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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Marc Ribot — Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist (Akashic Books, 2021)

By Gary Chapin, Matthew Banash, and Anthony Simon

Three of us had a conversation about Marc Ribot’s new book. We started with the question, “Why’d you pick up the book?”

Gary : I got excited about the book — and pre-ordered it — not just because Marc Ribot is one of my favorite guitarists but because I know he’s a very smart guy, very funny, and has a way with words. I interviewed Marc once, around 1990, and that is still one of the most fun conversations I remember from my aborted “jazz journalist” career. I was not bothered that this isn’t “just” a music book. The music pieces are great (and I’ll go into detail later, depending on what you all say), but the non-music essays, the short stories, the vignettes and screenplay treatments, sort of “rhymed” with what I love about Marc’s music: wit, intelligence, passion, and resistance.

Matt : Full disclosure — I can be a literary snob (and music snob, too) and enjoyed this book for its structure, technique and content. Ribot is a fascinating, talented artist, and that’s what drew me to this work initially.

Anthony : I actually didn’t know about Unstrung until Gary proposed a collaborative review of it. I had previously read just a little in the way of Ribot’s articles and interviews over my years of following his music, and became intrigued at the notion of reading and writing about his book. I was not prepared for his writing to be so hilarious, wildly creative, and deeply affective. Many times, even as I felt a pull to enter the flow of reading fine writing, I also wanted to slow down and linger over particular passages and turns-of-phrase, to savor them.

Gary : Yes, the man has a way with words. A few pieces really stuck out to me, but the Henry Grimes appreciation, for me, was completely eye opening. I knew about Grimes as a bassist, but the idea that he also was responsible for this collection of poetry, really struck me. I haven’t bought the book of poems ($100 on Amazon), but I did get his biography ($9.99 on Kindle). What was interesting to me was how the connection between the musician and the words in Grimes is mirrored by the connection between the musician and the words in Ribot. These early chapters are easier to grok because they are about music — the connection is explicit — but the later stuff? The words and the guitar playing come from the same head. What’s the connection?

Matt : After letting the book digest for a few days I think of all the sections blurring together. The connection for the “author,” let's call Ribot, is connection. Everything bleeds, runs, merges and morphs together in perception and memory.

Anthony : Like Matt, I get the feeling that all the pieces in the book, though wildly diverse, somehow blend and cohere. For me, the connection is more “felt” than “understood.” Part I offers pieces I appreciate for their perspectives on musicians and moments in music history, the art of making music and the life of the artist. Part II seems to turn a corner to matters more personal to the author, but also less conceptual, somehow -- more experiential. From trying to grok a rooster’s “strange scream...of abandoned rage,” to the touching piece written to his daughter about disassembling the bed in which she spent “the chrysalis of adolescence.” Then in Parts III & IV, there’s fewer obvious places to hang my hat of rational understanding, and I’m left to notice my emotional reactions to pieces — shock, surprise, laughter, confusion. For instance, the screenplay piece about a train ride from New Jersey to NYC that, due to a tragic lack of sandwiches, results in cannibalism — to be shot “real-time one-take,” ha!

Gary : Here’s the thing: for so much of the music we read and write about on FJB, my mind almost always comes up with a story, either specific images or “the feeling” of a story, narrative movement. Sometimes I actually ask myself, if this music were a soundtrack, what would be happening on the screen? In Unstrung, Marc gives us stories directly, and I find myself making the connection in the other direction. I know that thinking of one medium in terms of another medium is a mugs game, but knowing that Marc Ribot, whose music has meant so much to me all my adult life, wrote a story like “For Mauritzio” means something to me. It’s three scant pages of blistering fable about an abused kid that I actually made copies of and gave to my two daughters, one of whom cares for foster kids and the other is a child protective services caseworker. I’m not saying it’s a better story because of the music — the story stands on its own — but that dimension adds to my experience of the book. Part IV (I call it “the fables section”) is great and I’ve re-read just that section a few times.

Matt : Gary you just articulated how art, and in this case, “For Mauritzio,” works for me. I really enjoy the shorter fiction pieces, especially “It Was Almost Like Paris” and “Putting Your Arms Around a Memory.” To make a broad generalization, “Punks” and “Outsiders” are true Romantics in the literary and aesthetic sense. Real emotions and thoughts are at the core of what they create. Ribot is a perfect, fascinating example of that for me. This book was an epiphany in that respect. It has inspired me to dig into his solo stuff, search for Frantz Casseus and feel connected.

Anthony : Right there with you guys. I’m actually a social worker by profession, and I had notes on “For Mauritzio'' as well. So many children face abuse, or neglect, or the wounds of other adversities -- and the ways they find to survive embody both tragedy and triumph. And more broadly speaking, of the ways that we all get through soul-crushing experiences, music is surely among the most universal. To this point, “Lies and Distortion,” the book’s first piece (and some gut-punchingly good writing), offers insight into the ways music is used to cope, to heal, to forget: “... the truth about playing really loud is this: on a really good night, nothing hurts — not howling volume, not airless rooms at sauna temperatures, not bleeding calluses, not a fever of 103, not a bottle in the head, not a recent divorce. Nothing much. Not till later.” Getting back to what Gary said about relating to music via narrative — wise folks have taught me that our minds rarely cease constructing stories about our experience. Whether it’s about a song we hear, the person in front of us at the checkout line, or the image staring back at us in the mirror — for me, it comes down to whether a particular story is liberating or imprisoning. In Unstrung, we get them all. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Omawi, Alistair Payne & Ingebrigt Håker Flaten - Live At Roze Tanker (Doek, 2020) ****

 By Stef Gijssels

When I type the name of this album on Google, I get four results (4), and this despite the quality of the music. The world clearly isn't fair, but we kind of knew this already. 

Omawi is a trio with Marta Warelis on piano, Wilbert de Joode on bass, and Onno Govaert on drums, for the occasion extended with Alistair Payne on trumpet and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass. The trio released one other album before, "Inscape" from 2018, and their moniker is an acronym of their first names.

This album is a true winner. The core trio is by itself already strong: Warelis piano sound is something unique and beautiful, Govaert's drumming is a real treat: crisp, fast, unexpected and accentuating at the right moments, De Joode - the senior in this quintet - needs of course no introduction and to have Håker Flaten as a deeptoned partner offers him more freedom than expected. The true discovery on this album is trumpeter Alistair Payne, born in Scotland but studying and residing in Amsterdam like most of the band. (There is a fun video on Youtube on which Payne performs with Sun-Mi Hong on drums).

On this live album they bring us two lengthy improvisations, the first one clocking almost 32 minutes, the second 21 minutes. The music has a very natural and organic flow to it, with the improvisation following its own logic and path, often focused and coherent, at times a little meandering, but the overall sound and interaction is highly enjoyable and strong. 

The music is a true collective effort, and musicians step back to leave space for the others, resulting in many moments of duets or trio playing. This gives the music a suite-like natural structure. Nothing is forced, nothing is hurried, or too exuberant or violent or voluminous. The band's gentle narrative develops, grows, expands, slows down, contracts, turning left or right and moving back to the center, with moments of intensity flowing spontaneously into moments of near silence and back, while remaining fascinating in all its warm authenticity and intimacy. 

I truly hope this review will increase their Google result. They deserve it. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, October 29, 2021

Lee Ranaldo, Jim Jarmusch, Marc Urselli and Bálazs Pándi - The Churning of the Ocean (Trost Records, 2021) ***½

By William Rossi

With the exception of Marc Urselli, who I admittedly was unfamiliar with before this quartet, names like Lee Ranaldo, Jim Jarmusch and Blász Pándi should definitely ring a bell to any experimental music lover.

The temptation of describing this latest offering from the quartet as cinematic is a trap I was about to fall into, especially considering Jarmusch's dayjob as one of the most important directors since the 80s, but it's a word I find overused for certain kinds of music and pretty undescriptive in general. If cinematic is off the table, the word that comes to mind the strongest when I think about this release is conscious. Everything from the album and track titles to the artwork strongly suggests to me that what was on the quartet's mind the most in the making this album was the environment, and knowing what we know about the future of our planet the reason for the underlying dread behind each of these compositions becomes apparent.

The opener "Infinite Rain" starts with Ranaldo's signature chime-like guitar and Jarmusch, Urselli and Pándi providing a perfect backdrop for the guitarist's somewhat peaceful yet suspenseful lines. For a track called infinite rain the atmosphere is ironically desolate and desert-like. The piece eventually develops into a 60s inspired psychedelic jam, with Pándi playing a straight rock beat to Jarmusch and Ranaldo's explorations. Urselli's fuzzed-out bass bursts in at some point, almost as to signal the end of the jam which then melts away to end how it began.

This first piece serves as a template for the rest of the release: the album's centerpiece "Quivering Air" builds in a very similar way, with an extended timid intro of prepared and effects-drowned guitars that maintain a suspenseful atmosphere until Pándi's thunderous drums come in to start another 60s inspired psychedelic jam.

The shorter tracks function as breathers between the longer pieces. "Tectonic Mantle" lives up to its name with Pándi's earth shaking toms complementing the dark and heavy drone created by the others and "Night of Webs" introduces some new sounds resulting in something I could only describe as Cabaret Voltaire meets John Carpenter, a direction I wish they would have explored more on this album.

The closer "Threshing Fields" breaks from the formula of the two previous long tracks. Jarmusch's reverb and delay-heavy guitar is front and center, with Ranaldo's guitar and Urselli's bass joining it in the creation of a sad yet blissful drone perpetually on the verge of devolving into an explosion of feedback and noise. Pándi's cymbals carry the piece throughout its duration in a long farewell to the listeners.

Given the names involved and their reputation one would expect a more aggressive and noisy outing but everyone involved with the recording showed great amounts of restraint that fit this release's theme and intended mood perfectly. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want more from this quartet, more aggression, more physicality, but it's also obvious to me that they made exactly what they set out to make and I find it commendable. I'll definitely be listening any other release this quartet decides to put out in the future.

The album is available on black and clear vinyl, CD and digital download from Trost Records.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Frode Gjerstad Trio +1 - Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Circulasione Totale, 2021) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

I joked online a few years ago that I have a genre in my iTunes called “FRODE GJERSTAD,” except it wasn’t actually a joke: I really do keep Gjerstad’s music filed under its own genre, in part because what even is genre, and in part because he remains one of the most creative improvising saxophonists. In the last year or so, he’s supplemented the steady formal stream of albums on Clean Feed, PNL and other labels, with a flood of self-released archival records. We covered some of the initial, massive album drops when Gjerstad first launched his Bandcamp page. Since then, there has been a steady pace of archival releases, as well as a small number of in-the-moment pandemic recordings. This latest batch is not only freshly recorded, it’s a portrait of a reunited band on fire.

In early September, Gjerstad scheduled a mini-tour in western Norway: four nights in Stavanger, Haugesund, Bergen, and Øystese with a double-bass line-up of Jon Rune Strøm and Øyvind Storesund, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. While Strøm and Nilssen-Love have anchored the Gjerstad trio for about 10 years, Storesund filled the trio’s bass seat before then. He’s since appeared with the current trio a few times, and the trio +1 group was captured on 2020’s Forgotten City. What’s different this time around is both the amount of material and the energy generated by the quartet being back onstage.

The closest comparison to Gjerstad’s trio +1 is probably Sam Rivers, whose trio and quartet dates displayed a dazzling facility for group improvisation. Similarly defying certain expectations of free improvisation, the trio +1 improvise each set like a semi-composed suite. They’re all superb players, to be sure, which would be a great start for any group. But they’re also keen students of music, full stop. On any given night, the number of ideas being traded between the musicians is highly varied. It’s a testament to each player’s versatility, as well as their commitment to the moment: any one person might suggest a new idea, and sometimes the group will pivot, other times they’ll pass on the opportunity and move to a new thought. Nilssen-Love remains in near-constant motion, jumping from set to percussion, tapping out a clave pattern, then urging the group on with clashing cymbals. Strøm and Storesund sometimes trade walking bass lines, while other times one may play arco while the other plucks a rhythmically complex line. And then, of course, Gjerstad continues to deliver on 40 years as one of the more distinctive players, carving out a space where the melodicism of classic bop saxophone blends with the leaps and dips of modern experimentalism. 

Admittedly, the sound quality differs slightly from night to night. If one were going for a best of the best, possibly I’d recommend Friday above the rest. But, given the cost and the ability to hear a full run in its entirety, I’d say it’s more than worth getting all four. This is quite the antidote to a year plus of little to no live music. I, personally, have not made it back to a club yet, but I’m happily living vicariously through those lucky to have been in these audiences. Turn up the volume, pour a few drinks, and you’ll be transported.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2021 - Chicago, IL (Day 2 of 2)

By Nick Metzger

HPJF Crowd: Day, by Marc Monaghan

Sept. 26 th - The second day of the festival was marked by Chicago’s famous windy weather, though in a pleasant early Fall kind of way. We made our way back down to Hyde Park and walked the campus a bit, then headed for the Wagner Stage where we planned to camp out for the day. I want to remark that since the festival is free (donation boxes were the order of the day) the crowd was a really a unique, harmonious, and diverse lot that included seasoned jazz heads as well as university students and/or people who were just enjoying the park who, upon hearing the ruckus, would walk over and cheerful linger before either wandering off again or taking a seat (mainly the latter). There were lots of people laying and picnicking on the Midway, taking in the sun and sounds, again just a really terrific scene to behold, some light at the end of the tunnel. After a welcome and announcements from the co-organizer Norman Teague the Celebration of Jimmy Ellis kicked off in earnest. Ellis, the Chicago saxophonist and educator that the 2021 Hyde Park festival was dedicated to and who worked with artists as diverse as Nat “King” Cole and Sun Ra, was honored for his life in music as well as his long history of mentorship and community organization. Ellis was the host of many of the original jam sessions that evolved into the Back Alley Jazz events that continue today. He ran the Jimmy Ellis Workshop Band for almost 30 years which was open to all musicians, regardless of age of ability, and so it stands to reason that his death this past July affected a multitude of musicians both far and wide. The concert was organized by pianist and longtime friend and collaborator Miguel de la Cerna and hosted by the Emmy award winning vocalist Joan Collaso, who was mentored by Ellis. Bluesman George Wells and Jazz Me Blues Band leader Yoko Noge (both Chicago residents) played the first portion of the set and Collaso played the second half. Many touching songs and sentiments mixed in with some really funny ones bought Ellis’ humanity and good nature to the forefront of the remembrance.

Yoko Noge, by Marc Monaghan

The next act on the Wagner stage was Ethan Philion’s Meditations on Mingus, a tentet conducted by the band’s namesake that is comprised of saxophonists Rajiv Halim, Geof Bradfield, and Max Bessesen trumpet players Russ Johnson and Victor Garcia, trombonists Norman Palm and Brendan Whalen, pianist Alexis Lombre, drummer Dana Hall, and of course Philion himself on bass. The set started with the low profile bass thrum of Pithecanthropus Erectus, Mingus’ meditation on the arc of mankind and our unfailing mistreatment of one another, the subtle dynamics of which the group honored spot-on. This performance set the tone, with the rest of the set built around compositions that detailed Mingus’ outspoken criticism of power structures and his distress at the human rights abuses perpetuated against the weak and helpless. The band played Don't Let It Happen Here, Remember Rockefeller at Attica, a composition written in response to the Attica Prison riot of 1971,Meditations on a Pair of Wire Cutters (akaMeditations on Integration, aka Meditations, aka Praying with Eric) one of his most famous works; the working title taken from his distress at the condition of imprisonment, Haitian Fight Song which Mingus wrote in homage to the Haitian Revolution and to the triumph of freedom (and which seemed again relevant considering the state of Haiti and the refugee crisis stewing at the southern US border). I’m not sure I can capture just how terrific hearing these songs in the open air was made me feel, other than to say that as someone who is picky about Mingus covers this band delivers. All in all the arrangements and performances of these classics from the maestro’s oeuvre where terrific, played by a wonderful band with an extraordinary bandleader.

Ethan Philion’s Meditations on Mingus, by Besflores Nievera Jr

After the excellent set by the Philion’s group Mike Reed’s People, Places, and Things was next to play on the Wagner stage. I’m a fan of most everything Mr. Reed has put out, exemplified by his excellent duo set with Roscoe Mitchell earlier this year that sure to be on my year-end short list. For those who might not know, PP&T is one of Reed’s projects dedicated to dusting off the under-recognized jazz, blues, and improvised music of their Chicago forbearers, which they’ve been doing in various formations since 2009’s Proliferation. On this afternoon PP&T was comprised of the base quartet of Reed, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, and bassist Jason Roebke. They began their set with the One Bar, a stunning avant-post-bop arrangement by Guus Janssen that appeared on their album Second Cities: Volume 1. Next was another song from the same album, this time by Eric Boeren who played cornet, called What Happened at Conway Hall 1938 which has a loose structure that blooms into something much more interesting. The group played high energy renditions of Greg Ward’s composition VS II and Jason Roebke’s It’s Enough which both appear on PP&T’s 2009 album About Us. The band then covered Chicago saxophonist Tommy “Madman” Jones’ ballad FA from their their debut, and it was a nice moment of reflection hearing the classic played in the city of its birth with the cool breeze blowing through the crowd and then on out towards the lake. Surreal. The group closed their set with two compositions by reedist Michael Moore, Shotgun Wedding which was on Second Cities and Kwela for Taylor from their 2015 album A New Kind of Dance which capped off a fantastic set from one of the real treasures of the Chicago scene.

Mike Reed’s PP&T (l to r, Time Haldeman, Jason Roebke, Mike Reed, and Greg Ward)

So it was with a deep satisfaction that we strolled back along the midway, on through Jackson Park to 57th Street Beach and the shore of Lake Michigan where we hailed our final cab. All-in-all the Hyde Park Jazz Festival of 2021 was magical in all the best ways that makes these events and music worthwhile. It’s unique, in that it is truly a neighborhood festival that prides itself on providing its community with opportunities for cultural enrichment and self-expression through the arts. From the multi-generational 1 Foot In, 1 Foot Out to the pairing of Tomeka Reid and Junius Paul with Regina Carter, to Isaiah Collier playing with JD Allen, to the Celebration of Jimmy Ellis, the 2021 Hyde Park Jazz Festival emphasized that it is (still) archetypical of the community from which it sprang: one built on the dedication, participation, and mentorship of both its denizens and its supporters. Special thanks to the organizers, especially Sofia Del Callejo for all her help with passes and pictures as well as Marc Monaghan and Besflores Nievera Jr for allowing us to use their photography.

I gave to support…

Read part 1

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2021 - Chicago, IL (Day 1 of 2)

Isaiah Collier, Photograph by Marc Monaghan

Sept 25th - The 15th Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival unfolded under perfect blue skies during the last weekend of September, 2021. I’d been itching to drive up and catch a show in the Windy City over the summer but never made it due to lack of time or other circumstances, and after a last minute change of plans tragically caused me to miss the Natural Information Society/Drum Divas concert at Millennium Park back in mid-August, I began to firm up my plans to attend this years’ HPJF in earnest. As luck would have it my brother, also a seasoned jazz-head, was able to join me on the trip. First, a little background, the festival was initially conceptualized in 2006 by the Hyde Park Jazz Society with other South Side cultural leaders and first realized in 2007 with the help of the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement. The festival is held annually at various sites across the University of Chicago and the neighborhood of Hyde Park which is on Chicago’s South Side. It unfolds both within various local venues as well as outdoors at some of the many culturally significant locations across the neighborhood. Everything is easily within walking distance and there’s a free shuttle if you have mobility problems or are in a hurry. Speaking of free, the festival itself is has no price for admission, but a $5 donation is requested to help pay the artists and keep things going - obviously the more you can give the better. I know that after sitting on my wallet for the better part of a year and some change it felt really good to be able to support such a special event.

HPJF Crowd: Night, by Marc Monaghan

Obviously this and last year’s festivals were run a little bit differently than in prior years. For HPJF 2020 the first day of performances was streamed from the Logan Center for the Arts sans audience, while the on the second day the artists performed in smaller groups outdoors across the neighborhood. This year’s festival was similar in that most of the performances were outdoors while a couple of concerts were held indoors at the Logan Center, though attendance was limited. You had to RSVP for these concerts online, but they were also streamed on YouTube the following day, similar to HPJF 2020. Two large stages (Wagner at Woodlawn Ave and West At Ellis Ave) were set up at either end of Midway Plaisance Park which connects Washington Park on the west side of campus with Jackson Park and Lake Michigan on the east. Directly south is the University of Chicago Law School where Barack Obama taught constitutional law for 12 years (Michelle Obama is a born and raised South Sider). There were a handful of additional venues hosting sets, namely the Smart Museum Courtyard, the Dusable Roundhouse Museum Plaza and North Terrace, as well as outside the Augustana Church, but I came with a pretty specific agenda that was mainly tied to the Midway stages and the Logan Center.

Makaya McCraven, by Marc Monaghan

After getting off to a late start (of course) and arriving at the hotel - the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place, which offered a generous rate for HPJF attendees - around the time the festival started, we grabbed a cab and headed for the South Side, arriving with enough time to stop by the media booth before shuffling over to the Logan Center for Makaya McCraven’s first set at 2:30 PM. The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts is a conspicuously modern building on a campus known for its architectural diversity, which ranges from gothic to contemporary. The concert was held in the Performance Hall of the building, which provided comfortable seating with ample social distancing. All RSVP’d attendees were required to wear a mask. The stage was set for six musicians, four chairs, a drum kit, a harp, and a couple of amplifiers. In the back of the Performance Hall the capable, improvising painter Lewis Archenbach was setting up shop for a Jazz Occurrence , capturing the performance in a way only he can. Chicago bassist Junius Paul gave away his participation in the set when he delivered his double bass to the stage and made brief, friendly small talk with the audience in the front row. After an introduction and thanks from the organizers McCraven hit the stage with Paul, guitarist Matt Gold, harpist Brandee Younger, saxophonist Greg Ward, and trumpeter Marquis Hill to the enthusiastic whoops of the crowd.

McCraven & Band (l to r, Marquis Hill, Greg Ward, Brandee Younger,
Matt Gold, Junius Paul, Makaya McCraven)

The HPJF commissioned a new piece from McCraven which he debuted at the beginning of his set. The piece featured a simple 4-note guitar ear worm that stuck with me the rest of the weekend. The acoustics of the Performance Hall are especially good and despite sitting some distance from the group I felt like I was right up next to them. McCraven was a flurry of activity on the drum set, constantly evolving his patterns and which parts of his kit he utilized. He punctuated his tight, crisp precision with explosions of power and density, all the while delivering transition signals to the group. A wink or a nod and the song would shift. That’s part of the magic I missed listening on the stereo for so long. And the band was excellent, obviously. I won’t detail the performance too much since you can watch it for yourselves on the HPJF YouTube channel - link below. I will say that the intensity of the delivery in such a quiet space was incredible. There wasn’t a peep from the crowd save the occasional holler or round of applause after solos. The performance went over time by about fifteen minutes, and I was keen to see Mwata Bowden on the Midway, but there was no way we were budging until the set was over. Once McCraven’s sextet had taken their bows we rushed over to the West stage for Mwata Bowden’s 1 Foot In, 1 Foot Out.

1 Foot In, 1 Foot Out (l to r, Harrison Bankhead, Ari Brown,
Leon Q, Avreeayl Rawas, Khari B, Mwata Bowden), by Marc Monaghan

The second generation AACM member (former chair, actually) and U-of-C Director of Jazz Ensembles’ group includes fellow AACM colleagues Ari Brown on tenor saxophone, Harrison Bankhead on bass, and Avreeayl Rawas on percussion, as well as trumpet player Leon Q and Bowden’s son, the spoken word musician Khari B. The band was in full throat by the time I got back over to the West Stage and they gave a powerful performance. The group played several pieces from their eponymous debut, which is a gem if you haven’t had the pleasure; it has a really nice blend of older and newer traditions, jazz and poetry. It was a real privilege to get to see Bowden and his band perform live, one of the Chicago’s all-time greats, and that was a recurring feeling I had throughout the festival. We were torn b/w two of the 4:30-5:30 PM sets, as the New String Trio (Regis Carter, Tomeka Reid, and Junius Paul) were set to perform on the Wagner Stage during the same time that Trio WAZ (Ed Wilkerson Jr, Tatsu Ainu, and Michael Zerang) were playing at the Dusable Roundhouse Museum Plaza. The intent was to catch the first half of the New String Trio and then take the shuttle over to catch the end of the Trio WAZ set, so we headed over to the Wagner to find a spot off to the side, in the shade.

New String Trio (l to r, Tomeka Reid, Junius Paul, Regina Carter), by by Besflores Nievera Jr

When we got there Tomeka Reid and Regina Carter were getting tuned up and working with the sound team. Regina Carter is a celebrated musical chameleon whose style eludes categorization and a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur ‘genius’ award. I can’t overstate how thrilled I was to get a chance to see Tomeka Reid in a live setting, having been a fan of her music for quite a while now, and in a string trio to boot. Bassist Junius Paul had managed to get his enormous instrument and set of traps from the Logan Center to the Wagner Stage as we were taking in the last 2/3 of Bowden’s set. The group began by playing Mark Helias’ composition Pentahouve and I was spellbound by the instant warmth of the trio. Next they played a piece of Reid’s called August 6th, which Carter explained was also coincidentally her birth date, though Reid had named it b/c that was simply the date she wrote it. It was swooping and masterfully rendered by the trio. The smooth lines were then juxtaposed with a Carter fiddle tune called Black Bottom Stomp that had the crowd clapping and stomping along. You could tell by the group’s body language that they were having fun, as there were lots of sideways glances, grins, and nose-scrunches happening through the performance. Paul conjured harmonics from a small bell during his gorgeous composition Cadmium that had the exact opposite effect. You could’ve heard a pin drop, such was the crowd’s focus. To close the set the trio played a Tomeka Reid piece called Woodlawn. The experience bordered on the supernatural as the trio performed the piece just as the evening shadows were coming on. Wispy tendrils of incense scented the cool afternoon air that rustled the leaves of the shade trees that lined either side of Midway Plaisance. We sat in the sandy grass, soaking in the surreal scene, appreciative of the chance to feel semi-normal again and to be able to witness such a magic moment. As the trios’ final notes faded out I realized that we had completely forgotten to catch the last half of the Trio WAZ set. And though disappointed, there was no way we would have left the New String Trio set. I’m hoping for a record, we’ll see, and Trio WAZ gets priority next time.

Isaiah Collier’s 3-6 Project featuring JD Allen (l to r, Isaiah Spencer, Isaiah Collier,
Jeremiah Hunt, James Wenzel, JD Allen, and Jeremiah Collier) by Besflores Nievera Jr

Collier’s set on the Wagner Stage wasn’t due to start until 6:15 PM, so we headed over to investigate the food vendors (fantastic options by the way) and then headed for the grass of the midway where a sizable portion of the multi-generational, multi-cultural crowd was hanging out. The vibe was so pleasant and laid back that even though show time was approaching and Collier’s was one of the acts we were most excited to see, we had talked ourselves into listening to the opening of the set from the lawn while we took a load off and ate. That all changed once Isaiah Collier’s 3-6 Project featuring JD Allen began their set with all the urgency of a meteor impact, and we quickly scuttled back up the hill to bear witness. It was now dusk and the stage lights illuminated the band, a double saxophone trio with Jeremiah Collier & Isaiah Spencer flanking the stage on drums, bassists Jeremiah Hunt (who plays in Collier’s group The Chosen Few) & James Wenzel mirrored across stage center and JD Allen and Isaiah Collier out front melting faces with their horns. Collier’s Cosmic Transitions has been a favorite of mine this year and the young saxophonist was blowing fire for the ecstatic masses gathered before the Wagner Stage. His friend and mentor JD Allen was as loose and free blowing as I’ve ever heard him, absolutely absorbed in the collective energy. The rest of the group was also incredible, trading high energy solos and colliding in explosions of ecstatic group interplay and heavy rhythm. It was one of the best sets of the night and one that we again couldn’t bring ourselves to leave until it was over, which meant having to seriously rush back over to see Vandermark and Ensemble Dal Niente play at the Logan Center.

Vandermark Solo

The wildly exuberant crowd and atmosphere of the midway stage was starkly contrasted with our silent anticipation in the Performance Hall. Off to the side of the stage I saw none other than the great Roscoe Mitchell greeting some folks in the audience. He took a seat with the rest of us and the lights dimmed. Ensemble Dal Niente with conductor Michael Lewanski began the show after a brief introduction by the organizers, playing a 2020 Nicole Mitchell composition call Cult of Electromagnetic Connectivity for flute (Constance Volk), bass clarinet (Zach Good), percussion (Kyle Flens), violin (Tara Lynn Ramsey), and cello (Juan Horie). The piece had a plodding quality that was heavy on percussion and bass clarinet with the other instruments contrasting with scattered aural shrapnel. The next piece was the 2012 George Lewis composition Merce and Baby for flute, percussion, violin, and cello. It started with a flurry of glissando and percussion, very pointillist, and then it opened up momentarily with solos from the violin and drums before receding back into short statements. Next Ken Vandermark played a brief solo set of Fred Andersen compositions and shared stories about his old friend and mentor. Andersen was a stalwart of the Chicago jazz scene, a ground floor member of the AACM, owner/operator of the former South Loop institution the Velvet Lounge, and one of the best tenor sax players to ever pick up the instrument. Vandermark played beautiful renditions of Bernice, The Birdhouse, and Ladies in Love in honor of his colleague.

Vandermark + Ensemble + Mitchell

He was then joined on stage by the full Ensemble Dal Niente for the premiere of Roscoe Mitchell’s composition Last Trane to Clover Five for baritone sax and ensemble. The full group included guitarist Jesse Lange, harpist Ben Melsky, and pianist Mabel Kwan. The piece was heavy with orchestral fanfare in Mitchell’s style, which is quite distinct at this point, buttressed with the husky bellow of Vandermark on baritone and the persistent rustle of Kyle Flens’ kit. From this emerged a sustained, twinkling drone that gradually softened and then dissolved altogether. After the Ensemble + 1 took their bows Mitchell was brought up in stage where he was showered with applause. And again, you can’t help but feel humbled in the face of such talent. The set went over slightly so we hurried back across Ellis to the Wagner Stage to catch the remainder of McCraven’s second set. The crowd was really into it and the sextet delivered another knockout performance. Since I missed the beginning it’s hard to say if the set was identical to the Logan Center performance, but it was at the least very similar, which you’d expect. This set felt a lot looser comparatively as the band played upright with the exception of Younger and McCraven and Paul added some punch to the rhythm on electric bass. The set concluded what was one of the best days of music that I’ve seen in a long time, including the pre-pandemic timeline. By this point it was getting on 9:30 pm so we caught another taxi and headed into the night in search of food and refreshment, which we found in abundance.

McCraven Night Set

Logan Center Performances

Read Day 2

Monday, October 25, 2021

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle (Impulse!, 2021)

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme belongs to that kind of transcendental music in which one is convinced that there must be a divine power. The suite-like composition proves that man is capable of creating cultural values of such incomparable sublimity that it can comfort us - at least for a few moments - over the fact that we hurl hate speech at each other on social networks or that we cannot get a grip on social injustice. Coltrane himself said that with this music he was looking for contact with forces that are at home beyond our planet. A Love Supreme is virtually an act of musical dislimitation. Even better than on the studio album you can hear this on A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle.

This recording was made on October 2nd, 1965, and was recorded during his week-long engagement at the Penthouse Club in Seattle. On that evening in the fall of 1965, however, the saxophonist opened up his composition in new directions that are only hinted at on the studio album. Live, one hears Coltrane move further away from the moorings of modern jazz, you can witness a musical catharsis.

On the studio album, Coltrane shows how the relatively simple basic material of a few notes generates an almost infinite range of variations. The basic idea is a text recited “wordlessly“, so to speak, on the saxophone - a thanksgiving to the Almighty God, a Love Supreme. Each note of the four-note hookline stands for one syllable, which through its constant repetition develops an effect from meditation techniques, releasing the spiritual power of the sound body. What John Coltrane and his quartet display in the 33 minutes of the suite is pure rapture, a moment of transcendental ecstasy; the music radiates a deep, devoted earnestness, a palpably concentrated enthusiasm reminiscent of church services. There are good reasons that A Love Supreme is considered, along with Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, among the two recordings most often mentioned when discussing the most important jazz albums of all time. A Love Supreme has touched people emotionally like perhaps no other recording, which is why it seems strange that Coltrane so rarely played this music live.

In July 1965 Coltrane and his quartet recorded the only widely known performance of A Love Supreme to date at the Festival Jazz d’Antibes, the recording of that gig was included in a deluxe CD reissue of the album in 2002. In October 1965 in Seattle, Coltrane had expanded his classic quartet with Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone), Carlos Ward (alto saxophone) and second bassist Donald Rafael Garrett. A lot had happened since the studio recording of A Love Supreme the year before. Back in June, he had recorded Ascension with a tentet, a radical collective improvisation. At that time, the USA were shaken by riots, which were also reflected in Coltrane’s music (Coltrane had already recorded "Alabama" in 1963, another piece with political content). Therefore, in September ’65, during a two-week gig in San Francisco, he included the above-mentioned three musicians, who were rather located in free jazz. This lineup (plus Joe Brazil on flute) had also recorded the musically more radical Om the day before the Love-Supreme-recording here, which explains the musical direction of this performance.

In the October 2nd performance, the improvised opening bass duet - after a one-minute quartet introduction - already shows a looser band conception before the famous hook begins to unfold from the four notes in constantly changing keys and the rhythm section eventually circles this texture. It’s not until the fifth minute that Coltrane re-enters, just to dive into his sheets of sound over sheer endless cadences, just like he does on Om. The fanfare and the half-step lift on the theme may not be emphasized enough for fans of the original, but Coltrane extracts an enormous range of emotional depth from his instrument that more than makes up for this supposed deficit. Finally, he declines the basic motif through all twelve keys, which had already been hinted at earlier in the introduction by the basses. The spectacular thing about this recording, however, is that the septet repeatedly pushes the composition to its limits with freely improvised passages. Sanders and Ward counter Coltrane’s elegiac lines with their barrage attacks, which wrings completely new facets from the composition. Carlos Ward, for example, approaches the improvisation on “Resolution“ in a comprehensibly free way, he even quotes Trane here and there just to find an interessing way of interpreting the source material. What is more, this also inspires Tyner, Garrison and Jones to crazy rhythmic flights of fancy, which can be heard especially in “Pt. 3 - Pursuance“. In general, there is a much stronger focus on percussive elements here, Elvin Jones’s drum solo “Interlude 2“ is an incredibly intense example. Coltrane and Sanders are also listed as percussionists in the liner notes, the rattles, cowbells and the balafon refer already here to Sanders’s Tauhid album from 1967.

A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is certainly a must for fans, for Coltraneologists anyway. But not only for them. If you want to know how Coltrane went from the spiritual depth of A Love Supreme to the musical wildfires of Meditations and Expression, this album is your missing link.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Steph Richards & Joshua White - Zephyr (Relative Pitch, 2021) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

It is such a pleasure to hear how some musicians take their sound a step further with each album, taking risks and shifting perspectives. This is clearly the case with Canadian trumpeter - and Professor at the University of California San Diego - Steph Richards. What doesn't change, is her approach to select one single topic of inspiration for her albums. If "Fullmoon" was inspired by night landscapes, "Take The Neon Lights" by poetry, "Supersense" by the scents that surround us. "Zephyr" is inspired by her 6 months pregnancy at the time of recording in 2019. Her daughter Anza was born on November 2019. It is an intimate, delicate and at the same time exploratory album that tries to express "the idea of breathing one breath for two bodies, moving through the world with two distinct pulses happening at the same time". 

Her musical partner on the album is Joshua White on piano, prepared piano and percussion. We problably know him best from his collaborations with Mark Dresser. White's understanding of where Richards wants to go with her music and sound is exceptional, including his skill at moving forward with the same level of abstraction of her music and the sensitivity of the moment. 

The album is structured in three suites, with the themes of "Sacred Sea" (five treacks), "Sequoia" (3 tracks) and "Northern Lights" (4 tracks). 

On "Sacred Sea", Richards plays her trumpet in water throughout, even if this is not so immediately obvious to the listener, except in the last part of the suite. She's been doing this since 2008 - and she's not the only trumpeter of course who does this (Rob Mazurek also for instance) -, refining her technique over the years. In 2011 she created the WaterCOLOR project, "a multi-media performance installation featuring musicians submerged in shallow pools of water performing multi-movement experimental works centered upon the unpredictable properties of water".

For Richards this now gets new meaning, considering the idea "that her in utero child was, in a sense, breathing underwater" (which we hope it did not). 

The mood of the relatively short pieces vary a lot. "Amphitrite" is eery and short, "Nixie" wild and wayward, "Sequoia" is dynamic and intense, "Sacred Sea" is solemn and sensitive, "Heyyookkee" is playful and upbeat, "Aurora IV" is vibrant and jubilant. Within this variation Richards explores an incredible variety of timbral inventions on her horn, from whispers to spectacular clear tones, with everything in between, including gliding microtones (as a result of submerging the bell into the water I assume). 

The album is short, clocking around 38 minutes, but having listened to it a few dozen times now, there is a wonderful sense of completion. What else could she have added to this? The overall concept, tone and musical vision of each piece seem to have been clear to both musicians and perfected in their minds, before the music was actually performed. 

There is a sense of "finished perfection" with the underlying thought ... how else could this sound? Or put differently, there is no other way this feeling or that feeling could be expressed. It is musical poetry, concise, fluent, precise, smartly organised for esthetic value and emotional power. This power is nothing forceful, or loud, but rather the power of precision, of necessity, of inevitability. Despite the obvious improvised aspect of the music, the pieces sound complete, sophisticated and refined. And despite the variation of the album, it is balanced in structure and coherent as a whole. 

Despite the timbral innovations and the abstract levels of the compositions, the music is open and welcoming. The interaction between both musicians is stellar. 

Richards suprised us with all her albums so far. It is really a treat that she keeps pushing the boundaries of her art, demonstrating incredible skills on her horn that are equalled by her creativity and sense of perfection. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Mazzarella / Håker Flaten / Ra - What You Seek is Seeking You (Astral Spirits, 2021) *****

Sometimes a piece of music seems to trigger a sense of déjà vu. I had that experience listening to the Nick Mazzarella Trio’s new recording. It was as if all the things that had caught my sincere attention for some years was suddenly distilled into one set of compositions. That was an illusion, as déjà vu always is; however, it was not without some substance. I heard traces of traces of Andrew Cyrille, Steve Lacy, and (personal favorite) Fred Anderson (cue the orchestra to bow and chant “we’re not worthy!”).

This recording hit me like some of those did. The beginning of the first, title, cut follows a familiar script. Mazzarella opens up with three notes, blends them into a line, and tells a story. Slowly and softly, at first, Avreeayl Ra drums up from below. The sax plays over the field of percussion and then, one note at a time, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s bass comes in.

Is this free jazz? No. Mazzarella is credited with all the compositions. If it is composed beforehand, at all, then it isn’t free. Is it Avant Garde? Yes. There is a narrative here (see composition) but the focus is digging into the constituent parts of the narrative. This is my favorite kind of music: free here and there, with a plot but not tethered by the plot.

The second cut, “setting out” begins with the soft touch of distant drumming, like in an anthropology film. Somewhere, close but not too close, something important is going on. In comes the sax, right here and now, somber and expectant. The drums rise a bit in volume and cascade, telling the backstory. The bass enters with a buzzing texture, and then all three instruments fill the space with their intelligence.

In “recollection,” such narrative as there is materializes out of the drums and bass. Toward the middle, the horn goes silent, and we get a marvelous exchange between percussion and bass.

In “debris” you get bowing behind a horn that goes from squeaky hinge to bumble bee. The passion and energy scatter everything around until the twister has passed and the horn can settle back onto the bass line, now thumping again.

Probably the best cut (I am still deciding…no, I’m quite sure) is the last one: “latter day protest song.” The passion builds and resonates toward the middle when we get the simple song. Repeated again and again with penetration and wounded hope. Now we have a protest song!

This is magnificent music. It hits the sweet spot for me, where a lot of the ley lines of modern jazz meet. KB says check it out.

ps. Some nice recordings to follow this would be The Fred Anderson Quartet - Dark Day + Live in Verona (1979); The Steve Lacy Trio - Rent (1999); and The Andrew Cyrille Trio - Good To Go, With A Tribute To Bu (1995). There are two sins for a jazz collector (and especially for the fan of edgy jazz). One is ancestor worship. The only good musician is a dead musician. The other is ancestor neglect. Hungry ghosts must be fed. In my reviews, I intend to guide you toward righteousness.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Total Music Association - Walpurgisnacht (NoBusiness Records, 2021) ****½

Total Music Association is another forgotten project of German free jazz of the 1970s made accessible by NoBusiness, the label that has also recently re-released the work of the Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden and that of the Modern Jazz Quintett Karlsruhe. The core of Total Music Association consists of members of that very Modern Jazz Quintett Karlsruhe, namely Helmut Zimmer on piano, Wilfried Eichhorn on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Rudi Theilmann on drums plus Hans-Jörg Hussong on baritone and soprano saxophone, the head of the group, who is also responsible for the compositions. They are joined by Andreas Boje on trombone, Erich Schröder on viola and Matthias Boje on bass.

This disc features two sessions, a seven piece German avant-garde jazz ensemble recorded at legendary Ton Studio Bauer (where many early ECM sessions were recorded) in July of 1971 and three of the members recorded another one 16 years later in July of 1988, this time at Finest Song studios in Hamm. Like the two aforementioned groups, this band makes outstanding use of the freedoms offered by the new jazz of the time, without losing itself in them. The reason is that the band can rely on the excellent musical abilities of the individual members as well as on the group conception, which clearly puts musical communication in the foreground. Also, the musicians’ sensitivity as to sound and a pronounced interest in musical variety was obviously important. Similar to the basic conception of the Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe, Total Music Association has a focus on the fusion of composition, musical form and improvisation, with the intention of crystalizing developmental processes. In doing so, it was no problem for this band to draw on the African-American jazz tradition. This becomes especially clear at the very end of the title track, when - after a chamber music-like, very free, atonal section - the musicians agree on a straight beat that is reminiscent of John Coltrane. Theilmann plays a driving, swinging rhythm, Matthias Boje quotes Jimmy Garrison, and the winds pull out all the stops and play wild lines. It’s a pity that this part is faded out.

All three pieces of Total Music Association are multi-layered thematic compositions, in which pre-conceived material and free layers interpenetrate each other, which is especially evident in the second piece 'Incubus - Succubus - Pestilentia'. Solos and the few existing collectives contrast with each other, whereby a certain closeness to new classical music is always recognisable. Several times all instruments drop out - except one. A solo is really then a solo. Hussong’s compositions are characterised by very independent, clear and free-tonal melodics, whereby the superimposition of layers of contrasting density is an essential compositional device.

Another aspect is that this album highlights typical aspects of how free jazz was produced in these days. In the very nice liner notes Hans-Jörg Hussong remembers how the album was made. He says that actually Peter Kowald was to play tuba and alphorn. "A single rehearsal was to take place on the evening before the recording date at the Jazzkeller Pforzheim. It came as a pleasant surprise that this rehearsal worked on the first run. But then a problem arose I hadn’t expected. Peter Kowald, at that time the only established professional musician among those involved, asked about the fee and where to stay." Hussong admits that he was completely naive because he thought that free jazz and money had nothing to do with each other. The money the band got in advance wasn’t even enough to cover the technical expenses - and Kowald left. Hussong had to adjust the music because of this new situation. That the group recorded such a wonderful record under these circumstances is an even greater effort.

Although many listeners are not familiar with most members of this spectacular project there’s hardly any doubt that this is another masterpiece of European free jazz that can compete with the finest work of - say - Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Kowald, Fred Van Hove, Rüdiger Carl and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky. Definitely not to be missed.

Walpurgisnacht is available on CD and as a download. You can order the CD directly from the label: or from .

You can listen to the title track here:

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

John Zorn – Heaven and Earth Magick (Tzadik, 2021) ****½

By Anthony Simon

When I listen to music that includes both composition and improvisation, I enjoy trying to identify which is which. It’s like a creative puzzle that I never know if I actually solve. In this album from composer-colossus John Zorn, the listener is given the seemingly straightforward solution to this puzzle, which actually ends up inviting a different set of opportunities for deep engagement with the music.

On Heaven and Earth Magick (Tzadik, 2021), the music we hear is half-composed and half-improvised—but instead of each member of the performing quartet alternating between notation and improvisation, each musician is committed to just one. Sae Hashimoto plays vibraphone and Stephen Gosling plays piano—and their performances are completely notated. Ches Smith plays drums and Jorge Roeder plays bass—and their performances are completely improvised. As I immerse in the music with this knowledge that two players each are assigned one or the other approach, it’s striking how the improvised parts can sound composed, and the notated parts can sound improvised. The piano and vibes often display dazzling speed and intricate precision, while alighting upon a beguiling lyricism in other sections. And though the bass and drums play extemporaneously, they equally offer a performance replete with complexity, delicacy, and unfettered craft.

All six pieces on this album are composed, arranged, and conducted by Zorn, and each dazzle with a wide range of musical moods and tempos that can suddenly burst forth and then vanish in exciting and mysterious ways. “Acéphale” demonstrates this compellingly. At about ten-and-a-half minutes, it’s the longest piece on the album, beginning with an explosive two-second whole-band frenzy. But when everyone abruptly stops, a dissonant clamor is left to reverberate in stillness...until each instrument quietly begins rustling again. About a minute in, another eruption from the piano sends the bass not walking but sprinting. While much of piece has each artist trading in spare, abstract phrasing, there are sections that feature some lovely Zornian romanticism, as well as a pizzicato bass solo that is positively uplifting.

The second longest piece at just over ten minutes, “Konx Om Pax” starts gently, each instrument taking turns trading brief statement that are slow and beautifully melodic. Soon, a charming syncopation emerges with Smith playing Latin rhythms, then disintegrating again into playful abstraction. The latter third of the piece surges with raucous, thrilling crescendos and thunderous drums solos. This pattern of stylistic alternation is cyclic, and it exemplifies a thematic approach in evidence throughout the album—the restless shifting among moods, tempos, timbres. The listener can never settle, she’s always adjusting to the most recent change and grappling with the juxtaposition of contrasts. It makes for a demanding adventure that excites and fascinates.

In a feature from Rolling Stone last year, Zorn describes seeing Cecil Taylor perform in the early 70s. At that time, Zorn had been immersed in the works of composers such as Anton Webern “where every note had to have meaning...had to have a reason for being.” For Zorn, seeing Cecil Taylor perform was “a cathartic experience,” and he says, “I spent the rest of my life—I'm still doing it—blending these two worlds of intensity and catharsis with very considered and well-thought-out formal plans.” To my ears, this “blending of two worlds” is precisely the stuff of this album (indeed, it is with many of his works). Zorn has spoken of the phenomenon of “magic” when explaining some of the less effable aspects of creating music, and this album—Heaven and Earth Magick—duly casts that spell on this listener. I hope the reader will hear for herself.

This album is available on CD through Tzadik . A live performance of the album can be heard here with the same ensemble except Tyshawn Sorey substituting on drums.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Erin Rogers - 2000 Miles (Relative Pitch, 2021) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Erin Rogers plays six saxophone solos on the 63’ 2000 Miles.

This is Rogers’ second solo after Dawntreader from 2019, also on Relative Pitch. In 2021 so far, she also appears on the Wild Up ensemble’s Julius Eastman Vol. 1: Femenine .

2000 Miles presents like a debut exhibition. The snaking lines, overtones, and breath of Dawntreader are here too but significantly expanded upon and joined by key clicks and vocal multiphonics as substantial musical material. While these approaches appear throughout 2000 Miles as assimilated components of a cohesive language, each track seems to systematically showcase one approach, culminating in the sidelong compendium of “New Moon.” The cascading key clicks of “Waxing (Home I)” coax many colors not just from their varied areas but from their materials, alternately metallic, padded, and something like bamboo, and while some sound without wind, empowered as their own percussive musical material, others appear to act independently of the behavior from the bell at the same moment those keys more clearly responsible for blown notes can be heard. Much of “North Star” foregrounds a vocal multiphonic alongside shrill squeals and wails, haunting, howling, bellowing, like the wind in storms from old films. “Angelface” illuminates the broad palette of breath in its air notes, raspberries, cavitational streams, circular sniffing, exaggerated inhalation and exhalation and opening and closing embouchure, sighs, airy scatting, gasps, and the hiss and spit and suck of the prelude to hocking loogies and all these lungs hymns consequent effects on the sound of the saxophone. The ear is drawn to overtones in “Township Road 494,” their fragile, singing harmonics intermittently manifesting from barely-there soundings like sashes of light between branches of a shade tree in the breeze or through a glass chandelier twisting in the unperceived entropy of a room; something memorable and something missed from Dawntreader is the interaction with a resonant cymbal, but I suspect that the environmental interplay that seemed so vital there persists in these perhaps space-dependent harmonics. While key clicks permeate “Home II” as they did “Waxing (Home I),” more than any other previous track “Home II” features tonal acrobatics and glimpses of triadic spirals with a speed at or just below the threshold for multiphonics or the illusion of them. And “New Moon” synthesizes everything to that point, ending with Rogers catching her breath.

It is as if the action is shared, because beyond the breadth of technique and hour duration, structures are tightly collaged, flitting from passage to passage, pacing is typically fast, and dynamics are generally loud - so much so that silences lasting only a couple seconds in “Home II” convey their gravity through stark contrast.

Not just some voluble catalog of technique, 2000 Miles feels more like developing a methodology around multiphonics through a variety of means in real-time and cultivating the rhythmic character of saxophone in the discrete kit of key clicks and punctuative breath, each of which indicates an intimacy in the sound by underscoring the mechanism and the performer, both of which can be too often obscured by the notes. A singular voice.

Monday, October 18, 2021

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

By Flavio Zanuttini

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

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

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

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

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