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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few - Cosmic Transitions (Division 81 Records, 2021) *****

By Nick Metzger

This album is outstanding. Cosmic Transitions is Isaiah Collier’s third album with his group the Chosen Few, after 2017’s Return of the Black Emperor and 2019’s The UNAPOLOGETIC NEGRO and it’s an instant classic, may be a masterpiece - only time will tell. That it was recorded on Coltrane’s birthday in 2020 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio using the same equipment used for A Love Supreme should give you a sense of the guts Collier has. Though most true believers would shake in their boots at the thought of having to deliver anything substantial on such a day and in such a hallowed setting, Collier, pianist Mike King, drummer Michael Shekwoaga Ode, and bassist Jeremiah Hunt didn’t make the trip to kneel at the altar, they came to take up the torch and start new fires. The spiritual language of free jazz’s old guard is their native tongue. Not from, but of. This is ancestral music made manifest by a group of sonic shamans, and on four cuts across four sides Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few show a bright path forward.

The album begins in a mystic way: the sounds of chants, shakers, bells and bowls signifying ritual and meditative communion, a christening in which the members of the band set to the task at hand. The momentum coils around Ode’s thumping entry before abruptly exploding into a disorienting burst of sound. The gravity of the piece takes hold, the pieces begin to fall in place then resolve into the soaring piano chords that kick off “Forgiveness”, and I’ll tell you what, I still get goosebumps. The long and elegantly hostile solos of Collier and King roil over an absolutely stellar rhythm section. On “Humility” the husky tenor line beckons a shift in the rhythm and King takes over, delivering his most spectacular solo of the set. His majestic play is countered by the organic volatility of Collier over the latter half of the track. Even during his most emotional and free passages he retains unbelievable control over his instrument. The track winds down into a solo from Hunt that serves as a bridge into the intro of “Understanding/Truth”.

Once the theme has been stated Hunt provides an interminable respite from the unrelenting squall with an articulate and rumbling solo that totters against the yielding piano harmonies and rustle of percussion. When King takes over he builds up the temperature slowly and subtly with airy chords, rolling glissando, and audible vocalizations which reach a peak as Collier restates the theme. The track dissolves from there into a shifting tonal field that Collier probes with soulful Ayler-esque strokes until the din fades to silence. “Mercury’s Retrograde” begins from this silence. Little noises at first, whistles and small horns that Ode quickly buttresses into a roiling clamor. Collier screams on soprano, then tenor, then both. The clouds part abruptly and the final piece begins to spill out. This last one features some of the quartet’s most intense playing, as if they are engorged with these sounds and simply can’t get them out fast or vehemently enough. Collier’s soprano conjures whirlwinds, you can hear the mechanics of the instrument struggling to shape his breath. Over the final three minutes Collier and Ode deliver a beat down of immense proportions, smashing skins and splintering reeds. The group restates the theme again and it’s done.

At this point I can almost assure that you’ll want to start it up again immediately. Perhaps like me you’ll have trouble processing what you just heard and excitedly, senselessly, and viscerally just want more. I had so many questions after that first listen, and I can tell you now that the answers lie within. To quote Angel Bat Dawid in her liners for the UNAPOLOGETIC NEGRO, Collier’s is “ A return of a sound…from a not so far present future space. A return to the ancient wisdom teachings of ascended masters .” Amen to that. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Makaya McCraven - Deciphering the Message (Blue Note, 2021) ****

By Martin Schray

He has done it again: Over the past ten years Makaya McCraven has proven several times that he’s not only a jazz drummer who knows all the tricks of the trade, but also a very clever remix artist and producer. On the one hand, his own drumming mixes the styles of jazz heroes like Max Roach and Art Blakey with that of his father Stephen McCraven. On the other hand, when working with loops, he takes his cues from innovative DJs like J. Dilla and Madlib. What is more, McCraven likes to sample himself when organizing impromptu sessions around the world or when he’s invited as the guest star. He then edits the audio files several times to create contrasting moods.

Like on his Universal Beings album he uses classical jazz elements and enriches them with lots of funkiness and consistently develops the direct preliminary study for this album, his reimagination of Gil Scott Heron's last album We’re New Here Again (2020). On his new album he actually samples classics of the Blue Note catalogue but he doesn’t make the mistake to simply adore the achievements of the late greats. He hits the nerve of a younger generation instead because the music is viewed from the perspective of a newly added subjectivity (hiphop, drum’n bass). McCraven shifts the focus on the music’s novelty character, and thus it’s how it acquires a new musical relevance.

For Deciphering The Message he draws on the quality of the young, highly talented musicians of his band - vibraphonist Joel Ross, trumpeter Marquis Hill, saxophonists Greg Ward and De’Sean Jones, guitarists Matt Gold and Jeff Parker, and bassist Junius Paul - to put a fresh spin on the tracks. Joining them and McCraven on the virtual sampling stage are Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Dexter Gordon, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell and Elvin Jones, among others. Eddie Gale’s 'Black Rhythm Happening' now becomes a big beat club stomper in McCraven’s version, which even enhances the late 1960s party mood of the original. Bobby Hutcherson’s extremely relaxed vibraphone on 'Tranquility' from his 1966 Components album joins Greg Ward’s whacked sax serpentines and Jeff Parker’s distorted guitar in a slightly surreal sonic space that can be a doorway to discovering the originals.

It’s interesting that McCraven chose recordings on which the later heroes were still on their way up. He said that he had wanted to focus on the older catalog and a particular era and that he had been inspired from the beginning by the idea of these young musicians going through bands, almost like a rite of passage. Focusing on this, McCraven also digs deeper in the concept of sampling within the context of traditional jazz - a method that has generally been a core aspect of his work.

The icing on the cake is the fact that the album has been so cleverly orchestrated that it feels like attending a concert at New York’s original Birdland jazz club. The trick is that McCraven uses announcements from the iconic Birdland MC “Pee Wee“ Marquette. McCraven says that he wanted to create a narrative that would give the listener the feeling of being transported back to that time or cultural movement. Thus, the album goes far beyond a simple stringing together of tracks. For all the love of sound tinkering, however, it's never too artificial or mechanical, as every pore of the album is imbued with a love of playing, collaboration and improvisation. In this way, McCraven also manages to seamlessly link the past of jazz with the present of this music.

Deciphering The Message is available as a download, on CD and on vinyl.

Listen to “Sunset“ here:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Ryan Carniaux, Ra Kalam Bob Moses, Mike Roelofs - Joyous Freedom (Jazzwerkstatt, 2021) ****

By Flavio Zanuttini

This record was recorded in the middle of a tour in the summer of 2019. The three personalities fit really well together, they are able to create magic moments as well as spiritual atmospheres and a jazz feeling.

The clear sound of Ryan Carniaux's trumpet and flugelhorn is perfect for the beautiful melodies written by Ra Kalam Bob Moses like 'A Pure and Simple Being,' his approach to improvisation switches easily from modern jazz to more radical.

Percussionist Ra Kalam Bob Moses delivers a decisive job choosing the color of sound that better fit right in the moment, this takes the music on a new level highlighting its most important characteristics.

Mike Roelofs is comfortable in every situation from prepared piano to effected rhodes.

There’s a natural way of playing, a spiritual “something” that keeps strictly together these three musicians in this record. Everyone has his space where he can freely move, everyone is playing for the others, a wonderful interplay.

You can feel a connection between the musicians and you while listening to the music, something ancestral that makes you feel good.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Roy Campbell, John Dikeman Raoul van der Weide, Peter Jacquemyn & Klaus Kugel - When The Time Is Right (577 Records, 2021) ***½

By Stef Gijssels

The music on this album is raw, intense, energetic, agitated, somewhat uncontrolled and at moments chaotic, and with less than ideal recording quality, but we like it. 

We like it because of the presence of the late Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet, flugelhorn and flute, and even if not everything he's ever recorded is memorable, it is great to have new releases on which he performs. 

He is in the company of John Dikeman on sax, Raoul van der Weide on cello and percussion, Peter Jacquemyn on bass and voice, and Klaus Kugel on drums. The five musicians met at the Doek Festival at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam and they improvised this piece on stage. I do not think this American/Dutch/Belgian/German ensemble ever performed together before, yet they interact quite strongly. The only track lasts around 37 minutes. It is too short and we wish there was more, yet we're happy to hear it. 

There are moments when Campbell is up there in the sky, while Dikeman's sax is down on the ground with deep earthly sounds. Van der Weide's cello and Jacquemyn's bowed bass - and throat singing -occasionaly engage in fierce dialogues. Variation is guaranteed. 

The music is also relentless, with many things happening at the same time, and Kugel is driving things forward with power and rhythmic dynamics. There is a long quiet part with bowed strings and with Campbell on flute when the atmosphere becomes more gentle. 

But this is one of the rare moments to breathe, and when they arise they are usually short-lived because one of the other musician feels the need to pick up the pace and infuse the band again with the energy that characterises its 'raison d'être'. 

I'm happy this music exists. I wish the quality could have been better. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, November 26, 2021

Ava Mendoza - New Spells (Relative Pitch/Astral Spirits, 2021) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Guitarist Ava Mendoza is depicted with prickly pear cacti infront of a barbed-wire fence on the cover of her new recording New Spells. It's a fine visualization of the sounds that crackle forth from her electric guitar. 

This is her sound. Some recent group settings featuring Mendoza, like Mayan Space Station with William Parker and Gerald Cleaver, and Nate Wooley's Columbia Icefield project, are elevated by her bristling energy (and in terms of the latter, a neat contrast of energies with pedal steel player Susan Alcorn). On New Spells, Mendoza is not only front and center, but alone in carrying the whole recording, which she does artfully.

The recording begins with 'Sun Gun.' Gummy chords wobble in the background, steeped in reverb, while melodic notes are plucked out. Then, the song opens into a passage that recalls an unexpected Nirvana-like chord progression mixed with the wispy thin guitar lines a la Television. 'New Ghosts' goes down a different path, the beginning is sludgier, but not too heavy, the deeper tones bend and ooze, and eventually are extruded into long, stretchy tendrils. A bit of unresolved tension remains in the air throughout, especially when the echo effects are turned up and the atmosphere gets crunchy and dense. 

The last three songs are composed by her contemporaries, saxophonist John Dikeman, and bassists Trevor Dunn and Devin Hoff. Dunn's 'Ampulex Compressa' begins with a spikiness that fits Mendoza's style well, and then unfolds with fractal like wonder. Hoff's 'Apart From' has a haunting folkiness that Mendoza delivers with an enveloping approach. Finally, Dikemans 'Don't Look' vascillates between delicate arpeggiated melodies, trembling chord tones, and delightfully guitaristic textures.

Overall, New Spells is a bit grunge, a bit Hendrix, and all very much a unique creation. There is a completeness to each track, a collection of not just sonic exploration but rather songs with distinct narratives and personalities.  

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The News (ECM, 2021) ****

By Stephen Griffith

It's hard to overstate the number of seminal free jazz recordings drummer Andrew Cyrille has been part of, although the Cecil Taylor Unit’s 1966 Blue Note Unit Structures and Conquistador come quickly to most people's minds. But the 2019 octogenarian has been constantly active since then as a leader or sideman with a who’s who of major players. In 2016 he began a relationship with ECM with this quartet recording, followed by this trio date. The current quartet followed the sad demise of keyboard pioneer Richard Teitelbaum, leading to David Virelles assuming piano and synth duties that blend seamlessly with Bill Frisell’s guitar and Ben Street’s bass. Lee Rice Epstein perceptively pointed out that The Declaration of Musical Independence is a “spacious album...filled with longing and reflection” and the addition of Virelles augments that sound. Plus David is familiar with playing with Andrew and Street on his Continuum release from 2012.

On the topic of reflection, many of the songs apply new facets to previously recorded gems. The title cut was from a long out of print 1978 record on Ictus, The Loop, a solo drum album featuring sheets of newsprint covering the drum heads for “The News” and ending, in both versions with the leader simply stating “North East West South: The News" with his distinctive voice. Needless to say, even with the melodic nature of Andrew's drumming, the song sounds very different with the larger instrumentation, very disjointed sounds from all instruments perhaps reflective of the rapid-fire input from all directions to try to make sense of. But the underlying drumming has a similar skittering nature. An Adegoke Steve Colson composition, “Leaving East of Java” was previously recorded on Encounter by Trio 3, an early pre Intakt recording, now with Frisell and Virelles initially playing in unison to replicate Oliver Lake’s soprano sax lines before going their interlocking ways before a brief restatement of the opening theme. “With You In Mind” was performed by Cyrille, Henry Grimes and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, performing as Us Free, on Fish Stories. The original was structured after a love poem recited by Andrew over a cinema noirish tenor melody until Andrew’s brushwork and the bass join in at the vocal conclusion. The current version places the poem alone at the beginning followed by the full group joining in providing a lusher and more intricate sound than the lone tenor.

Frisell contributes three compositions, none of which I can find on prior recordings. “Go Happy Lucky” starts with a spritely guitar riff the title implies, under which dark brooding piano chords, similar to the start of Herbie Nichols’ “House Party Starting”, create dissonance before the two gradually resolve their differences in a fascinating way behind Street and Andrew’s solid foundation. Cyrille’s drumming has rarely been about ostentatiously dominating the group sound, even on his tribute to Art Blakey, as much as subtly enhancing it. This finely crafted release is no exception.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Tim Dahl - Solo (1584 Productions, 2021) ****

By Nick Metzger

Here we have the debut solo long player from NYC bass ace Tim Dahl, who we last heard on GRID’s excellent 2020 meltdown Decomposing Force with Matt Nelson and Nick Podgurski. You might also recognize him from one of his many other ventures like the Flying Luttenbachers, Pulverize the Sound, Unnatural Ways, CP Unit, the Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, and assorted Weasel Walter assemblages. That sounds like a lot but it doesn’t really scratch the surface of the number of projects Dahl has lent his talents to. It goes without saying that he isn’t your prototypical improvising musician, mainly due to the breadth of sounds he’s conjured over the years and his willingness to play across styles and genres. That said no such stylistic breaches here, Dahl very much has his own thing going on. I’d also add that if you (like me) are a sucker for wild, driving, fuzzy electric bass we get it in spades on this long player. On Solo Dahl delivers us from the mundane with a blast of grimy, coagulated otherness that is as musically inventive and entertaining as it is visceral.

There are several short interludes featuring the studio banter from Dahl and producer Nandor Nevai which breaks up the listening experience and keeps you from taking any of this too terribly serious. That said I’ll leave the listener to explore these on their own. The first instrumental is the second track Crushed Globus, which finds Dahl chanting in alien tongues via vocoder, hovering in a maelstrom so dense it may have it’s own gravity field. On Tamu Massif the fuzz abates somewhat and we’re treated to a plunky, off-balance swill that maintains the strangeness of the previous track by transforming Dahl’s vocals into what I’d describe as some insectoid buzzing around the stereo field. Le_Anse aux Meadows is another heavy, hairy knuckled trans-dimensional trip through the pedal board, this time with a metallic cutting edge. Conversely, the song Essential Toxins sounds wide open, almost ambient, but not quite. Global Exit finds Dahl tinkering with a clean, clanging yet rhythmic pattern over some looped feedback. It meanders just a bit before the fuzz blooms and the frenzied currents start to eat at the eardrums. RBCNW sounds like a small space containing a tiny, malfunctioning Tim Dahl robot while Matsushita Electric has the sonic texture of electrified jagged rocks.

Schenectady doubles down on the jagged texture and Dahl’s mumbled, half sung, half spoken dialogue plays back through the haze. SAG almost gets into Merzbow territory but in a particularly pleasant way. Dahl’s bass hits like brass knuckles in a velvet glove while you have to deal with what sounds like screaming sonic fireworks ripping past your head. The track sputters and glitches out before swelling briefly and ultimately submerging. The Low Country is an unsettling echo chamber of stasis. F for Conduct reprises the dense texture study of Crushed Globus while cranking up the menace and intensity. The last track is the fantastically named Quantum Creep which concludes the album in a concise hunk of funky and satisfying energy. I’m a bit at a loss for touchstones on this one as I have been with most of Dahl’s projects, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s awesome and weird and out there and if you like any of the aforementioned projects it’s likely you’ll get a kick out of this too. All in all it’s intriguing mix of free improvisation, sludge, and Jerky Boys banter is sure to please the discerning fan.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Frisque Concordance - Distinct Machinery (Random Acoustics, 2021) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

How far can you hide as musicians? How exotic and unknown should your next album be? How can you ensure that the fans won't find your next release? How can you be certain not to sell anything? The concept of "branding" seems like an alien idea to many avant-garde musicians, despite the obvious value it may have in gaining wider exposure and possibly revenue too, without having to compromise on the nature of their music. 

(A second observation is that - despite our Blog's very narrow musical profile, and its positive attitude to new material - some artists never send us promo material in advance. Some labels send their material systematically, some not. Often we have to ask to receive material once we know that new releases have been published.)

Anyway, these observations may have their interest, but let's move on. The band "Frisque Concordance" will possibly not ring any bells to readers, as it did not to me. Its first album was released in 1993, and this is their sophomore album, yes, 28 years later, in 2021. And the quartet is a true superband, with John Butcher (°1955) on tenor and soprano sax, Georg Gräwe (°1956) on piano, Wilbert de Joode (°1955) on double bass, and Mark Sanders (°1960) on drums, with the rhythm section replacing Hans Schneider and Martin Blume compared to the first album. That's 257 years of combined life and musical experience in one band. 

Of course the four musicians have performed together in different settings, and released albums in duos or trios (Gräwe & Sanders on "Affretando", Gräwe & Butcher on "Light's View", Gräwe with De Joode on "Flüchtigkeiten", De Joode & Butcher on "Low Yellow", and Butcher and Sanders many times (including "Daylight" and "Treader Duos", De Joode & Sanders on "Rope"), just to show how they fit in the same kind of musical universe of free improvisation. 

Even if they perform only once every few decades, the quality of the music is exceptionally good. It is powerful, raw, intense, full of energy and forward-moving dynamics, and so is the quality of the recording itself. The four musicians give themselves fully, without hesitation or compromise. The first disc of this double CD was recorded in Vienna in 2017, the second was recorded for the Austrian radio at the Konfrontationen Festival in Nickelsdorf in 2018. 

Obviously, Gräwe and Butcher have a stronger lead voice, but it must be said that both De Joode and Sanders shape the music in equal measure. All four artists are in great form for both performances. The music too varies between more intimate and quiet parts to high volume interactions and everything in between. This is one of those albums where the magic happens: the interplay is seamless, and the listening skills and co-creation of the four musicians is at the level that you might expect from their level of artistry and experience, and even more easily demonstrated by the mutual respect they have for each other. 

For those of you - like me - not familiar with the word, "Frisque" means 'lively' and the band's name can be interpreted as "lively unity", a well-chosen moniker. 

The live set is called "Desmodromics", referring to the workings of a four-stroke engine, alluding to power, speed, and seamless well-oiled interaction. A well-chosen title too. Actually, all titles refer to terms related to mechanics and machinery. Readers can have some fun by identifying their actual meanings on internet. 

We expect their next album to be released in another 28 years from now, in 2049, when they will all be in their early nineties. I have no doubt the quality will be as rich as it is on this album. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

There is a somewhat shaky video of that Konfrontationen concert, with poor sound quality, but at least it will an idea of the quality of the interaction.


Monday, November 22, 2021

Dave Rempis - Scratch and Sniff (Catalytic Sound, 2020) ****½

Scratch and Sniff is a live solo recording from Chicago-based saxophonist, Dave Rempis. It was recorded with a live audience at May Chapel (Chicago, IL) on December 17, 2017 and released on Catalytic Sound in 2020. The album comes in with just over 30 minutes of music.

This is a wide ranging solo concert with Rempis performing on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Rempis traverses extremes in dynamics, densities, registers, and timbres stretching from screaming noise to memorable melodicism, and from gritty textures to cascading walls of sound.

The first two tracks, 'When Beggars are Choosers' and 'Tooth and Snail' focus on the noisier aspects of the alto and baritone saxophones, respectively. Rempis’ expert control of extended techniques is readily apparent and his use of those sounds is wielded creatively and expressively. Both tracks have hard charging sections of angular, broken melodic lines that are gritty and beautifully harsh in timbre, amongst slowly developed textures of noisy timbres and whistling pitches reaching the upper limits of the instruments.

The third and fourth tracks, 'Abra Cadaver' and 'Ecclusastics (Charles Mingus)', fall into the free jazz category with a more traditional use of the tenor and alto saxophones, but this is not to say that there is no use of extended techniques, rough timbres, and extremes of dynamics and register being explored. 'Abra Cadaver' showcases ample use of circular breathing to produce endlessly cascading streams of pitches, rarely interrupted by a breath. 'Ecclusastics (Charles Mingus)' uses Mingus’ tune as a jumping off point for an abstract, bluesy excursion that ends with an ecstatic wail.

This is a compelling album of high-level improvising and exploration of the sound potential of the various saxophones. Each track is a well-constructed improvisation expressing a sense of logical, linear development with a compositional sensibility…a pleasure to listen to.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Playfield (vols. 1 - 3) (Orbit 577, 2021) *****

By Gary Chapin

Playfield is both the band and the project, a trilogy of records released between March and May 2021. Before getting into the actual recording here is a chain of thought that occurred to me while listening to these three half-hour-ish discs over and over. I invite you to skip down three paragraphs if this sort of thing is not a good time for you the way it is for me.

A Few Wandering (but Salient) Thoughts Before the Review

I don’t think I ever understood the importance of the shift in jazz at the end of the 1950s, when “modal jazz” became king. Yeah, I understood that that became the way “everyone played,” but I don’t think I understood until recently that aside from the ostensibly theoretical break from harmony that Bebop’s “greatest logical extent” approach provoked, it was a break from the very idea of tension and release itself. In Western music this was huge and in popular music, it was unheard of.

No longer did music have to follow the Beethovian arc from sunny picnic day, to wind picking up, to storms, to Gods raging, and back to quiet idyll where we picked up the pieces. No longer did our music have to be shaped by the ecstatic moments or traumas. The love stories didn’t have to focus on when we fell into or out of love or were betraying or betrayed, but could spend time with long relationships inhabited by actual humans ( Dexter Gordon’s, “Tanya,” for one early 18 minute example). We didn’t have to take quests, we could just walk. We didn’t have to get somewhere to do something, we could just wonder, and journey. We could take trips. We could be trippy. It’s not just a different emotional experience. It’s a different kind of emotional experience.

The shift from bop to modal was not just a shift in aesthetic or technique, but a shift in values. Harmonically derived music creates a type of frame through which a story (our lives) is told. Modal jazz offered a different frame through which a different type of story could be told — a more meandery story ( Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way ), more poetical than narrative, more descriptive than interpretive, and more open to the languages that came afterwards—electronic music, minimalism, rock/funk, free jazz, etc. It is emergent.

Now Let’s Talk About Playfield

My point — and I do have one — is that these three Playfield pieces immediately made me feel meandry and wander-y. I felt like I was walking somewhere, and walking somewhere else. And walking around somewhere, being somewhere, is one of my favorite things to do. The saxophones, rhythm, guitars, organ (varying sounds), and a voice that seems to cast the ghost of Abby Lincoln in this topian setting reminded me of my days walking around New York City just fascinated by the sweat, the smell, the architecture and the architectural salvage, and people and stories. Listening to this, I was grateful all over again NOT to be chained to tension/release.

Playfield is Daniel Carter: Horns and Reeds; Luisa Muhr: Voice; Ayumi Ishito: Sax; Eric Plaks: Nord piano; Aron Namenwirth: Guitar; Yutaka Takahashi: Guitar; Zach Swanson: Bass; and Jon Panikkar: Drums. Carter is the ostensible leader, though the origin story is vague-ish. Playfield emerged as folks emerged from their apartments in NYC last summer. Daniel Carter (founder of 577 Records) is called “instigator,” but the process was organic. The recordings were done outside in Brooklyn in October 2020 and are contextualized within the pandemic. The trilogy of records “offers the musical equivalency of a walk through New York, meandering through the city’s conflicts, unparalleled diversity and mutual harmony.” These are three tone poems of the type that Ellington envisioned in the 1930s, but could never pull off with the swing-based language he had to hand.

The three discs each have a different remit. Solar (Vol. 1) is cast as more of a tour of the city during the pandemic, the protests, the injustices, etc., but it’s not about those things. The Middle (Vol. 2) hints at more of a story than the others, being called “the center of conflict” by the musicians involved, but that might apply to the content of the music, or the process of its creation. The “conflict” section, though, is not combative or performative, but slow and mysterious, immersive. There’s a darkness and uncertainty and (even knowing there’s a volume 3 in the queue), no clue on how (if) the conflict resolves. It’s here that I am most reminded of Max Roach and Abby Lincoln’s “We Insist!” Luisa Muhr’s voice is remarkably striking. Focusing the amazing energy generated by the ensemble in moments. They aren’t the point, but they are a point.

Afterlife (Vol. 3) does not address the conflict raised in The Middle (as if to say the resolution is the least interesting thing about a conflict), but acts as more a denouement or fifth act to project. In theater, the fifth act of the five act structure is a place of picking up pieces and reflecting — the characters asking, “How have we been changed by these events?” Having been recorded “on a chilly Autumn day, incorporating the architecture, the people, and the somber feeling of a pandemic in a singular city,” I feel like Carter and crew are incorporating that reflection into the music itself. In their own words, they “gesture towards something mysterious, sophisticated and earnest, towards a grieving city and its ever-forward motion.” I know that I am asking myself, “How has experiencing this music changed me?”

Saturday, November 20, 2021

David Haney - Circadian World Clock (Big Round Records, 2021) ****

By Stef Gijssels

Pianist David Haney - owner-editor of Cadence Magazine - is a creative soul, with a penchant for off-center musical productions, oscillating between small jazzy ensembles and more ambitious projects, composed and orchestrated around single concepts that drive the music into cross-over territory. 

This album fits into both categories. Haney plays piano (with EBows and mallets), accompanied by Dave Storrs on multiple instruments, Bernard Purdie on drums (yes, of the shuffle) ... and the Circadian Consort. This "consort" is a global group of people who contributed by sending field recordings from their city or even several direct messages from lockdown. These short snippets of sound - 31 of them, ranging from 36 seconds to 4 minutes, guide the composition/improvisation, and they take us around the clock. The snippets were "recorded at the specific hours of the day prescribed by the Monastic Liturgy of the Hours", and one piece even includes singing by the choir of the monks of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. 

The objective of the music is to create a universal human feeling, a sense of community and openness in the closed world of corona lockdown. Over the ambient sounds, Haney's piano adds a fine layer of accompanying music, sometimes with support from his two partners, sometimes alone. The piano, drums and other instruments weave their sounds alomost inobtrusively through the sonic backdrop. The result is a fresh and nice landscape full of empathy and compassionate music. There is nothing grand in the 31 tracks by themselves, quite to the contrary, Haney uses small circumstantial street noises or other ambient sounds in their small familiarity and sign of human presence.  It's only by combining all the small snippets that something meaningful and grand appears, and Haney's piano makes sure that his sound has continuity through the diversity of the material. 

In sum, a very charming album, a unifying voice for people around the world, all living the same space, all  living our small lives, and going through the same daily cycles. A smart and welcome piece of music. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Jean-Luc Guionnet/Will Guthrie –Electric Rag (Ali Buh Baeh Records / Editions Memoire, 2021) *****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Ok now, this is a great one. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but very rarely these days do I listen to a recording thinking that this is something fresh and, maybe, absolutely new. Electrig Rag did this to me. I can definitely say that it already has a place on my best of list for 2021. On a further comment I think that this duo, along with XT (the duo of saxophonist Seymour Wright and percussionist Paul Abbott) are among the very few who are definitely pushing the envelope in the field of modern improvisation. Probably more accurately stated and without labeling them, in the field of modern music.

I first listened to Jean-Luc Guionnet in his free jazz duos with the great drummer Didier Lasserre in the late 00’s. He has definitely traveled a long way since then, distancing himself from the free jazz milieu and experimenting as much as possible. Lately he has even abandoned the sax for other instruments. All the above seem to me like a wordless statement of intent, one which has experimentation as its basis and nothing less.

Free jazz also brought me close to Will Guthrie through the great trio Ames Room (in which Guionnet was also a member). In a similar trajectory to Guionnet, he also has distanced himself from jazz, collaborating, but also making solo recordings, with anyone willing to follow his vision. Electric Rag, which comes out only on vinyl, seems and is a fitting continuation of their explorations.

On Electric Rag Guionnet is on electric organs, electronics and alto saxophone. Guthrie utilizes drums and percussion plus various electronics. If you don’t give time to the music, you can easily comment about its rhythmic nature that takes over the entirety of both sides of the vinyl. But that would be too shortsighted. By utilizing any possible use of the aforementioned instruments both musicians create a sonic environment (musique concrete rhythmology via a collaborative ethos) that defies categorization. Apart from the percussive nature of the music, you can get easily caught in its maelstrom without knowing who plays what. Both of them took their egos and buried them deep in the ground, in order to present a recording that is a collective effort and feels like the work of one mind at the same time. I guess knowing each other for a long time also helps in so many practical ways.

All tracks are full of energy, pathos and a feeling of not knowing where it will go next. Sometimes the music gets aggressive and the feeling that this is jazz (or free jazz? or jazz freed from everything?) for the 21 st comes easily into mind. Amazing stuff.

To listen and buy, go here:


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Samuel Blaser & Marc Ducret - Voyageurs (Jazzdor Series, 2021) ****

Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser and French guitarist Marc Ducret are close musical allies. In the last decade, they collaborated in the Samuel Blaser Quartet, in Marc Ducret Trio + 3 (Métatonal, Ayler, 2015) And Lady M project ((Illusions)m 2019) and in a trio with Danish drummer Peter Brunn. They have established immediate intimacy between the cerebral, inquisitive and often melodic approach of Blaser and the intuitive, often atonal and edgy one of the self-taught Ducret. Voyageurs is the second album of this duo, following Audio Rebel that was released by Blaser and documented their live performance at the Audio Rebel club in Rio de Janeiro in September 2013. Voyageurs was recorded in a studio in Loguivy-Plougras in France in March 2109.

The immediate impression from Voyageurs, as well as of the previous Audio Rebel, is the organic fluidity of the interplay of Blaser and Ducret. These experienced free improvisers are fully aware of all the nuances of the sonic spectrum of each other’s and are focused on finding distinct and adventurous ways to intertwine their sonic realms. After more than a decade of close and longstanding collaborations, they still seek risks and know how to maneuver all the coming pitfalls. Sometimes, as the director of Jazzdor director Philippe Ochem writes in his liner notes, “the continuum resumes its course, the dialogue keeps moving on, and we are captivated by the two artists singing together”.

And, indeed, Voyageurs can be experienced as an intimate and calm conversation between friends. Blaser and Ducret share spontaneous stories, surprising secrets and eccentric anecdotes, singing songs and dancing with each other. But most of the time they simply enjoy the free spirit of this meeting while keeping its give-and-take flow and its highly vivid and playful atmosphere. Often, the electric guitar of Ducret sounds like an extension of the trombone of Blaser, and vice versa, and in impressive unison and telepathic understanding. Ducret still acts as an audio rebel and sometimes colors these conversations with intense, distorted sounds (Des états lumineux”) or navigates the dynamics into abstract, unchartered and thorny territories (“The Next Morning”, “Dans une certaine mesure” and “Across the Mountain Forest”), always trusting the close support of Blaser in these dramatic journeys. The lyrical “Morse” and “La vie sans toi” reflect best the most emotional aspects of this strong friendship. Eventually, Voyageurs tells about a musical and personal friendship, that becomes more profound over the years.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Jeff Platz, Max Goldman & Brendan Carniaux - With Orbit (Self, 2021) ****

By Stef Gijssels

In the early and mid 90s, some twenty years ago, I was a big fan of Seatlle-based band Babkas, a trio with Brad Shepik on guitar, Briggan Kraus on sax and Aaron Alexander on drums. The sound was raw, adventurous despite the obvious composed part of it, and open to musical ideas from outside jazz. The absence of a bass made the sound just a touch harder. 

I have the same feeling and appreciation of this trio with Jeff Platz on guitar, Brendan Carniaux on sax and clarinet and Max Goldman on drums. The music is direct, nervous, energetic and combines raw tones with moments of lyricism. It's not really violent, aggressive or fast, just raw and fresh, stripped of all outward sophistication and finesse, yet driven by some brutal sense of authenticity and honesty. And strangely enough also friendly, close and intimate. 

Platz is in my opinion a guitarist and musician who deserves wider attention, as he is both technically strong and has interesting musical ideas. He does not make his guitar sound like anybody else, and limiting his pedals to accentuate or emphasise tone rather than to distort them, resulting in a jazzy sound with a sometimes brutal grunge approach. Interested readers should check out his two solo albums of last year, one more gentle ("Yo Como Solo") and one more harsh and experimental ("Unknown Year"). Over the years Platz has performed with musicians such as Daniel Carter, Stephen Haynes and Jan Klare. 

Drummer Max Goldman is less known, and to our readers possibly as the drummer of the Danny Fox Trio. Brendan Carniaux is even lesser known, at least to me, and he also deserves wider attention. His approach to the sax fits perfectly with the intense and raw musical vision of the trio. The three musicians met as the result of the Covid pandemic. 

I think the resulting album is excellent: it is at the same time a musical statement, as well as great fun to listen to. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Playfield – Volume 1, 2, 3 (Orbit 577, 2021) ****

Playfield - Volume 1 – Sonar

Playfield – Volume 2 – The Middle

Playfield – Volume 3 – After Life

I cannot speak to the exact circumstances surrounding the formation of this unit, but Playfield is another one of those countless projects that would not have happened had the pandemic not disrupted the status quo. Absent the normal forms of collaboration that clubs, auditoria, bars, and studios had offered, musicians took to the streets, per the liner notes, to take part in the welling protest movements and perform in the open air. Given Daniel Carter’s previous involvement with the busking quartet TEST and his decades of constant hustle through the Downtown-now-Brooklyn-based New York scene, it is not surprising that he took the initiative to embrace these new opportunities for collaboration outside of conventional performance spaces.

Playfield is Luisa Muhr (vocals), Ayumi Ishito (sax), Eric Plaks (nord piano), Aron Namenwirth (guitar), Yutaka Takahashi (guitar), Zach Swanson (Bass), Jon Panikkar (drums) and Daniel Carter (reeds). Although their work has been released in a series of three albums, each with a single extended improvisation, all albums seem to come from a single outside recording session in October 2020. I love the concept: a group that joined initially outdoors in the heat of summer protests capturing some of that same flame and passion by recording in similar spaces. Surprisingly, however, the recording is crisp and the urban environs seem largely inconsequential to the sound itself. (At times, I think I hear cars passing or gusts of wind, but they are faint.) The music, however, succeeds in playing the tensions that band seek to explore.

Vol. 1: Sonar begins with a sweltering, Summertime (Gershwin) vibe and drifts along hazily and ominously as Ishito and Carter’s horns entangled, Namenwirth and Takahashi’s guitars vie (one in the left ear, the other in the right), and Plak’s electronics percolate. Swanson and Panikkar rumble in the background and Muhr skats, mumbles and flutters around the others, as if providing the muffled murmur of the demonstrators just a few blocks away, the whisps of cars and trains, the general clatter of the city. Around the halfway point, Panikkar lays down a harder beat, and the piece transforms from a amorphous exploration of converging sound into a free-bop romp that slowly draws back into the spacious romanticism that began the session.

The second release. Vol. 2: The Middle, follows a different trajectory, commencing with a soulful stew of swelling energy, with Muhr’s vocals again adding a necessary human element that links the performance Playfield’s own origins in the public spaces of the city, offering both a decentering account of the tensions of the summer of Covid and adding a hopeful sonic image that those hitherto mundane sounds of people will return. The track then slows into another exploration of angular improv patchwork, only to regain its energy and drive in the final few minutes of climax.

The final installment, Vol. 3: After Life, begins with resounding call and response dialog between Muhr and Carter (I think) around which the other instruments slowly gather. The tapestry is complex, but patient and even sultry. Plaks’ keys and Namenwirth or Takahashi’s guitar effects contribute funk elements to the mix, as the dual saxes trade off brief sweltering licks. Muhr slips to the background and for a few moments it sounds as if she is pacing around the rest of the group encircling them with her incantations. Unlike Sonar and The Middle, After Life avoids ebb-flow-ebb/flow-ebb-flow or the gradual crescendo structures that many of these improvised sessions rely on. Instead, it simmers for the most part, never really breaking into a boil but also never really dying down until the very end. That makes After Life all the more engaging, as it plays with a tension that never quite breaks and showcases collective will toward restraint. It is like a steady breeze on the most sweltering days of summer: it never fully gusts but it undulates just enough to break the stagnant heat.

All three releases are available for download on Bandcamp:

Orbit 577 did press some CD versions, as well, though it seems these sold out quite quickly.

Monday, November 15, 2021

André Carvalho - Lost in Translation (Outside In Music, 2021) ****½

For his latest release, New York-based bassist André Carvalho fronts a drummerless trio with José Soares on alto and André Matos on guitar that, on three tracks, expands to a quartet with the addition of João Almeida on trumpet. The group produces a wide array of sounds and textures with plenty of space in between. An interesting comparison for the core lineup is the considerably more up-tempo 2019 release by the Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio with Mary Halvorson and Tim Berne ( reviewed on this site by Stephen Griffith ), though a closer sonic relative to the present recording is Melt, the recent release by Hearth ( reviewed on this site by Stuart Broomer ). While instrumental music is often described as atmospheric, here, the term is entirely apt; the concept of failed communication aside, these compositions often conjure up images of, if not gloom, at least foreboding along with somewhat less frequent moments of peace and beauty.

Carvalho’s previous release, Garden of Earthly Delights (2019), featured a larger ensemble (including Matos) and arrangements more dense, varied, and, as the title suggests, upbeat. Here, by contrast, the tones are subdued and contemplative, with one cluster of notes often being allowed to fade before another begins. The leader, equally adept with fingers and bow, tends to play a supporting role for Soares and Matos but also provides several tasteful solos.

Opener “Luftmensch” establishes the atmosphere, with the three instruments engaging in a tentative conversation punctuated by lulls and pauses. The clean guitar alternates between keening notes and arpeggios over plucked bass while Soares drifts and darts in between. On “Kilig,” the pace slows to a crawl with menacing distorted guitar and bowed bass with which the sax combines on occasion to create unusual harmonies. “Uitwaaien” maintains this atmosphere, though less gloomily, developing and resolving in a pleasant swirl of sound.

“Goya” changes things up with creepy bowing and menacing distorted guitar joined by jolts and sputters of trumpet marking Almeida’s first appearance, but the chaos gives way to strings of clearer notes before a fade-out of soft-blown sax and what sounds like electronics or echo. On “Alcheringa” and “Kalpa,” the guitar is once again clean and melts into the sax, and Carvalho provides a spacious solo in the former.

Almeida’s trumpet more complements the trio’s sound than expands it. On “Karelu,” he alternately plays off the sax and guitar before the quartet coalesces to sputter slowly to a halt. The brief “Murr-ma” showcases Soares’ gentle, breathy playing, while the equally brief “Boketto” showcases Carvalho’s bowing. “Mångata” begins with swells of bowed bass and stately guitar chords supporting Soares’s bird-like notes until the bowing gives way to plucking and the other instruments seem to float away. In “Resfeber,” chiming guitar notes open up into a cinematic blend of sounds before transforming into a smattering of harmonics. The brief “Wabi-sabi” provides a fitting ambient coda.

The “lost in translation” theme, Carvalho explains in the liner notes, represents an attempt to “embrace the unknown” through reflection on untranslatable words (hence the titles of the songs) and the universality of music. This recording certainly encourages listeners to approach improvised in a distinct way, facilitated in particular by the lack of a drummer, which allows the phrases to float and interact in a kind of timeless space. Carvalho may feel unable to say exactly what he means, but he communicates well this sense of restless exploration.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Kuzu – All Your Ghosts In One Corner (Aerophonic, 2021) *****

By Tom Burris

Expansion was happening in Kuzu's music before COVID shut the world down. The band was wrapping up a short U.S. tour right as the world's doors were being locked. The music that was created on the last two nights of that run, which the band members knew would shut them down for a long time, is documented on this disc. That openness, that expansion that was opening up their sonic world would be taken from them in a matter of hours – and often the anger, apprehension, and doubt about it all explodes in every direction. It's the sound of raging artists destroying their most advanced works in the face of an impending void because what the fuck does any of this mean now?

There is also a looseness that's not quite been this loose before. Yes, it's the comfort of playing with your brothers; but it's also the feeling of trying to ignore the tension that surrounds everything too. It's only relaxing on the surface when Tyler Damon does a lop-sided, lazy swing on the drum kit to Dave Rempis' slow reeding down the midnight 1970s Bowery sidewalk. Tashi Dorji throws in an occasional guitar pwang! while his amp buzzes. They're half of the Lounge Lizards on the nod. A little painful, but rest assured it hurts them more than it hurts you. It's the sound of DEPRESSION, full tilt. And then like Kaoru Abe waking up on a stage with a sax in his mouth, “Scythe Part 1” rips into the ether and then calms and then rips again, this time with a blinding, eye melting intensity that will have you feeling around your cheeks for blood and eye yolk.

“Part 2” doesn't provide much relief. Damon & Rempis sound like James Chance beating up Big Bird while Dorji chases 'em around with a hot fire poker. A drunk and bitter Tex Avery producing children's television. Dorji has the guitar fueled with far more distortion than Sharrock or anyone else even remotely associate with the word Jazz. He wrangles with an extra loose string underneath Rempis' overblown cries when things get winded. Out of nowhere, there's this image of Rempis thinking “fuck Chance; what if LYDIA played the sax?!?” Everything speeds up. The lights in the room get brighter, threatening to pop. But then the possession subsides a bit, with Rempis playing some sustained notes. The spirit trance hasn't been completely broken – and that becomes crystal clear when Rempis' fire music shoots through Damon and Dorji's house of mirrors like a flamethrower. Dorji's volume pedal dance combined with Damon's rapid clanging as the house burns down literally makes me dizzy.

At the point where Rempis is honking Morse code, Dorji plays with a radioactive device, and Damon beats the metal bowls covering the heads of electric chair death row inmates, it finally hits me that this is the most intense music the group has ever released. Then again, there is this artful spaciousness they've been crafting and attempting to present that nearly always precedes the chaos throughout. Maybe that's the reason the intense bits burn so brightly. Hard to tell. Even after multiple listens. Art reflecting the burning world, I guess. Hard not to do that when your ass is on fire. What you gonna do without your ass?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro - Thoughts Are Things (Phonogram Unit, 2021) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

How many times have I listened to this album? Possibly fifty times. And I'm sure I will listen even more to it in the future. The band is saxophonist José Lencastre's Nau Quartet with Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernâni Faustino on double bass, and João Lencastre on drums. The new voice is Pedro Carneiro on marimba to become a quintet. 

They present us four tracks of around ten minutes, all clearly improvised, but how! The piano and the marimba form an unexpected great match, both creating a flowing harmonic river that creates the structure for José Lencastre's strong tenor or more sensitive alto. The bass and drums actively participate in creating the fullness of the band's sound. 

Whether in the more intense opener "One Way To Cultivate Courage", or the slower and more lyrical "Thought Atmospheres", the vibrant "Your Latent Powers", or the gentle "The Magnet Of Thought", the whole band is in supershape, making music that is cohesive and unidirectional. 

Like with Lencastre's other bands or with the RED Trio, the music is warm, emotional while being free as the wind and flowing as the river, even to the point of being hypnotic. As the listener, you can only sit back and well ... listen and enjoy this warm blanket of sound to envelop you, to rejoice in the solos and the interplay. Despite its inherent freedom, the music has a post-boppish accessibility with sometimes even bluesy undertones, only showing that they are deeply rooted in jazz tradition. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Watch "Thought Atmospheres" on the video below. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Eric Zinman/Mario Rechtern/Weasel Walter – Mermaids and Sirens Know (Studio 234, 2021) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

I must state from the beginning, that this is the best piano trio that I’ve listened so far in 2021. The fun fact is that Mermaids and Sirens Know comes out ten whole years after the four tracks were recorded. All three players have really made their names heard in the grey, but so appealing to some of us, zone between free jazz, free improvisation, rock and, even, noise. Walter, who is a disciple, of all out punk attack in drumming, has managed to participate in so many great free jazz albums. Call him a jazz drummer too… In bands like the Flying Lutenbachers, but also in various more jazzy formations he has proven his skills. Yes, I’m a fan…Pianist Eric Zinman, apart from being a member of the amazing Linda Sharrock Network, has also shared the same stage and studio with saxophonist Mario Rechtern, again in various formations that cover any ground from improvisation to jazz, to any kind of experimentation.

Mermaids and Sirens is comprised of four tracks with a total duration of more than an hour. All four of them present the three musicians in great form, eager and aggressive to explore. Zinman’s Tayloresque playing allows room for the other two to attack their instruments (which are alto, baritone and sopranino saxes for Rechtern), while he bangs on the keyboard with the force and wit of the great Cecil Taylor.

I’ve already wrote about him, but it makes no justice to him, to label Walter’s playing as just “energetic” or “dynamic”. Apart from being the backbone in all tracks, his interaction with his fellow comrades makes him a point of reference for the cd. Rechtern’s sax playing, as always, make him the ideal partner. Even though he tends to get carried away (but is this a bad thing when we are talking about a free jazz recording?), he never slips out of phenomenon, meaning the collective feeling of the trio. I also believe that he has listened to a lot of Frank Lowe’s playing…

Their aggressive playing leaves enough room for small details that prove fruitful for the listener: Zinman’s piano timbre, Walter’s percussion work on the less noisy parts, the shifts between the saxes from Rechtern.

Overall a great recording, that, so far, has made it to my shortlist for the best of 2021. You can listen and buy here:


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Kahil El'Zabar Quartet - A Time For Healing (Spiritmuse Records, 2021) ****

 By Stef Gijssels

Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar is always a pleasure to hear. Over the decades, he's carved out his own musical style that delves deep into African grooves, a bluesy undertone, a spiritual sentiment, jazzy harmonies and freedom for the soloists to expand and soar. 

His quartet further consists of Corey Wilkes on trumpet and spirit bowls, Justin Dillard on keyboards, and 
Isaiah Collier on tenor and soprano sax. All musicians also play percussion. 

The long opening track, accessible via the video link below, sets the tone of the album. The music is open, welcoming, intimate and spiritual. The theme is beautiful and infectious, the soloing deeply moving, the rhythms compelling. El'Zabar's shamanistic singing further accentuates the generous mood of the piece. One of the signature aspects of his sound is its totally unhurried pace. As a listener, you get the time to get into it, to be absorbed by the magic of El'Zabar's sonic universe. 

The second track is more uptempo, with El'Zabar reciting his own poetry, accompanied by multiple and polyrhythmic percussion. 

"Urban Shaman" is upbeat, with Dillard's keyboard capturing the rhythmic sounds of an African electric guitar. "Eddie Harris" is more funky and dedicated to the late saxophonist. "The Coming Of Spring" is jazzy and a real boppish song. "We'll Get Through This" and "Time IS" demonstrate El'Zabar's unique compositional style, including strong performances by the soloists. 

The quartet brings strong renditions of Coltrane's "Resolution", and Gerschwin's "Summertime" to end the album (a crowd pleaser, sure, but still so beautiful).

El'Zabar remains honest to his own sound, which is recognisable from afar. It's compelling and infectious in the good sense: it draws the listener in, and projects an optimistic view of the future, taking us with him out of this pandemic. He can heal our souls at any time. 

It's a double LP that will be released on November 19. Today is Kahil El'Zabars birthday. We congratulate him, and suggest that it's also a good moment to get yourself a present. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Whit Dickey, William Parker, and Matthew Shipp - Village Mothership (Tao Forms, 2021) ****½

Further proof of the inexhaustibility of the piano trio format, these long-time musical comrades offer up a new recording that is both adventurous and fun to listen to. Having played together in various combinations for decades, including (at times) forming three-fourths of the David S. Ware Quartet, on Village Mothership, they join forces as a threesome for the first time in nearly 30 years. A joyous session it is, too; in these improvised pieces, Dickey, Parker, and Shipp bounce off of each other, step back to let each other solo, and find numerous grooves.

All three are, of course, well known for producing prodigious amounts of high-quality music. Village Mothership complements such releases as Dickey’s pair as a leader a couple years back ( reviewed for the FJC by Lee Rice Epstein ) as well as Parker’s Painters Winter with Daniel Carter and Hamid Drake ( reviewed for the FJC by Kenneth Blanchard ) and Shipp’s latest solo outing Codebreaker, both also released this fall. Like Dickey’s and Parker’s records but unlike Shipp’s, most of these tunes are relatively lengthy, with three of the six topping ten minutes, so there is plenty of room for melodies and rhythms to develop and evolve.

The concept behind the title as explained in the liner notes is a bit vague (an “homage to the rich environment that fed the development of these artists”), as is the relationship of the cover photo and song titles to the music, which, appropriately, is left to speak for itself. Opener “A Thing & Nothing” and closer “Nothing & a Thing” bracket the proceedings and well represent them, the former a release of pent-up energy as the three enter almost simultaneously and the latter developing slowly from Shipp’s initial exploration of vaguely Monk-like harmonies. Both tracks then ebb and flow, often with one member of the trio hanging back while the others explore an idea.

The relatively up-tempo “Whirling in the Void” and “Down Void Way” seem similarly positioned to complement one another, being more dissonant and unpredictable than the surrounding tracks. Parker’s ability to provide simultaneous harmonic and melodic support (including some of his signature bowing on the latter track) is fully on display, his deep tones maintaining the forward momentum. Here, the jazz is especially free. “Nothingness,” by contrast, though its title shares the theme of emptiness, is almost a ballad though punctuated by occasional bursts of activity.

The centerpiece title track starts with a somewhat halting solo from Dickey, who locks in once Parker and Shipp enter. The interplay between cascading piano notes and cymbals perhaps suggests the mothership taking flight. Nearing the midway point, Shipp drops out and lets Parker ride the wave of cymbals for a while before establishing a walking pattern for Shipp’s reentry. The pattern repeats as the mothership, now in full flight, takes listeners through space where, to quote Dickey from the liner notes, “mystical stuff is happening” until the rhythm section brings the craft in for a gentle landing.

Unsurprisingly, then, Dickey, Parker, and Shipp have crafted another great record that will appeal to a wide range of contemporary jazz fans. Hopefully, the trio will not wait quite as long to reconvene again.

New York United - Volume 2 (577 Records, 2021) ***½

By Stef Gijssels

Often the electronics we hear in free improvisation are disruptive, challenging, pushing the music more into zones of discomfort than comfort. With "New York United" the approach is the opposite. Sound artist Tobias Wilner and the rest of the band create a very welcoming environment, with the electronics, field recordings and synths creating a warm blanket that keeps everything nicely together, rhythmically and in terms of sound colour. 

We reviewed New York United, Vol. 1 in 2018, and compared it to the nu jazz explorations that Matthew Shipp once engaged upon. The band is the same as on Volume 1, with Daniel Carter on saxophones, clarinet, flute, and trumpet, Wilner also plays piano and guitar, Djibril Toure on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums. The references that come to mind are the Nordic endeavours by Bugge Wesseltoft, Nils Petter Molvaer or Terje Isungset. Wilner's presence is critical for the overall sound. The Dane has been active as a composer of soundtracks (including "Follow The Money", and excerpts of his compositions were used for "Miami Vice",  "Twilight" and the "Vampire Diaries"), and together with Bo Rande he forms the two-person nucleus of 'dream pop' band "Blue Foundation". 

The music is a mixture of ambient, fusion, world music and jazz, and with a strong narrative and energetic component on each track. The recipe is that the music was first recorded as an improvised piece, then transformed in the studio by Wilner. The result is very remote from what we usually review, and as said before, purists may shudder at the approach, but on the other hand, it may also lead to wider audiences for jazz in general by tapping into today's more commercial sounds. 

Fans will be interested to know there are some limited LP versions available. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Listen to the opening track "New York Flower"

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Jazzfest Berlin 2021

Silent Green, Berlin
By Paul Acquaro

Thursday night at Boulez Hall

We raced it from the Hauptbahnhof to Boulez Hall in the rain. My train had been delayed and we had about 10 minutes to make the 10 minute bike ride, show our proof of vaccination, scan the tickets, peel off our wet rain clothing, and find our seats. We were a bit frazzled by the time we located our places in the upper balcony of the lush ovular hall. Through a light clatter from the drums, a rustle of musical scores, and a few dolphin calls emanating from the bass, we began to settle in. Then, the first notes from Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson flowed from his keyboard and our nerves were quickly subdued.

The first night of the Jazzfest Berlin was off to a start. The main part of the festival was at the Silent Green culture center about 8 kilometers from the classical music hall that this concert was taking place in. The festival, which has been shifting and growing, extending and morphing over the past several years, was back in person (an online), after being forced to be entirely online last year, and spread out even further than before. The constraints of the pandemic last year fostered a connection with Roulette in New York City, where a live stream connected the cities. This year, the idea grew with live streams from concerts in South Africa (curated by Jess White in Johannesburg), and multimedia contributions from Brazil (Juliano Gentile and Manoela Wright for São Paulo) and Egypt (Maurice Louca in Cairo). In Berlin, aside from the Silent Green, and tonight, Boulez Hall, the festival also would be featuring the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Charlottenburg, the nerve center of former West Berlin. More about these locations later, now back to Stenson's trio.

Bobo Stenson. (c) Roland Owsnitzki / Berliner Festspiele
The music was ebullient, but at the same time, reserved. This seems to be the pianists trademark. Effortlessly, his melodies intertwined with Anders Jormin's bass bowing, and the bright - and sometimes humorous - responses from Jon Fält's percussive accompaniment. The trio, aside from some selected favorites, was presenting a set of new music that will be recorded for an upcoming ECM release next year. From gentle, slightly dissonant intros to pulsating, vibrant crescendos, the trio's work was refined and radiant.

Kaja Draksler and Susanna Santos Silva. Photo by Roland Owsnitzki / Berliner Festspiele 

The duo of trumpeter Susanna Santos Silva and pianist Kaja Draksler followed. The two have been performing together for a decent portion of their lives and alhough from opposite ends of Europe, they share an obvious musical affinity. At the Boulez Hall Steinway grand piano, Draksler began with a series tightly coupled, short phrases, while Silva seemed to emit what I can best identify as microtones. Both seemed equally as apart in their playing as connected on the outer edges, which was quite a contrast to the previous set. As their interplay continued, the duo engaged in ever more complex parallel play, hitting dissonant intervals and unexpected harmonies. The pathos grew as Silva's long legato tones changed to explosive bursts, and Draksler's began traveling energetically up and down the keyboard. The improvisation turned inward towards its end, for example, plucked notes from inside and outside the prepared piano and the 'pop' of the mouthpiece extruded from the trumpet made up an extensive passage. 

Vijay Iyer. (c) Roland Owsnitzki / Berliner Festspiele

The final set was from pianist Vijay Iyer's trio that recently released Uneasy - namely the pianist with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Linda May Han Oh. It also happened to be the first date of their European Tour and Iyer's excitement was palpable. "The pandemic," he said, "has given us chance to realize what's important and playing for all of you is it." Setting an example, he continued "we may play masked, but our hearts are open." 

What happened next was extraordinary. The album, without a doubt, captures the 'unease' that has been growing under society (for Iyer in the US, but it's not geographically limited) over recent years, but in concert, the energy that the trio generated on the tunes was staggering. Iyer's playing was lyrical and rollicking, Oh's bass playing was kinetic and as much a part of the melody as the support, and Sorey's work was that of the conductor of this mini-orchestra. Songs like 'Combat Breathing' and the war horse 'Night and Day' are powerful on the recording, and live, nearly combusting. Any wisp of musical exhaustion after the first two hour of music was whisked away immediately by the gale winds from the trio.

It was still raining when the concert ended, but it hardly mattered, we were gliding through the night.

Saturday night at Silent Green.

As noted, the festival is expansive. Covering multiple nights and multiple venues, it's hard to take it all in, and, to be honest, it can be bit of a sensory overload. I was still holding onto bits of Thursday's show when I arrived at the entrance to the former crematorium turned cultural space in the Wedding district on Saturday. The 19th century buildings are stately, the grounds surrounded by the period architecture that makes up the most stately parts of Berlin, and deep underground, in the 'Betonhalle', the performance space is a high-tech set up. Large video displays on each of the walls live-casted concerts and video installations, all showing different angles. (During one set I was wondering why someone seemed to starting directly and unflinchingly at me, until I realized he was concentrating on the screen to my left, while I was intent on the one to the front).

The opening show was a live-cast from Johannesburg. Bassist and composer Shane Cooper and the Dinaledi Chamber Ensemble performed a suite of new music. The music was pleasant as it explored and layered folk-like melodies with light electronics and poly-rhythmic ideas. 

Nate Wooley's Columbia Icefield. (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

Then, reverberant breathing through the trumpet and the gentle roil of the drums opened the next set from trumpeter Nate Wooley and his Columbia Icefield project. The mournful, charged, amplified breath blew a cold breeze across the stage. It was musical dawn, and guitarist Ava Mendoza provided the first rays of light breaking through the tonal darkness. Deep, thick droning tones hovered in the background, emanating from Susan Alcorn's pedal steel guitar. As the music awoke, the textures came into sharp relief: Wooley changing from a metallic rush of sound to a mournful melody, drummer Ryan Sawyer adding additional texture, and Mendoza delivering aggressive arpeggios and discordant tones. 

The music refers to Wooley's heimat in the Pacific Northwest of the US, where the Columbia River's waters collide with the tumultuous Pacific ocean. The tentatively titled tunes certainly projected this atmosphere. From the icy winds to the soaring grandeur. Plus, the ghosts of western music are strongly bound with Alcorn's instrument. While her playing far transcends 'country', she brings something intangibly 'western' to the setting. The music is impressionistic and often slow moving, but also at times explosive, it works its way between memory and feeling, and leaves a long lingering impressions.

My goal was to trace the physical breadth of the concert as much as possible with the time I had (I covered about 1/3 of the concerts, and 3/4 of the locations), so I left the Betonhalle for the Kuppelhalle, after catching the first twenty minutes of the riveting drummer/vocalist Maria Portugal's set of explosive free-jazz and Brazilian flavored music. At the Kuppelhalle, the smaller, cathedral-like former mourning hall, Turkish vocalist Cansu Tanrıkulu performed with a trio plus one. The trio, saxophonist Tobias Delius, bassist Greg Cohen, and the plus one, guitarist Marc Ribot. How could I not be there? I would have surely died from FOMO had I not been.

  Cansu Tanrıkulu Trio +1 (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

Beneath projected video art featuring images of the vocalist, emergency blankets, and CRT monitors, the trio + 1 wasted no time getting started. Tanrıkulu's otherworldly vocals sailed effortlessly through the octaves and around Delius' powerful lines. Throughout, Cohen was aflutter and at first, Ribot - was he even plugged in? - scratched at his strings, but then over Cohen's unwavering rhythm, the guitarist starting building up a jazz inflected solo that went from an acoustic whisper to splitting its pants. The music, a freely improvised cocreation of the moment, was impulse and reaction. It breathed naturally, unforced, and as precise as it was unexpected.

Ahmed (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

Back at the Betonhalle, the evening wrapped up with the live music of Ahmed, an ensemble, named after oudist and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, comprised of British pianist Pat Thomas, French drummer Antonin Gerbal, Berlin-based Swedish bassist Joel Grip, and British saxophonist Seymour Wright. The group, which bases its music off motives composed by Abdul-Malik for his Middle-Eastern/Jazz fusions, spent the better part of an hour locked in a hypnotic and demanding groove. The music had the feel of something from another time, Middle Eastern jazz noir, so to speak. Grip and Gerbal were a relentless and powerful engine driving the music, while Wright blew ceaselessly, twirling the themes around and around, making small incremental changes and adding tension at every turn. Thomas sometimes struck the extremities of the keyboards with his palms flat out, as percussive of an action as one can do while still making music with the instrument. This approach was interspersed with close dissonant tonal clusters that effectively wound the music ever tighter. Often in improvised music the flow is to start exploratory and searching until locking into something, these guys had it all backwards, and it worked! They only backed off at the very end when Grip seized the moment to quickly distill everything just played in a highly effective solo bass outro.

Sunday at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Anticipating feeling pretty musically saturated, I had opted for a single concert on the last day at the other location for the festival, the memorial church on Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg. The memorial church is an octagonal building comprised of a staggering 21,292 stained glass inlays. The original church spire, heavily damaged in World War II, remains as a reminder of the atrocities. Around the church grounds, there are barricades everywhere - a reminder of the ever under construction city and unfortunately of the 2016 Christmas Market attack.

After weaving around the bollards and traffic fences, we entered the church and picked a seat facing the large Jesus sculpture and settled in for the solo organ piece from Norwegian keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, the man at the heart of Elephant9 and Supersilent, as well as a key member of Terje Rypdal's groups from the past decade or so. I had no idea what to expect, but what came next was something that I actually had a hard time taking notes on as it unfolded.

Ståle Storløkken. (c) Roland Owsnitzki / Berliner Festspiele

The work was new, entitled Ghost Caravan, and just released on Hubro. The music was textural, and while there were motives, they were more like sonic happenings. Storløkken was able to draw out sounds that you typically do not expect from a church organ, and also used the familiar sounds to great effect. The music was alternatively minimalistic and bombastic, there were times when the whole church shook from nearly soundless vibrations, and other times when the pipes peeped in perfect harmony. 

Possibly the strangest part was that there was nothing to see. This was a listening event, as the organ itself was above the heads of the audience, invisible. So, the mind wanders and at some point I wondered: could the music itself work outside of the church itself? Could you sit at home and have this experience, one where, left with just the music, and under the outstretched arms of Jesus, indistinct memories and thoughts mix and travel through you in their own ghostly vehicles? My thoughts were interrupted, however, when Storløkken pulled out all of the stops and in an existentially threatening moment, seemed to play all of the notes at once, jolting all back to the now.

I left a bit puzzled, and wonderfully so.

Watch it all here, available for a year: