of Davis’s Jack Johnson era. The addition of a nine-person winds ensemble spreads the music wide, giving a cinematic broadness to Archer and Keeffe’s chunky funk. The additional players are Kim Macari on trumpet, George Murray on trombone, Ben Higham on tuba, Mick Somerset on concert, alto and bass flutes and piccolo, Nathan Bettany on oboe and cor anglais, James Mainwaring on soprano sax, Hannah Brady on alto sax, Riley Stone-Lonergan on tenor, and Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone. In addition to the electronics layers heard in the septet, Archer and Keeffe stretch the full range afforded them by the instrumentation. So many artists have attempted to tackle Electric Miles™ but Archer and Keeffe go one better by inhabiting their music with the very spirit of ruthless experimentation that defined the era.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Corey Mwamba's vibes

 By Stef Gijssels

In November, colleague Nick Ostrum reviewed the trio of Cath Roberts, Corey Mwamba and Olie Brice "Trio Set At LUME".  The vibraphonist from Derby in the UK has been quite active last year, despite the clear message on his website: "I retired from all public performances in March 2019. All gig offers will be refused", and this for a variety of reasons, none of them related to Covid. Despite this, he stays active, and even very active. 

Corey Mwamba is the current presenter of Freeness, a weekly programme on BBC Radio 3, focused on on adventurous jazz and improvised music. I can only recommend that you check this one out. Readers of our blog will surely appreciate the programme. He is also the lead administrator of Out Front!, an organisation promoting and producing 'new music'. Mwamba was also the artistic director of Derby Jazz from 2016 to 2020. Mwamba was granted an AHRC studentship for a Master of Research degree in Music at Keele University, for which he was awarded a distinction in 2014. Through this research, Corey developed new dark art, which is a notational and theoretical music system that takes early European medieval music practice as a starting point to create modern music. He was awarded a doctorate in Jazz Research at Birmingham City University. I also recommend to have a look at the research page on his website for those of you interested in the more theoretical approach to his music. 

Rachel Musson & Corey Mwamba - What We Said When We Met (Takuroku, 2020)

We reviewed British saxophonist Rachel Musson before, and she figured on colleague Lee Rice Epstein's end of year list with her album "I Went This Way". On "What We Said When We Met", Musson and Mwamba perform a duo through zoom. Both musicians performed together from 2013 till 2019 when the vibraphonist decided to no longer to perform in public. And now with the pandemic, creative solutions were required. Despite the limited recording technology, the quality of the sound is excellent, very intimate and close. Musson's tone is direct, expressive and stripped of anything superfluous, and her sometimes raw yet sensitive tone matches well with the bright open sound of Mwamba's vibes. The latter is not a percussive player, but rather a weaver of sounds, managing a sonic fluidity that is unusual with the instrument. The collective efforts is gentle, versatile and they appear to be very close listeners. 

Nick Malcolm & Corey Mwamba - Chat (Green Eyes, 2020)

We find Mwamba back on this equally intimate duet with British trumpet player Nick Malcolm. Interestingly enough, as on the duet with Musson, this album's title also evocates a conversation. And it is.  Like Musson and Mwamba, Malcolm has many musical projects he's working on, including his own record label, for all of them possibly the result of creativity and possibly also necessity. I am not familiar with his other projects, but this one is a winner. The music 'shines', it has a wonderful lively dynamic, with a great positive undertone. Even a track like 'Down The Bell', that starts quite subdued, is rapidly brought to more energetic levels, not of speed but of intensity and musical joy. Both instruments find a common voice in the warm clarity of their tone, making their music sound like a cheerfully rippling river. It's not spectacular, it's not boundary-shifting, but it's of high quality and wonderfully human. 

Malcolm himself writes: "I feel it is a beautiful document of a musical and personal friendship, with elements of combat, playfulness and celebration, all emanating from a deep mutual listening, and from brotherly love and respect." This underlying understanding and friendship clearly determines the quality of the interaction and of the music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fire! - Defeat (Rune Grammofon, 2021) ****


By Eyal Hareuveni

The Swedish trio Fire! - reeds player Mats Gustafsson, bass player Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin - never sound the same. Fire!’s insurmountable free jazz matched with powerful, hypnotic grooves still defines Defeat, the trio's seventh album since 2009, but with some major differences. Somehow, the pessimistic title and the dark cover art by Kim Hiorthøy define faithfully our pressing times.

Gustafsson leaves aside the tenor saxophone and the bass saxophone, which played a major role in the sound of Fire!’s last album The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018), and focuses on the flute, his first instrument, as he did on the recent album from The Underflow trio (with trumpeter Rob Mazurek and guitarist David Grubbs, Instant Opaque Evening, Blue Chopsticks, 2021), the baritone saxophone and electronics. The addition of trumpeter Goran Kajfeš (who plays quarter-tone trumpet) and trombonist and sousaphone player Mats Äleklint, both played in Fire! Orchestra, color the tight, rhythmic interplay of Fire! with layered horn arrangements, done by Aleklint.

The atmosphere of Defeat, recorded in October 2019 and February 2020 at the Village Recording in Copenhagen, is clearly more reserved, even gentle and lyrical than of Fire!’s previous albums, close to the one of Instant Opaque Evening, which was recorded in the same period of time. Gustafsson’s expressive and ornamental approach on the flute opens up the new pieces and allows the rhythm section of Berthling and Werlin to patiently cook more nuanced hypnotic pulses. Kajfeš and Äleklint expand the rhythmic spectrum of Fire! With their clever playful interplay with Gustafsson, especially on the opening “A Random Belt. Rats You Out”.

“Each Millimeter Of The Toad” begins with Gustafsson’s raw electronics noises and his expressive talking-singing with the flute, but soon surrenders to the subdued yet sensual groove of Berthling and Werliin, a typical charismatic baritone saxophone solo of Gustafsson and call-and-response game with Kajfeš and Äleklint. Werliin and Berthling lay a tribal pulse for “Defeat (Only Further Apart)”, triggering Gustafsson, Kajfeš and Äleklint abstraction of this addictive groove. The last piece, “Alien (To My Feet)” is the most melancholic and unsettling piece here. Gustafsson’s contemplative, lyrical tone on the baritone saxophone and later on the flute fits perfectly the open, sparse rhythmic patterns of Berthling and Werliin.

Defeated again, this time not by Fire! Sheer power but by its surprising fresh, reserved and still highly seductive approach.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Michael and Peter Formanek - Dyads (Out of Your Head Records, 2021) ****½


By Gary Chapin

Being a father with a son, I will foreground the fact that I was easy prey for the sentimental angle on this fantastic set of music. I’m not going to say I was deceived, or that I was driven to over value the sounds because the circumstance is so charming, but the father-son-story of Michael and Peter Formanek was one of the reasons I chose to talk about this disc, as opposed to any of the hundreds (not kidding) of discs that cross my field of vision in this role. That said, I don’t really need an excuse to talk about Michael Formanek, easily my favorite bassist during “these times.”

Dyads is a duet set between Michael Formanek and his son, Peter, on tenor saxophone and clarinet. It’s a quiet-ish (-ist?) affair, with the space and the communication achieving a level of clarity that I so very much love. The level of sympatico between Michael and Peter is — I’m not going to call it extraordinary, but that’s what it is. Listening to them construct these pieces (with composing duties pretty much equally divided between the two) is like being privy to an intimate conversation. There is an equity to the roles that is emblematic of M Formanek’s past work. Yes, the bass supports, and it also weaves melody, and the saxophone also supports. There is a mutuality to the playing here that wins me over.

I have two platonic ideals for this sort of super small group setting. The first is the bass/reed duet on Anthony Braxtons Five Pieces 1975. Dave Holland and Braxton do a bursting out of the gates version of “You Stepped Out of a Dream.” That was the time I understood what Tom Waits’ meant when he said, “Someone oughta lock up that bass!” Holland swung so hard on that. He was so “original and inevitable.” And, again, there was that clarity of voice. Braxton and Holland in conversation. The second platonic ideal for “this kind of thing” is the trio work of Jimmy Giuffre. It might be that I am being swayed into seeing this connection by Peter Formanek’s giuffrian horns. Neither the tenor nor the clarinet is a second horn. Each is a voice of its own, weaving a thoughtful, knotty post-bop reality that almost defines my sweet spot.

Also, it seems important to mention that this duet was recorded in a studio in 2020 and the sound is goddanged exquisite. I’m no audiophile, but the depth of sound coming from Formanek’s bass reminds me of the time I sat three feet away from Reggie Workman doing his thing. It’s hypnotic. Ensorceling.

The Pre-Apocalyptic Michael Formanek Quartet (Out of Your Head Records, 2020) ****

Not that long ago it felt like there was a system of stellar bodies orbiting each other in the free jazz firmament and those bodies were Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, and Craig Taborn. The playlist that could be constructed of their combined work would be formidable and bring much joy. My favorite of the lot — this is me going out on a limb, now — was Formanek’s ECM disc, The Rub and Spare Change. This disc is a live set done in 2014 with those three eminences (and Gerald Cleaver on drums) doing the Rub repertoire. Again, I am not an audiophile, but the sound on the ECM record is (to quote myself) “goddanged exquisite,” and it is jarring to move from that to the rougher confines of a live club recording. But it’s more than made up for by getting to hear these pieces being done over by folks who are constitutionally incapable of doing the same thing twice. The creativity that unfolds … is exactly what you would expect from this crew and it is utterly engaging and fascinating. Like an amazing Carrollian rabbit hole that drags you into it.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Judy Stuart - The Apostolic Session (Inky Dot Media, 2020) ****

By Stuart Broomer

On June 5, 1969, an unrecorded singer named Judy Stuart went into Apostolic Studio in New York to record two demo tracks to present to Vanguard Records. Steve Tintweiss arranged, conducted and produced. At the time Vanguard was pioneering quadraphonic surround sound, so special care was taken to create a 12-channel tape in the hope it could be released in the new format. As it turned out, Vanguard wasn’t interested. By that time, Stuart (born Judith Pizzarelli) was 30 years old and had been singing publicly since childhood, following from amateur contests to singing standards, including work with the bandleaders Les and Larry Elgart. In his liner essay, distinguished historian and broadcaster Ben Young (he wrote Dixonia: a Bio-discography of Bill Dixon) remarks, mysteriously, “Stuart appeared on at least one published phonograph record.”

As popular music changed, so had she: she wrote songs and accompanied herself on guitar. In the late ‘60s she sang with rock bands, then later wrote music for plays produced by La Mama. A couple of years ago, Tintweiss decided to release the two 1969 tracks and made arrangements with Stuart. She died, around eighty, before ever hearing the test pressings. The two songs from the session have now appeared as the first release on Tintweiss’s label: it’s a 10” 45 rpm record, about as specialized a format as you could find to release 12 minutes and 14 seconds of music.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the music is startling, a direct window on the possibilities‒some real, some imaginary‒of what music might be or become 52 years ago: free, creative, previously unimagined and…popular.

You might recognize Tintweiss’s name if you’re an aficionado of the early ESP recordings and the ‘60s explosion of free jazz. He’s the bassist in the band with Burton Greene that accompanies Patty Waters on that extraordinary version of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” on her ESP debut. Tintweiss is also the bassist on Albert Ayler’s final tour recordings, Nuits de La Fondation Maeght. The backing band on Silver’s Apostolic Session is composed of musicians more familiar in advanced jazz than rock circles. Greene is the pianist. Calo Scott (who worked with Gerry Mulligan, Ahmed-Abdul Malik, Gato Barbieri and Archie Shepp, and appeared on Carla Bley and Paul Haines’ Escalator over the Hill [the most ambitious genre fusion/confusion of the era]) plays cello. Marc Levin, who made a record for Savoy in 1968 with Scott and Cecil McBee, plays cornet. & valve trombone. Dave Baker, who played trombone with George Russell and later became a cellist and famed jazz educator, was the recording engineer.

What does the music sound like? Crazy. Stuart’s songs come in broken, half-talked phrases, with sudden interval leaps, shifts in timbre, pitch bends, weird shrieks and yodels. The words to “Inspiration” and “Nickel Bag of Tears” are a struggle to understand (I came away from the former with “the wet collect the faded dead”; the latter has a great title) . . . almost Dylan sings Schoenberg. If I’d heard it fifty years ago, I probably could have made out the words (or just imagined them). The accompanying music is loopy, filled with high-speed collisions, compound dissonances and twisted solo episodes, held together by sometimes commonplace riffs. Paul Nash’s guitar is either fragmentary or high speed, haunted by strange, internal tensions. Scott and Greene are momentarily brilliant and strange, while Tintweiss, conducting, somehow manages to make all the disparate and far-flung bits, pieces and sudden impulses come together, in a way that may be more spontaneous if less magical than Captain Beefheart.

It summons up a time when music could be both brief and startling.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Patricia Brennan - Maquishti (Valley of Search, 2021) ***½


By Keith Prosk

Mallet percussionist Patricia Brennan crafts a tuneful environment on the hour-long debut solo and debut as leader, Maquishti. While Brennan has recorded with 7 Poets Trio, most of her recorded work is with large ensembles, including Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus, Matt Mitchell’s, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, and the Webber/Morris Big Band. It’s refreshing to hear her vibraphone and marimba unobscured, with space for the harmonic glow of the bars to breathe. Some tracks are highlighted as improvisations, but many of the other tracks were composed out of improvisations in the studio, so there’s a spirit of spontaneity that keeps things fresh.

Most of the tracks feature vibraphone, and most of those have a melodic theme. The pacing is relaxed and the time between strikes spacious. The vibraphone is sometimes lightly modulated with effects pedals, bowing, or pitch-bending techniques, the spaced-out tones of “Solar” being a great example. The tunes teeter on lullaby or jingle territory but playfully explored, making a music that is surficially simple but rewards a close listen for harmonics that hang in the air, clash with each other, and blend. Notable exceptions, which are also the most lively vibraphone tracks, include the angular contrapuntal rhythm of “Magic Square,” the new age drone and bowed wavy resonance of “Away from Us,” and the small sounds, scraped glissandos, and tinny mbira-esque pluckings achieved with objects on “Point of No Return.” The marimba tracks - “Improvisation VI,” “Improvisation VII,” and “Derrumbe de Turquesas” - are welcome timbral palate cleansers and, juxtaposed next to the ringing vibraphone, illuminate the lower resonance of the material; whereas the vibraphone easily fills space with a single note, the marimba often plays at an increased tempo and drastically varies tempo and volume to fill space and create movement. The marimba tracks are evenly sequenced but the more adventurous tracks are backended, which seems to provide a pacing strategy that eases in conventionally-minded listeners and hooks more adventurous listeners before too long.

I have a personal bias, in that I hoped for a solo mallet record - something I’m not sure has been done in this style since Bobby Naughton’s and Jay Hoggard’s records in 1979 - to really extend the sound and language of the instruments, but this is not far from the foundations of Milt Jackson or Bobby Hutcherson. That said, Brennan’s style is distinctive from Adasiewicz, Dell, Moran, Nicodemou, etc., not to mention the other percussionists that dabble in mallet instruments, and that’s made clearer than ever thanks to this intimate format. There is a measured, comfortable inside-outside sandbox play here. And while I think the focus is on the tunes, their dancing harmonics, now uninterrupted by other instruments, give the ear a lot of material to enjoy.

Maquishti is available on CD, LP, and digitally.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Two Duos of Vocal Artist Phil Minton

By Eyal Hareuveni

British pioneer vocal artist Phil Minton turned eighty this year. Minton’s close collaborators in the last decade are the Berlin-based, fellow-vocal artist Audrey Chen and Viennese turntables wizard dieb13.

Audrey Chen & Phil Minton - Frothing Morse (Tour de Bras, 2020) ****

Minton said recently in an interview to The Wire that “singing with Audrey is like working with all the possible noises of the universe and beyond, earthquakes, colliding galaxies and slugs sliding down a wet window, very quiet. It’s endured because we love working together and some people in the world ask us to perform for them and give us a meager wage”. Frothing Morse is the second album of this duo, following By the Stream (Sub Rosa, 2013).

The title-piece was recorded live at the Santa Chiara Nuova church in Lodi, Italy, during the ImprovvisaMente festival in November 2015. The intense and fearless, dadaist conversational duet aims to go deeper than the textual level as Minton and Chen explore the most inherent bodily instruments and search for enigmatic, unintelligible and incomprehensible means of communication that leave behind all common elements of language, syntax, or vocabulary. Chen and Minton sound like one, two-headed vocal organism, interacting in a total telepathic manner. They explore together an expressive and highly nuanced spectrum of feelings and moods, from the meditative and ritualist, through the sensual and passionate, and, obviously, to the eccentric and grotesque, but with an arresting sense of timing, storytelling and emotional drama.

Phil Minton & dieb3 - With, Without (Klanggalerie, 2020) ****

Minton and dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič, a generation younger from Minton) work were scarcely documented so far - the DVDr’s (Unlimited 23, PanRec, 2011, and im Pavillon, PanRec, 2013), both captured short performances at the Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria. With, Without is a collage of Minton and dieb13 performances from the Unlimited festival in 2009, through three performances in Vienna, one at the Instants Chavires Festival in Montreuil, France in 2016 and the last one from the Disobedience Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2017).

Minton refrains on these performances from referencing literary texts as he did in many previous free-improvised meetings before (he has sung lyrics by William Blake with Mike Westbrook's group, Ho Chi Minh with Veryan Weston and more recently Daniil Kharms and Joseph Brodsky with Simon Nabatov, and sang extracts from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake with his own ensemble). With dieb13 he employs his dramatic baritone only with extended vocal techniques, deconstructing every possible facet of the human voice into free-form train of abstract and eccentric retching, burping, screaming, gasping, childlike muttering, whining, crying, whistling and humming sounds, or as Minton himself calls it: "belching obscene incoherent rubbish", often with what seems like as a tortured body language that enhances the abstract narrative.

These series of free-associative and imaginative gibberish of human voices were framed and orchestrated brilliantly in real-time by dieb13, always attuned to every nuance of Minton’s vocalizations, and injecting loose but coherent threads to Minton’s wild vocal journeys. On With, Without, dieb13 mixed and edited again these performances into an hour plus piece. The subtle and clever orchestration of dieb13 often extends and twists Minton’s manic vocalizations into alien and sometimes perfectly fitting cartoonish sonic universes. But at other times dieb13 charges these eccentric yet very emotional vocalizations with ironic comments, adds surprising depth and colors the crazed vocal eruptions with dense and unsettling urban noises. There are even brief segments where dieb13 matches sax pieces that trick Minton into brief, playful jazz-y duets. Typically, it ends with Minton articulating his clear desire to go to sleep. Obviously, no words were needed.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed - the Ritual and the Dance (Astral Spirits, 2021) ****½

By Nick Metzger

The legendary reedsman and composer Roscoe Mitchell officially became an octogenarian this past summer and his work continues to grow in scale and scope. His ambition and creativity never waning, Mitchell in a recent interview with SFJAZZ (on the occasion of his induction into the 2020 NEA Jazz Master class) said " takes a long time to be what I'm trying to be!" Though the pandemic has certainly slowed things down for the Chicago native (currently living in Wisconsin), it sounds like he's enjoying the additional time afforded by the lockdown to explore new ideas. Fellow AACM member Mike Reed has also been keeping busy, both keeping his venues the Constellation and the Hungry Brain afloat during the intermittent lockdowns as well as providing virtual and live events (when permitted). Their first duo album In Pursuit of Magic was released in 2014, the same year as the Conversations albums that have become so significant to Mitchell's orchestral works. The album is rightly framed in a review on the (Free) Jazz Alchemist as "A meeting of an avant-guard legend and a few decades younger disciple, one of the most active animators of the modern jazz scene in Chicago- ain't that a definitive prove of art's continuity?" It's a fantastic album that showcases the physicality of their approach across a pair of tracks. On the Ritual and the Dance that physicality is redoubled across a single long piece with Mitchell on saxophones and Reed on percussion and electronics.

The album was recorded in October of 2015 as part of the Oorstof concert series in Antwerp. The piece starts with Reed weaving sparse bits of percussion around Mitchell's irregular, probing sopranino squawk. These minor sounds quickly accumulate in frequency and velocity as the musicians lock into their heady and physical interplay. Reed is a spectacular drummer, a true lion of the skins he colors his crisp, flowing percussion with subtle and sometimes unexpected sounds. Here he puts on a clinic; the speed, power, and sharpness of his technique serve to soften his pummeling attack, but it is a pummeling nevertheless. Mitchell meets him right in the midst of his tempest, a swirling mass of razorwire sound piercing the din. Reed puts down his sticks and adds some light electronics as Mitchell continues working through his concept, then returns subtly and takes over as Mitchell inhales his first deep breath in a quarter hour. The rhythm relaxes and Reed stretches out, working over his toms and punctuating the maelstrom with violent cymbal work. His pace slows and there is a brief period where the duo employ a slightly more delicate measure. Mitchell, now on alto, plays long, wailing figures against the abstract rhythms of Reed. Mitchell's playing quickens as Reed briefly recoils before going in for the finish. Now on soprano, Mitchell peels off knotty, twisted passages within the barrage. The intensity wanes for a final time and Mitchell softly plays bells against Reed's thumping backbeat and the appreciative whoops of the crowd.

This is a special duo and I'd been hoping for a sequel from them for a while now. From Mitchell's artwork adorning the sleeve to the ferociously meticulous contents within, it's my favorite release so far in a still young 2021. Hopefully very soon now I'll get to make the trip up to see a show at one of Mike's places (and soak in a city I've not seen for too long now), in the meantime albums like this serve as reminders of a better time that I still hope to get back to. An incredible set of live music by two of the AACMs finest. Released today and very highly recommended.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

GreMi – Red Carpet (Prepost Records, 2020) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

GreMi is the Hungarian sax and drums duo of István Grencsó on tenor and soprano saxophone and Szilveszter MIKLÓS on drums and percussion. I must admit that this is the first time I listen to a recording from Grencsó, but most probably, by now, you have listened to AT MU, MIKLÓS’ duo with Peter Brötzmann which also came out late last year. What those two recordings have in common is –apart from the fact that they came out on vinyl which is a treat for us fetishists- the amazing percussion work from MIKLÓS. But we will get back to this shortly.

Prepost is one of those small, independent labels that captures the adventurous spirit of free improvisation. Its focus is local, trying to capture what goes on in the Budapest scene (an action already worth praising as the fascists in power there are working on their agenda), helping all of us realize that there is interest, pathos an energy for these musics outside the well known epicenters.

I’ve more than once used this space I’m given on here to present such duos, especially of the reeds-drums spectrum. The interaction of two people as minimal as it may seem, it incorporates, on a small scale (as is mostly the focus of free improvisation), many of the feelings, ideas and thoughts that have progresses through improvisation. Egalitarian music I call it sometimes. This time it’s a bit different, because MIKLÓS percussion work stands out (which is the same for the AT MU LP by the way). He utilizes all parts of his drum set experimenting with timbre and polyrhythmic outbursts, while at other times his playing is very minimal, leaving space for the sax to develop its, very often, melodic lines. Whichever be the case he never tries to dominate.

Red Carpet is divided in five parts, with Cut V occupying the whole of b side, being the core of the recording I think. There are times that Grencsó’s sax is aggressive spitting out notes out of the great free jazz tradition, and other that he finds solace in melody. Even though I really enjoyed the percussion work throughout Red Carpet, this is a recording of equals. The fact that it was recorded live, proves, once more, that free improvisation utilizes this fact (spontaneity I would say) to explore all the possibilities of sound. As any music, outside of conventions, should at least try. Only three hundred copies were made, buy yourself one.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Paula Shocron and Pablo Diaz - Algo en un Espacio Vacio (Nendo Dango, 2021) ****

Algo en un Espacio Vacio, or 'something in an empty space', is right on. There is something that pianist Paula Shocron and drummer Pablo Diaz, musicians and physical movement teachers from Buenos Aires know about how to fill a space and on Algo en un Espacio Vacio they use light brushstrokes when applying their magic. Their medium - piano and drums, or cello and percussion, with intermittent vocals, could fill-in quite a bit, but they work sparingly here.

The pair have collaborated extensively and have made many recordings with other musicians, but this is their first official duo album, and it is out on their label Nendo Dango. Actually, there is one more artist involved with this recording, Veronica Trigo, who collaborates not musically but artistically with a series of engaging watercolors that have been pressed in an accompanying booklet. The images Trigo (who is also a classically trained pianist) has contributed are sumptuously minimalist expressions of the music translated by the motion of the brush. An example can be seen above on the album's cover.

In the liner notes, bassist William Parker writes "the sounds are like an ocean in a painting ... internal rhythms and burst open to field of blue or green." Accept the hacked quote and poetic grammar and let the sound of the language convey the motion that is captured in many forms on Algo en un Espacio Vacio. The motion is more important than the notes, and like on the first track 'Obertura', where Diaz's asymmetrical pulse is accentuated lightly and spaciously with bursts of tonal color from Shocron's keyboard. Blocky tonal clusters follow, leading to a pensive melody that Diaz accentuates with cluttery percussion. 'Alterna', the second track, introduces Shocron on cello and, I believe, Diaz contorting a drum into a wind instrument. With bowed, elongated tones, the track becomes an ornate semi-drone. Throughout the recording the roles of the instrument are interchangable, for example on 'Ritmo', which is full of motion, percussive use of the cello and other small implements provide a somewhat ritualistic underlayment which Shocron vocalizes rhythmically over. The less shamanic sounding closing track 'Forma' finds Shocron back on prepared piano, while Diaz quietly plays an array of drums and percussion. The vocalizations on this final track are actually a bit distracting as the duo locks into a fairly unusual and hypnotic groove.

With bassist Germán Lamonega (see below), Shocron and Diaz make up two thirds of the SLD trio (which has a new release as well, see En vivo en Estudio Libres), and they have been rapidly adding local and international collaborations to their Nendo Dango portfolio; however, at the heart of it is the movements, large and small, of the duo.

German Lamonega - MoNoCRoMo (Nendo Dengo, 2020) ****

Bassist German Lamonega has a recent solo recording that is quite worth a mention. Much like his companions in the SLD Trio, he sketches out his own language using the upright bass on MoNoCRoMo. Percussive playing on the track 'Prisma' leads to spacious and pensive plucking on the follow up 'MoNoForMa', which picks up in motion and fills in with juicy doublestops. 'Giger' is a pensive drone that plays with sonic contrasts, and 'Butoh' is its polar opposite: a slippery tune that explores sounds from all over the fingerboard. MoNoCRoMo is a captivating solo bass recording, and one of many other exploratory works to be found in the rapidly expanding Nendo Dango-verse.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Chrome Hill, This is Chrome Hill (Clean Feed, 2020) ****

By Gregg Miller

In a word, free-rock Americana (by way of Norway). The record opens gently at a walking pace, but once the electric guitar and snare drum get busy, it becomes a chunky, patient march, one part electrified Western film, the other a slightly drunk steamroller. The guitar takes the cake. (It’s the same beat as on their 2012 release, Country of Lost Borders which opens with the Neil Young cover “Dead Man Theme.”) The second tune has a rock structure, led by the tenor sax. As in the first tune, it starts simply enough, but then in additive manner, it becomes a handful of sonic puzzle pieces fitted shakily together. There is a looseness to the playing. Nothing too serious, here, but everything played with intent. Some nice grooves. The funky bass and drums hold it all together, allowing the tenor and electric guitar to freestyle. Third track: some hard hitting, pounding drums, straight-ahead rock jamming. Pogo-stick slam dancing could easily accompany this beat. The fourth track, “Interlude,” calms things down. It’s a country guitar slow ballad with a distant tambourine on beat three. On “10-4,” while sort of another “Interlude,” is in fact a quite lovely bass-led piece over held guitar notes with lots of reverb, tremelo, and backward effects. The tenor enters like an extension of the bass. Some Pink Floyd action lilting into Pharoah Sanders. After the smooth space jazz we move into a jagged, freer mess. Lots of distorted guitar, heavy on the pounding drums and the double kick bass drum. A raging sax. Let your freak flag fly, dudes. “Within” opens with a sweet tremolo guitar playing a sing-songy, lilting ode to some memory or other. A splash of carnival, but sincere. The closing tune is a lovely anthem. Some nice clarinet (I think) and sliding guitar through bit-breaking effects into a clearing of bowed bass over beating toms. Just flick your lighter to high and sway to the beat.

I like this record. It is super good-natured and fun, and that comes through in all the playing. These cats are enjoying the music, and it’s infectious.

Chrome Hill is:

Asbjørn Lerheim baritone guitar
Atle Nymo tenor saxophone
Torstein Lofthus drums and vibraphone
Roger Arntzen double bass

Monday, February 15, 2021

Triage - Live at the Velvet Lounge (Aerophonic, 2020) ***(*)

By Stephen Griffith

Triage was a fascinating group for me because the Vandermark 5 used to occasionally play in nearby venues in the 90s as part of short midwestern tours. When Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy replaced Mars Williams and Tim Mulvenna respectively, it shook things up in nicely unexpected ways in terms of adding new lyrical voices to the quintet. Those two subsequently added bassist Jason Ajemian to explore a trio persona in an exciting spinoff called Triage. In doing background work for this I revisited their recordings in my collection (Premium Plastics on Solitaire Records and Twenty Minute Cliff and American Mythology on Okka Disk; the limited edition Stagger on Utrech, recorded live in Syracuse, New York, oddly eluded me) and found they held up quite well 15 years, or more, later.

Which brings us to the current digital only recording, a first set recorded at the iconic Velvet Lounge in early 2005 while Fred Anderson still ran the place and provided a workshop of sorts for the group to develop their material. Two of the songs, “Rotor” and “Cape Coast” were included on Stagger but the nearly 21 minute “No Fires” appears only on this release. Over the course of Triage’s short existence it seemed like Rempis went from being primarily an alto player to steadily improving his prowess on tenor and eventually adding the baritone saxophone to his repertoire. “No Fires” leads off with brawny rapidfire DKV like extended tenor runs through a series of groove based motifs, leaning on one briefly before moving on with Daisy and Ajemian locked in. The tenor fades out as Daisy continues the rattling rhythm pattern before slowing things down as Ajemian returns with bowed lines over which Rempis returns with trilled lines before returning to the opening motif and further developments before winding things down into a leisurely rhythm before a plaintive restatement of the theme concludes a deceptively well structured composition. “Rotor” features an Ornetteish alto romp with Daisy tossing in playful cymbal and snare accents as Ajemian maintains the beat. Daisy takes an inventive solo, like a kid with a chemistry set only mixing percussive reagents, before Rempis returns with the baritone to mix things up with deftly smeary big horn resonances before joining Jason to quietly create a slow pulsing rhythm augmented by Tim’s mallets. “Cape Coast" begins with a plaintive tenor theme after which Ajemian plays some strenuous bowing creating a cinema noirish waterfront vibe before fading out to end the well received set.

In the summer following this, Ajemian relocated to New York ending the group as a replacement bassist wasn't considered. Rempis and Daisy have continued their musical relationship with the Rempis/Daisy Duo, the Rempis/Piet/Daisy Trio, Tim Daisy’s Fulcrum Ensemble and the Rempis Percussion Quartet to only name a few. Jason Ajemian has kept active with Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die and with the Exploding Star Orchestra. But this release provides an enjoyably welcome end point to their collaboration as Triage.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Brandon Seabrook & Simon Nabatov - Voluptuaries (Leo, 2021) ****½

By Stuart Broomer

Chuck Berry once famously opined, “I have no kick against modern jazz, unless they try to play it too darn fast, and change the beauty of the melody, until they sound just like a symphony.” I think differently. I can love a languid Lester ballad or a glacial Ayler dirge, but I’m also delighted listening to music that’s as fast as possible in as many ways as possible. Listening to Art Tatum, it’s hard not to imagine a young Charlie Parker’s listening, working as a dishwasher at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack to hear Art Tatum, and hearing the whole panoply: Tatum, counterrhythms of clanking dishes, kitchen door mutes, cash register, customers, waiters, bartenders, all the fractional beats and collisions as they might have filtered into BirdMind, sorting out the randomness of it all.

Last year pianist Simon Nabatov released Last Minute Theory, an excellent quintet session of his compositions with Tony Malaby, Michael Formanek, Gerald Cleaver and Brandon Seabrook. It was fine music, with its own edges, but listening to it, I wanted to hear more of Seabrook’s edgy guitar lines with Nabatov, preferably in a wholly improvised setting. Voluptuaries is that CD: Seabrook and Nabatov are both nano-second improvisers, changing direction or inserting interstitial counter lines and commentary in the quickest lines. Seabrook’s guitar might suggest the techniques of surf guitarist supreme Dick Dale and his Middle Eastern picking roots or Eugene Chadbourne on banjo or guitar; Nabatov grew up in demanding Russian academies and furthered his technique playing post-bop jazz.

The music here isn’t all high-speed, but even dreamscapes and ballads are informed by the sudden aside, the unlikely insertion or shift in direction. It’s dynamic, sometimes hyper-active music that can suggests a particle accelerator, with the phrase “sudden and unexpected” applicable at every turn. The opening “Daggers” has them intersecting at oblique angles, throwing off overlapping abstract runs and sudden shifts in dynamics with occasional shocks in timbre that can suggest prepared guitar or piano or involuntary body noises. “Who Never Dies” has tightly picked guitar eruptions tunneling up through the piano runs, with quick shifts to sustain-pedal gossamer piano and bursts of guitar-pedal noise, before they all fade into quarter-tone mystery

Slowing down the tempo is usually accompanied by disorientations of tempo or pitch. “Dust Storms” turns from pure piano reverie into reverberating tremolo guitar, still stretching dreamward, but there will be unpredictable sonic intrusions and sudden, just lightly jarring adventures in pitch. On “Squalid Simplicities” there are reactive materials on the piano strings, multiplying and altering Nabatov’s notes, but Seabrook is still feeding into it, fast-picked runs packed in amongst the piano sounds. While Seabrook’s guitar frequently sounds barely amplified, he also can summon up electronic tones that sound like Bronx cheers. There are playgrounds, carnivals and several haunted houses here‒usually comic‒and frequently developed narrative evolutions: “Spirit of the Staircase,” for example involves numerous chases and several disguises, usually assumed by Seabrook: his sudden sonic eruptions, almost musique concrete, function like sound effects in an ancient radio drama.

There’s genuine joy and playfulness here, often at warp speed, part of the appeal of these strange soundscapes and kinetic episodes.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Milford Graves (1941 - 2021)

Milford Graves.Photo by Peter Gannushkin

By Martin Schray

For quite some time it was known that Milford Graves’s state of health was not the best. In 2019 at the Vision Festival he needed the help of his son to master the three steps at the entrance. The reason was a depressing one: his doctors had informed him that he was suffering from amyloid cardiomyopathy, sometimes also called stiff heart syndrome or cardiac amyloidosis. The disease has no cure and when Graves was diagnosed with it in 2018, he was told he had six months to live. However, he has always been a tough guy and in the end he managed to live with it for a much longer time.

Milford Graves was born in Jamaica, Queens/New York. There was a drum kit in his house and by the age of three he was already playing on it. Like many African-American musicians he was exposed to a lot of rhythm & blues music as a child. Additionally, he studied African hand drumming and the tabla until the age of 19 - a period he considered to have been highly significant in the development of his tonal concept. In the very early 1960s he led dance bands and played Latin gigs in New York. Then he met Giuseppi Logan and they started rehearsing together. When they were invited to a session this turned out to be a rehearsal by the New York Art Quartet, at that time consisting of J. C. Moses (drums), Don Moore (bass), Roswell Rudd (trombone) and John Tchicai (saxophone). Soon Graves replaced Moses because according to him he “was the only drummer at that time playing in a certain free concept, using different rhythms (which) changed the whole thing around“. Graves revolutionized jazz drumming with his sense of rhythmic cohesion, intensity and musicality. His emphasis was on playing freely instead of playing time, he focused on clarity and tuned his snare drum higher than other drummers did, so that his tom-toms were sounding deeper than usual. This dampened sound became his trademark.

For Graves, the drum set was an archaic instrument. To him, beats were heartbeats, ecstatic dances, rhythmic convulsions, trance. It was a constant up and down. Just life. He said that the drums were the foundation of all music, the basis. Milford Graves was not just a drummer. He was the personification of the drum set. In free jazz there has never before and never after been someone whose body seemed to form a more perfect unity with the hodgepodge of drums, cymbals and additional materials. Saxophonist Hugh clover said about him: “He says that it’s all rhythm. We breathe in rhythm, we talk in rhythm and we get up in rhythm. All our things are rhythm whether we know it or not.“

Milford Graves has recently moved into the focus of the jazz public again through Full Mantis, a documentary about his life. The film accompanies the audience through the artist’s lush garden and ornate home into the martial arts dojo in his backyard and the laboratory in his basement. Graves tells stories of discovery, struggle and survival, ruminates on the essence of “swing“, activates electronic stethoscopes in his basement lab to process the sound of his heart in order to study it to prepare for treating himself and fight his disease.

Although his music is not as thoroughly documented as one might expect, free jazz owes great albums to Milford Graves. My favorite ones are his first two LPs with the New York Art Quartet, Mohawk (Fontana, 1965) and New York Art Quartet (ESP, 1965) as well as the 5-LP box Call It Art (Triple Point Records, 2013), the first two releases certainly free jazz landmark records. Also in 1965, he played the drums on the only album of the Lowell Davidson Trio (ESP) with Davidson on piano and Gary Peacock on bass and on Paul Bley’s beautiful Barrage (also on ESP). Exceptional albums as a band leader are Bäbi (IPS, 1977; later released as a double CD on Corbett vs. Dempsey) with Arthur Doyle and Hugh Clover on reeds, and Meditations Among Us (Kitty Records, 1977) with a crème de la crème of Japanese musicians. Newer releases showing what a great drummer he was are his duo with John Zorn, 50² (Tzadik, 2004), and Beyond Quantum (Tzadik, 2008), a trio album with Anthony Braxton and William Parker. I also want to recommend his drum duo with Andrew Cyrille, Dialogue of the Drums (IPS, 1974), which is one of the rare proofs that an album consisting of percussive instruments and vocals only can be exciting and entertaining. At the Vision Festival in 2019 they revived this duo and Milford Graves told the story how the two met in 1961 and how they played Latin Jazz. At the end of the set Cyrille said how much he appreciated and loved Graves as a person and that he was proud that he had been been part of his life. Graves wanted to respond but his voice failed, he was in tears. It was an incredibly touching, unforgettable moment full of heartfelt, honest emotions.

After a long fight one of the greatest drummers the jazz world has known has lost his fight against cardiac amyloidosis. One of the last founding fathers of free jazz, a real musical revolutionary, has gone for good. Not many of them are left now. Rest in peace, Milford Graves.

Watch Milford Graves at a performance in 1988 in Japan: 

Tàlveg – Arbori (self released, 2020) ****


By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Tàlveg is the trio of Marcel·lí Bayer on baritone saxophone, Ferran Fages on electric guitar and Oriol Roca on drums. The instrumentation allows you to think, as a first impression, that the bulk of Arbori (which translates as arboreal actually) consists of power music, noisy, loud stuff. This isn’t the case here.

Fages’ discography (as he is the only one of the three I’m quite familiar with) involves experimentation with small scale, very often amplified sounds. Quite minimal, like small gestures, they come as improvisational suggestions but always stay on the experimental side of the spectrum. While listening to Arbori, a ten piece oratorio as they call it, I got the impression that Fages’ electric guitar is the core of Tàlveg, the instrument that suggests and leads (but not in the conventional way) the direction of the trio.

To finalize my initial argument, Arbori is not made up from dynamic sounds but, rather on the same way of thinking with Fages earlier recordings, they focus on small scale improvisation. The baritone sax of Bayer, an instrument that by definition can dominate a recording (yes, I have Mats Gustafsson on my mind…), is a gentle presence on his hands. On the longer tracks of Arbori, there are moments when he and Roca play as a duo, forming a unity that is quite thrilling and enjoyable. Roca’s drums follow and lead at the same time, but he is not just keeping the rhythm. I felt that he also has a very clear bond with Fages metallic notes, clangs, sounds –everything he produces from his electric guitar.

I got fascinated by the very few times they let themselves get carried from the energy of the music. In tracks like Gosurc, they slowly build up on the tempo but never let go on a burst of energy. It seems like they could do that forever, such is their controlled pathos. Arbori as an oratorio is quite playful, consisting of four long tracks while all the others are smaller snippets, like small sketches of experimentation on their way to paint the bigger picture. Thinking that Arbori is their first full album as Tàlveg, the listener gets the feeling of urgency and importance. I felt really at ease with this feeling as I too needed (and need) music that will transcend my feelings out of this global dystopia.


Friday, February 12, 2021

Chick Corea (1941 - 2021)

Chick Corea, Skopje Jazz Festival 2009 ©Ziga Koritnik

By Paul Acquaro

We were surprised to hear about pianist and composer Chick Corea's passing this week from a rare and only recently detected form of cancer. Over the past few months, throughout the various lockdowns, it seems as if Corea was producing online videos, conducting master classes, and keeping busy.

While Corea may be more often associated with his more straight ahead Akoustic Band, or fusion with Return to Forever and later the Elektrik Band, as well as duos with vibraphonist Gary Burton (ECM's 2009 box set Crystal Silence-the Ecm Recordings 1972-79 is worth tracking down), he also famously worked with Miles Davis during his earlier jazz-rock period (In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil, Live at the Fillmore East, and is featured in the film Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue of Davis' Performance at The Isle of Wight in 1970). 

This period was followed by a short-lived but influential collaboration with woodwindist Anthony Braxton, bassist David Holland, and drummer Barry Altschul in the group Circle, which recorded Live in Paris for ECM, as well as a recording minus Braxton in 1971, A.R.C (also on ECM). Two recordings on Blue Note also document this more avant-garde leaning time for Corea. Circling In (Blue Note, 1975) was a collection of Corea's work with some formative work by Circle, and Circulus from 1978 was a collection of live performances from 1970.

The depth and breadth of Corea's work is daunting to capture, but his musical spirit is not. From live performances, to his many recordings, and his later educational work, Corea leaves a giant imprint.  


By Stef Gijssels

Chick Corea is one of those musicians who've done it all, and who were able to do it all, thanks to their virtuosity and creative insights. My first contacts with Corea where his jazz rock or fusion efforts, first with Miles Davis, and later with Return To Forever. As a young man, I was fascinated by the musical pyrotechnics of the latter, just like I was in awe for the instrumental prowess of bands such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report. 

My favourite album was Romantic Warrior (1976), a 'horror' of an album musically, the epitome of bad taste in music, but at the same time a musical circus full of incredible acrobatics, swallowing swords, eating fire and jumping from horses, with so many things happening at the same time, unexpectedly and so fast that you do not know where to direct your attention. I'm listening to it now, and it still has that madness of attraction: the breakneck speed unison lines, the unexpected twists and turns. I do not think one note on this album is improvised, as it is constructed and arranged in minute detail, with layers of additional sounds in post-production. It is arrogant, show-offish, programmatic and basically with little to say (I always wondered why an album that is so emotionally dead could have the word 'romantic' in its title). It is the actual complete opposite of jazz. But admittedly, the technical musicianship is extraordinary, a kind of instrumental extravaganza. 

On the other hand, there is Corea as a solo performer, playing pieces of Bill Evans, calmly, emotionally compelling - romantic even - and with real musicianship, improvising full concerts and managing to keep the listener's attention, or his brilliant and agitated album "ARC" (1971) with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, which is more in post-bop or free bop mode, one of my favourites. My musical tastes changed, and so did his, and clearly in different directions. Despite this, he still had a strong impact on the musical appreciation in my life. I am listening to ARC now. Thank you Chick!

CIRCLE Live 1971:

A quintet of OC Quartets

By Stef Gijssels

Possibly the best common line-up in free jazz is the "Ornette Coleman Quartet" (OC Quartet), with sax, trumpet, bass and drums. In 1959 (when your humble servant was born) Ornette Coleman released "Tomorrow Is The Question" with Don Cherry on trumpet, Percy Heath or Red Mitchell on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. On his first album "Something Else!", Walter Norris played piano. With his sophomore album, Coleman wanted to liberate jazz from the complex harmonic structures and chord progressions that had become the backbone of jazz music in the fifties. Jazz had become a genre for virtuosi, so he did away with the piano, the harmonic instrument in the ensemble, in order to create more musical freedom and focus on the melody or theme as the core anchor for improvisations. The initial reactions were very negative among the jazz lovers and critics. His music was accused of being incoherent, harsh, impossible to listen to and much more. When listening today, you wonder what all the fuzz was about. Which by itself demonstrates that Coleman's influence on today's music has been more than significant. One of his early opponents, Charles Mingus, already came with a similar line-up two years later with the album "Presents Charles Mingus" with Eric Dolphy,  Ted Curson and Danny Richmond. Today, the format is thriving, and we have already reviewed many last year, starting with "From Wolves to Whales" and the strong "Nox", also with Nate Wooley. 

Luis Vicente, John Dikeman, William Parker & Hamid Drake - Goes Without Saying, But It's Got To Be Said (JACC, 2020)

The rhythm section of Hamid Drake and William Parker is indeed 'something else', to the extent that they have their signature interplay, and that they bring out the best in other musicians, in this case Luis Vicente on trumpet and John Dikeman on saxes. 
The performance was recorded live at the Galeria Zé dos Bois in Lisbon, Portugal on the 19th July 2020, in the middle of the corona crisis and the racial incidents in the United States and the ensuing "Black Lives Matters" protests. These two events explain the title of the album. In the long liner notes, John Dikeman explains his views on racism and music, and William Parker addresses the pandemic and music. They say what they think because it has to be said, even if it sounds obvious. They link their anger also to the power of music:

"It goes without saying that we are completely indebted to African American music and culture. I hope! At least within this community. Among the people who listen to this music. Among the people who have been inspired for decades by true love warriors, as Cornel West would call them, like William Parker and Hamid Drake, as I know Luis Vicente and I have. I hope it goes without saying that we stand for the equality of all people of all races, sexual orientation and religions". ( John Dikeman) 

"When it comes down to it I have to go with free improvisation playing without thinking but not thoughtless. only feeling and directed towards the spontaneous. Hear a sound respond react fast against slow unpredictability water phone or iron bell who knows. This is the excitement for me. Everybody should do what they find exciting and thrilling." (William Parker)

But now back to the music. This is an exceptionally beautiful album.

The first track is a half hour joy to hear, with all four musicians giving their best, listening well, co-creating, stimulating each other, energising each other, led by Parker's unwavering solid bass with many rhythm changes and shifts in emphasis and Drake dancing around this on his drum kit, creative and full of variation and sonic presents for the ears. Dikeman and Vicente surpass themselves. Dikeman is lyrical, jazzy, compelling, with at times phrases and timbres reminiscent of the most powerful Ethopian jazz. Vicente is soaring, emotional and spiritual at the same time. The shorter second piece continues in the same vein, with Dikeman and Vicente's horns spiralling their phrases around each other, and with a too abrupt cut at the end. 

The third piece starts with Hamid Drake singing in Arabic supported by Parker's gimbri and Drake's hand percussion. Nothing new here, I hear you think, we've heard it before, but now it sets the scene for what I think is the most beautiful improvisation I've heard in a long time.

It goes without saying, but it has to be said: this album comes highly recommended. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Anna Kaluza, Artur Majewski, Rafal Mazur & Vasco Trilla - The Night Of The Swift (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2020)

Anna Kaluza is a German altoist who performs here in a quartet with Polish trumpeter Artur Majewski and acoustic bass guitar wizard Rafal Mazur, with Spanish drummer Vasco Trilla to complete the ensemble. The performance was recorded on 5th of December in 2017 at Auditorium of University of Zielona Góra, Poland. This quartet is in a way a continuation of "Tone Hunting", their debut album on Clean Feed from 2013, and the two horns and the bass also performed on Majewski's "Unimaginable Game" from 2016. Majewski and Mazur have performed together often, and Trilla we have reviewed frequently over the years. Kaluza is a little bit of the mystery here. Nine albums in twelve years, with the Hanam Quintet, Splatter, and a few others. And actually, that's a shame, because the altoist is really good, performing solidly with the three men, adding her bright high tones to the heavier sounds of the other instruments. 

The six tracks on the album are sufficiently long to develop and improvise around some core concepts, with often exploratory free improvisation. The music is fresh, open, light-hearted and fun to listen to. 

They have a kind of dual approach to their music, one that it is wayward, stubborn, somehow suppressed in its short bursts of sonic energy, alternating with more solid powerplay. The second track offers both, starting slowly with arco bass, then shifting halfway into more voluminous interaction. But their natural habitat is best illustrated by the fifth track, a kind of dark parlando conversation between the instruments, animal-like, strange and eery. 

Music with character and personality. A real treat. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Jaimie Branch, Rempis, Flaten, Østvang - Tripel​​ Dubbel (Aerophonic Records, 2020)

Some people complain about the lack of female musicians, and without wanting to re-open a whole debate that was raised again with the recent NPR Jazz Critics Artists' Poll article on the subject. No problem on this blog and no problem in this post. Trumpeter Jaimie Branch is in the company of Dave Rempis on saxes, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Tollef Østvang on drums, or an American-Norwegian ensemble. The album gives one long set of a live performance by the quartet on March 10, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium at the Oorstof and Sound In Motion festival organised by Christel Kumpen and Koen Vandenhoudt. Kudos and sympathy for the organisers of concerts. We wish you all the best in these dire times and hope you'll be able to present us fine concerts again soon.

Despite having travelled from Austria the night before and having barely slept, the performance is very powerful, credited to the "the energy of the remarkable audience at De Studio revved the band back to life in no time". The title of the album refers to the stronger "trappist" beer varieties that are available in Belgium: tripel means that the yeasting processes continues in the bottle, and makes for stronger alcohol content (and blond colour). "Dubbel'" means 'double' and make for a stronger than usual alcohol content (and often brown colour). 

They bring us a real free jazz outing, fully improvised in one long performance, with the sound quality of a live performance, not optimal but reflecting the context, of unstructured in the moment interactions, strong collective interplay, and a go-for-it mentality, with boppish undertones and rhythmic moments and repeated phrases, with sometimes complete reinventions of the piece, which is understandable in the 40-minute long stretch: some paths are left behind and completely new directions are explored. The middle section is more quiet with room for individual soloing without accompaniment or a trumpet-bass duet that leads us back to the band in full force. 

I wasn't there that night, despite the short distance. And it's only now, in lockdown times, that I can blame myself for not having been there. Once the concerts are back, I'm sure the rooms will be packed. Make sure you're fully rested by then. We'll cheer you on!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Russ Johnson, Rempis, Abrams, Spencer & Cunningham - Harmattan (Aerophonic, 2020)

I agree, this is a quintet, with Russ Johnson on trumpet, Dave Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone, Joshua Abrams on bass and the double drum section of Isaiah Spencer and Jeremy Cunningham. It just takes some time before you actually realise that this is not a quartet. The performance consists of one long track, a concert at The Whistler in Chicago on February 12, 2019. 

It starts slowly, cautiously, with warm and bluesy phrases, creating a wonderful collective piece of music, as if planned and rehearsed. Especially Rempis is calm and even starts playing some joyful phrases on his baritone, echoed by Johnson. Abrams limits himself to a solid functional support to the horns and it is only a good seven minutes into the improvisation, when the intensity increases, that the double drum kit becomes noticable, and once it does, Abrams gets his solo moment, quietly and respectfully encouraged by Spencer and Cunningham, one of the many highlights of the piece, fun, coherent and inventive, and when a steady rhythm, a compelling vamp is achieved, the drums get into a subdued and nervous dialogue, and when Rempis joins, the intensity and fierceness of the piece increases to reach a high point, like a force of nature unleashed. 

The fun part of this performance is that it brings together musicians of a different nature and stylistic preference. We knew Russ Johnson from his modern jazz performances, but on this album he shows his improvisational skills even more in a free environment. I wish we could hear more from him. 

In all, the more than fourty minutes move from quiet moments to high volume and back, with both individual and collective demonstrations of what music is all about: connecting, creating, instrumental mastery, expressivity and the joy of playing. 

Don't miss this one. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Liz Allbee, Ignaz Schick, Mike Majkowski & Oliver Steidle - Salz (Zarek, 2020)

For those of you who may be acquainted by the music of Liz Allbee (also sometimes Luz Alibi) will be surprised by this quartet with Ignaz Schick on alto, Mike Majkowski on bass and Oliver Steidle on drums. Her usual noise experiments and explorations of sonic environments and objects, is replaced in relatively accessible free jazz quartet performance. The music is open, light-hearted and fresh, with Schick offering the more melodious aspect of the band's sound. They are not afraid to integrate silence into their music, as an integral element of their musical vision, including long solo moments without accompaniment for all musicians in the band. The quartet manages to offer lots of variation, and even moments of higher volume and intensity. Possibly not the most memorable album, but clearly worth checking out. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

In summary, Ornette Coleman would have appreciated all this music, even if some of them go beyond what he intended. He opened a musical door that many entered and they opened a magnificent musical space behind that door. Despite of what some might think, the space is huge, as the reviewed albums testify. Be there and listen.