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Friday, December 31, 2021

Eli Wallace - Precepts (Infrequent Streams, 2021) ****

By Paul Acquaro

It is sort of maximum minimalism. New York City based Pianist and composer Eli Wallace, perhaps in reaction to the unique constraints of the Covid situation, set some stringent constraints of his own to produce the music behind his new recording Precepts, and the result is an intriguing, layered and controlled suite of impressionistic music.

Impressionistic may not be the best adjective, but the music does not contain melody or harmony in any traditional sense. Rather, the quartet assembled here, including Erica Dicker on violin, Lester St. Louis on cello, and Sean Ali on double bass, make choices from a restricted palette of sounds that Wallace presents via graphical scores (for more background on the concepts, check out here).

As mentioned earlier, the music that results is a shifting aggregation of layers. The strings of the violin, cello, bass, and even the piano, ring with brittle vibrations, muffled tones, and extended harmonic frequencies. There are times when the sounds are reduced to percussive rings, or scratches, as well as moments when a tone sounds out momentously clear. The recording is broken into four distinct tracks. Of these, 'Precepts III' is quite dynamic. The opening moments feature swooping legato tones from the bass, a clatter from inside the piano, and streaks of notes from the violin. The structure, which one can feel more than pinpoint, is a result of the creative use of density, intensity, and propensity.

Precepts is a neat work, Wallace has put a lot of thought into the concepts behind the music to develop an approach that is composed conceptually and realized through improvisation. The result is music that is not easily digestible, but still rather accessible and engaging, as small sounds and broad ranges of tones contrast and shift. The more you listen, the more you hear. Headphones recommended.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Joe McPhee/Michael Bisio/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Juma Sultan - The Sweet Spot (Rouge Art, 2021)

By Sammy Stein

In January 2021, four musicians came together to record for RogueArt. The session was made to happen when Michael Bisio contacted Michel Dorbon of the label and asked if they could somehow manage to get the quartet of saxophonist Joe McPhee, bassist Michael Bisio, drummer Juma Sultan and ‘cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm together – and it happened. The album was released in November 2021 and though it took patience and fortitude to bring the four musicians together during a pandemic, it was worth it.

‘Malachai’ opens this album in the spontaneous, free playing style which is to be expected from such a foursome. The track includes some delicate, frivolous escapades where the musicians delight in reflecting and re-inventing phrases, the strings of the ‘cello and bass creating both percussive lines and deep, melodious bowed interludes. McPhee rifts in on sax and creates visceral sounds, ranging from sharp clashes to more sonic interludes. There are some really beautiful moments when the deep lustrous voice of the bass entwines with the upper notes of the sax and grounds it. McPhee plays with a 3-note motif for a while before blending screaming with the sax notes, the voice becoming more sonic than the reeds momentarily before he returns to gentler tones, and then a quiet descends where the cello is heard in arco over the bass and all is at peace once more. Until ‘AMS’ starts and now we are tripping in different tempos, thwarted from following a single line by the changes introduced be each player, seemingly following their own line yet somehow anchoring around the pivotal central notes of the key – very clever and completely intuitive.

‘Free3’ is a beautiful track, with the ‘cello marking out the slightly crazed introduction, which is highlighted against the bass until it descends and settles on a grinding single note bowed tangent, over which the bass weaves, before the pair join in a rise and fall duet with crashing discordant beauty. The track is a wonderful interaction of the two musicians and their instruments.

‘Human Being’ begins with the bass setting out a melodious section on plucked strings before percussive elements join and there follows a reflective and quite beautiful demonstrations of percussion and bass interaction, over which the arco ‘cello weaves a melody and the sax counters that with some challenging melodies of its own. I am not saying the sax almost ruined a gorgeous interlude but …. Yet, the harshness of the sax later counteracts the melody and enhances it, redeeming itself and McPhee somewhat. The bass finished the track with some beautifully worked lines.

‘e320’ begins with creaky, stressed strings with warping bass and cello taking turns with owed and pizzicato lines. The cello then warps low before rising with the bass and drums in apparently conversation, the three setting up a swinging, rhythmic section, over which the sax sings and sighs in almost perfect opposition. The ‘cello on this track is outstanding as Holm exhibits his mastery of every part of the instrument’s capacity. Meanwhile the bass supports with a constant gait and the percussion too seems to understand the genius of support. The second half of the track belongs to the sax and ‘cello with McPhee adding breathy, uber intuitive expressive motifs across the top of the relentless rhythms of bass and drums, with ‘cello still in full display mode. A glorious track.

‘The Sweet Spot’ begins with vocals from McPhee over steady, rhythmic percussion. McPhee switches to sax and drops a melodic yet acidic line across the top of the drums and the cello rises in volume, with trilling strings, under which still another layer is provided by the bass which is steadily maintaining its stealthy but essential beat underneath it all. The entire ensemble adds to this track with inventive interludes, riffs, and explorative musical ideas.

‘For Django’ closes the album with some gorgeous melodic playing, alongside some equally beautiful anarchy, which serves to demonstrate the listening and improvisational skills of each musician as the track develops its own timescale and rhythm patterns. A gorgeous way to end an album which has something of the meant to happen about it.

The four musicians play together as a quartet and the desire to come together and play as precipitated by events which enabled them record this album, as each found a window at the same time.

Listening to this, you get a sense of healing in the music, not just because we are slowly emerging form a pandemic but because without playing together, musicians suffer in more ways than physical and the essence of need and desires met is almost palpable on this album. Aptly named, the music certainly hits the sweet spot on more than a few occasions. Good job.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Saadet Türköz and Beat Keller – We are Strong (Chinabot, 2021) ****

By Nick Ostrum

Saadet Türköz’s 2019 release with Elliot Sharp, Kumuska, has been a go-to listen for me as of late. Because of that, I was drawn to We are Strong, her recent collaboration with guitarist Beat Keller. As have many, this duo has turned to the cassette (with download) as their medium of choice.

Although I do not own a cassette player, nor do I intend to, I think this medium is important for the release. Many cassettes are EP length, or at least much shorter than the 70+ minutes that can be crammed onto a CD. We are Strong clocks in at a brief 21 minutes and 36 seconds. If one downloads the album, moreover, they get the benefit of the focus of a briefer release coupled with much better sound quality than a cassette can offer, especially as it warps over time. Then again, maybe that propensity to degrade is part of the strange appeal of the cassette to the growing ranks of millennials, or whomever, who consume them. Or maybe it reflects the theme of this album: the construction of hazy memories of a past both spatially and temporally removed.

Türköz was born in Istanbul to parents who had fled East Turkestan (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) in western China. Although she now resides in Switzerland, this familial history of forced migration and borderline exile has deeply influenced Türköz’s craft – exposing her to linguistic and folkloric traditions that span the Turkic, Arabic, and European worlds – and We are Strong in particular. Although this is abstract music, it carries heavy political weight. Each track bears the name of a city in eastern Turkestan. The title of the album, We are Strong, moreover, speaks not just to diasporic perseverance, but also the struggle to maintain a connection to the physical and cultural environs from which the subject is alienated. Indeed, Türköz claims her music strives to “transform memory,” to create and recreate, interpret and reinterpret those distant ties between lands, people, cultures, and migrations. This comes through in Türköz’s sometimes tortured, sometimes plaintive, and sometimes patient and soothing vocalizations against backdrops of tinny and disjointed guitar rummaging.

We are Strong consists of seven quick tracks, each of which is a statement in itself. The shortest lasts less than a minute and a half. The longest, just under four and a half. We are Strong is not nearly as sweeping as Kumuska is. It is, however, quite potent. Türköz seems to take the lead on most tracks. Keller’s glitchy fragments, however, push rather than shadow her. These interactions display not only how adaptive Keller’s fractured restrain can be, but also how versatile and unique Türköz’s Kazakh and Uyghur chants and avant-Turco-classical techniques really are.

We are Strong is an intimate album, and a deeply compelling one. The more I listen, the more dexterous but also determined Türköz sounds, and the more appropriate Keller’s pared down clangor seems. I am not sure whether 70 minutes of pieces this short and this disjointed (read as a metonym for the disjunction inherent in migration and especially forced migration, and maybe tape decay?) would hold up. However, it is perfect for an EP-length release like this. We are Strong ends too soon, but also before it starts to drag or become predictable. And in that, its pointed and poignant meditations on the plight of the Muslim population of Xinjiang , diasporic life, and, per Türköz and Keller themselves, universal human rights. That is a lofty agenda for a limited cassette release of such eccentric music, but a worthy one, and absolutely one worth exploring in all its minutia and de- and reconstructed memory.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Irreversible Entanglements - Open The Gates (International Anthem, 2021) ****½

Camae Ayewa a.k.a Moor Mother is pissed. Still. But in a different way than on Irreversible Entanglements’ previous albums. “Open the gates, it's energy time“, she snaps at the beginning of the title track of the new album. The poet, rapper and irritation artist (as a German critic called her) rages on for more than 70 minutes in word sequences of biblical power, rich in metaphor, sometimes full of anger, sometimes full of tenderness. Ayewa and her band - once again the wonderful Aquiles Navarro (trumpet), Tcheser Holmes (drums), Keir Neuringer (saxophone) and Luke Stewart (bass) - make greater use of electronic sound splinters, weaving them into a free-jazz tapestry of sound. Open the Gates was recorded in one day and is reminiscent of the greats like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry (just listen to the wonderful brass section in “Storm Came Twice“), while “Keys to Creation“ gives an idea of how an electric Miles might sound in these stormy times. But more than anything else, the music of Sun Ra shines through on this album. Irreversible Entanglements create a kaleidoscope of Black Culture, whose threads reach into Afrofuturism, tradition and avant-garde - just like the Arkestra of the great alien from the planet Saturn. This may also remind us that jazz was once the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement, that sound can also be interference.

Open the Gates starts with a dance floor banger that uses the bass line of “Theme de Yoyo“ by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But if you think Irreversible Entanglements have compromised and become more conciliatory, you’re wrong. The band shimmies to “Lágrimas Del Mar“, which swings briskly even as the tears flow: We are, after all, "so close to the good news." Above all, however, is the desire to explore the extremes. The central piece is the 20-minute “Water Meditation“, which talks about healing. Ayewa cools the souls: "We are sounding for peace." But the places she repeatedly invokes also identify hot spots of shameful racist violence. Musically, an acoustic bass stumbles over a polluted desert of sound, synthesizers remind us of gun salvos. They recorded the evil monsters from their bad dreams right along with it. How do they sound? Noise splinters, saxophone drones, muffled drums.

The album finally closes with “The Port Remembers“, in which the hope for healing is ultimately wiped away again. “A dream / I remember a nightmare“, Ayewa begins. “Lynch angels from 1590 / … The port remembers the slow walk into the void /Washing away the blood / … Dollar cotton / Forgive us of our debts / Our sins, our service / What always, would everywhere / What by all, is held to be true / He′s alive, dead alive in a grave“. The piece is one long lament about the original sin of slavery, the thorn in the flesh of the USA. The bass wanders, saxophone and trumpet drift apart, oblique, atonal. Nothing is alright, no cure in sight, the fighters are just disillusioned.

In October, Wynton Marsalis turned 60. At the concerts celebrating his anniversary, he has played, among other pieces, Sonny Rollins’s “Freedom Suite“: technically brilliant, flawless, clean. But today’s reality is ugly and dirty. Irreversible Entanglements reflect it in their music.

Watch the video for the title track:

Monday, December 27, 2021

Diaphane - Paris (Neither Nor, 2021) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Italian percussionist Carlo Costa has managed to create his own musical space within the free improv environment, using a pointillistic angle of attack, with simple sounds creating dramatic and intense landscapes. Bands like "Natura Morta" (Natura Morta, 2012, Decay, 2014, Environ, 2017) and "Earth Tongues" (Rune, 2015, Ohio, 2016, Atem, 2019), Carlo Costa's Acustica (Strata, 2015), Carlo Costa Quartet (Sediment, 2014) all have the same approach. Even if built up of unusual acoustic sounds coming from regular instruments, the music evolves in a linear way, developing its own narrative and logic, creating an intense atmosphere in the process. The performance is restrained as in minimalist music, but it's far too agitated and often too dense to be called minimalist, and it has the freedom of free improvisation without the nervousness or extravertedness that often qualifies the subgenre. The real distinguishing factor is the attention to a coherent total sound, with narratives constructed with sonic bits, instead of various instruments playing in an ensemble. 

Carlo Costa also released solo percussion albums such as "Oblio" (2018), followed by this year's "Silos". 

Other artists active on the label are Frantz Loriot, Sean Ali and Flin Van Hemmen, whose albums were also reviewed on our blog. 

Diaphane is a new ensemble with Frantz Loriot (France/Japan) on viola, Raphael Loher (Switzerland) on piano, Carl Ludwig Hübsch (Germany) on tuba and Carlo Costa (Italy) on percussion. From the start they take the listener on a fascinating 36 minute journey of musical surprises. Regardless of the instruments used, all sounds are fresh, unexpected, and - like often in Costa's music - they have an organic or natural quality. Loriot and Costa have performed and recorded often before, and the match with the two other musicians is perfect. Carl Ludwig Hübsch's tuba is not only a fantastic addition to the ensemble, but his view on the flow and continuity of the development of musical narratives is really close to what the label has produced so far. Raphael Loher we did not know, and his piano work is a real discovery. 

"Diaphane" is a French word that means something like "translucent", meaning that light can shine through a window without being able to identify the objects behind the window. In English "diaphanous" means "characterized by extreme delicacy of form" (Webster's). Both are adequate to describe the music, even if not everything is fragile. 

The performance was recorded live at the Café de Paris, in France on November 23, 2019. 

This is another winner in the label's catalogue. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Mujician - 10 10 10 (Cuneiform, 2021) ****½

The Free Jazz Blog has never covered the seminal Mujician quartet directly. There are references in reviews of recordings from the late pianist Keith Tippett or the wonderfully prolific saxophonist Paul Dunmall, and an entry from the obituary of drummer Tony Levin. In a sense, Mujician's time was a bit before this publication's, but the quartet's influence is still felt. With 10 10 10, we finally have a chance to review a contemporary - albeit archival - release.

In 2010, the group Tippet, Dunmall, Levin and bassist Paul Rogers, did a short tour to celebrate Levin's 70th birthday, during the tour, they made this recording (on October 10th), which was subsequently not released. After Levin's untimely passing just few months later, the others continued to work in other constellations, but Mujician was done. 10 10 10 comes as a reminder as to how well these players brought their music to life together.

There are two approximately 30 minutes tracks on 10 10 10, the title track and 'Remember'. The first begins with the thump of the drums and a roll on the cymbals, leading to a spritely tickle of the piano keys into what seems to be the start of a stately theme. However, that last part is a distraction, the sax and bass the enter, the pulse hardens, and the group takes off. 10 minutes later - after having gone though a bit of  an ebb and flow - the energy reaches a peak. Then, pulling back, the group begins to search the musical depths, Tippet's piano flickering shimmers in the darkness of the basses drones and legato saxophone tones. Towards the end, Dunmall's sharp soprano leads a flowing conversation with the others. 'Remember' begins with a poignant melodic idea from the sax, delicately supported by the piano, and underscored by the drums and bass. It could be the product of deliberate composition, but here, it seems to be the result of expert instant choices. A bit less boisterous at its peaks, and a little lither traversing its valleys, the track highlights the individual sensitivity of the players.

Wonderfully crafted and recorded, 10 10 10 is a brilliant post-humous entry in the slim but important output from Mujician. Thanks to Cuneiform for making this available, and it is easy to say that this is a highly recommended listen.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Free Jazz Blog's 2021 Top 10s

Snowman, rooster, gryphon, Lady Liberty, and a horse.

Ok, so 2,110,000 page views and several hundred reviews between the bookends of year start and end, it has been a busy year on the Free Jazz Blog. We've welcomed new writers, heard over 2,000 new recordings, and tried to navigate the dicey world of mid-pandemic concerts and festivals. Live streams may be so 2020, but Omicron just doesn't care. 

As always at this time of year, we are thrilled to bring you, dear readers, the top albums of 2021 from the writers of the Free Jazz Collective. Below are the individual lists for your perusal and fun, but first is the top 15, which the writers will vote on to pick the album of the year. We will post the results on January 1st. 

We look forward to your comments and suggestions - let us know what we have missed. Stay safe, do your part to help end this pandemic, and continue to enjoy music. Let's hope we get through this before we get to Pi (or Rho). 

Top 10 15 Albums of 2021 

  •  أحمد  [Ahmed] - Nights on Saturn (Communication) (Astral Spirits)
  • Anthony Braxton - 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12 Records)
  • Binker Golding, John Edwards, Steve Noble - Moon Day (Byrd Out)
  • Ches Smith and We All Break – Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Records)
  • Dave Rempis with Reid, Abrams, Daisy, Damon- The Covid Tapes (Aerophonic)
  • Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (Luaka Bop)
  • Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die Live (International Anthem)
  • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
  • Joëlle Lèandre, George Lewis, Pauline Oliveros - Play as you go (Trost)
  • Nate Wooley - Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure Of The Text Records)
  • Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite)
  • Rodrigo Amado Motion trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach - The Field (No Business)
  • Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet – Let The Free Be Men (Trost)
  • Vijay Iyer/Linda May Han Oh/Tyshawn Sorey - Uneasy (ECM)
  • William Parker, Daniel Carter, Hamid Drake - Painter’s Winter (AUM Fidelity)

Top 10 lists from the writers of the Free Jazz Collective:
All recordings, unless otherwise noted, have been reviewed on the Free Jazz Blog. We trust you to use the search engine to locate them!

Paul Acquaro

  • Vijay Iyer/Linda May Han Oh/Tyshawn Sorey - Uneasy (ECM)
  • Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die Live (International Anthem)
  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach - The Field (NoBusiness)
  • Paul Dunmall & Mark Sanders - Unity (577 Records)Ava Mendoza - New Spells (Relative Pitch/Astral Spirits)
  • Anna Webber - Idiom (PI Recordings)
  • The Selva + - Barbatrama (Shhpuma)
  • Duck Baker - Confabulations (ESP Disc)
  • James Brandon Lewis' Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
  • José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro - Thoughts Are Things (Phonogram Unit)
  • John Coltrane: A Love Supreme - Live in Seattle (Impulse!)
  • Total Music Association - Walpurgisnacht (NoBusiness)
  • Marc Ribot - Plays Solo Guitar Works of Frantz Casseus (Knowckwurst)

Kenneth Blanchard

  • Jeff Cosgrove - History Gets Ahead of the Story (s/r)
  • James Brandon Lewis' Red Lilly Quintet - Jessup Wagon (AUM Fidelity)
  • Mario Pavone - Isabella (Clean Feed)
  • Ches Smith We All Break - Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic)
  • William Parker - Painter's Winter (AUM Fidelity)
  • Total Music Association - Wallpurgisnacht (NoBusiness)

    Stuart Broomer

    • أحمد [Ahmed] - Nights on Saturn (communication) (Astral Spirits)
    • Rodrigo Amado's This Is Our Language Quartet - Let the Free Be Men (Trost)
    • Anthony Braxton 12 COMP (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12).
    • John Butcher/ Dominic Lash/ John Russell/ Mark Sanders. Discernment (Spoonhunt)
    • Disquiet - Disquiet (Trost)
    • Le GGRIL - Sommes (CircumDisc/ Tour de Bras) Reviewed: SB, The WholeNote, November, 2021, available online.
    • Joëlle Léandre/ Pauline Oliveros/ George Lewis - Play as You Go (Trost)
    • Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - Descension (Eremite)
    • Iain Sinclair & London Experimental Ensemble - Dark Before Dark (577 Records)
    • Nate Wooley - Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure of the Text)
    • Albert Ayler, et al. - New York Eye and Ear Control Revisited (Ezz-thetics) Reviewed: SB, Point of Departure Issue 77, December 2021: “Ezz-thetics”, available on-line.
    • John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse!)
    • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and Sainkho Namtchylak Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas (Victo) (Disclosure: I wrote the liner note)

    Tom Burris

    • Dave Rempis w/ Reid, Damon, Daisy, Abrams – The COVID Tapes (Aerophonic)
    • Jaimie Branch – Fly Or Die Live (International Anthem)
    • Vijay Iyer – Uneasy (ECM)
    • Kuzu – All Your Ghosts In One Corner (Aerophonic)
    • Benoit Delbecq – The Weight Of Light (Pyroclastic)
    • Irreversible Entanglements – Open The Gates (International Anthem)
    • Rempis Percussion Quartet – Sud Des Alpes (Aerophonic)
    • Henry Threadgill Zooid – Poof (Pi)
    • Whit Dickey / William Parker / Matthew Shipp – Village Mothership (Tao Forms)
    • Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet – Let The Free Be Men (Trost)

    Gary Chapin

    • Greg Belisle-Chi, Koi: Performing the Music of Tim Berne (Relative Pitch)
    • Rob Mazurek and the Exploding Star Orchestra - Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem, 2020)
    • Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog - Hope (International Anthem)
    • Wadada Leo Smith - A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (TUM)
    • Anthony Braxton - 12 Comp (Zim) (Firehouse 12)
    • Playfield, Vols. 1 - 3 (577 Records)
    • John Zorn - Bagatelles (Tzadic)
    • Butch Morris and Nublu Orchestra - Live in Paris (Nublu Records, 2020)
    • Whit Dickey, William Parker, Matthew Shipp - Village Mothership (Tao Forms)
    • Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The News (ECM)
    • Tim Berne's Bloodcount - 5 (Screwgun)
    • Tim Berne's Bloodcount - Attention Spam (Screwgun)

    Troy Dostert 
    All reviews marked [AAJ] posted on All About Jazz.

    1. East Axis - Cool With That (ESP) [AAJ]
    2. Wild Up - Julius Eastman Vol. 1: Femenine (New Amsterdam) [AAJ]
    3. James Brandon Lewis - Code of Being (Intakt) [AAJ]
    4. Ivo Perelman, Brass and Ivory Tales (Fundacja Sluchaj) [AAJ]
    5. Vijay Iyer - Uneasy (ECM)
    6. Silke Eberhard - Being the Up and Down (Intakt)
    7. Trondheim Jazz Orchestra with Ole Morten Vågen - Plastic Wave (Odin) [AAJ]
    8. Hafez Modirzadeh - Facets (Pi) [AAJ]
    9. Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette and Vijay Iyer -  A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (TUM) [AAJ]
    10. Irreversible Entanglements - Open the Gates (International Anthem) [AAJ]
    1. John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse!)
    2. Julius Hemphill - The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony (New World Records)
    3. Lee Morgan - The Complete Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note)

    Lee Rice Epstein

    •  أحمد [Ahmed] - Nights On Saturn (Communication) (Astral Spirits)
    • Scott Clark - This Darkness (Out of Your Head)
    • Matt Mitchell & Kate Gentile - Snark Horse (Pi Recordings)
    • PUNKT.VRT.PLASTIK (Kaja Draklser, Petter Eldh, Christian Lillinger) - Somit (Intakt Records)
    • Koma Saxo - Live (We Jazz Records)
    • Charlotte Keeffe - Right Here, Right Now (Discus Records)
    • Ikizukuri + Susana Santos Silva - Suicide Underground Orchid (Multikulti Project)
    • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
    • Lina Allemano & Nick Fraser + Remixes by Mira Martin-Gray, Bryan Qu, Karen Ng, Nick Dunston - Trumpet & Drums REMIX Festival (Lumo Records)
    • Ches Smith & We All Break - Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Records)

    Stef Gijssels

    • Chamber 4 - Dawn To Dusk (JACC Records)
    • Wadada Leo Smith - Trumpet (TUM)
    • Susana Santos Silva & Torbjörn Zetterberg — Tomorrow (Porta Jazz)
    • Futari ‎– Beyond (Libra, 2020)
    • Benoît Delbecq - The Weight Of Light (Pyroclastic)
    • In Layers - Pliable (FMR, 2020)
    • José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro - Thoughts Are Things (Phonogram Unit)
    • Ingrid Schmoliner, Adam Pultz Melbye & Emilio Gordoa - Griff (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020)
    • Thomas Heberer, Joe Fonda & Joe Hertenstein - Remedy (Fundacja Słuchaj)
    • Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra - Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem, 2020)

    • Tim Berne’s Bloodcount – Attention Spam (Screwgun, 1997/2021 Re-issue)
    • John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle(Impulse!)
    • Human Feel - Speak To It (Songlines)

    Steve Griffith
    • Dave Rempis with Reid, Abrams, Daisy, Damon- The Covid Tapes (Aerophonic)
    • Binker Golding, John Edwards, Steve Noble - Moon Day (Byrd Out)
    • William Parker, Daniel Carter, Hamid Drake - Painter’s Winter (AUM Fidelity)
    • Sylvie Courvoisier, Ned Rothenberg, Julian Santorius - Lockdown (Clean Feed)
    • Evan Parker - Winns Win (Byrd Out)
    • Roots Magic - Take Root Among the Stars (Clean Feed, 2020)
    • Kuzu - All Your Ghosts in One Corner (Aerophonic)
    • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach - The Field (NoBusiness)
    • Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh, Tyshawn Sorey - Uneasy (ECM)
    • Natural Information Society & Evan Parker - decension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite)
    • BBQ with Fred Frith - Free Postmodernism USA 1982 (SÅJ)
    • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble with Sainkho Namtchylak - Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas (Victo)
    • Instant Composers Pool - Incipient ICP (1966-71) (Corbett vs Dempsey)

    Eyal Hareuveni

    • Disquiet (Trost)
    • Jakob Bro, Arve Henriksen & Jorge Rossy - Uma Elmo (ECM)
    • Frode Haltli - Avant Folk II (Hubro)
    • Nate Wooley - Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure of the Text) 
    • Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language - Let The Free Be Men (Trost)
    • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach - The Field (NoBusiness)
    • Joëlle Léandre/Pauline Oliveros/George Lewis - Play As You Go (Trost)
    • Magda Mayas’ Filamental - Confluence (Relative Pitch) 
    • Anthony Braxton - 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12)
    • Gregg Belisle-Chi – Koi: Performing The Music Of Tim Berne (Relative Pitch/Screwgun)


    • John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse!)
    • René Lussier – Complètement Marteau (ReR MegaCorp/Circum Disc)

    Jim Marks
    • Miguel Ângelo - Dança dos Desastrados (Porta Jazz)
    • Baptiste Boiron - Là (Ayler Records)
    • Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few - Cosmic Transitions (Division 81)
    • Ben Goldberg  - Everything Happens to Be (BAG)
    • Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (Luaka Bop)
    • Hearth Melt (Clean Feed)
    • James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quintet - The Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
    • William Parker - Painters Winter (AUM Fidelity)
    • Ritual Habitual - Pagan Chant (Clean Feed)
    • Thumbscrew - Never Is Enough (Cuneiform)
    • Tim Berne et al. Broken Shadows (Intakt) (Previously released on Newvelle Records 2018)
    • John Coltrane  - A Love Supreme in Seattle (Impulse!)
    • Hasaan Ibn Ali - Metaphysics (Omnivore Recordings)

    Nick Metzger

    • John Blum & Jackson Krall - Duplicity (Relative Pitch, 2020)
    • Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed - the Ritual and the Dance (Astral Spirits)
    • Melting Mind - Melted Mind (Troglosound)
    • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
    • Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite)
    • Anthony Braxton - 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12)
    • Michael Bisio/Kirk Knuffke/Fred Lonberg-Holm - The Art Spirit (ESP Disk)
    • Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few - Cosmic Transitions (Division 81)
    • Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt - Made Out of Sound (Palilalia)
    • Johansson/Fite/Grip - Swinging at Topsi’s (Astral Spirits)
    • Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett (BBQ) - vorwiegend blaues Gezwitscher (SÅJ)
    • Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble - Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas (Victo)
    • John Coltrane - A Love Supreme, Live in Seattle (Impulse)

    Gregg Miller
    • Bruno Duplant, Frédéric Tentelier - Nocturnes (3 Études) ( Inexhaustible Editions)
    • Luís Lopes Lisbon Berlin Quartet - Sinister Hynotization (Clean Feed)
    • Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of our Contrictions) (Eremite)
    • Joëlle Lèandre, George Lewis, Pauline Oliveros - Play as you go (Trost)
    • Magda Mayas and Tina Douglas - Objects of Interest (Room40)
    • Rodrigo Amado Motion trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach - The Field (No Business)
    • Ikizukuri with Susana Santos Silva - Suicide Underground Orchid (Multikulti Project)
    • Fred Frith and Ikue Mori - A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (Intakt)
    • Jane Ira Bloom and Marx Helias - Some Kind of Tomorrow (self-released)
    • East Axis (Matthew Shipp, Allen Lowe, Gerald Cleaver, Kevin Ray) - Cool with That (Esp-Disk')

    Fotis Nikolakopoulos 

    1. Polyorchard - An Excess of Primary Forms (Out & Gone Records)
    2. Annette Krebs – Konstruktion 1&2 Sah (self released)
    3. Jean-Luc Guionnet/Will Guthrie –Electric Rag (Ali Buh Baeh Records / Editions Memoire)
    4. Akira Sakata/Giovanni Di Domenico – And Life Also Same (Holidays Records)
    5. Sue Lynch/N. O. Moore/Crystabel Riley – Secant | Tangent (dxdy Recordings)
    6. Jeph Jerman – Keep The Drum (Concussion Solos) (New Forces)
    7. أحمد [Ahmed] - Nights on Saturn (Communication) (Astral Spirits)
    8. Angel Bat Dawid & Tha Brothahood ‎– Live (International Anthem Recording Company)
    9. Barre Phillips/John Butcher/Ståle Liavik Solberg ‎– We Met - And Then (Relative Pitch Records)
    10. Skronk GBG – Majornas Mörker (OUTERDISK)

    1. John Coltrane - A Love Supreme, Live in Seattle (Impulse!)
    2. Marion Brown ‎– Le Temps Fou (Le Très Jazz Club)
    3. Musica Elettronica Viva – Spacecraft (Our Swimmer)

    Nick Ostrum

    • Alexey Kruglov, Caroly Hume, Paul May & Oleg Yudanov - The Last Train from Narvskaya (Leo)
    • Nate Wooley – Mutual Aid Music (POTR)
    • Baptiste Boiron, Bruno Chevillon, Frédéric Gastard – Là (Ayler)
    • Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Laswell, Milford Graves – Sacred Ceremonies (TUM)
    • Luís Lopes Lisbon Berlin Quartet – Sinister Hypnotization (Clean Feed)
    • Elisabeth Coudoux – Emißatett: Earis (Impakt)
    • Max Bober - Somos (Edition Wandelweiser) (reviewed on The Squid’s Ear)
    • Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (Luaka Bop)
    • Anthony Braxton – 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12)
    • Linda Caitlin Smith – Ballad (Another Timbre) (forthcoming review on The Squid’s Ear)
    • Instant Composers Pool – Incipient ICP (1966-1971) (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
    • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and Sainkho Namtchylak - Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas (Victo)
    • Total Music Association - Walpurgisnacht (NoBusiness)

    Keith Prosk
    • Anthony Braxton - 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12 Records)
    • gabby fluke-mogul - threshold (Relative Pitch Records)
    • Annette Krebs - Konstruktion#1 & 2 | Sah (Graphit)
    • Charmaine Lee - KNVF (ERRATUM MUSICAL) - Reviewed on harmonic series
    • Joanna Mattrey - Dirge (Dear Life Records) -  Reviewed on harmonic series
    • Magda Mayas & Tina Douglas - Objects Of Interest (Room40)
    • Han-Earl Park - Of Life, Recombinant (New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings) -  Reviewed on harmonic series
    • Erin Rogers - 2000 Miles (Relative Pitch Records)
    • Patrick Shiroishi - Hidemi (American Dreams) 
    • Nate Wooley - Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure Of The Text Records)

    Martin Schray

    1. Vijay Iyer/Linda May Han Oh/Tyshawn Sorey - Uneasy (ECM)
    2. Dave Rempis/Avreeayl Ra - Bennu (Aerophonic Records)
    3. Kuzu - The Glass Delusion (Astral Spirits)
    4. Nate Wooley - Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure of the Text Records)
    5. Darius Jones - Raw Demon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) (Northern Spy)
    6. The Underflow – Instant Opaque Evening (Blue Chopsticks)
    7. Olaf Rupp - NOBEACH (Audiosemantics)
    8. Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die Live (International Anthem)
    10. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (Luaka Bop)
    • John Coltrane: A Love Supreme - Live in Seattle (Impulse!)
    • Total Music Association - Walpurgisnacht (NoBusiness)
    • Cecil Taylor Quintet - Lifting the Bandstand (Fundacja Słuchaj)

    Anthony Simon
    • Anna Webber – Idiom (Pi Recordings)
    • Michael Bisio, Kirk Knuffke, Fred Lonberg-Holm – The Art Spirit (ESP-Disk')
    • Ches Smith and We All Break – Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Records)
    • James Brandon Lewis / Red Lily Quintet – Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
    • Natural Information Society with Evan Parker – descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite Records)
    • The Claudia Quintet with special guest: Eileen Myles – Evidence-based (Flexatonic Records)
    • Binker Golding, John Edwards, Steve Noble – Moon Day (Byrd Out)
    • Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue – Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (Pi Recordings)
    • John Zorn – Bagatelles (Tzadik)
    • Dave Rempis with Reid/Abrams/Daisy/Damon – The COVID Tapes (Aerophonic)

    Sammy Stein

    • The Underflow - Instant Opaque Evening (Blue Chopsticks)
    • Olie Brice, Binker Golding, Henry Keiser, N.O.Moore, Eddie Provost - The Secret Handshake of Danger (577 Records)
    • Binker Golding, John Edwards, Steve Noble - Moon Dog (Byrd Out)
    • Even Parker Quartet - All Knavery and Collusion (Cadillac records)
    • Ivo Perelman and Nate Wooley - Polarity (Burning Ambulance)
    • Rachel Musson - Dreamsing (577 Records)
    • Matt Shipp and William Parker - Re-Union ( Rogue Art)
    • Sons of Kemet - Black To The Future (Impulse)
    • Lol Coxhil - Coxhill '85 (SLAM)
    • Polyorchard - An Excess of Primary Forms (Out and Gone Records)

    • John Coltrane - Live in Seattle (Impulse!)

    Friday, December 24, 2021

    Ben LaMar Gay - Open Arms to Us (International Anthem, 2021) ****

    I’m a vinyl fan, as some of you might know. Sometimes the LPs I have bought contain download codes and I usually redeem them because I like to listen to music in my car as well. Since I’m a very neat and precise guy when it comes to music, I file the music in genres. However, with Ben LaMar Gay this has been especially tricky. Discogs says it’s Contemporary Jazz, for i-music it’s just Jazz and my record store pigeonholes him under Jazz/Fusion. But none of those categories ultimately hits the mark, as his music has traces of many genres. In principle, it can turn in every conceivable direction at any time - just when you think you have a piece nailed down, he comes around the corner with something surprising.

    LaMar Gay’s second album for the hip International Anthem label is consequently called Open Arms To Open Us because this kaleidoscope is open to all sides. This already becomes obvious in the opener “Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks On You“, in which LaMar Gay’s voice mixes with happy tinkling, drum’n’bass rhythms and the vocals of Ohmme (Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham). The whole thing sounds like a kid’s birthday party on drugs. However, it’s actually still one of the more ordinary tracks on Open Arms To Open Us. Dorothée Munyaneza, who comes from Rwanda and comments the social situation there in her works, augments LaMar Gay in “Nyuzura" with a lament in her national language Kinyarwanda. Musically, it’s LaMar Gay’s bow to world music, which shines through in “Aunt Lola and the Quail“ again - a track in which jazz actually plays a role. The piece is the center of the album, as the musical spirits that often give the songs a mysterious aura are inspired by LaMar Gay’s aunt Lola. He recalls that she still heard the rhythmic beating of her father’s hammer in her head after he had died. As the beat of life, this rhythm carries itself symbolically into the here and now, as LaMar Gay uses it for his twisted grooves. On the other hand, the multi-instrumentalist is always aware of exaggerated idiosyncrasies and counters wacky passages with relaxed moments that work perfectly well even without postmodern music knowledge. “Bang Melodically Bang“ is based on top-notch hiphop samples, while “Oh Great Be the Lake“ is the song Robert Wyatt would have loved to write. Finally, a gameboy finds use in “I Be Loving Me Some Of You“ before Tomeka Reid’s cello battles with laughing gas voices in “In Tongues and In Groves“. Towards the end, Gira Dahnee and Angel Bat Dawid perform the short intermezzo “S'phisticated Lady“ snappily as a fake footage recording. We are dismissed with “We Gon Win“, a final nod to real jazz just when you might not have expected it anymore.

    The compositions are mostly short, ranging from one to five minutes. Nevertheless, Open Arms To Open Us is a challenge because of its stylistic diversity - but like its outstanding predecessor Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun, this album is also worthwhile. And categories are smoke and mirrors anyway.

    Open Arms To Open Us is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

    Thursday, December 23, 2021

    Akira Sakata/Giovanni Di Domenico – And Life Also Same (Holidays records, 2021) *****

    By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

    I must admit that is hard to be objective when it comes to Akira Sakata. The Japanese reedist manages to channel, through his music, two different (or not so much) pathways to personal expression. First he is a partaker of the ritualistic nature that a lot of music from Japan incorporate. The minimalist road he follows in his playing seems to me to come directly from the centuries old tradition of Japanese theatre, prose and dance music. He was a way of being so colorful with so little means. A saxophone, sometimes the clarinet, even just his voice.

    Second, he is one of the last of the first two waves of Japanese free jazz and improvisation. One of the last who still struggles to create and give meaning to a music whose energy flow, collective thinking and personal pathos made her fit so easily in the rapidly changing Japanese society of the 1960’s and 70’s.

    But, as always, the thing is to keep your feet on the present. And, as we already knew from several past releases, Sakata has found a partner in crime, a comrade in the Italian expat pianist (and more…) Giovanni Di Domenico. Apart from their duos (check out Iruman from 2014) they have played together in different formations, knowing each other for a long time now. Di Domenico has been quite prolific lately but here he stays solely on the piano. Sakata plays alto sax, clarinet and he sings in his native language.

    The only vinyl edition from Holidays Records consists of an additional 7’’ record. All of the tracks are duos –most of them with Sakata on the alto- that follow, broadly speaking, the free jazz tradition. Holidays Records has slowly built an impressive catalogue of free music. And Life Also Same seems to keep the label’s great streak going. The two musicians play almost in unison. As a listener you are able to feel the short pauses they take so they can listen to each other. At the same time it’s easy to hear the times they, inaudibly, negotiate which way to follow next. It is like a blindfold test they always pass.

    You would expect differently, but Di Domenico’s playing is totally energetic and aggressive, opening the road for Sakata’s stretched passages of melody. When Sakata is vocalizing, the piano seems like an accompaniment of his voice but again, at the same time, showing the way the vocals will follow.

    Sakata’s long phrases interact with the keyboard of Di Domenico by finding non verbal ways of communicating. Di Domenico is the more stable force in this pairing, while Sakata is roaming in many directions at once. Alas. During the next track it is the other way around and the piano becomes a monster of aggression.

    Forget about the fact that Sakata is a long established figure in the world of jazz improvisation. This is an amazing album and his duos with Giovanni Di Domenico are the top of the game for the current free jazz scene.


    Wednesday, December 22, 2021

    Johansson/Fite/Grip - Swinging at Topsi’s (Astral Spirits, 2021) ****½

    This fantastic new release is from the multi-generational trio of Joel Grip (double bass), Niklas Fite (guitar), and our hero Sven-Åke Johansson (percussion and vocals) and it’s one of the best guitar trio performances I’ve heard in the last decade. The album is just filthy with great ideas that spring from their decisive improvisations, and the trio masterfully keep their clean strings/skins tone just to the left of jagged, which gives the listening experience some grit (i.e. it does indeed swing). Johansson and Grip are regular collaborators and one of my favorite combos. A few favorites from the duo are their Neuköllner Modelle and Zyklus releases with Bertrand Denzler (and Alex von Schlippenbach on one volume of the former) as well as a smoking release with Sten Sandell last year, there are others but I’ll leave it to you to hunt them down. Niklas Fite is brand spanking new to this reviewer, and I’ve really enjoyed getting up-to-speed on the young musicians work via his Bandcamp page, where you can find two more terrific 2021 releases to satiate those thirsty ear holes (two duos, one with pianist Margaux Oswald and one with drummer Raymond Strid, both well worth your consideration). On Swinging at Topsi’s the trio braid strands of jazz’s past, present, and future, culminating in a delightful rope trick that warms like a holiday cordial. Prost!

    Recorded at Berlin’s Au Topsi Pohl in September of 2020, the album opens with the aural knots and organic gnarl of “Set 2”, which is alternately probing and exhilarating. Grip whinnies and groans arco accompaniments around Johansson’s rich, skittering patterns as Fite slashes away at any remaining dead air. It’s a thick brew and when things get a little thin the trio toss more flour into their already lumpy gravy. Fite’s style of guitar playing nestles in nicely with those of Derek Bailey and John Russell (whose Mopomoso Fite has played in), though his approach is unique and it really does stand out for various reasons, some of which I’m still trying to put my finger on. His tendency to really get after his guitar with a tempered and satisfying physicality gives him a very broad and interesting dynamic range as it’s applied to his picking technique. This is illustrated thoroughly on the next track “Set 1” where his knotty playing is countered with the forward momentum of Johansson and Grip, the rough surfaces tumble together, smoothing and rounding until the interplay is like butter before pulling the tablecloth and changing course for coarse. This set sails on Grip’s supple low end thrum, which both supports and antagonizes Fite, across a landscape of Sven-Åke’s tight rhythms and textures.

    The album is finished off with a pair of standards, the Rodgers & Hart song “Isn’t It Romantic” - of which Ella Fitzgerald’s rendering is among my all-time favorites - and the Green & Hayman classic “Out of Nowhere” made famous by Bing Crosby. Johansson croons the pair over the easily assertive backing of Grip and Fite in his genuine and charming manner. A great way to cap off the album, as sometimes sweets like these sound even sweeter after a sustained focus on rougher textures, such as those of the set material. At 78 Sven-Åke continues to produce some of the best stuff out there and is a terrific mentor to a younger generation of improvisers, working in fact with many of the musicians highlighted in the blog’s recent Echtzeit@30 series, so perhaps you could even consider this that, or vice versa. Topsi’s is a terrific record that tempers a heavy dose of wiry guitar trio energy with an earnest charm that makes it effortlessly engaging and will keep you coming back for more.

    Tuesday, December 21, 2021

    Mofaya! - Like One Long Dream (Trost, 2021) ****½

    By Paul Acquaro

    This review will be no surprise to anybody who knows the players in Mofaya!, saxophonist John Dikeman, trumpeter Jaimie Branch, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Aleksander Škorić. Each musician listed is well known in the jazz realms which readers here at the Free Jazz Blog frequent. In fact, it is only Škorić who somehow seems to keep a low internet profile, though what I scraped from the first page of the Google results shows that he and Dikeman have been a musical duo for a number of years.

    So, yes, on paper (or screen) this is a group that simply should work together. Dikeman probably knew this when he invited Branch and Stewart to join the Mofaya duo (note the lack of the exclamation point for the duo spelling) to create this group. The result breathes fire, with intense group interactions mixed with distinct moments for each musician to show us what they got.

    There are three tracks, the first 'Your Country' taking up a rollicking 27 minutes, and the other two 'The Tank' and 'Wake Up' clock in at 17 and 7 minutes respectively. Not that length matters here, each one is filled with vivacity and its own personality. 'Your Country' begins with a call from the saxophone, the trumpet answers and brings along the bass and drums, it only take 30 seconds or so to ignite. The group improvisation soon yields to a lightening quick solo from Branch, then to an exploratory one from Stewart. Dikeman stokes the elements starting at the 10 minute mark, and a few minutes later, with encouragement from Škorić, the flames are again dancing about. Then, suddenly, things come nearly to a halt. For several minutes the quartet is searching through the scorched earth around them, and only after several minutes Dikeman seems to find it. By a careful fanning of the embers, the blaze comes back, bigger even than before. It is suffice to say that 'Your Country' is on fire.

    'The Tank' begins with Stewart scratching at the bass strings with his bow. Škorić joins, using the outer edges of his set to add accents and adorn the shifting smoke of the bassists' sounds. Dikeman joins, following the wisps of melody as they rise and dissipate. Then the group picks up the tempo. The track feels a little less dense than the other, but more playful. The closer 'Wake Up' starts with, well, a real wake up call. The explosion of sound soon condenses into a more focused form. Dikeman finds a melody that works well with Stewart's lopsided groove and Škorić's expressive drumming, and soon Branch joins with a muted trill from the edges.

    While it is fun to scrounge for metaphors for this dynamic music, it is also nice to simply state that it is a joy to listen to some freely improvised music in such a joyful form on Like One Long Dream. Mofaya! definitely brings more fire, but not without a requisite amount of empathy and listening.

    Monday, December 20, 2021

    Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana - Studio Session (TAK Editions, 2021) ****

    Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana freely plays a 42’ set of shifting dynamics and buoyant polyrhythms on their debut recording, Studio Session.

    The instrumentation is unlisted but I think I hear at least guitar, violin, flute, clarinet, voice, percussion, and piano, all of which exude vibrant personalities even in moments of slower tempo, lower volume, and generous space. It is a beat-conscious music in which instruments appear to pass the pulse amongst each other, dividing and subdividing it and subtly shifting it to compliment the spaces unoccupied by others and to together form a living rhythm with constant momentum. Three times they seamlessly coalesce into bustling but not overcrowded peaks in density, dynamics, and tempo - winds weaving ascending and plunging with a backbeat of swinging piano and romping percussion - acrobatic drum fills and some psychedelic plucked string - a kind of conga piano rhythm intersected with a fiddle melody and winds like screech owls in call and response. But despite these lusty grooves’ conspicuous energy most of the time is spent in simmering moments still propulsive but more expansive in color. Chiming bells. Droning voice. Interweaving lamellophones. Some extended techniques like air notes, key clicks, and fluted cymbals. And other textural explorations while the beat subsists. Throughout it is infectiously fun.

    Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana on this recording is Santiago Barbosa, Vivian Ferrero, Pepe Gavilondo, Mariana Hutchinson, Yasel Muñoz, Carolina Rodríguez, Janet Rodríguez, Mario Rodríguez, and Luna Tinoco.

    Sunday, December 19, 2021

    The Claudia Quintet with Eileen Myles – Evidence-based (Flexatonic Records, 2021) ****½

    By Anthony Simon

    There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like accordion in their music, and those who don't. This album is for the first kind! If I weren't kidding, you might call me strange, but I'd still be a huge fan of The Claudia Quintet. On the ensemble’s ninth album, Evidence-based (Flexatonic Records, 2021), John Hollenbeck helms the composition, drums, percussion, and electronics; Chris Speed plays clarinet and tenor sax; Red Wierenga performs accordion and electronics; Matt Moran is on vibraphone; Drew Gress plays bass and electronics. The special guest on the album is poet Eileen Myles, and they contribute “talk.” Due to pandemic conditions, all artists were recorded separately in discrete locations.

    The seeds of this album were planted in 2017, as Hollenbeck was digesting news about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) apparently “banning” usage of certain words in its publications. It turned out to be more official discouragement than outright banning, but the restrictions extended to terms that carry implications for specific peoples – words like, “fetus,” “diversity,” and “transgender.” It also included words that relate to how we determine facts and truth – like “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Throughout history, much has been written about the relationship between language and power. About the decision to explore politics in his art, Hollenbeck says, “I'm not in a vacuum. I'm hearing all the news everyone else is hearing. Then I go into the practice room or the composing room and it's not like that stuff goes away."

    Yet confronting socio-political issues doesn’t dominate the music, and when Eileen Myles’ vocals do deal with issues, instead of being divisive, they’re inquisitive. Furthermore, they exhibit a peculiar combination of qualities: spoken manner-of-fact, like talking to a friend; often self-assured, yet not insistent, but instead searching. Their “talks” sometimes preface a song, but not in an overbearing or deterministic way. At the same time, what they say and how they say it definitely interacts with the music in manners both deep and playful. Myles’ talks exhibit a juxtaposition between common, everyday language delivered with an almost neighborly affect, and an assembly of words and phrases cast in abstract and non sequitur forms that evade clear meaning. They invite the listener’s attention without holding it captive, in a way that really compliments and enhances The Claudia Quintet’s distinct amalgamation of styles – music that is richly complex in composition, cradled in affable groove and harmony.

    “Fetus” stands out for being rather different from other tracks. The listener first hears what sounds like a solitary marble rolling round-and-round, soon enveloped in a heavy womb of undulating, pulsating, amorphous low register notes and chords. There’s a palpable darkness, yet also a buoyancy that feels hopeful. Towards the end, Myles voices a curious existential perspective: “I’m not used to being thought of, you know?”

    Many of the tracks spend significant time conveying the consistently beautiful and interesting compositions of Hollenbeck, with brief solos used judiciously to enhance and transition. “Diversity” is a celebration song, with the joyous polyrhythmic theme first played on drums and cymbals before being echoed by clarinet and accordion. Myles seems to patch together fragments of phrases culled from a variety of dialogues, producing an abstract verbal quilt, and wonders, “Is this possible for you?” The band is grooving hard behind Speed’s insistent sax solo, similar to a moment during the title track “Evidence-based,” which is full of fun: drum-accordion duets, angular melodies, double-time rock feels.

    “I feel like I was cut out for this line of work / I realize this is not an interview / but I just need to say what I got.” Myles playfully prefaces “Nice Tune,” a boisterous number that showcases deft solos from vibes, clarinet, and accordion, nestled in a positively danceable vamp. Here’s a video for “Nice Tune” that gives a sense for how the songs were recorded. Claudia Quintet "NICE TUNE"

    To my ears, this is an album of fun and fascinating compositions that simultaneously seizes the opportunity to invite awareness and consideration of very serious issues about culture, power, and truth. And as commitment to that important consideration, a portion of all album sales are donated to Black Lives Matter initiatives. Evidence-based is available for digital download.

    Saturday, December 18, 2021

    Ritual Habitual - Pagan Chant (Clean Feed, 2021) ****½

    This is the first full-length release by this trio— an ep appeared in the fall of 2020 —made up of the Rotterdam-based Portuguese bassist Gonçalo Almeida, Riccardo Marogna, a native of Verona working mainly in The Hague, on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, and synthesizers, and the German drummer Philipp Ernsting. The saxophone trio seems to be a favored format for Almeida, who has also played on, for instance, recordings with Ernsting and Hugo Costa ( reviewed for FJC by Stef Gijssels ) and Rodrigo Amato and Marco Franco ( reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni ). Marogna has appeared on a trio recording with guitarist Paul Brussò and percussionist Niccolò Romanin ( reviewed by Paul Acquaro ).

    Citing Coltrane, Ayler, Cherry, and Haden as spiritual inspirations, this trio’s approach to jazz is certainly free. These tunes eschew traditional verse-chorus structure and, often, recognizable time signatures, but they do not seem to be entirely improvised—if they are, the telepathy on display is astonishing. Each unfolds in a distinct way while complementing the others. Notably, Marogna’s synthesizers appear only occasionally and never dominate the sound.

    The titles of the songs indicate the theme, contextualizing the music as ecstatic and, well, ritualistic. The sequencing suggests a kind of diptych structure, with the murky and ambient “Psilocybe Cubensis” serving as the hinge between the two longer tracks of the first half and the three mid-length tracks of the second. The entire journey takes listeners from “The Womb” through to “The Eulogy.”

    “The Womb,” the longest track, sets the stage with a slow opening of hesitant bass notes and hand percussion before the sax joins in. Gradually, as Ernsting moves to the drum kit, the three voices coalesce with increasing intensity before dissolving into the synthesized sounds that are more felt than heard in the first half of the track.

    Having left the womb, the trio embarks on “Rite of Passage,” which also builds from percussion and bass but to different effect, with much more space in the sound. Marogna comes in this time with the bass clarinet, which blends seamlessly with Almeida’s rumbling strings and Ernsting’s tribal drumming to give the impression of powerful forward movement. Marogna produces a remarkable range of sounds from this instrument, suggesting at times a foghorn, a shofar, or a double aulos.

    Following the hallucinatory “Psilocybe,” where Almeida’s bowing is on display, the title track, compact at around five minutes, starts with a solo by Marogna; his sax then becomes swathed in echo before dropping out to let the rhythm section guide the way to “Dionysus Carnival.” In this tune, over a thick layer of cymbals and rattling percussion, Almeida and Marogna weave a theme to which one can easily imagine worshippers of the Greek god engaged in orgiastic celebration.

    “The Eulogy” brings the set to a satisfying conclusion. Once more, drums and bass establish a foundation before the sax enters, here invoking the spirit of Ayler especially strongly. By the end of the tune, the three are producing a maelstrom of sound but still manage to stop on a dime.

    This recording, then, is a real pleasure, and not just for those who have developed a taste for the theoretically limited palate offered by the saxophone trio. Pagan Chant creates and sustains a sense of spirituality and adventure that invokes its acknowledged influences while mapping out fresh sonic territory.

    Friday, December 17, 2021

    Patrick Shiroishi - Hidemi (American Dreams, 2021) ****½

    Patrick Shiroishi composes and performs nine songs for overlaid solo saxophone on the 25’ Hidemi.

    Shiroishi has recently released a long string of moving statements documenting a creative boom yet I would consider Hidemi a touchstone among them. While it doesn’t showcase his breadth of technique for any single saxophone, its overlays of alto, baritone, C melody, tenor, and soprano saxophones at once convey the multi-instrumental character of his practice and an impressive compositional vision in the arrangement of their sonorities.

    And with a throughline in Descension for solo tenor, effects, and voice, No​-​No / のの for alto and tenor with percussionist Dylan Fujioka, and i shouldn’t have to worry when my parents go outside for multi-instrumental arrangements with the voices of Crystal Chou and Asa Nakagawa, it is the most recent in an important thread of Shiroishi’s work that grapples with violence against Asian-Americans. These works process the generational trauma of America’s concentration camps but also more insidious and current contexts like the retaliation against Asian-Americans as a poor proxy for COVID-19 or the racist caricaturism that most recently culminated in the deaths of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, and Yong Ae Yue. Previously these subjects were briefly discussed in liners but Hidemi expands on them with an 82-page companion chapbook, Tangled, containing reflections from Asian-American musicians, including Shiroishi, Fujioka, Jon Irabagon, Kozue Matsumoto, Lesley Mok, Paul Lai, Tashi Dorji, Mai Sugimoto, Dustin Wong, Eyvind Kang, Amirtha Kidambi, Sharon Chohi Kim, Pauline Lay, Susie Ibarra, Jason Kao Hwang, Che Chen, and Rob Sato. The notes do convey that these nine songs imagine the experience of Shiroishi’s grandfather, Hidemi, after getting out of a concentration camp.

    Among its nine tracks none is greater than four minutes. And this song length manifests the concision of songs from what might seem like song forms. Beyond a general melodicism, sprightly tempi, and impactful moments that stick in the memory, most of these tracks at some point feature a soloing line over a repetitive base, a kind of chorus where all lines feel active, and bridges of sometimes abruptly contrasting material. Soulful saxophone solos with the weighted cadence of despondent pause and tenderly bending sustain might evoke strong emotions but more than any one line the arrangement of them yields the catharsis. The shaking volume and ensconcing depth of their unison. Their simultaneous break from repetition into independently radiating lines. The step-pattern layering of them - three voices dropping out to silence for five to return in a kind of triumph. The building and expanding of them. Emotivity in music is an experiential thing but I imagine it would be difficult to not have an emotional reaction to the buoyant counterpoint of “Beachside Lonelyhearts,” the divergent density of “To Kill A Wind-Up Bird,” the chorus of swells of triadic spirals of “The Long Bright Dark.” And every track has its own moment of release. But it is always fleeting. Always tempered with another moment of its dissonant souring or its discordant unravelling as if to recognize and despair the trauma at the roots of the release. It is a kind of narrative of baggage in a largely non-textual music that I think is only driven home when, after Shiroishi’s one sung line translated from Japanese as ‘is this the end of the storm?’ in the notes, the final moments of the record end with hard blows in alarm just as it began. The trauma continues and it is not forgotten.

    Thursday, December 16, 2021

    Darius Jones - Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) (Northern Spy, 2021) *****

    Free jazz has always been dynamic music, reinventing itself again and again by docking onto all kinds of different genres. Sometimes this may sound exciting, but sometimes it comes across as a bit too hail-fellow-well-met. Darius Jones certainly can't be accused of this, even if he has continually tried to build bridges to modernity, but always on the basis of his outstanding craftsmanship, his sensitive musicality, and in awareness of the history of jazz. In doing so, his music swings, he does not shy away from melodies, yet never loses itself in comfortable structures. This can be heard on his quartet album Book of Mae'bul (2012) or on his trio recording Man’ish Boy (2009). The basis of his music are blues and gospel on the one hand, on the other hand he consistently abstracts these forms. The great emotionality and the beautiful mess that dominate his style are foiled by the enormous ease with which everything is played. Repetition and silence are basic elements of Jones’s music, sometimes he plays one note for minutes and the rest of the band revolves around the eye of the hurricane - something he practiced at the Visions Festival 2019 with his marvelous quintet consisting of Craig Weinrib (drums), Dezron Douglas (bass), Charlie Looker (guitar) and Michael Vatcher (percussion).

    It might be a surprise that the 43-year-old alto saxophonist’s latest album, Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation), is his first solo recording. As if under a microscope, all the above-mentioned ingredients are on display. Jones communes with his influences: for three of the five tracks he chose compositions by artists who unmistakably part of the African-American free jazz hall of fame - Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and Roscoe Mitchell. Jones’s version of Ornette's 'Sadness' plays with long pauses, the lines seem almost isolated from each other, the horror of this sadness seems almost essential. What we witness here is a merciless self-revelation, for shortly before he went on tour, Jones and his partner had separated after a ten-year-relationship. He shows the extreme pain of separation in the abrupt outcries that repeatedly cut his playing, in the reverbs and the murmurs in the low ends.

    However, Raw Demoon Alchemy reminds us that the sorrow of splitting up can’t be defined by one emotion: Rather, its components are various, misleading, and sometimes even confusing. The blues feeling and the melancholy of 'Sadness' are confronted with the relative beauty of Victor Young’s 'Beautiful Love', but also with the stubbornness of Roscoe Mitchell’s 'Nonaah', the mother of all repetitive free jazz improvisations. Like Mitchell Jones plays angular short phrases that cross the entire range of the alto saxophone, but he only gives us an idea of the original track by even deconstructing it further. Actually Jones plays isolated single notes that seem to be cut off from Mitchell’s nine-tone-head. Only at the end of his version he arrives at a faithful rendition of the original. Actually, he turns the original upside down.

    In the bouncer, Sun Ra’s 'Love In Outer Space', Jones focuses on sound possibilities of a saxophone, using vibrato, extreme overblowing and multiphonics as a stylistic devices. By doing this, however, we become aware of one last emotion: hope. In former times hope was considered as one of the most fundamental of all the emotions and Jones underlines that by the cornucopia of sounds the track offers. Using such a sparkling, yet dry palette, Raw Demoon Alchemy makes us question if emotion, after all, lies in the ear of the listener. If you know the conditions under which Jones has played this music, we expect him to mourn consequently. Instead, if you listen to the last minute of 'Love In Outer Space', the joyful melody gives us a hint that he’s slowly recovering.

    One of the best albums this year.

    Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) is available as a download, on CD and on vinyl.

    You can listen to two tracks and buy the album here:

    Wednesday, December 15, 2021

    Carlos “Zingaro” and Pedro Carneiro - Elogio Das Sombras (Clean Feed, 2021)

    In August 2012 I was in Lisbon attending Jazz em Agosto. In the days between the two main weekend segments, the festival moved from its usual lush park setting to the Teatro do Bairro a black box theatre in the hilly, winding streets of the Bairro Alto for more intimate performances, among them (pardon the self-quotation) “Nuova Camerata…a recently formed, Lisbon-based quintet that matches the sonic and harmonic vocabulary of mid-twentieth century European formal music—Messiaen, Boulez—with the methodology of improvisation. Veteran violinist Carlos “Zíngaro” is adept at spontaneously generating music that sounds uncannily like the advanced mathematics of serialism, while classical percussionist Pedro Carneiro, a newcomer to improvisation, is possessed of very quick ears as well as hands.” (New York City Jazz Record, Sept. 2012, p. 58)

    Sending me on this search through my files were the credits on this CD. While Carneiro has become far more active in improvised music in recent years, including duet CDs with pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and percussionist Pedro Melo Alves (each reviewed on this site this past July), these duets were recorded in Lisbon in September 2012, just weeks after the Nuovo Camerata performance. While Carneiro’s recent improvised work adds a quarter-tone extension to his orchestral marimba, this earlier work specifies only a damper pedal.

    Curated and edited by Melo Alves, this is stunning work. Originally recorded over two days, it feels like a continuous improvised suite, textures, figures and techniques accumulating in ways that fill the work with resonant and reflective suggestions and echos, from the opening harmonic gauze and industrial knocks of “Ar” and the skittering “Inicio” to the ultimate play of “Obscuridade”.

    “Vestigio”, the title perhaps suggestive of something hanging over, is work of the highest formal tension, with Carneiro’s shifting tremolos tethering “Zingaro’s” spiky, high-tension lines. “Traço” exchanges the Boulez-like tension for an intense lyricism. “Luminescência”, suggestive of a midnight garden, is highlighted by the violinist’s pitch-mutating high harmonics, alternatingly muted and filled with an icy treble brightness and the light scraping and echoing liquid hollows of Carneiro’s expansive percussive resource.

    “Luz”, evidently concerned with higher light levels, presses the sense of a rich formal inheritance and a kind of telepathic response to nuance with the concomitant possibilities for development and expansion. If “Zingaro” often seems to take the lead here, there’s also a sense of Carneiro taking the violinist’s materials, reshaping them and handing them back in the ebb and flow of the work. Among the mysteries of this “Praise of shadows”, the concluding “Obscuridade” is scintillating, playful, light and ebullient by its conclusion, hardly an “obscurity” at all.