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Monday, January 31, 2022

Eunhye Jeong - Nolda (Esp-Disk, 2021) ****

By Gregg Miller

Eunhye Jeong’s Nolda is a solo piano disk, full of pathos, shifting dynamics, silence. Cecil quickness, fly-swatting across the keys. A hint of stride. Brooding at times; then, Chopin-esque. Nothing on repeat; notes and sounds, no melodies, no themes. Falling off cliffs; eyes pained by a too-bright sky. Here is a player with all the classical tools, but aiming at a different mark: free romanticism.

On track 1, we have lots of pedal sustain and dynamics. Chord clusters, dissonant and not. Ideas trail away into nothing. Track 2 is brasher. Quick, intense gestures like hard breathing after a set of stairs, notes thrown at you like darts. Playful, but like breaking all the dishes accompanied by a finger nail grip. The third track delivers slow moving chord clusters in the lower register, a landscape dry and unlovely. On tracks 7 and 8, we get some speed angst, alternating with what feels like being in a padded cell, looking for the door, and glad not to find one. No solace here, not really, as the weather turns worse.

For some perspective: Take a listen to Marilyn Crispell’s “Friends from Above” on the brilliant recording Natives and Aliens (Leo, 1997) with Evan Parker’s trio (Barry Guy and Paul Lytton).

Parker sits this one out. Crispell’s playing is in a certain sense all over the map, all over the keys, yet her touch is light and quick, playful and sonorous. Jeong’s hands are generally either heavier or gentler, pursuing less of an overall consistency; she is instead, serially, her own play-partner with some attention deficit problems. Jeong's playing is less fiercely modular than Matthew Shipp's. Nothing on Nolda is as concentrated and focused as, say, Shipp’s “Patmos” on his solo outing One (Thirsty Ear, 2005).

Too, Jeong displays none of the abstract, minimalist DIY aesthetic of Bruno Duplant’s absolutely gorgeous composition performed solo on Fender Rhodes by Frédéric Tentelier, Nocturnes (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020, reviewed by Fotis Nikolakopoulos here).

Instead, Nolda captures the piano as a dynamic resonator of the pianist’s physical urgings. In another direction, if we think of Magda Maya’s modernist, solo piano work, Heartland (another timbre, 2009), nothing like those inside-the-piano techniques are on offer. Here the acoustic string box is presented as intended, through its hammer keys. Jeong’s music on this disk is a serious retort to classical piano using its own tools. It’s a fascinating, beautiful and searching performance.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Pascal Battus/Michel Doneda – Miracle (Potlatch, 2021) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The French improviser Pascal Battus seems like the ideal representative for the unique catalogue of Potlatch. Always experimenting, he has been focusing for many years now on building percussive environments (now, this might be a neologism), utilizing rotating surfaces with whatever has in his hands. From prepared guitars, percussion instruments up to any kind of small electronic device. You should definitely check his work with Bertrand Gauget and Eric La Casa, Ichnites (again on Potlatch) with Christine Abdelnour, plus Froid Solaire, with Magali Sanheira, which came out around the same time as Miracle.

As for saxophonist (here on sopranino and soprano) Michel Doneda what there is to say, that hasn’t been said? I consider him one of the few sax innovators of the past three decades. He has been experimenting within, but mostly out f the jazz boundaries, definitely expanding the instrument’s vocabulary.

On Miracle both artists work in unison, using a method I would call something like concentrated playing together. The listener cannot tell if someone leads the way, if they have any kind of predetermined ideas. I strongly believe they have not. Neither voice stands out from the other. You feel total commitment, a denial of the ego. Their aim seems a dual one. First is to create an a-rhythmic atmosphere. The timbre of the saxes play an integral part in the droneish feeling of the recordings, in all five tracks (clocking just over fifty minutes) of the cd. The rotating surfaces of the instruments Battus is utilizing add up to that non rhythmic feeling. Battus doesn’t resort to the convenience of making them sound “percussive” or producing any kind of rhythm with and by them.

Quite the contrary. He tries to create an atmosphere by them, escalating the audio results track by track. Do not get me wrong though. This is not a noisy recording (it could easily be one) that saturates the listener. Apart from the last track, where the tension rises like they are climaxing, they build their sonic environments little by little. Their plan, if there’s one, was to concentrate with audacity on any non-intimidating element of the music, producing a humble, fragile outcome. It could be called electro-acoustic experimentation, but take it only as a guideline and nothing more. Miracle is just adventurous sound-making.

You can listen and buy here:


Saturday, January 29, 2022

Silvia Bolognesi Young Shouts - A Frame In A Crowd (Fonterossa, 2021)

By Sammy Stein

Silvia Bolognesi is a double bass player, composer, and arranger. She founded the Fonterossa label in 2010 to guarantee freedom of production in full creative autonomy. Fonterossa records offer artists who share Bolognesi's passion for improvisation and contemporary music a cultural space with few limitations. Bolognesi won Music Jazz's best new talent award in 2010, and in the same year, the InSound trophy for double bass. She leads Young Shouts, OPen COmbo, Almond Tree, Xilo Ensemble, Ju Ju Sounds, and Fonterossa Open Orchestra and since 2009 has been part of the international string trio Hear In Now with Tomeka Reid on cello and Mazz Swift on violin and vocals; with this trio, they completed Roscoe Mitchell's sextet in his Homage to John Coltrane in 2017. She is part of the Art Ensemble of Chicago 50th Anniversary special project. She teaches double bass and combo class at the Siena Jazz Academy and at "Associazione Mosaico" in Colle Val d'Elsa (Siena) and since 2016 has been part of the European exchange-Erasmus + program for the Conservatory of Maastricht (Holland), Tbilisi (Georgia), Riga (Latvia), Birmingham (UK). Also, she runs workshops on Improvisation and "Conduction."

Some of the songs on this album were composed during the pandemic, and it follows Young Shouts first album, "aLive Shouts," which was a homage to the music of Bessie Jones. The material taught Bolognesi the value of the audience when she is completing and performing music. These feelings inspired Bolognesi to put them into the new repertoire from Young Shouts is Attilio Sepe on alto and tenor saxes, Emanuele Marsico on trumpet and vocals, Silvia Bolognesi on double bass, and Sergio Bolognesi on drums and electronics.

"'Kick Him Out" sets off with speedy percussion before the horns introduce harmonies, under which rise spoken snatches of bragging conversation. The tenor sax solos across the top of the rhythm section keep up a pounding, relentless background before the trumpet takes the solo spot and works an airy melody across the top interspersed with free playing, which is inspiring. The horns and background voices drop back in, and the track rolls down to a finish with everyone now on board.

"Snap" is arranged initially like a traditional New Orleans street band march with horns dictating the almost funereal pace. Then, Marsico's vocals prove the wait is worth it as he sings with beautiful clarity about holding his breath, singing out, and leaning on a finger snap to introduce a song. The sax solo that follows is uplifted by the intricacies of the rhythms underneath from Bolognesi ( Sergio). The trumpet solo intertwines with these, and the bass beautifully and soars away in a delightful exploration of possibilities, all over a wonderful canted rhythm. The vocals once again sin gout clearly and bring the track back to earth.

"Gallina" is a free-flowing escapade with bass free-styling over the sax and trumpet chordal harmonies. Buzzy, energized, the track explodes into life with syncopated rhythms and counter rising and falling from sax and trumpet, before a section which gets stranger by the second with voices, scratches, and electronic wibbles and wobbles. The trumpet soars across the second third, diving and rising over some beautifully placed offset rhythms and interpretive bass. The sax and percussion then work together with bass adding lustrous notes, the section taking on a modal feel before the track closes, with each musician providing their take on the theme.

"Unknown Friend" begins with thoughtful trumpet in a solo where the gaps have as much meaning as the notes played. There is an anticipation, which the percussion and then sax rise to acknowledge, and these both fill the gaps and add their interpretation of the trumpet's subtle theme. Now in harmony, the rhythm section rises to underpin with power before the sax is left soloing across the drums and bass. A track of many parts, including vocals over a simple but effective bassline, leads the listener through a creative and picturesque landscape.

"Dyani" opens with bass and percussion before sax and trumpet enter, and the tracks rolls along gently, each musician adding a delight of their own before the lyrics of Griffin Alan Rodriguez, sung by Marsico, speak of smoke in your hands reflecting the fire in your soul. A Latin groove to this number emerges strongly at times and at others is taken and played with by the musicians. There is a lovely echo of the sax and trumpet throughout the second third, which shows another facet to their playing, and the ear is drawn frequently to the bass in the background and the solo when it comes.

"A Frame In The Crowd" is just over eleven minutes of experimental investigation of music. The track includes tentative, delicate trumpet, musical vocals, reactive sax, which follows the vocal line and finishes a tone below at one point, adding to the experience. There is a rolling sense of time echoing back and forth on this umber, bringing repeated snippets along with new and interesting deviations on what has gone before, as if a warping has occurred. From full-on loud to gentle quietude, the musicians include many different directions in one track, which still holds its line despite the variations, towards a major key and the final swingy, rhythmic coming together.

With each track, there is a sense of change as the musicians, especially on the solo sections, push out, and the ensemble supports. From the delicate tones of "Unknown Friend" to the almost familiar swing beats of "A Frame In The Crowd" to the unfettered " Gallina," this is an album of many parts and all worth hearing.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Leimgruber / Turner / Dorner / da Boff / Flesh - Untitled (London Leipzig Luzern) (Euphorium, 2021) ****

Let's begin with the players on Untitled (London  Leipzig  Luzern). I had the chance to see saxophonist Urs Leimgruber play in a duo with keyboardist Jacques Demierre (who was playing an enhanced spinnet) and it was, even by the wide berth given experimental music, an unusual show. Leimgruber had extended passages in which he would either simply move his soprano sax around in the air above and around his head, or blow some almost unheard notes. Trumpeter Axel Dörner, works in both in 'jazz-like' settings as well as more exploratory ones where he extends his playing through both acoustic and electronic means creating immersive sound worlds. Similarly with percussionist Roger Turner who too stretches the boundaries of music through his expressive percussion work. These three musicians on Untitled (London  Leipzig  Luzern) are at their most experimental. Now, add Ra Ra da Boff, which is one of the many aliases of keyboardist and composer (credited here as playing electric organ) Oliver Schwerdt, and another electric organ player "Ribo Flesh", which I suspect is also a pseudonym...

The music on this disc was culled from a performance in 2015 in Leipzig. The tracks are split into two electro-acoustic trios - Dörner, Turner, Ra Ra, and Leimgruber, Turner, Ribo - and they improvise long, uninterrupted tracks with approaches that range from a collection of disassociated sounds to a fog of menacing tones. The group often takes just a few notes and stretches them over expanses of time and space. Bursts of organ, scrape of drum, a rattle of sticks, and trumpet flare-ups are not uncommon, but they are unpredictable. During the first track, the organ contributes long drones while the others play seriously around it. Dörner leads the way, with a mix of fluttery breath through the horn and rough patches of sound, while Turner's percussion is sparse, but adding sharp contrasts.

Track two begins with scrapes from the percussion, along with overtones from the organ. A minute later Leimgruber can be heard lightly in the background, his saxophone skillfully hanging on a fine line between pushing air and making sound. The track hovers for a bit before he offers some fully-formed notes, clicking of keys, and jumping off into a register at the edge of humans hearing. As the music gains in intensity, Turner finds the right moments to accentuate the saxophonist's ideas and contributes textural fills. As with the track with Dörner, there is plenty of space. Around 11-minutes in, the organ teases a tonal cluster and the extra harmonic layer is nearly physically palpable. Towards the 18-minute mark, the pulse quickens and Leimgruber launches into a series of up-tempo runs. The swell of the organ and the intense clatter of percussion along with the intense chatter of the saxophone creates an otherworldly auditory experience.

The two tracks on Untitled (London Leipzig Luzern) are studies in patience, deep listening and minimalism. Small changes make big differences, and it is quiet music that requires close concentration. There are also two mini-CDs that contain solos from Dörner and Leimgruber recorded during the same session.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Javier Subatin / Eurico Costa Trio

By Jim Marks

This review picks up a couple of guitarist-led releases from the latter half of 2021 that may not have attracted the attention that they deserve (at least based on Bandcamp sales). Both of the guitarists are active in the Portuguese scene, and both releases feature the bassist Demian Cabaud, like Subatin a transplant from Argentina.

Javier Subatin  Mountains (Habitable, 2021)

Mountains finds Javier Subatin building on a series of strong recordings in the past few years by joining forces with, in addition to Cabaud, Pedro Melo Alves on drums and, on several of the tracks, Joāo Mortágua on alto and/or Ricardo Jacinto on cello and Samuel Gapp on piano (the full sextet plays on “Shadows” and “Solo#5”). The tracks alternate between shorter group improvisations and longer compositions by Subatin in a pattern found elsewhere in (mainly Portuguese?) jazz recordings ( Cabaud’s latest being another example ). Some are noisy and chaotic (“Mountain#5”), and others are gentle and lyrical (“Solo#5,” which is not, in fact, a solo) and even whimsical (“Birds”). The guitarist prefers a clean (or, as the liner notes put it, “laser-accurate”) tone and is equally effective when soloing and accompanying.

The trio tracks are clustered in the first half of Mountains and the larger ensemble tracks in the second half. With Alves and Cabaud, Subatin develops complex, fluid melody lines often built on arpeggios, and he also gives the three contributors to the larger group ample space to elaborate on his melodies and harmonies. The centerpiece of the group tracks, and of the recording as a whole, is the ten-minute “Mountain#6.” Commencing with a pulsing guitar figure and gentle blowing by Mortágua, the track evolves as the other instruments join in, drop out, and rejoin, with a fine unaccompanied solo by Cabaud around the midpoint and everything leading back to the opening theme in the last half-minute.

Eurico Costa Trio - Copal (Porta-Jazz, 2021)

The debut by the Eurico Costa Trio, consisting of Marcos Cavaleiro on drums alongside the guitarist and Cabaud, is a fairly straightforward modern jazz guitar record. Costa is a member of several of the groups associated with the Porta-Jazz collective, but this seems to be his first release as a leader under his own name. His playing here is deliberate and measured, only occasionally leading to fiery crescendos (as it does on “corpo:morada”). Costa draws forth the notes deliberately, at times almost hesitantly, as if giving intense thought to each (e.g., “o bosque,” which also includes a fine solo by Cabaud). His tone relies on a touch of distortion and various effects that contribute to the somewhat brooding atmosphere developed and maintained across Copal. Most of the tracks unfold at a measured pace and average around five or six minutes. The arrangements are uncluttered, a good example being the concise title track, on which Costa methodically develops a melody line over shimmering cymbals and rumbling bass.

Cavaleiro and Cabaud on Copal once more show themselves to be one of the great rhythm sections in contemporary jazz, having cemented their chemistry playing together on what must by now be a dozen or more recordings, and their sympathetic accompaniment fills out Costa’s compositions. On “o arauto,” for instance, the bassist gets things started and then Cavaleiro provides increasingly dense washes of cymbals and quick fills that reach an almost dizzying spiral of sound until bass and drums fade and Costa closes things out. “thanks, Calvin” is driven by some arco bass and martial drum rolls with a satisfying shift near the midpoint.

Hopefully, these two recordings, distinct in sound and mood, will eventually come to the notice of the wide range of listeners who would appreciate them. Both blend improvisation and composition and draw on the tradition of guitar-oriented jazz with occasional nods to progressive rock and fusion. There are echoes on Mountains and Copal, direct or indirect, of jazz guitarists from Grant Green to Pat Metheny to Marc Ducret and many points in between, but Subatin and Costa map out their own territories, which are well worth visiting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Der Verboten - Der Verboten (Wide Ear Records, 2021) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

When reviewing "Der Verboten"'s equally self-titled debut album, I wrote "There can only be one track on this album, because there is no need for another approach. Now, four years later, they are back with the evidence to challenge my statement. The French/Swiss quartet is still the same, with Frantz Loriot on viola, Antoine Chessex on sax, Cédric Piromalli on piano, and Christan Wolfarth on percussion. 

The art work of the album reflects the music well. It is dark, ominous, uncompromising, relentless and resolutely single-minded. The first track, "Litanie", is a mesmerising, seventeen-minute long dense fast-moving stream of vibrations around a single tonal center. As a listener, it feels like you're dragged into a maelstrom of sound, or pushed forward by a powerful sirocco from which there is no escape except to move with the flow. Despite the single sonic center, the viola, sax and piano oscillate in varying repetitive phrases and timbres, propulsed forward by Wolfarth's relentless drumming. The music is so powerful, coherent and dense that the individual instruments disappear within the overall wall of sound. 

The second track, "Ether", has a lighter texture, but the interaction is no less intense, with the various instruments approaching each other in their quest to converge, to create homogeneity of sound, and maybe even of being, which seems to be achieved halfway the track, when a deep rumbling is the only sound to exist. The texture may be lighter, yet the mood is as dark and plaintive as on the first track, and even if the structure and narrative are more varied, it leaves the listener perplex till the end. 

The quartet's instruments could give the wrong impression that this is a jazz quartet, but the music is not, and should rather be categorised as modern electroacoustic music or sound art. You love it or you hate it. That's what we like: musicians taking risks, creating completely new sonic environments that may only resonate with a limited number of listeners, but that are totally fascinating and riveting. It will not leave you indifferent. 

We love it.

The album is also available in LP format. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Christos Yermenoglou –Birth (self released, 2021) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The following review was written before knowing about Christos’ sudden death due to COVID, which was announced by his family this past weekend. There was a small interview that never materialized, and I haven’t changed a word since hearing the sad news. Aside from his work internationally as improvisor and percussionist, Christos was also a dedicated teacher and composer for film and theater. This text is dedicated to his memory.

This solo album from Greek percussionist Christos Yermenoglou is free jazz, even though it doesn’t need to show it. Freed from any restraint, Yermenoglou presents a solo effort that is mostly looking towards the East (there are similarities in this orient feeling with the duos of Don Cherry with Ed Blackwell) but, definitely, as forward looking as any good free jazz album.

Birth is playful, sometimes totally energetic, other times soothing and calm. As someone can notice from the front and back cover, Yermenoglou utilizes a lot of small percussion instruments, other small reeds, toys, too many to mention, too many to ask what is what. Enough to make this album a one man band, a totally improvised effort. There’s a constant flow of ideas, sounds and energy. There is no second wasted in both sides of the vinyl, as it came out only on this form. The Greek percussionist seems eager and willing to start from scratch: each new idea is explored to the full, paving the way for the next one, sometimes connected, other times proving something fully new.

He defies the current trend (and I am not commenting that in a demeaning way) of percussionists who resort on electronic manipulation on solo efforts. His approach, on timbre, melody and rhythm (in sound making in general) is acoustic only. Some may comment that he is a bit old fashioned. I do not agree plus every track on Birth is working. The drum set is rarely the main focus and this is a challenge for every drummer I guess. Instead of this, by utilizing so many different sound sources, every time he takes a willing risk.

Yermenoglou has worked with a lot of important name in the field of contemporary improvisation. All those small tracks build a unison and Birth feels like new departure for him and the album is, I believe, appropriately titled.


Monday, January 24, 2022

Chris Schlarb & Chad Taylor - Time No Changes (Big Ego/Astral Spirits, 2021) ****

Now I'll say it right up front, this isn't free jazz, more like free folk or some other well intentioned misnomer, but certainly not jazz. On Time No Change Chicago composer and skinsman Chad Taylor collaborates with guitarist, producer, and BIG EGO studio/label head Chris Schlarb who is best known as the leader of the band Psychic Temple. The label's description evokes the work of guitarist Sandy Bull and drummer Billy Higgins, namely their early 60's arrangements Blend and Blend II on Vanguard which found the pair freely meshing various styles and traditions within their longform improvisations. Schlarb plays 6-and-12-string guitars tuned to EEEEBE, a tuning that the liner notes mention was made famous by the likes of Steven Stills and Buffalo Springfield’s Bruce Palmer back in the heyday of the 60’s folk revival, which lends a tint of nostalgia to the arrangements. The duo further spice up the guitar/drums format with Taylor's beautiful mbira interludes and Schlarb’s easy washes of synth and organ drift, elevating their earthy sound into something very rich and nuanced.

On the album opener “Time No Changes 1 (Part One)” Schlarb plays in pastoral progressions. Effortlessly strummed chords and plucked arpeggios sharpen into more concise, assertive statements. Much of the ebb and flow is driven by Taylor, whose current influences Schlarbs tempo and intensity like a leaf floating the river. Nice and easy, with the last few minutes reserved for Taylor’s mbira poetry. The next track “Creedmoor” builds up from a nice riff, hypnotizing the listener as the synth wash fades in. Then Taylor drops the beat, and it’s a spot-on perfect accompaniment, I think in 4/4 but it doesn’t play out that simply. On “Time No Changes (Part Two)” the duo continue the skyward trajectory. Taylor is busy here, pushing the tempo and adding all sorts of little sounds to his rhythm. More acoustic shimmer and synth drift from Schlarb who is the endless skyway to Taylor’s golden valley before the piece folds up into another peaceful mbira interlude. On the next track “Mother and Child” Schlarb goes it alone on a pretty and tidy little number that's heavy on sentiment. Sometimes a little melody and a suggestive song title can take you places. The closer “Sassafras” is the perfect combination of folksy probing and understated polyrhythm that lingers for a fleeting moment before quickening to a gallop and disappearing over the horizon

I’m way late writing this review, as my peak listening period for this album was this past summer, particularly during a trip to Southern Tennessee in late June/early July. I bring this up because as I listen to it now, even in the midst of winter, memories of the almost overwhelming, towering greenness of Appalachian summer come streaming back. I recall listening to the album on a drive between Townsend and Knoxville, where the mimosa trees offered a gauzy color contrast to the Big Green, and the roadsides were heavy with coneflower, chicory, and Queen Anne’s lace all stirred by the breeze of passing traffic. I probably don’t need to note the overarching influence of Appalachian folk and hillbilly music on this album, but I will say that Sandy Bull was something of a minor enthusiast (sarcasm if you didn’t catch it). All in all it’s a very good, listenable album that was a nice change up to the heavy jazz fare that makes up my/our usual listening. I enjoyed getting acquainted with Schlarb’s work and learning more about his efforts and was again completely blown away on coming across yet another wrinkle in the incredible fabric of Chad Taylor’s talents. The OG’s have returned indeed.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Devin Gray - Melt all the Guns / Cloud Sound Trio / Universal Dwellings

By Paul Acquaro

Percussionist and composer Devin Gray released several recordings during the COVID time warp. Today we take at look at a few of these releases which range from adventurous modern jazz to daring avant-garde explorations.

Devin Gray, Ralph Alessi, Angelica Sanchez  - Melt all the Guns (Rataplan, 2021) ****½

This album struck a chord from the first time I took a listen to it, admittedly a while ago now, back in early summer '21. Ralph Alessi's trumpet is front and center on this short recording (in total about 18 minutes) and in conjunction with Angelica Sanchez's piano playing and Gray's drumming, they have a full and sensuousness sound that is both powerful and delicate. The opening tune, 'Think About It' comes out of the gate with a somewhat awkward gait that lurches with purpose as the trio engages in a syncopated, rhythmic melody. Over a generous pulse, Alessi begins with a slightly fractured solo, bringing it to a cohesive swirl of tones that the trio takes back out with a purposeful stride. 'Jet Lag Party' begins more on the legato side, with both Alessi and Sanchez developing the theme over Gray's dynamic and precise drum work. The short, gripping tune is followed by 'Micro Waves,' which features a complex interchange of lines between the trumpet and piano and contrasting rhythmic patterns between the piano and drums. The title track begins with a bit of trumpet fanfare and baleful chords from the piano before moving into a groove and then to a trifurcated passage, each musician pursuing their own path, before finally coming to musical agreement in the final minute.

An argument could be made that the album could have been named after the closing track, 'Protect our Environment,' which plays out as an ECM worthy ballad. In it, Sanchez offer a soft, but firm, underlying harmonic bed for Alessi's gripping, and at times, lightly dissonant melody. Overall, along with Gray's lightly urgent percussion, the track ends the recording with a real sentimental yearning. Gray's notes about the album however mentions the impetus for the title, in that he was moved by the seemingly endless amount of gun violence in the U.S. and needed to make some sort of statement about. Both messages ring strongly and clearly, as does the music on this short but powerful album.

Devin Gray, Ingrid Laubrock, Cory Smythe - Cloudsounds (Rataplan, 2021) ****

Cloudsounds finds Gray working with his Cloud Sounds Trio: pianist Corey Smythe and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. The music, compared to Melt All the Guns, is more nervous and edgier. In the opening tracks, Laubrock  plays staccato phrases that stack up against Smythe's sparse approach to keyboard. Gray seems to lean in a little more, the pulse is heavier, helping to lead the trio towards dense and tense moments. The track 'Computers. Haze.' is a good example, it begins with a twitchy notes from the piano and sax, and a similarly clattery response from the drums. However, in short order, the somewhat disconnected parts come together with fervor. Laubrock's notes can be seen springing off Smythe's arpeggiated chords and Gray lays claim to a good deal of sonic territory. Two tracks later, 'Darmstadt Days' takes a different approach. Now, Gray is front and center, and between his prominent bass drum hits - or maybe it's floor tom-toms, I don't really know - Laubrock plays a unwinding melody and Smythe blows a cloud of magical dust into the space. This track, the longest on the EP at 6 minutes, moves into an exploratory section that eventually leads back to a powerful syncopated climax. The recordings ends with 'Who's Uniting Who?', a shorter track that begins with chimes, saxophone key clatter, and a pluck of a string inside the piano, the textures give way to a quizzical melodies. A short recording that simply demands repeat play.

Devin Gray, Jessica Pavone, Wendy Eisenberg - Universal Dwellings (Rataplan, 2021) ****

Drums, violin, guitar - more than just a sonic shift away from the piano trio mold of the previous two recordings, there is also shift to more textural playing than the lyricalness of Melt All the Guns or taught melodic clumps of Cloudsounds. The first track, 'Death by Audio,' simply flies by in less than a minute. Alien chatter from Wendy Eisenberg's guitar surrounds the buzzing of Jessica Pavone's violin, while Gray is adds choice clatter. 'System Relevant' - a term bandied about at the start of the pandemic - starts off with Eisenberg bouncing around the fretboard and Pavone striking rhythmically at her strings as Gray builds the momentum. 'Send Healing' is built around a drone, and in fact, the drums seem to take on the role of the melodic instrument, and on 'Loosies', the guitar resumes a somewhat more expected role, playing sweeping patterns and lines that quickly crash into themselves.

Universal Dwellings is a document of three venturesome players, and hopefully a harbinger of future collaborations. It may be tricky tracking down a copy, at the moment it seems that the short CD is limitedly available through Downtown Music Gallery and Squidco, or you can keep an eye on Gray's Bandcamp site.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Tyler Mitchell ft Marshall Allen - Dancing Shadows (Mahakala, 2022)

By Sammy Stein

Bassist Tyler Mitchell has worked with stellar jazz musicians who have rightfully earned the title ‘legend’. They include John Hendricks, Shirley Horn and Mitchell’s long association with the Sun Ra Arkestra. He plays as leader and sidesman in the avante garde and traditional fields. From early in his career he has been surrounded by people who knew the greats of experimental jazz music like his bass teacher, Donald Raphael Garrett who worked with Coltrane, Shepp and Kirk and Malachi Favors who worked with the Art ensemble of Chicago. With the Sun Ra Arkestra, Mitchell recorded two albums and toured before joining Art Taylor’s Wailers and then Jon Hendrick’s for his 1990 European tour. He recorded the Grammy nominated album ‘Freddie Freeloader’ with Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Al Grey and Al Jarreau among others. Since the late 1990s Mitchell has played with Rashied Ali, Frank Lowe and others, and continues to play with the Sun Ra Arkestra and with his own group.

Mitchell now releases Dancing Shadow on Mahakala music. The recording features the playing of the Sun Ra Arkestra leader Marshall Allen. Mitchell and Allen have known each other since the mid- 1980s and resumed their partnership over the past decade when Mitchell rejoined the Arkestra after taking a sabbatical during which he gained in musical knowledge and explored different paths. He travelled extensively in Europe, Mexico, Cuba and Central America. Allen and Mitchell have a lot in common besides the influence of their former leader, Sun Ra. Both players find common ground and cross-pollinate experiences in both free and compositional jazz music. Both are still exploring, learning and this album is the product of a collaboration which goes deeper than simply playing in the same outfit. Marshall is 97 years old but has lost nothing in his playing, nor his passion for the music, which is demonstrated by the superlative expression which he brings to the arrangements. If anything, listening to recordings where Allen plays in the 1970s and comparing them to now, Allen is even more adventurous perhaps and it is a joy to hear him on this album.

This project has been a vision for Mitchell for several years and for the recording, he brings to the album musicians Chris Hemmingway (tenor sax), Nicoletta Manzini (alto sax), Wayne Smith (drums) and Elson Nascimento (percussion), and the sextet deliver both horn arrangements and free passages with aplomb.

When Mitchell returned to the Arkestra in 2010 he felt he had to do a project with Allen and says, “ I said, ‘You've got to do a project with me one day!' I was just waiting for this moment to come. Oh man, it's beautiful, man! Everything just came so natural with Marshall. He's a master, man. He's from before be bop; he's from the swing era, you know?”

Allen is indeed steeped in swing as well as free jazz, he left his native Louisville, Kentucky during World War II. He played clarinet and alto saxophone with the U.S. Army's 17th Division Special Service Band, spent the late '40s working with James Moody, then studied at the Paris Conservatory of Music. By 1951, he had returned to the U.S. and, in 1958, joined Sun Ra's Arkestra, with whom he's been associated ever since. With James Spaulding initially being Ra's main alto player, Allen was encouraged to cultivate other talents over the years, including flute, oboe, piccolo, and EVI (a brass- and wind-based controller for synthesizer). Moreover, the Arkestra was the perfect ensemble for Allen to perfect his expressive, non-chordal approach, full of howls and birdsongs. His lifetime of music has given Marshall a full-house of expertise in all idioms within the genre.

Nowadays, when Allen leads the Arkestra, Mitchell says he, “covers all the different styles in jazz when we do a concert. It's not just swing, it's not just free. It covers a little bit of everything. We mix it all up, with some free stuff and old Fletcher Henderson stuff, to rhythmic songs with different kinds of layers. That's why this record has got a little bit of everything.”

The compositions of Sun Ra are the perfect vehicle for this eclecticism, especially those from the earliest years of the Arkestra, and the album includes Interstellar Low Ways, Angels & Demons at Play, Dancing Shadows, Carefree, Enlightenment and A Call for All Demons. However, don’t expect slavish reproduction on this album, with these musicians. As Mitchell points out, “Marshall was on all those records back in the day. But he chose not to sit and play the same arrangements. He preferred to put something fresh on top. A new line. He didn't want to just do his line again, like back in the '50s. He wanted to create on the spot.”

The set is rounded out with a Thelonious Monk tune, “Skippy,” two by the alto player Manzini and three by Mitchell himself. His contributions spring directly from his impressions of his fellow players. “Nico” and “Nico Revisited” refer to Manzini's nickname. Mitchell says, “We did a couple of takes on the song, and they were so similar, yet so different. That's why I called the other one 'revisited'.” His third was inspired by Allen, but actually begins with Mitchell’s bass solo. “I had him directing me,” says Mitchell. “He directed me so I could go off into it. 'Marshall the Deputy' is the title — that's what Sun Ra used to call him. It was a play on words: You've got the Marshall and you've got the deputy.”

The ensemble on the recording have a certain freedom in their playing, yet they also comply with the arrangements on some of the numbers where notation is clearly heard. Mitchell explains, “ I thought the voicings from the horns would do all the chords I needed. “Sometimes a piano can really lock a person in, you know? It locks you up where you can't get out and be free. But when the piano and guitar are gone, I can play a lot of different notes. A lot of different things that ordinarily would clash with the piano.”

Mitchell was keen to try some of Sun Ra’s tunes with a smaller band than the Arkestra. “The tenor player, Chris Hemmingway, joined the band just recently, and he turned out to be really good. Nicoletta is one of Marshall's proteges. She put a lot of arrangements together, and put in a lot of stuff to make it really happening. The horns kept things from really sounding too out there. The way they blew around the music really kept a cohesiveness around each song, where it wasn't just a soloist blowing. The shape of the song was always there. And then the drummer and the percussionist both play with the Sun Ra band, so they knew the music I wanted to do. It really paid to have somebody who knew the songs. I just did them a little different,” says Mitchell

And then there was Allen. Mitchell says, “Marshall will improvise on the spot. And if a song's too nice and neat and clean and all too perfect, he'll come and just mess it all up. You don't want it to be all too perfect. He likes to have the chaos. Because he believes there are no wrong notes, you know? His philosophy is, you play one note, you make a mistake, and then say something right. Then make another mistake. Say something wrong. He hears the song like that. 'Play something wrong! Now play something right! Now play something wrong!' I just let Marshall do his thing. Everybody else had special things they had to play, arrangements to follow, but Marshall, I just let him do what he does. I really had no instructions for him except to direct us. We do a lot of free stuff, and use a lot of space chords and all that. I need him to direct us. Other than that, I just want him to fill in all the right places, and put his signature on it.”

And on the album Allen does precisely that. He fills the spaces, where needed, he adds delicacy where it is right and he blasts freely where it is fitting to do so. The final product is the perfect synthesis of freedom and constraint, hard bop and sonic texture. The listener is never lulled into complacency. And this goes for Mitchell himself: “Each song's got a different vibe,” he says, “and I still listen to the music. I usually don't like to listen to what I've done. I don't like to keep hearing myself. But this particular record really holds my attention.”

‘A Call for All Demons’ is a beautiful thing – a combination of steadfast rhythms, Mitchell told me, “this is one of my favorites. I was inspired by the constant repetition played by the horns section, while Marshall solos”. The solos from Allen are indeed awesome, soaring out across the top.

‘Angels and Demons’ is definitely out there; a lot of atmosphere, spacey, warping electronic echoes and gentle, eased back melodies on the horns. Written by Sun Ra, Allen and bassist Ronny Boykins, it is weird, wonderful and very Ra in its essence. Mitchell says, “This song inspired me because of the buzzy bass line, in 5/4 time, and the laid-back melody gives it a very floating feeling.” In the third section, the timpanic sound of the percussion adds power and contrast to the track.

‘Care Free’, a Ra number, is presented here with an emphasis on Allen’s wailing, and his screech of a melody which cuts like a knife across the melodies sustained underneath. An extraordinary track, this is a perfect vehicle for free and arranged playing to successfully unite.

‘Dancing Shadows’ has no chord lines and is a freely explored episode during which the drums lay down ferocious, fast flowing lines for the sax to slice across – which it does admirably, and along with the bass, works a web of wonder with the tenor, bass and soaring alto conspiring to produce seemingly anarchic sounds, yet which have such control it is inspiring.

‘Enlightenment’ holds a place in Mitchell’s heart because Sun Ra wrote the bass line for him to learn decades back. He says, “This is a song that Sun Ra wrote the bass line for me to learn. I thought I would at least have one song on which I bowed the melody. I did this for Sun Ra”. The bass line is lovely and the sax solos are a delight on the ear. They are underpinned by steady, slightly swung drums. The track travels several musical roads, from swingy, melodic jazz to free, perfectly disharmonic purity, Allen making the alto speak pearls of visceral musical wisdom across the top of the rhythm patterns. The ensemble combines swing and free jazz in a manner which is completely engaging.

‘Interstellar Low Ways’ has a call and response in the melody and is a tribute to Sun Ra, (whose album of the same name was released on Saturn in 1966). Allen delivers a different version of his playing here and for almost seven and half minutes, the melody is re-arranged and explored with the musicians coming together at times and supporting at others to create a memorable track. It is seriously a track for lying back, closing your eyes and simply listening to a master or two playing.

‘Marshalls The Deputy’ is introduced by the bass, with the saxes and drums responding before the sax and percussion interact with fierce statements, interruptions and retorts, all of which combine to create a madcap and enjoyable escapade.

Nico revisited is a version of the following track ‘Nico’ which was written for Nicoletta Manzini because Mitchell wanted to showcase her ear for harmonies. Here, the band do a take two (before take one in the order on the album) and the softness of the harmonies are gentle and almost tentative, showing another side to the sax playing of Allen and Manzini together and in harmony. There is a sense of historical elements being brought into this modern composition.

‘Nico’ was, as I said above, written for Manzini. Mitchell explains ,“I wrote ‘Nico’ for the alto saxophonist Nicoletta Manzini , she has such a ear for harmonies , which inspired me to write this ballad. The harmonies from the saxophones replace the piano chords.”

Here, the melody is pure, beautifully simple and played with emotion and variation to create a sensual and evocative moment – or several. There is a thoughtfulness to this track which is beautifully simple.

‘Skippy’, says Mitchell “has always being a most challenging of the compositions by Thelonious Monk. I thought it would be a good idea to mix a funky James Brown groove on Monk, with avant-garde improvisation from Marshall Allen” and it works a treat. The syncopation contained in the different lines create a contrast with the harmonic interludes from the horns and the track has an attractive and well worked theme which is varied and sounds as if it could have been played in a club during the 1950s as easily as it is today.

‘Space travellers’ is barmy, chaotic yet centres itself around a key and theme. It was written, according to Mitchell, because it is how Manzini imagines outer space to be like.

Frankly if it sounds like this, there is nothing to fear.

‘Spaced Out’ was written by Manzini, and, Mitchell told me it was inspired by free improvisation around Manzini’s obscure melody and Marshall’s electric horn (evi). The evi adds very surreal overarching sounds to the bells, stilted melodies and slightly overworked harmonies in this track but it works because the musicians involved know exactly how to draw it back to the key and central theme.

This album is everything you could want in a jazz album. There is a distinctive lean to the past, but the past is brought forward rather then yearned for, there is improvisation and completely free playing, yet there is a tying together, a return which is so important and happens in nearly every track, grounding the listener back to the keys and themes dictated by the players. Individuals yet working together so well, led by Mitchell, inspired by combined experiences and enhanced by the playing of one absolute master alto saxophonist.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Daniel Carter’s Great Year: Beyond the Duet (Part 3 of 3)

We’re closing up our feature on Daniel Carter with his newest Open Question Vol. 1, which is being released TODAY (Jan 21). FJB, as ever, au courant!

By Nick Ostrum and Gary Chapin

Daniel Carter, Ayumi Ishito, Eric Plaks, Zach Swanson, Jon Panikkar – Open Question, Volume 1 (577 Records, 2022) ****½

Nick: This is the one release in this feature that is not a duet. It is also the most recent, so why not celebrate that and give it its own space?

I am not sure which group was founded first, but, for reference, Open Question features the Playfield ensemble, minus guitarists Aaron Namenwirth and Yutaka Takahashi and vocalist Luisa Muhr (voice). (See my and Gary’s reviews of the Playfield triad here and here respectively.) For me, this downsizing and relocation from the outdoors to the closed studio made me wonder how the core group of Ayumi Ishito (tenor sax), Eric Plaks (piano and Wurlitzer), Zach Swanson (bass), Jon Panikkar (drums) and Carter would fare without the cosmic flights of Namenwirth and Takahashi and Muhr’s commanding vocal presence. Although the piece Confidential BBQ approaches the free form pulsing of Playfield, even that piece seems more beholden to a classical jazz idiom. Maybe the three aforementioned were really pushing that unit into those spacier territories. What do you think, Gary? Am I missing something, or does Open Question sound a little less probing, or maybe just less curious, than the larger unit? Or does it just sound more focused?

Gary : It does sound less probing and idiomatically curious, but I don’t think it’s beholden to a jazz idiom. I think it’s a choice they made. I generally don’t have a problem with folks deciding they want to go exploring in a particular language set of music. I think back to the Carter/Shipp Dark Matrix, which sounded based in mid-sixties Miles language to me, and because of that I’ve been listening to those 5 to 7 records a bunch. Most of the pieces on Open Question do seem to start in that Nefertiti space, if more dense and eschewing head-solo-head, Carter and Ishito improvise together fantastically well. Their interplay is a joy that constantly made me stop shoveling snow today! So, two things, 1) the pieces here (except for Confidential BBQ) start in that space, but deconstruction happens as the tunes progress and the out comes in, and 2) though they’ve made the choice to use this less avant language set to make this music I’m appreciating the way their storytelling is working within that language.

Having said that, when you mentioned Muhr’s vocals on Playfield, I went back and listened and swooned. There are thousands of records she does not sing on. In fact, almost every single one. Am I going to miss her on all of them?

Nick: Fair enough and I generally agree. There is absolutely nothing wrong with plumbing some specific depths rather than focusing on breadth and boundary breaking, which frequently falls into its own patterns and tropes. And, although some of the progressions fall into jazz modes, you are right that the quintet plays with different structures. Indeed, what they lack in that visceral umph I guess I was looking for they certainly counter with some beautifully entangled phrasing.

Now that I think of it, I do wonder what I would have taken from Open Question if it were the first Carter I had listened to for this series, rather than the last, or the first collaboration with Ishito, Plaks, Swanson, and Panikkar I had encountered, rather than the second after the Playfield trifecta. Obviously, neither of us would have been wanting for Muhr had we not first heard her there. Others have made the comparison before, I am sure, but there are moments on this album (especially in Dimly-lit Platform) when Carter’s flute brings to mind that of Woody Shaw or Yusef Lateef in their more romantic moods, and Ishito seems to hit on a bouncier Lester Young at a few moments. It’s an interesting interaction, and I do not know if Muhr is missing in some of those moments. Are we/am I thinking of this too much in succession, as Playfield-minus rather than a unit in its own right, and with its own voice? It certainly stands on its own when I think outside of that comparison.

Gary : That is a sort of problem with going down a rabbit hole in a project like this. You hear everything in relation to something else. The breadth of Carter’s playing won’t be evident unless you listen to a body of work, but your appraisal of any one piece of evidence will no longer be pure if you listen all in a bunch. I say it’s a “sort of” problem because I don’t think that critical purity is desirable or possible. I can’t help that these discs evoked earlier music or that the two acoustic guitar discs reflected upon one another, or that his flute seems romantic. That’s just the way I think humans are. We take all the pieces and weave a story out of it. This story of Daniel Carter that you and I are weaving places him at the overlap point of a lot of Venn diagrams. There is a breadth to his playing but also a depth to his voice. Listening closely to six duets was a great way to surface that, with Open Question reminding us—like Playfield or New York United—that there’s more, based on evidence, so much more to hear from Carter.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Free Jazz Blog Talks ... AGAIN! ... on Situation Fluxus

Once again, if you happen to be in the Albany, NY area around 10 a.m. today (Jan 20th), tune in to 90.7 WGXC-FM. The Free Jazz Blog's Lee Rice Epstein and Keith Prosk join radio host Cheryl K.'s show Situation Fluxus to talk about what they're listening to and how they approach the art of the review.

If you are not in the area (or even if you are), you can listen now, here.

Daniel Carter’s Great Year of Duets (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from yesterday.

By Nick Ostrum and Gary Chapin

Daniel Carter and Avi Granite – Together Song (Pet Mantis Records, 2021) ***½

Nick: Here is another duet, this one recorded in 2018. At 36 minutes, it is also another brief one. Together Song is a collaboration between Carter and guitarist Avi Granite. Despite the electrification, this release is a loungier effort than Carter’s duo with Ackerely. Granite partakes in flights here and there, but much of his contribution gravitates toward classic jazz guitar progressions. Those tend to serve as the canvas on which Carter riffs romantically. Indeed, Carter seems to restrain his work to the softer, more brittle elements of his instruments in ways that one only glimpses on Friendship and Dark Matrix, though this approach may be more in line with the barroom balladeering of Familiar Roads. Honestly, this is not my favorite of the bunch, but much of that has to do with my own tastes - I am ambivalent about jazz guitar—and the unfinished nature of these pieces - they sound like one-off collaborations, often enough to their benefit, though they sometimes sound incomplete expressions of a mood or thought—rather than any lack of inspiration. This inspiration really shows on the final and longest track, “When We,” wherein the musicians really start to examine the hazy and dreamy soundworld they only approach in the first two pieces.

Daniel Carter and Jim Clouse, Playing Retention (Mahakala Music, 2021) ****

Gary : Your use of the word “soundworld” really does highlight the fact that each of these albums, despite being a “similar” structure (e.g., the duet), creates a unique soundworld. This duet, Carter and multi-instrumentalist and producer Jim Clouse, is the only one of the set to go into barn burning territory. It doesn’t spend all its time there, but the opening drum/tenor duet does bring me back to the partnerships of Coltrane and Rashied Ali or Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell. A lot of energy. Jim Clouse on winds, drums, and piano is having a great time and you can hear it. Carter on winds and piano shifts between voices like someone who feels at home everywhere. He’s not “doubling” on any of these instruments. They shift roles from track to track. Here’s the listing from Mahakala:

Track 1. Carter - Tenor Sax, Clouse - Drums
Track 2. Carter - Trumpet, Clouse - Soprano Sax
Track 3. Carter - Piano, Clouse - Tenor Sax
Track 4. Carter - Alto Sax, Clouse - Drums
Track 5. Carter - Clarinet, Clouse - Clarinet
Track 6. Carter - Soprano Sax, Clouse - Piano
Track 7. Carter - Drums, Clouse - Tenor Sax

It makes for a timbrally rich album. The two clarinet duet is really quite evocative. This is Clouse’s first time playing in a free jazz setting, and you wouldn’t know it. You could say Carter is generous in partnering with all of these relatively young players in duet, but I’d rather think he’s very curious. He seems always to be looking for improv interlocutors to challenge and fascinate him. He succeeds here.

Daniel Carter and Ra Kalam Bob Moses – Off World Meditations (Ra-Kalam Records, 2021) ****½

Nick : I am glad you brought up the question of intergenerational collaboration and those two classic duos. This next one, Off World Meditations, is a recording by Carter and percussionist Ra Kalam Bob Moses. Off World is a rekindling of collaboration that began in 1973, right between those two sessions. Still, the energy and effect of this album is so different from those captured on Interstellar Space and Red and Black in Wilisau and is quite different from Carter’s other recent output. I am not sure whether these guys are meditating on the stars or examining stages of consciousness or riffing on more terrestrial wonders, but they bridge the celestial/numinous/natural boundary compellingly. The longest track runs less than 6-and-a-half minutes, meaning each “spontaneous composition” (per Moses) is a short, direct statement. Given the improvisatory nature of these pieces, moreover, they are also surprisingly complete statements. The musicians make their point or shape their sonic vision and move on. Several pieces layer Carter’s horns. Others, such as Rising in Love, sound like a full quartet, replete with churning bass, atmospheric percussion, and entwining sax and flute. Through it all, however, Moses paddles out his ensorcelling polyrhythmic atmospheres and Carter weaves his enchanting melodies throughout them to create a fabric that is alternately simple and complex, comprehensible and perplexing. This might just be my favorite release of the bunch.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Daniel Carter’s Great Year of Duets (Part 1 of 3)

Daniel Carter fans had an amazing set of offerings in 2021. On the blog our writers have talked about Playfield (also here ), Just Don’t Die , New York United Vol. 2 , and Painter’s Winter (with William Parker and Hamid Drake), and a few others. But there is so much more. Nick Ostrum and Gary Chapin talk about some of those.

By Nick Ostrum and Gary Chapin

Daniel Carter and Matthew Shipp - Dark Matrix (Not Two Records, 2020) *****

Gary : Hello, Nick! The first one I’m going to bring up is Dark Matrix. I’ve seen this dated as both 2020 and 2021. I’m including it because I could easily have done a piece like this on Matthew Shipp. He and Carter practically define my sweet spot of free improv and free bop jazz structure, and this recording is exactly what I would think of if someone asked, “What’s a perfect, representative Daniel Carter recording?” The opening title track is a sort of overture. Carter is such a seamless multi-instrumentalist, and his instrument switches create a sort of narrative structure in the long piece. One thing I do notice, though, is that Carter’s harmon muted trumpet evokes Miles Davis for me SO MUCH that it’s almost a distraction. Perhaps I am a slave to association. I definitely hear the roots of Dark Matrix in Davis’s Nefertitti (an album I love). After that, we go into a more abstract space and the duo becomes very knotty and intriguing. It never stops being a thoughtful and spacious endeavor, with subtleties that make you smile when you notice them and just feel good when you don’t. (I never quite noticed how clever Shipp is with the sustain pedal until now. How did I miss that?) What’ve you got for me, Nick?

Jessica Ackerley and Daniel Carter - Friendship: Lucid Shared Dreams and Time Travel (577 Records, 2021) ****

Nick: The first on my docket is another duo, albeit between the elder statesman Carter and an emerging guitar wizard Jessica Ackerley. The album is Friendship: Lucid Shared Dreams and Time Travel and it marks a departure from the free improv/free bop of Dark Matrix and Painter’s Winter . The music is still quite open and, as far as I can tell, largely unscripted. However, this is a more intimate affair, a tender dialog between musicians of different generations but who share an aesthetic drive. This one sounds like two musicians jamming on a cold winter’s day in a flat with two mikes: one right in front of Ackerley’s acoustic guitar and the other at the bell of Daniel Carter’s horns and flute. Carter plays with his characteristic soulfulness and precision. No surprises there. Ackerley, however, stands out as her acoustic lines are much more restrained than some of her electric work. Actually, her work here sounds a lot more like her solo release Morning/mourning than, for instance, than the apposite poles of noise and quiet she explores on Extremities, her duo with Patrick Shiroishi. Friendship has brief moments of churn [1] , such as that at the end of the closer 'Awakening' [2] . Those examples are few, however, as it seems that these two musicians decided to keep things subdued, and focus on blended scales and lonely, elongated melodies. And, they do this to great effect. So far, this is one of my favorites of the bunch. What about you, Gary? Is anything else really resonating, or not, with you?

Shawneci Icecold and Daniel Carter - Familiar Roads (Zachary T. Raskin, 2021) ***½

Gary: I suppose we should spend a minute talking about the abundance of duets because Familiar Roads with Carter and Shawneci Icecold, on piano, is, of course, a duet. Free improv has a long history of great duets, something that became possible once the idea that a “rhythm section” was necessary ditched. It’s also an especially vibrant combo for a music form based in the model of an unfolding conversation (or argument, or seduction).

This recording (which seems to only be available on the streaming services) is a short one at 31 minutes and change, but it’s a different kind of space for Carter. At the beginning of the title track, Icecold’s piano has a sound to it (either because of the instrument or the room or the production) that feels evocatively noir-ish. When Carter begins playing in a breathy and ballady mode (à la Ben Webster) I expect someone to order a Manhattan from the bartender. The track doesn’t stay in that space, abstraction ensues, but I think it’s fair to call this a ballad record. Icecold has a great touch for melodic playing and resonance. The heavy use of sustain reminds me, for moments, of Alan Hohvannes’s archived solo piano recordings. It’s a quiet, close record, and intimate.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

William Parker and Patricia Nicholson - No Joke! (ESP Disk', 2021) ****

No Joke! is a collaboration between Parker and his wife. Nicholson is a performance artist, dancer, improviser, poet, and choreographer. She recites verse against the background of energetic, cleanly rhythmic jazz on the 1st, 3rd and final cut. You can hear something very similar on Open the Gates by Irreversible Entanglements ( very well reviewed here by Martin Schray ). In addition to Parker’s bass, the band consists of James Brandon Lewis, tenor sax; Devin Brahja Waldman, alto sax; Melanie Dyer, viola; and Francesco Mela and Gerald Cleaver trade off on drums.

The album is explicitly political. Nicholson’s poetry provides the kind of content of content that is rare in jazz generally and especially rare in free jazz and Avant Garde jazz. It is not unprecedented. One could compare 'Flare Up,' the opening number of No Joke! to Charles Mingus’ 'Fables of Faubus'.

“Mingus: Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie. Richmond: Governor Faubus. Mingus: Why is he so sick and ridiculous? Richmond: He won’t permit us in the schools. Mingus: Then he’s a fool!” Not great poetry, but the judgment is clear and impeccable.

Here are some of Nicholson’s judgments, from 'Flare Up:' “The red hats are bathing deep in the river of illusion” and “the rallying cry of the red hats is a blasphemy of all they claim to be,” and from Struggle “pushed aside by a main stream of angry creatures of indeterminate pedigree.” The word “mainstream” split deliberately in two is better poetry than we get from Mingus. Whether it really furthers the cause of peace and social healing to accuse people of blaspheme, or the cause of anti-racism to question their pedigree, is beyond my jurisdiction as an amateur music critic.

Nicholson’s voice stands out brightly against the music and is perfectly complimented by the Parkeresque pace and beat of the instrumental music. That music is very fine. 'Flare Up' is largely a dialogue between viola and the brass. 'Little Black Kid with the Swollen Stomach' opens with the thump and whispery rattle of Parker’s bass, inviting the horns in during the first minute. Thereafter we are treated to a sax dialogue that turns occasionally to a wailing chorus. Drummer Mela wraps up with a powerful chant in a language that I did not recognize but an emotional content that was universal.

'Struggle' has a decidedly more James Brandon Lewis feel. It starts with another Parker signature, a pom pom pommmmm, pommm pom beat. Nicholson comes in with “you know how Sisyphus always be pushin’ that boulder up a hill… never getting’ nowhere, ump un.” This way of putting the Greek myth in a modern political context adds resonance to both traditions. Toward the end we get “streets that crack and turn with each movement in a body’s life,” delivered twice with her rhythm approaching singing without losing the magic of the chant. 'Wilted Light as a Flower' is the only purely instrument piece, again a call and response/chorus between the horns.

I can’t leave this review without mentioning the brilliance of Melanie Dyer’s viola. She accompanies Nicholson and gives a rich, savory flavor to the background. I am going to have to look up more of this. Likewise, both drummers make me want to pick up sticks and tap something.

Ken says check this one out.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Das Kondensat - 2 (WhyPlayJazz, 2021) ****

War between people and machines sells a lot of cinema tickets – and has paid for a lot of ritzy Hollywood mansions too. Sometimes, however, humans and gadgets team up for the greater good. The second album from Das Kondensat is a luminous example of the turbo-charged musical moments that are possible when acoustic and digital forces combine.

Das Kondensat is a trio from Berlin featuring Gebhard Ullmann (saxophone, sampler, loops), Oliver Potratz (e-bass, analogue effects) and Eric Schaefer (drums, modular synth). Their collected credentials range across almost every genre and style of music imaginable. Now, with a new album called 2, they’ve cooked up something almost unimaginable. “I want to say things in new and different ways,” says Ullmann. “That gets easier over time, as artistic expression gets more efficient.”

Twists and turns, peril and panic

Listeners may be unsure what to expect from this group. The first track, '3031 A.D Variable,' deepens that sense of uncertainty. Sighs from the saxophone brush against digital scrapes and squawks. The second track, 'Pendulum,' emerges from this opaque paranoia with a synthy bassline and groovy drums, cuddled beneath a thick-quilt sax sound. The track gets carried away with its own danceable rhythm, then crumbles to dust, rises, crumbles, rises again. Schaefer’s interest in dub music is unmistakable here – but above the nick-nacks and doodads, Ullmann’s sax is the real storyteller, adding twists and turns, peril and panic.

The three musicians explore separate paths in 'Impromptu #5.' Sax howling through a gently-swaying forest, bass scrambling over rough terrain, drums sprinting over rickety rope bridges. They eventually meet for a prog-rocky groove with a swaggering attitude, as if strutting away from a bank robbery via the back door while the police surround the front.

Somersaults and the supernatural

'I Was Born in Cleveland Ohio Part 1' features another hip-bumping bassline, with the sax now somersaulting in zero gravity. From beyond the cosmos, we hear spliced-in samples of Albert Ayler explaining that music is a natural force. The drums patter and clatter, cymbals roaring. Then levels lurch. Volumes veer off. The entire universe collapses. A breath-taking piece of music.

'P (n+1)' combines broken hearts with racing pulses, its ballady beauty battered by rough-edged rhythms. For 'Bass Revenge,' Potratz cooks up a carb-loaded feast of low frequencies, seasoned by Schaefer’s peppery drumming and Ullmann’s creamy sax. 'Certain Patterns' in the Field then offers natural narrative progressions disrupted by supernatural sax sirens and gurgly robo-burps.

More questions than answers

Track 8, 'Lazer ’73,' is a riveting musical dialogue. Gizmos whir and whistle. Bass and drums inject a booster-shot of bounciness, laced with a purring sax riff. The party occasionally breaks down for sombre contemplations of existential despair, but quickly slips back into its dancing shoes each time.

Next is '3031 A.D. Stasis,' where the saxophone has fallen into an abandoned quarry and something scary has picked up the scent. Were those gunshots? Growling? Is anybody out there? The band answers with 'I Was Born in Cleveland Ohio Part 2,' a song that resists labels – and then dumps all labels into a toxic swamp. The last song, 'Étoile Schnuppe,' sends the listener away with more questions than answers. It begins introspective, with the musicians’ eyes shifted away from distant galaxies and now staring down at their tapping feet. Animal noises? A mermaid? A ticking timebomb? And then… nothing.

Teaming up for the greater good

As the name suggests, 2 is the second album by Das Kondensat. It was recorded live, without overdubs. The result is full of swoops, arcs and melodrama. The jagged corners are smoothed by honeyed, ghostly insinuations. The emotions are high and unashamed. It’s an album where people and machines get together to oil each other’s moving parts and unleash their combined force. Will it be enough to save humanity? Only time will tell. Perhaps a third album might resolve it once and for all…

The album is available on CD and as a digital download. Find more information here .

Check out this live performance to get a flavour of the band’s sound and style: