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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Helias - Some Kind of Tomorrow (s/r, 2021)

By Gary Chapin

So many bass+ duets going on! I’m not sure if it’s just the shadow of 2020 and the logistical necessities created by the big P, or if it’s always been this way and I haven’t noticed. I don’t have a judgement about this, just that it seems worth remarking upon. Quite a lot of those feature bass and sax , and one of them, reviewed recently by Stephen Griffith, featured our man, Mark Helias, in duet with Tim Berne .

The present release, Some Kind of Tomorrow, is an all improvised conspiracy between Helias and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom. It has been something of a shock to my sensibilities. So much so that I’ve been holding back on the review. Listening again and again (more than usually). Even asking colleagues who are in the know what they might think. I know what I’m feeling, but haven’t trusted the words that have been coming to mind. Now, I shall.

Jane Ira Bloom has been in my world since Art and Aviation came out in 1992, and the things that stuck me then strike me still. She is a unique quantity. Her playing has an earnestness and space that stood out against the irony and denseness that obsessed me at the time. Ostensibly she plays “straight ahead” with a post bop language base. That’s the skeleton. But she’s not obviously a part of any particular school or movement. She uses a brush of electronic effects that are all the more effective (and affective) for being sparely deployed. Her harmony and sensibility brings to mind art song and Satie. Much of what she does seems in conversation with other art. Sometimes it’s obvious— interpreting Emily Dickinson, for example— other times it’s just me, for whatever reason, understanding her music in terms of theater or dance.

Thus it is with the current release. The conversations between Bloom and Helias, long time friends, feel immediately to me like a series of staged dialogues. Scenes from a … There are characters, conflicts, disappointments, jokes, deep understanding, monologues, comfort, compassion, walks through the city, being at home and sharing their day. I can see actors “saying” this music, or maybe dancers dancing it. It’s as if they were an improv duo, but instead of comedy, it was legit drama. Honestly, as I listen now, I can see the animated short film where the two shapes are making their plans, doing their work, not saying their feelings, until they do. There’s a story in every one of these pieces for me. There is a stern whimsy, a blues like Raymond Carver’s.

I think I’m still trying to sort it out for myself. It’s entirely possible that I’m thinking about this too much, but I’m finding this hypnotic. Returning to it again and again. It’s not whipping me into a frenzy, the way so much of my fave music, but it’s raising my disquiet and then bedding it down, like so many of my favorite stories or poems.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Trumpet-guitar duets

 By Stef Gijssels

In the fourteen years of our existence, we've reviewed only 15 trumpet-guitar albums. Obviously more albums have been released, but the format is clearly not very common. We're updating you with three new albums. 

Tin/Bag - Evening Hawks (Big Ego, 2021) ****

Of those 15 albums, three are by the duo of Kris Tiner and Mike Baggetta. We're happy to present you their fifth album after "There, Just As You Look For It" (2005), "And Begin Again" (2007), "Bridges" (2011), "The Stars Would Be Different" (2015). 

Over the years, they have perfected their art of quiet, warm and intimate music. Yes, it is sentimental at times, but that's part of their unassuming and unpretentious approach. They do not intend to change the nature of music, but rather try to perfect the possibilities of great instrumental mastery. 

Two of the tracks have been performed before, "The Stars Would Be Different" and "Evening Hawks". They also give their own rendition of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" by Leonard Cohen and the country song "Let Me Talk To You", possibly the most sentimental track on the album. 

Tiner's compositions are a little more abstract and in my opinion also more powerful.

As mentioned before, this is music for quiet indoor moments, when the weather is cold and unfriendly outside, and all you need is to be enveloped by warm and gentle quality music, as an extra to the blanket and the hearth. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Watch them perform one of the album's compositions at a concert in Nashville in 2020. 

Jeff Parker & Rob Mazurek ‎– Some Jellyfish Live Forever (RogueArt, re-issue 2021) ****

In 2015, this music was released on vinyl only, and reviewed by Paul Acquaro, which led to the comments of not being available in the desired format. Fans can be happy today, because the label re-issued the duo of guitarist Jeff Parker and cornetist Rob Mazurek on CD. 

Parker is a precision player, preferring quality of touch and sound, subtlety of phrasing and harmonic changes over speed or volume. Even if four of the five compositions are penned by Mazurek - and recognisably so - the actual tone and voice of the album is really Parker's thing. Mazurek is a master at composing grand themes in unusual rhythms. We do get those, but then in an equally unusual intimate setting. The guitar and the cornet create their joint pieces in a slow, unhurried and deliberate way, letting the music and their instruments resonate quietly, muted, slightly electronically altered at times. 

The music was recorded in May 2013. Many fans will be happy that it's available again. The music is more than worth lsitening to. 

Staniecki & Jachna - Two Souls (Requiem, 2020) ***

The third album is by Wojciech Jachna on trumpet and loops, and Maciej Staniecki on guitar and loops. We've followed the releases by the trumpeter for years and he should hence not be a stranger to our readers. The guitarist comes from a more rock-influenced electronic and ambient ecosystem. This music is all about atmosphere and mood: quiet, subdued, gentle and very melancholy. 

Staniecki's guitar often takes the lead, harmonically, with arpeggio chords, adding inventive crisp additions, with electronic alterations, creating the background for Jachna's lyrical improvisations. 

This will not be for the real avant-garde fan, but with this series of trumpet-guitar duos, we're clearly in a more unassuming, friendly and warm environment. For once, this can be enjoyed too. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, May 14, 2021

Rachel Musson - Dreamsing (577 Records, 2021) ****½

By Sammy Stein

'Reeling' opens the album and is a wondrous excursion along a free improvisational highway of discovery. Musson's blowing is free, her embouchure loose and her interpretation of distinctive elements and changes profound. Musson circles and winds, rising to looping crescendos punctuated with murmured harmonics. There is a beautiful harshness to some of her entries but this is tempered with a delicacy at times which is on the point of being exquisite.

'Peurgh' is a delicious concoction with voiced slap tongue notes strung effortlessly together over the sax lines which emphasise the connection between the voice of the music and the voice of the player because you can hear both clearly. 'For Pauline' is a poem of voice and sax where the narrative is reflected in both tone and essence by the melodic lines and in the very first phrase you get that glorious double note intonation which only players who spend a majority of their time in tune with their instrument can achieve. The track flows between melodic episodes and screaming ones, and it is difficult to work out which interrupts which until there dawns the realisation that both come together to make this track engaging. The rapid keywork is impressive, as are the lovingly held notes at the end of phrases. Musson also knows how to work a silence which is something prevalent in mature musicians. 'Slip' is a short, sweet interlude whilst ' Trollo', also short, is reflective and gentle.'

'Meloose' is a sequence of phrases slotted together in ascension and takes the listener pleasantly towards the dream-like 'Twelveses' before ' Leavenses' adds a sweet, quieter touch. The last five tracks last just over a minute each but 'Slimpets' is almost twice as long at just under three minutes and there is time for Musson to develop several patterns, rhythmic trials and deep, gutsy rolls from the sax before the track winds and soars, the beautifully vibrant reedy notes tempered by the final long hold before 'Parakeet Pete' delivers a hailstorm of dropped clanging sounds and ear splitting woofs and warbles. Too short.

' Syncope' is delicate, experimental and the spoken words of a fall in blood pressure and some apparently random phrased add little here. However, 'Lighthousing', although short, makes up tenfold for this small diversion into confusion.

' Percy Patsy' is nuts - bonkers combinations of long held forceful notes tempered with equally forte runs and rivulets of noise. Glorious.

'Dotses' takes off in a series of spaced slap tongued notes before it develops into a more melodic piece while 'Slinks' is gentle, explorative and breathy. The final track ' Goodbyesing' is a glorious minute or so of sax flowing up from the depths into altisimo and beyond.

The album is mostly very short tracks with 'Reeling' and 'For Pauline' being the exceptions and there is a sense of incompleteness - mainly because there is a desire to hear much more.

Musson explores the aesthetic and tonal qualities of the saxophone , combining lush textural improvisations with spoken word prompts. Multiphonics and over blowing are sprinkled amongst the tracks like sweet toppings and you never know when they might emerge, along with wonderfully worked rivulets of sound which emerges at times with unexpected force. It makes the album a slightly uneasy listen, which works because you never lose awareness.

Recorded in London, Musson’s studio session for this album was scheduled at the very start of the pandemic last year, and the project is emblematic of that deeply uncertain era.

Dreamsing will be available digitally and on CD on May 21.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Thollem’s Astral Travelling Sessions with Alex Cline & Susan Alcorn (Astral Spirits, 2021) ****


During a LiveEye TV interview in 2018, while discussing his rationale and inspiration for choosing to live a steadfastly itinerant lifestyle—he’s been perpetually on the road for over a decade—Thollem asserts that “comfort and predictability are an illusion.” This aphorism, embodied through his peripatetic daily life, is evidently consummated in his music on this album.

Thollem is a 54-year-old pianist and keyboardist who has released over 60 albums since 2005. His compositional and improvisational talents have collaborated with a prolific lineup of artists, including William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Nels Cline, Rob Mazurek, Michael Bisio, and many others. This recording—comprising separate sessions with Alex Cline and Susan Alcorn—is from a 25-album series titled Thollem’s Astral Travelling Sessions that includes 70 improvising musicians with whom Thollem recorded during his 2019 tours. As of this writing, about 10 albums have thus far been released, and the remainder will manifest periodically through October 2021.

The first track on this album is an impressive 40-minute performance of Thollem improvising on acoustic piano with drummer/composer Alex Cline, recorded live at the Santa Monica Library in the MLK, Jr. Auditorium as part of the Soundwaves Series run by Jeff Schwartz. The remaining five tracks on the album are Thollem performing on a Waldorf Blofold Synth with the composer and pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, recorded at her home in Baltimore. The physical CD includes all of the above recordings, but the digital formats separate into one set with Susan Alcorn and another with Alex Cline.

Take heed: this is music that casts a spell. While listening, I'm transfixed—like a passenger being driven somewhere, resolutely moving forward, yet so captured by the intricate detail of the immediate scenery on each consecutive stretch of road that I strain to recall where I just came from, and am suddenly quite unsure where I’m going. This experience is especially true during the first track with Thollem and Cline. It sounds entirely improvised, yet this duet creates nimble transitions in style and tempo and dynamic with a synchronicity that belies their commitment to deep listening. At times cinematic with sweeping romantic gestures full of emotion, other times minimalist with bells and gongs inviting the sublime expression of a quiet temple meditation, and still other times driving hard rock rhythms that resolve into startling cannon-like explosions—this piece references then supersedes many musical genres with grace and virtuosity, a thrilling listening experience!

I’m no more familiar with “astral traveling” than the average novice meditator, but the vibe of a formless journey is definitely invoked on Thollem’s zero-gravity performances with Susan Alcorn, whose album Pedernal landed on quite a few “best of 2020 jazz” lists. In Brad Cohan’s 2018 article on Thollem for Bandcamp, Thollem states that “every instance is an opportunity to rediscover the human organization of sound, energy transfer, and personal dynamics.” On these five tracks, Alcorn and he can be heard seizing opportunities for rediscovery with zeal, the results being a mesmerizing wash of diverse electronic moods and textures. The artists’ sounds complement each other exquisitely, whether they be steely and industrial, or warmly floating and brooding, or a frenzied shattering, or a hushed lullaby. These are beguiling improvisations from artists shaping a sonic space full of drifting and diving—musical gestures that impart the listener with a buoyant sense of groundlessness.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Daniel Lercher, Sabine Vogel - Bogong Dam (self-released, 2021) ***½

By Keith Prosk

Electronics musician Daniel Lercher and flautist Sabine Vogel embody the room in the performance through echolocation on the seventeen-minute track, Bogong Dam.

Recorded in 2015 within the titular, chambered dam of Bogong Village, Australia, the track captures changes in the performance space as Vogel moves through it while playing. Lercher’s electronics whistle and whine, click, buzz, and crackle, pierce the air with high-frequency sine wave crests or baffle and distort it with white noise. Vogel’s air notes, key clicks, and tongue slaps mingle with austere bittersweet shinobuesque melody, sometimes seemingly throwing sound around the room with a hard blow and a twist of the torso. The duo maintains a generous space without silence and a relatively quiet range of dynamics, communicating most noticeably through pulse, discrete electronics met with discrete flute techniques, sustained with sustained. Occasionally sines appear to extend flute tones, blending with their reverb and carrying on in some similar way. The reverb is palpable, every sound bouncing among the dense, hard dam walls. The close-listening ear can hear changes in the size of the various chambers, maybe proximity to a microphone, wall, or corner, but the finer points of the space are lost without a dimensional plan of the dam, a path of movement, or a more homogenous echolocation technique. Sometimes, when Lercher and Vogel stop sounding, the ghosts of electronics and flute still dance together in the room.

Bogong Dam is a digital-only release.

isolated . connected update

Sabine Vogel also brought her isolated . connected project to a close on March 25, 2021, after exactly one year of asking musicians to record a solo in communication with the previous solo before they ask another to do the same with theirs. Since reviewing the initial release, only solos and overdubbed duos are presented, without overlaying all the tracks for an ensemble effect. It grew to include 19 musicians, with over three hours of new recordings and a total of roughly seven hours presented for listening, ending with a Vogel/Vogel duo of the first and last solos. It’s amazing how vivified, threaded, and intentional each solo appears when overdubbed with the next, even the Vogel/Vogel duo, which were the only solos not in direct communication. It provides a vital glimpse into the underrepresented Mexican improv scene. And it networked new collaborations, like Audrey Chen & Kaffe Matthews’ Breathing Air as Dark Swallows on Takuroku, another important pandemic effort. While there have been innumerable inventive ways to maintain and build community around this music during the pandemic, isolated . connected is surely among the most impactful started by an individual.

The musicians that contributed to isolated . connected include, in order: Sabine Vogel (bass flute, preparations, amplified piccolo flute); Michael Theike (clarinet); Kaffe Matthews (digital oscillators with the glu-box, processing through resampling); Audrey Chen (voice); Id m theft able (voice); Andrea Pensado (voice, electronics); Tracy Lisk (drums); Hermoine Johnson (prepared piano); Reuben Derrick (saxophone); Sumudi Suraweera (drums); Brian Allen (trombone); Natalia Pérez Turner (cello); Amanda Irarrázabal (contrabass); Dario Bernal Villegas (snare drum, a big copper plate, some small percussion, manipulated field recordings); Sarmen Almond (voice); Fernando Vigueras (acoustic guitar played with two bows); Rodrigo Ambriz (voice, 4-track cassette recorder); Anton Mobin (prepared chamber); and Dirk Serries (acoustic archtop guitar).

isolated . connected is a digital-only release.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Paul Lovens/Florian Stoffner - Tetratne (ezz-thetics, 2020) ****½

By Martin Schray

After 23 seconds, it’s there for the first time: a huge, deep boooom. Paul Lovens, the veteran drummer of German free jazz, uses his bass drum like a massive, ultra-low kettledrum. On the one hand he achieves this effect by tuning th e bass drum very low and on the other hand by using a very soft lambskin mallet on the foot pedal. Moreover, the bass drum is not only tuned very deep - also both heads are completely unmuffled, no hole is allowed to be cut into the front-head and if blankets and cushions are found inside the drum they are rigorously removed*. The contrast with his shrill cymbal work, his extended materials and rim shots of the toms and snare is striking (and something I haven't noticed in his music so prominent before). Moreover, these deep, drone-like thumps structure the improvisation, propelling it, slowing it down, dragging it forward again and pumping it up - especially in the first and second parts of the recording.

Stoffner and Lovens. Photo provided by Paul Lovens.

Tetratne documents a performance by Lovens and Swiss guitarist Florian Stoffner at the 2019 Sound Disobedience Festival in Ljubljana, it’s their second collaboration apart from their trio album Mein Freund der Baum with Rudi Mahall. The album’s name refers to quadruple structures and thus a physical polyphony - both musicians use all four limbs. For drummers that’s obvious, but Stoffner also uses his legs/feet to operate his effects devices. He also integrates different guitar tunings as an alternative approach to improvisation, making him an ideal accomplishment to Lovens, who also likes to tune his drumheads in an extravagant manner.

In general, the set is a cornucopia of wonderful and exciting ideas. In some passages Lovens really chops and cuts up the music (at the beginning of “Tetratne III“, for example). Sometimes he seems to climb down scales on his kit until he reaches the very bottom (at the aforementioned bass drum). In addition, the two musicians almost echo each other here and there (“Tetratne 1“), as if they were searching for orientation in a huge cave (even coughing noises are used). However, the greatest quality of this album is the fact that Lovens and Stoffner form a real unit, able to play the balls back and forth almost blindly. Stoffner knows to complement Lovens’s finely chiselled play with his sounds. His notes shoot through the room like bullets, bounce off the walls, stretch the space, seem to tumble down stairs. At the right moment, the guitar is like a friendly adversary to the hectic drum sounds or Stoffner lets itself be carried away Lovens. What is more, the two have a feel for the architecture of the improvisation: The beginning of “Tetratne IV“ is a breather, when the duo incorporates a folk-like theme, before they pick up the pace again towards the end. In the exquisite liner notes Evan Parker puts it like this: “Given the presupposition that telepathy is involved, however deeply in the subconscious, and that these brain states are also electrical, then wavelengths are indeed involved but perhaps they are entrained in some way, like the multiplex signals that allow signals to pass in both directions down the same cable“. Very true indeed. Paul Lovens told me that he was glad that he met Florian Stoffner. Me too. Apart from Olaf Rupp’s and Rudi Fischerlehner’s Xenofox this is my favourite guitar/drum duo at the moment.

*Paul Lovens told me that he was lucky that the recording engineer followed his suggestion to place only one omnidirectional above his right knee instead of the usual overhead microphones plus front microphone in front of the bass drum. From there, all drum parts are heard equally clearly, the bass drum sounds the way he hears it. That’s one reason why he likes the recording a lot (s. picture above).

Tetratne is available as a CD.

Watch them at a show at Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro im Coimbra/Portugal:


Monday, May 10, 2021

Audrey Lauro/Giotis Damianidis ‎– Dark Ballads (Silent Water/Mr. Nakayasi, 2021) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Many words have been written about how our close environment (the water that we drink, surrounding trees, the sea, the weather conditions of course) reflect on us. Dark Ballads, the duo recording of Audrey Lauro on alto sax and Giotis Damianidis on electric guitar, seems to takes inspiration (“a mineral evocation of the intimate” as we can read about the LP) from all this, the feelings that minerals, the soil of Earth evokes in all of us.

Dark Ballads consists of six fragile tracks, three of them named after minerals. On the notes about this LP we can also read about the inner landscapes of the two. Adding to this thought, I might say that those six tracks (clocking on around thirty five minutes) are the audio results of their inner landscape. Dark Ballads is based on feelings and atmosphere and, of course, on the interaction of the two. Each track seems like a small linear journey that is continued on the next one. Electric guitar and saxophone have been a combination of choice for many duos but here there’s a difference. The focus is not on the energy of electricity and how it also translates, or moves in a parallel manner, through the gnarls and howls of the saxophone.

This is about the ambience, the atmosphere, emotions that are carved out by the two musicians. Thirty five minutes might seem a little short in duration, but Dark Ballads feels so full of the weight of the feelings, that the listener gets the impression of being overwhelmed –always in a positive way. This release is a slow beast. It conjures of ways to grasp you, take a hold of your thoughts until you are focused only to its six tracks. It succeeds for sure.

Music can be entertaining, a joy, maybe even make you laugh and of course urge you to dance your ass off. But it can also drag you deeper, reflecting on thoughts, memories, ideas, feelings. Dark Ballads is as dark it can get and (that’s a big personal compliment) it makes it really difficult to categorize it. Like those overwhelming feelings of joy and sadness together. Strong feelings coming from no apparent source other than your soul.


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Jonas Cambien Trio - Nature Hath Painted The Body (Clean Feed, 2021) ****

Belgian-born, Oslo-based pianist Jonas Cambien chose a quote from the 1653 book The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton for the title of the third studio album of his trio. This illustrated book celebrated the art and the spirit of fishing in prose and verse. You can equate the aesthetics of Jonas Cambien Trio to the experience of fishing. This trio is not interested in capturing heavy, well-crafted textures but is focused on the experience itself of music-making, stressing that nothing is out, nothing is prohibited, and that the music goes everywhere, unpolished, challenging and surprising. Like fishing, music-making is a means for exploration of your art and yourself as a creative artist (and, obviously, as an attentive listener).

Cambien also chose perfect partners for his musical journeys. André Roligheten, who plays the soprano and tenor saxes and the bass clarinet, plays in drummer Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity and Supersonic Orchestra, Friends & Neighbors quintet, the duo Albatrosh and sax player Eirik Hegdal’s Team Hegdal. Drummer Andreas Wildhagen plays in fellow drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit, Lana Trio and in various Nakama’s musicians cooperative-label projects. Both played on the previous albums of the Trio, all released by Clean Feed. Cambien plays also the soprano sax on one piece and the organ on another two pieces.

Cambien composed all the pieces but his compositions are simple and suggestive baits for collective trio improvisations. The trio, in its turn, never repeats itself and searches for new modes of conversational, open and playful dynamics, improvisation strategies and moods. The trio plays - literally - as it deconstructs and reconstructs Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics motives on “1 000 000 Happy Locusts” and experiments with a repetitive, rhythmic theme on “Herrieschoppers”. Cambien and Roligheten soprano sax duet on “Hypnos” offers an abstraction of imaginary whirling dervishes dance and serves as an introduction for “Mantis”, where the Trio dives deeper into an irresistible, mysterious trance-like dance “The Origins of Tool Use” is an open improvisation with Cambien playing prepared piano and organ, and the following “Bushfire” employs a repetitive theme in search of an introspective interplay. “Freeze” alternates between the chamber, sparse segments that rely on extended techniques of all three musicians, and sudden and powerful outbursts. Roligheten adds Mediterranean veins into the stubborn ostinato of “Yoyo Helmut”. The last piece is a twisted but emotional ballad, articulated beautifully by Cambien on the piano and organ, and subverted cleverly by Roligheten’s exploration of extended breathing techniques and Wildhagen’s sparse, mechanical drumming.

Nature hath painted the body of the fish with whitish, blackish, brownish spots, according to Walton. Jonas Cambien Trio’s fishing-like journey is colored with fresh, brilliant intuitive and almost telepathic dynamics.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Tania Caroline Chen & Wadada Leo Smith - Every Leaf (Self, 2021) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Of all Wadada Leo Smith's incredible output, only a few are duets with pianists, such as "Interludes Of Breath And Substance" with Matthew Goodheart, "Twine Forest" with Angelica Sanchez, "A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke" with Vijay Iyer, and the albums reviewed by us both received a five-star rating. We could appear very generous, but I can only ask the reader/listener to check for themselves. 

In 2017 he released a quartet with Tania Chen, Henry Kaiser and William Winant: "Oceans Of Storms", in which Chen and Smith perform a duet, which was then described as "one of the highlights of the album for the purity of sound" of the piece. 

Now we find Tania Caroline Chen and Wadada Leo Smith for a wonderful duo album of piano and trumpet. 

Whereas the duo with Iyer was a more subdued, polished, solemn, streamlined and a little sentimental (ECM!), and the duo with Angelica Sanchez was more jazzy and dynamic, intense, unpredictable, angular, playful at moments, rebellious, Tania Caroline Chen's playing is more abstract, with a wonderful approach of gentle austerity, precise and not jazzy in her chords or phrases. Chen is a classical pianist, and her catalogue mainly consists of works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Arnold Schoenberg, Erik Satie and other modern composers, even if she also worked the free improvising pianists in the UK: John Tilbury and Steve Beresford. In her work, she moves easily between tonality and atonality, composed and improvised, inside and outside, acoustic and electronic, but here she performs purely acoustic.

The album was recorded in 2017 in a studio in California. All nine pieces, the titles of which refer to trees, were recorded in one take. Possibly that accounts for the natural flow of the performance, and its authenticity. Like growing trees evolving into branches and leaves, the improvisations move without pressure. This is not music that's crafted, but rather created organically, by two master musicians. 

Over the years, we've come to recognise and admire Smith's small ensemble improvisations: his trumpet resonates deeply, whether muted or not, with a deep emotional and spiritual component. He manages to lift every sound to a higher level, more meaningful, grand, majestic and memorable. 

Readers who have liked the duo albums with Matthew Goodheart, Angelica Sanchez and Vijay Iyer, will without a doubt also like this album. It's in the same vein, but not the same. Smith remains himself, with his unique voice, but Chen, like the other pianists, also has her own voice with a smart use of minimalism, silence, shifting harmonies and changes of intensity, giving a totally different colour and sentiment to Smith's playing. The result is different. 

The quality of the production is also excellent thanks to the capable ears and skills of our former colleague Ed Pettersen. 

Highly recommended. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, May 7, 2021

Two Tim Berne Duets

Matt Mitchell / Tim Berne - 1 (Screwgun, 2020) ****

By Stephen Griffith

In the May 2018 issue, Downbeat conducted a blindfold test for Tim Berne. When discussing a Zorn composition he stated, paraphrasing from memory, that John goes into the studio with specific ideas on how he wants each participant to sound in a composition unlike Berne’s approach in wanting the musicians to develop the role with their identities. I thought of that often regarding his relationship with Matt Mitchell, whether in Snakeoil and previously released duets, but particularly in this collection of solo piano interpretations of Berne’s compositions, a spellbinding reworking that still contains the stamp of the composer but gently nudges the listener to examine the lyricism in a different way.

The genesis of this recording began when Berne first encountered Mitchell in the summer of 2008 when both taught at the Brooklyn School of Improvised Music’s workshop and performed in the faculty concert. Discovering they were musically sympatico led to increasing concert interactions: a seven piece Adobe Probe concert at the Stone in January 2009, an early version of Snakeoil called Los Totopos in September 2009, and in December 2009 at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia Matt played an opening solo piano set of Tim’s songs before joining Adobe Probe for the second set, the latter of which was released by Screwgun in June 2020, the same release date for 1 which was recorded at Ibeam on June 30, 2010. This wasn't the first time they recorded as a duo but it's the earliest performance to be released. Snakeoil was Berne’s first new band after a prolonged period of one off performances and it gave him an opportunity to revisit older unrecorded compositions and expose them to younger musicians anxious to apply their imprints. One of Berne’s strengths as a composer is in balancing freedom and form and in Mitchell he found a counterpoint to his insistently probing alto lines with ambidextrous melodicism capable of generating complimentary rhythmic propulsion. In the informative liners Matt gives background info for each composition as well as unlisted pieces that they segued into. For example the second piece, “Scanners” which was eventually recorded on the first Snakeoil album in January 2011, they start so strongly and familiarly that you don't miss the clarinet of Oscar Noriega nor Ches Smith’s drums in the swirling alto and piano lines. When things wind down they transition into an earlier composition of Matt’s before ending on a Berne song which never made it to record. I find these early versions of Snakeoil compositions fascinating because they're too fully formed to call them works in progress while still subject to the pushes and pulls of further performances, not to mention differing instrumentation, to morph into something different through time. And as Berne pointed out in an interview shortly after the release of Snakeoil, different studio takes of the same songs sounded wildly different.

Two other pieces here, “Duck” and “All Socket”, ended up on this followup Snakeoil recording as “Cornered (Duck)” and “Socket” recorded in January 2013 and greatly altered with the passage of time but still recognizable in the melody. At the conclusion of “All Socket” Mitchell plays a wigged out stride-ish figure that was a strikingly unique way to close it. One other piece, “Traction” from Berne’s book of work was previously appended to “Jalapeño Democracy” on a live Science Friction recording.

Although Snakeoil was the relatively concurrent destination of these pieces perhaps it's just as useful to consider this performance as an early version of the Berne and Mitchell duo entity realized in three subsequent recordings and ongoing still. Whichever context you place it in, it's a very coherent and adventurous performance providing rewarding listening through repeated exposure.

Tim Berne / Mark Helias - Blood From a Stone (Helias Self Release, 2020) ***(*)

After the frenzied assertiveness of two musicians still in the learning curve of becoming familiar, this recording represents the opposite musical dynamic: two bandmates from the early 80s making music as an incidental part of a small social gathering over a weekend last September. They carved out two blocks of time in the studio to record these five joint compositions. Initially it sounds like Helias, a wonderfully melodic bassist, sets a rhythmic motif which Berne follows and embellishes in a somewhat uncharacteristically placidly reactive manner, although as the first track, “Throw Me A Bone” progresses the roles reverse and further trade offs occur for the duration. If the track order reflects when they were recorded, the third cut, “Physical Responsibility”, is where Tim’s playing becomes more assertive with subdued fireworks and continues accordingly through the rest of the session. It's a very relaxing musical reunion of two longtime friends.

In the Bandcamp notes, Mark credits Tim for having urged him at the beginning of his career to overcome his reticence in putting his music in front of the public by recording it prior to the usual commitment from a label and then, years later, encouraging him to make a solo bass recording; all successfully executed and received. Maybe the nature of their long musical relationship is borne out by these songs.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Marco Colonna & Alexander Hawkins - Dolphy Underlined (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2020) **** ½

By Matthew Banash

Tribute albums, for lack of a more precise term, double down on the task. Cosmetic comparisons yield simple dichotomies, plain one-dimensional statements and conclusions that neither reward nor encourage deep listening. Does one listen only to the recording at hand or in the context of its concept?

While Dolphy’s versions are polyphonous they are never cacophonous and employ a split-second deliberateness in conception and execution that illustrates intellect over flash but never at the expense of Soul. In my opinion they are the perfect gateway to the sense and sensibility of the “free jazz” that followed. Colonna and Hawkins approach them as Compositions and not just mere tunes to travel “Out There” and succeed in exploiting the parameters of the duo to parse out the range of Dolphy’s compositions and aesthetic almost as if note by note in an aural funhouse hall of mirrors.

“Something Sweet, Something Tender” is typical of the album in such a good way - Colonna and Hawkins play slowly parsing out the tune note by note, taking that moment’s consideration before each turn of note and phrase and in doing so draw the listener into Dolphy’s world, the world of free, unfettered uninhibited expression.

Hawkins’ solo reading of “Serene” has spare ECM quality to it. He opens by allowing the notes their lifespan before playing another and suspends time by doing so; the song makes its own way touching on a variety of moods and runs, hinting here and there, skirting the issue at times, its strength is the low-key energy Hawkins musters to sustain the song's mood. One can visualize him leaning into the keyboard then sitting back with everyone aural epiphany.

Colonna plays sopranino on “Gazzelloni” with a light evanescent tone grounded by Hawkins’ sure touch. And here is where a lot of duo recordings fall into rote cliches of leading following battling resolving or just play ignoring one another and putting a lot of effort into it. But here the two manage to do all in the spirit of the music without dismissing the listener. Because the music in all its variety and influences is inclusive. And Colonna and Hawkins always leave space for the listener.

“Straight Up and Down” uses that riff and tongue slap as Hawkins skips about the keyboard before they settle into their grooves. Here it isn’t deconstruction as much pacing and appreciation. This is not a dry mechanical scholarly approach to Dolphy. And then you get to 2’20'' and get the classic line, the woozy, gauzy one, and you realize, Holy S… Dolphy could write hooks!

“God Bless the Child” is Colonna’s solo take on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is an outlier as it focuses on Dolphy’s approach to interpretation rather than composing. It is a lovely, timeless piece. Colonna uses a good bit of range as the solo echoes and reverbs like a reverent voice resounding in an old church.

On “245” the duo digs into the choicest riffs and manage to create the noir feeling of the original by playing it, not updating it or deconstructing it. It has a lugubrious slow ending that one can’t help but think of the tragically short life of its composer.

Recordings like Dolphy Underlined illustrate how Eric Dolphy opened the music wide for successive generations to play as they wish and Colonna and Hawkins do just by paying homage to the music and the artist by being thoughtful, passionate musicians, by being themselves.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Daniel Carter, Brad Farberman, Billy Martin - Just Don't Die (Ropeadope Records, 2019) ***½

By Gregg Miller

This album has grown on me. I am maybe 30 listens in, and the groove has started to take.

I’ve been a huge fan of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter since at least 1998. He would play at Tonic (NYC) and when things got hot, he would take off his long-sleeved flannel shirt to reveal underneath, yes, a second long-sleeved flannel shirt. His work on Matthew Shipp’s Strata (hatOLOGY, 1998) first tuned me into his playing. His duo Astonishment (577 Records, 2001) with Frederic Ughi was on permanent rotation for many years, along with Principle Hope featuring the late Peter Kowald (Sublingual, 2002), Chinatown (Not Two, 2005) and the very relaxed Emergence (Not Two, 2009) with Eri Yamamoto and Whit Dickey.

On this record, Daniel Carter’s tenor sound is typically husky yet sinuous, his flute seductive, his trumpet with mutes is just so intimate. He is in direct communication always. Brad Farberman on electric guitar with some distortion and a drop of wah generally keeps it simple. He finds five note clusters and calmly works the variations until it’s time for a change. Billy Martin (of Medeski, Martin and Wood) generally keeps his attacks funky—usually in sync with Farberman’s guitar. Though his groove-setting prowess is formidable, the music here works best when Martin’s drumming loses the time-keeping and becomes another vector of improvisation with pulse, tones and energy. Martin’s brushes (track 4) on snare feel alive.

The record opens up with an Eastern flute vibe, a crushed, tremelo-wah guitar, and random crashing bells. The toms come in and a groove sets in which turns the Eastern into ornament. The drums and guitar synch up, and Carter’s flute is left to spin in the wind. The drumming speeds up, and the guitarist’s 2-note toggling becomes insistent. Martin falls a bit too readily into back-beat shuffles, which at times makes Carter’s looping daydreamy lines feel out-of-sequence wrong or superfluous; Carter sensing this tries a bit to get down with the groove, but that’s not quite his thing.

In the record’s best moments (tracks 1 and 3), we get a floating world of music, but more often we get two against one. The guitar/drums pair seem super in sync, which makes Daniel Carter, a true master, left too often out on his own, sometimes as leading melody, but more often just a tad lost. One of the free electric guitar/drum duo records I keep going back to is Giant DwarfRabbitwood (Engine Studios, 2012). It has the virtue of being decluttered and direct. It’s sort of the record I want the Carter/Farberman/Martin record to be (just add a horn player), which naturally is unfair, since this these three have their own chemistry. For a truly excellent exchange and integration of Daniel Carter with electric guitar/effects and drumming, check out the track “Harmoniums at Midnight” on the transcendent Mysterium (Eavesdrop, 2004) with Morgan Craft and Eric Eigner. (See here).

In his interview with Simon Sargsyan, here is Brad Farberman’s reflection on the outing:

“Recording Just Don’t Die with Daniel Carter and Billy Martin was a really special day for me. I had sort of grown up on the music of Medeski Martin & Wood and I was a little nervous. I had always wanted to play with Billy. And though I had been playing with Daniel for a long time, I wanted to make music he would be happy with. And at the end of the day, I felt okay about what had happened, but I wasn’t totally convinced it was a success. But when I listened back, I felt really good about it. We had all been listening so well. And as is so often the case, our first jam was the best. In fact, that’s the record—the very first hour we ever played. First-time energy can be really electric.” 


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Two from alto saxophonist Audrey Lauro

lauroshilau - live at Padova (el Negocito, 2021) ***½

By Keith Prosk

Audrey Lauro (alto saxophone, preparations), Pak Yan Lau (toy pianos, synthesizers, electronics), and Yuko Oshima (drums) freely play tense, textural, whirling soundscapes on the setlength live at Padova. It is the overdue followup to the self-titled debut from 2014.

The trio language is tight, sticking close to each other in speed, volume, and timbre. So close sometimes that the ear might confuse fluted cymbals for shrill sax, saxophone bubblings and pops for cavernous synthesizer clicks, synth distortion for shimmering cymbals, so on. Movement is unhurried but constant, progressive but almost circular in the kind of tug and pull similar textures from dissimilar instruments. Volume is quiet - enough to hear a cough - but never silent and, while there are dynamic fluctuations perhaps familiar to the forty-minute free improv set, they are closer to hibernation and the onset of doom than ecstatic groove and climax. Textures come from a blend of traditional play and extended technique, languourous sax lines with air notes and chirpings, sparse tom hits and orchestral bass drum rumblings with parallel play, conventional synth sounds with alien ones and muted percussive piano. But the focus is always on the sound and its interaction with those from others, rather than melody. The tension never really releases, which only contributes to the kind of darker moods that Lauro seems to conjure up with much of her music.

live at Padova is available digitally and on CD.

Audrey Lauro/Giotis Damianidis - Dark Ballads (Mr. Nakayasi, 2021) ***

Lauro and electric guitarist Giotis Damianidis improvise moody, brooding atmospheres on Dark Ballads. Lauro and Damianidis have recorded together on The Ear Cannot Be Filled With Hearing from Giovanni Di Domenico, a fruitful relationship with whom they both frequently work with on other recordings (indeed mixing and mastering this one). Just last year, Damianidis released the propulsive fusion of The Miracle and Lauro contributed powerful, textural, tense pieces to 点字呼吸の領域 [The Region of Braille Respiration. Dark Ballads blends those two approaches for six tracks with a substrate of distorted riffage and saxophone that alternates between conventional and extended techniques to create a grim dialogue over 36 minutes.

The mineral tracks (1, 3, and 5), are textural playgrounds for Lauro. Like overblown, hoarse, high and tinny war horns on “Obsidienne” , or the percussive “Almandin” with pointillistic phrasings and the scratch and pop of saliva in the bore. The ballad tracks (2, 4, 6) are still colorful - containing reedy vibrato, key clicks, and smooches - but more characterized by sultry, noirish, dark jazz lounge musings; it might feel cheap to make this comparison but I couldn’t shake the image of Harry Caul soloing at the end of The Conversation, sitting alone in the apartment he’s ripped apart in a paranoid frenzy. Communication with the guitar is light and spacious, sometimes more obvious with call and response type reactions but more often through textural compliments; hairy distortion to match saliva in the bore, light feedback for overblows, staccato picking with cavernous reverb for key clicks. While spacious, there is never silence, but rather an amplifier hum or lingering pool of reverb. Damianidis sprinkles in effects and techniques like tremolo and palming but most often rips a heavy riff over which Lauro plays. Sometimes, as on “(part 2),” the undulations of the sax and guitar synchronize for a visceral throb. There’s heavier, doomier, harsher fusings of jazz and metal inspirations, and others revel in the kitschy dark lounge of a Lynchian nightmare to greater degrees, but Dark Ballads operates in strange and strangely alluring space between.

Dark Ballads is available digitally and on LP.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Vincent Chancey, Wilber Morris & Warren Smith - The Spell - The Vincent Chancey Trio Live, 1987 (No Business, 2020) ****

 By Stef Gijssels

A review of this album was long due. The trio consists of Vincent Chancey on French horn, Wilber Morris on bass and Warren Smith on marimba and drums, a live recording in New York from October 1987. 

The French horn is an unwieldy and rare instrument in jazz, and definitely as a lead instrument. We have covered several albums on which Chancey performs (with Kowald, with Taylor Ho Bynum and at the Vision Festival 2019). Other French horn mentions on our blog are about Mark Taylor, Elena Kakaliagou, Hild Sofie Tafjord (Zeitkratzer), Lis Rubbard, Tom Varner and Chris Weddle. That's not much in 14 years, and it makes this album all the more interesting and memorable. 

Of the four tracks (two on each side) two are penned by Morris, one by Chancey and one by Smith, and with the exception of the one by Smith, the pace is slow and bluesy, the perfect tempo for the lead instrument to reach its full power of emotional depth and more supple changes of pitch. Apart from Chancey's beautiful horn, the other memorable aspect is Smith's marimba playing. He starts on drums on the long first track, but switches to marimba halfway and the combination with the French horn works really well. The short third track is led by Smith's drumming and offers a more free form uptempo work-out. 

Morris is the ideal partner in the trio, moving easily between pizzi and arco, often creating the solid backbone of the pieces. The infectious theme of his composition "Afro Amerin" will keep playing in your head long after the album is finished. 

On the downside, the 'live' effect has been edited out with no applause at all, and second, the quality of the recording is not excellent, leading to a quite remote sound. But I guess that was a decision the label had to make, and we can only be extremely grateful that No Business did release this music. I'd rather listen to this great music with suboptimal sound quality than to have missed it altogether. 

A unique and compelling album. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Olaf Rupp - NOBEACH (Audiosemantics, 2020) ****½

By Martin Schray

For Olaf Rupp, playing solo is an ensemble form like any other. As to his musical philosophy social and musical interaction is an interesting part of improvised music, but nothing more. It’s primarily about the music itself and the spontaneous development of musical ideas, which is just as complex in solo improvisation as in other forms of playing. In an interview with the Austrian magazine Freistil, Rupp said that in solo performance he knew what he had to play, that he only needed his hands and that everything then runs by itself. In groups, the music depended on many factors, he continued. For him the chemistry between the musicians is difficult to assess because the interplay doesn't always work. The larger the group, the greater the share of concepts, rhetoric and dominance. He thinks that it’s not the best ideas that prevail, but those that are presented most skilfully. He himself is rather interested in the spontaneous development of musical ideas, which is why he prefers trios, duos and especially solos.

His latest solo release, NOBEACH, is Olaf Rupp’s bow to Hans Reichel, the late great German guitarist, especially to his albums Bonobo Beach and Coco Bolo Nights (which can also be seen in the titles of the individual pieces). But while Reichel always had a smorgasbord of his often self-made instruments at hand, Rupp limits himself to the electric guitar and effects units. Similar to Reichel, Rupp doesn't care about stylistic boundaries. You can hear wide spatial sound surfaces, percussive tone chains rich in overtones, arpeggios and whistling harmonics, major and minor tones, echoes of Tortoise and Sonic Youth, scraping and scratching noises. It’s like bringing together a philosophy of sonic condensation and piling up sounds in the style of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman with the more open, spacious approach of - say - Bill Frisell and Kenny Wheeler. On the one hand, this is absolutely avant-garde (as in “NOWHERE“) and on the other hand, it’s reminiscent of post rock or Jimi Hendrix’s sound garden, because Rupp does not shy away from tonal harmony and subtle melodies, even if they are strangely alienated (“NOKOKOBOLO“) or buried in noise (“NOVEMBER“). Some of the music does have a disorienting effect, but there’s even a weird ambient music feel to some of the tracks, which has the effect of crawling into the ear almost casually. It’s music that follows the sounds and lets the notes unfold in space.

Rupp’s idea of playing is rich, deep and mysterious; it’s diverse and complex without being “off the wall“. However, it has nothing ordinary about it since it’s interwoven with a supernatural beauty. It seems as if the sounds are carried like a feather in the wind - light and supple they glide up and down. Besides the unpredictability of form, his music is characterised by tenderness, care and clear-sighted passion. And by uncompromising authenticity. Olaf Rupp simply plays life.

NOBEACH is available as a digital release. You can buy the album and listen to two tracks here:

A short interview with Olaf Rupp about digital releases and music in times of the pandemic

Olaf Rupp, photo by Marcel Meier

By Martin Schray

FJB: How do you get through the pandemic?

Olaf Rupp: The emergency aid for freelancers may not be used for living expenses, while large companies that receive emergency aid may even distribute dividends to their shareholders. At the same time, musicians are not allowed to have too much non-musical income in order not to fall out of the KSK (the German health insurance for artists). All musicians are sent into the HARTZ4 system (social welfare) while the income-neutral crisis basic income is not really discussed. That’s a crass state of affairs. In times like these, I wouldn’t dare talk in public about how I get by. There's a rough wind blowing. However, I do get by. There are always sensible, responsible, helpful people in all this madness.

FJB: Have you released more music via platforms like bandcamp since the pandemic began?

Olaf Rupp: No, I also started getting interested in download releases before the pandemic. There are simply too many labels that pass on all or most of the production costs for the recordings to the musicians. The idea of what the term “label“ once meant has changed fundamentally in the last few decades. Bandcamp is one of the ways to react to this change.

FJB: Consequently, you have recently published some things only via bandcamp, e.g. your solo album NOBEACH. Why have you only released it digitally?

Olaf Rupp: Well, it's still audiosemantics, my own label. Bandcamp is just the distribution, so to speak. At the beginning of the pandemic, that really helped me. I also think that downloading is definitely a good medium to fly under the radar of neoliberal insanity. Unfortunately, no one wanted to publish NOBEACH on vinyl or as a CD right away. At the moment I'm happy to pay my rent and buy strings.

FJB: Does it pay off at least a little bit?

Olaf Rupp: It was important to me to only offer really excellent stuff on bandcamp. So these are all works that I put a lot of work and heart and soul into, some of which I worked on for months, and which I would also release on CD or vinyl at any time. I think that in the long run, it’s worth it. People notice that these are not just quick recordings from the rehearsal room or bootlegs.

FJB: Do you think digital only releases will be the future for music?

Olaf Rupp: Improvised music is live music. Living music! Without concerts there will be no future.

FJB: Do you look forward to the summer/autumn and hope that there will be live concerts again?

Olaf Rupp: Due to social distancing rules, there will be no profitable concerts. So when all the shops open again and the Mallorca bombers fly south again, we will still be doing concerts where only twenty people are allowed to sit in large halls. That’s not feasible. Of course I’m happy about every single concert. And I hope that many organisers will creatively and energetically fight for new hygiene concepts in order to get at least a few performance opportunities. But that is no reason for excessive optimism.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Ivo Perelman & Nate Wooley - Polarity (Burning Ambulance, 2021) ****

By Sammy Stein

Ivo Perelman is a tenor saxophone player who has released over 100 albums across three decades so far. Nate Wooley is one of the leading trumpet players in the US and has played and recorded with many improvisers. This is the fifth time the pair have recorded together and the first time Perelman has recorded a duo with a trumpet player. Wooley is used to playing in the duo format with a reedsman as he has a duo with Ken Vandermark. The album was recorded at Park West Studios in Brooklyn in February 2020 and released in February 2021.

'Four' opens the album, and the track sees Wooley and Perelman engage in musical tag with Perelman setting out phrases which Wooley echoes, adding his intricacies before Perelman switches to elongated held notes with Wooley now setting the patterns - for a while at least this continues until the two enter into a fast and furious exchange of dynamics with the lead changing as quickly as the rivulets of notes which pour from the tenor sax in altissimo. In altissimo, Perelman is one of few players who is as furious as he is in lower registers. Often a player touches altissimo and lingers, maybe for a while as a novelty or to introduce a temporial change in the music, but Perelman uses it as his voice to speak and charge the music with an energy reflective of the man himself. Wooley, too is firing on all cylinders on the track and his intuitive harmonics and counterpoints are a revelation of the innate musicality of this player. The final phrases where Perelman warps and pushes, echoed almost tentatively by Wooley, are interesting.

' Two B' sees the saxophone set off at rapid pace in a series of loose reeded, breathy runs which Wolley echoes and disassembles the patterns to create contrasting runs of his own before both decide to extend and rise with elongated phrases, again swapped back and forth between players. The number is buzzy, fuzzy around the edges and considered - again, that contrast between the players finding a way to engage the listener constantly.

'Seven A' sees the sax largely answering the trumpet at a rate of around seven to one. The trumpet notes are held, the sax notes respond with precision and rapidity as if it has a lot to say, but the trumpet then adds its rapid-fire runs, matching the sax in note number in one fell swoop. The trumpet and sax seem to compete yet also supportive of each other, and the intuition between the players is tangible.

'Three A' is an explorative track where the musicians show their curiosity and their challenging nature, and restlessness. Wooley warps and wails across the phrasing, sounding at times like a drunken swinger, his harmonies hitting the mark just enough to remain connected with the saxophone lines.

' Five A', on the other hand, is disharmonic, copiously laced with challenging dissonance, and at times the contrast is harmonic. At others so disharmonious it could dry paint at 20 metres. Perelman is at once at his most melodic and at the same time at his most ferocious. Both musicians push the boundaries of their instruments, and the combination makes for a stirring listen. This is a joyous journey into duel improvisation, Perelman even allowing a rarely heard intake of breath to be recorded for emphasis.

'Eight' is a boundary-pushing track of interconnected motifs with the vocal Bel Canto - something which Perelman has been studying recently - style coming across. The voice is heard in tortuous snatches, which sound at once slightly mad but at the same time add another tone and texture to the already rich lines.

'Two A' is begun with a swing theme from Perelman in a nod to post-bop jazz elements - a melodic interlude which evolves into an improvised section, echoed and picked up by Wooley before the pair seek out their own improvised lines before interweaving for the final few phrases.

The eponymous 'Polarity' is aptly named for the players who each create their own voice and improvisation roads on this track- each being the guide and then the follower, the subtleties of interaction clear when they come together in harmonics, perfectly aligned and yet having the confidence once again to diverge and return.

'Nine Short' is short but very sweet with muted trumpet chuckling and warping across the sax lines - which offer little in the way of response other than intricate, short responses, making this track conversational and incredibly engaging.

'Six' finishes the album, and once again, the virtuosity of both musicians shows along with an adroitness for spontaneous yet considered improvisation. There is a poetic influence on this track. There is leader and follower as both musicians swap and throw the lead to each other. Driven by spontaneity yet considerate in the listening and interpretation of the other, the music itself is allowed to guide.

Throughout the album, there is an energy and sense of adventure, each musician willing to take the lead and also to follow, creating a sense of deep understanding between the two musicians. Although the recordings are spontaneous, there is enough coordination and innate harmony; it feels as if there was a lot of pre-thought. There is profound intimacy, yet also a sense of each musician having a distinct character. At once adventurous but also with a sense of reflection and examination, the tracks offer contrasts and conformity, diversion and unity in different proportions and at different stages. There is also a sense of enjoyment as the conversations evolve into cheeky retorts and challenging responses, each seeming to relish how the other player automatically picks up the essence of what they are saying.

Perelman recently discussed the future of jazz with me. He is very much of the notion that freer music is the future of jazz, a view hotly debated by enthusiasts but finding much agreement in players with a sense of adventure and sound music understanding. Hearing two improvisers creating such harmonious cooperation - in spirit and musical terms in the sense of finding out what they can create together whilst referencing classical, traditional jazz pedagogy and yet playing freely makes the idea of free jazz being the way ahead a definite possibility.

Interview with Phil Freeman from Burning Ambulance


We took the occasion of Sammy Stein's review of Ivo Perelman and Nate Wooley's Polarity on the new Burning Ambulances record label to reach out to label founder Phil Freeman with some questions.

Paul Acquaro: Burning Ambulance, the web site, contains a wealth of your writing and podcasts about music. This seems like a good amount of work already ... why take the plunge to also be a record label? Was the decision something long in the making or more spontaneous?

Phil Freeman: I've dreamed of starting a label for many years. I think it's a dream a lot of serious music fans and/or music journalists share — presenting the artists we love to the world, and maybe making a little money out of it. And since 2020 was the 10th anniversary of Burning Ambulance, I thought it was the perfect time to finally just do it. And to be completely transparent, the existence of Bandcamp as a platform made it very easy from a logistical standpoint. Here’s our Bandcamp page.

You started the label in October 2020 with a strong compilation album Eyes Shut, Ears Open, from which the proceeds were split between starting the label and helping with the Jazz Foundation of America’s Musicians’ Emergency Fund. How did the compilation come about? How was the response to it?

First of all, I have to say that the response from the musicians I asked to contribute was unbelievably generous. Some people recorded brand-new tracks, while others shared outtakes from critically praised albums or allowed me to release things they'd been sitting on, all just to help me get the word out about the label. It really gave me the feeling that people had been paying attention to what I'd been up to with BA over the previous decade, and trusted that I was someone operating in good faith. And listeners responded very positively as well, which was great.

Aside from donating to the Musicians' Emergency Fund, do you think that the timing of the launch, in the middle of the pandemic, had any impact? In what way?

That's hard to judge. I expect that people who are stuck at home likely have more time to listen to music, so maybe it got more attention than it might have otherwise. Subsequent releases have been covered very positively, which is nice to see.

Your first release is Polarity by Ivo Perelman and Nate Wooley (see review), how did you select this recording to be your first one?

"Seven A" from Polarity also appeared on the compilation. Basically, when Ivo sent me the track, he said that he wanted to put out the entire album. And when I heard the album, I required no further convincing. Both he and Nate play brilliantly throughout, and as their first duo, it's a unique item in both their discographies.

Another recording on the Bandcamp site is Alkisah from the Indonesian duo Senyawa. It's a progressive metal recording and a pretty heavy affair, much different than Polarity. How did you choose this project?

That almost felt like fate. Very shortly after I decided to start a label, Senyawa announced that they were going to release their next album in a decentralized manner, licensing it to (ultimately) over 40 labels worldwide, each in a different territory. Since I love their music and had profiled them for Bandcamp Daily in 2018 , I reached out, and we agreed to work together. As it turns out, Burning Ambulance Music's version is the only CD edition available in the Americas or the EU (most of the other labels produced vinyl).

Would you say that there is a certain aesthetic that you are going for with the label - both musically and visually?

I think every release we'll put out will be the kind of thing that I would be writing about for the site if someone else had released it. Burning Ambulance has always covered a mix of jazz (both mainstream-ish and out-ish), metal, modern classical, experimental music...basically, we're open to a lot of different sounds. I don't think we'll be releasing any death metal records, despite my love of death metal, but I've been in touch with artists from across the spectrum about potential projects already, so we'll see what the future holds. Visually, we are definitely striving for something unique. All our releases will come in heavy-duty tip-on "mini-LP" sleeves, printed on textured paper, and all the covers and design work are done by BA's co-founder, I.A. Freeman, who has also designed covers for the ESP-Disk' label including Matthew Shipp's The Unidentifiable, Zero, and Signature; Whit Dickey's Morph; Matt Lavelle and Reggie Sylvester's Retrograde; and more. Her work for BA is abstract, with no text on the covers, the better to allow the music and images to harmonize.

Can you tell us about some of your other upcoming releases?

Our immediate future plans are a Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey duo album, Reels, and Echolocation, a collaboration between cornet player Graham Haynes and electronic musician Submerged. Both of those will be out in July. After that, we're working on the debut album by Breath of Air, a trio featuring guitarist Brandon Ross, violinist Charles Burnham, and drummer Warren Benbow, and a disc by Portuguese saxophonist José Lencastre.

To wrap up, is there anything that I should be asking you that I didn't?

Yes, we are accepting submissions for potential 2021 releases, thanks for asking!

Friday, April 30, 2021

James Brandon Lewis' Red Lily Quintet - Jesup Wagon (TAO Forms, 2021) ****½

By Kenneth Blanchard

One of my few memories from South Elementary School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was watching a film about Dr. George Washington Carver. Carver was the genuine Renaissance man. Born the legal property of another man, he was four years old (or so) when the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. He studied music and art, and then agricultural engineering. He is most famous for advancing the use of peanuts as a crop to restore exhausted soil. Here is a man.

He was a frequent subject of heroic paintings. It is doubtful, however, that anyone can ever produce a more beautiful tribute than James Brandon Lewis has in Jesup Wagon, his recording for the new label TAO forms. The latter is out of the gate with such artists as The Ivo Perelman Trio and Matthew Shipp.

Lewis composed the music and plays tenor saxophone. Most of the compositions are centered on dialogues between his sax and Kirk Knuffke on cornet. William Parker, in my opinion one of America’s greatest living jazz composers, plays bass on two tracks. Chris Hoffman is on cello. Chad Taylor plays drums and Mbira on one track, a traditional instrument from Zimbabwe that looks like a set of table knives packed for travel and sounds like a miniature metal drum.

The jazz is simply exquisite. Each theme is richly romantic and follows traditional form: the theme stated and used as portal to new realms of design space. Lewis’s horn reminds me of David Murray in albums such as Ming and The Hill. If you like Murray, you’ll like this.

Listening to “Fallen Flowers,” a call and response theme, did that avant garde thing to me, that feeling I had found it. There is a moment when a phrase that you expect will be played by a horn is instead articulated by the cello. That is a mark of genius in leader and composer.

If the former composition demonstrates Lewis’s surgical skills in the tissue of the human heart, the next one, “Experiment Station,” presents the raw power of his horn. Here is the hard boil of edgy jazz. The next cut, “Seer,” feels more in the mood of a church service. The mbira is a constant reminder of where we all come from. The last cut, “Chemurgy,” a term for the industrial use of raw materials, is a metaphor for jazz itself with an explicit Ornette Coleman vibe.

Did I mention that I liked this album? Don’t miss it.