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Monday, February 28, 2022

DunkelpeK - Fire’s Hush (AKP Recordings, 2022) ****


By Keith Prosk

Nava Dunkelman and Jakob Pek play eight improvisations for percussion, guitar, and piano on the working duo’s 39’ debut, Fire’s Hush.

Some recorded reference points for Dunkelman include NOMON with sister Shayna, IMA with Amma Ateria, and collaborations with Fred Frith, including the first track of All Is Always Now. Outside of this duo, Pek’s recordings so far are most often solos for guitar and piano.

Most time is in subtle atmospheres shaped from diverse textures. An uncanny ability to coax colors from the kit, effervescent vibraphone, and a small gamelan of gongs, bells, bowls, and other objects pigment pointillistic hits and, beyond struck metal’s long decay, bowed vibraphone, fluted cymbals, and the groaning gyre of circular play parallel to the head provide a palette for sustained strokes. Guitar and piano are muted, transmuted - perhaps by preparations - to pop, squelch, wheeze, roar, spring like jaw harp, and at louder volumes its attack conveys gesture as much as anything musical. Most tracks coalesce into a groove, cascading melodies together, a free form freakout, a stalking rhythm, a country western anthem, illustrating how tense these textures can be in these grooves’ buoyancy. To dissolve again.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Lisa Ullén, Elsa Bergman, Anna Lund - Space (Relative Pitch, 2022) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

Ever since I heard the duo of Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén and bassist Nina De Heney on "Carve", I've been a big fan of their music. Despite her talent as a composer and a performer, Ullén's output is relatively limited, and not in proportion to the quality of her work. She received five-star ratings from us for her "Piano Works" and "Hydrozoa", also with De Heney. 

On this album, she teams up with Elsa Bergman on bass and Anna Lund on drums. Bergman and Lund we know from their collaborations with Anna Högberg's Attack - in which Ullén also plays. Bergman has also performed with Ullén, on "Sekvenser och Lager" with the Motståndsorkestern, and she is a member of Fire! Orchestra. The references here are only to demonstrate that this trio album is a culmination of the qualities of their background: seamless interplay, strong versatility, brilliant instrumental skills combined with intensity, power and sensitivity. 

The album was recorded during the pandemic, at the Fylkingen venue in Stockholm, and the music sounds like a sonic release from lockdown, a true joy from beginning to end. 

The first three tracks have titles that suggest closeness and human warmth ("Come Together", "The Circle of Security", "Joint Attention"). The first is an intense almost boppish workout with high intensity and fireworks from Lund driving forward the swirling piano. The second starts more quietly and tender, with some muted strings on the piano, subtle bass work and accentuating percussive tinges. Ullén builds up the improvisation elegantly, weaving repetitive and shifting patterns into ever more expansive sonic generosity and unexpected turns. The third piece is structured around a heavy single chord, almost hammered, a hypnotic foundation for bass and drums to work around, after which the piece completely shifts into a very quiet, peaceful almost silent interaction. 

"Tempest" starts calmly, with an almost romantic quality, where it not for Ullén's capacity for unusual intervals, but as you might have guessed, this is just the calm before the storm. Intensity and volume grow, compelling, gripping, entrancing. The album ends with "Core", introduced by Bergman, and like the first track, evolving into the perfect freedom of what a jazz piano trio could sound like: unleashed, nervous, disciplined, listening and full of energy. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

The short video below will make you want to hear more (recorded at Burning Ambulance concert). 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Guilherme Rodrigues

Guilherme Rodrigues, photo from his website.
By Paul Acquaro

Cellist Guilherme Rodrigues, from Lisbon, has been living in Berlin for six years, developing musical partnerships with musicians across intersecting scenes. His simultaneous roles find him a part of Lisbon's Creative Sources Recordings record label, musical director of Berlin's Hosek Contemporary Art Gallery, and member of the Berlin based Reanimation Orchestra, among many other activities.

Recently, Rodriques took the time to answer some questions about his work and experience in Berlin:

FJB: Is there something material - like demographics, affordability, or cultural practices - about Berlin that you think makes such a scene possible?

Well, Berlin is currently the artistic epicentre of the world, where almost every musician and artist stops off, even if only temporarily, to experience, discover, gain experience and artistic culture. The cultural practice is that, almost every night there are concerts, exhibitions, cultural actions happening in the city.

In what ways do you think the scene has changed since your involvement and what might have caused these changes?

Since I got involved I think the scene has become richer on all levels (laughs)!!!
In the 6 years I've been here, only in the last two years I've felt a drop in desire, much because of the pandemic.

In what ways has the scene changed you and your musical practice?

Berlin is very important to me. I learned and continue to learn a lot. I have met idols from my childhood, who I have listened to at home since I was a child "because" of my father. Today, I am colleague of many of them and I absorb a lot from each shared experience, not only musically. I am today a richer musician thanks to this city.

Are there any recordings, labels, venues, musicians, or other participants you would like to shout out for cultivating the scene, or that you feel are essential to it? And/or is there a recording of you or your work that you feel is particularly representative of your work in Berlin?

FMP was a label with determinant importance in what concerns the promotion and development of improvised music. Regarding venues, maybe Ausland is the one with more visibility since ever. But nowadays there’s more. Important musicians for me I can mention of course Alexander von Schlippenbach and Sven-Ake Johansson who came from the beginning and are still active. 

Two albums of mine that I think it represents my work here are: “The Treasures Are” - duo with Harri Sjõstrõm, and “Laura” - sextet with Tristan Honsinger, Axel Dõrner, Ernesto Rodrigues, Mia Dyberg and Pierre Borel.

What is it about the Berlin scene that is different from Lisbon's?

Lisbon in the last 10 years has grown a lot in terms of the number of musicians and also of the audience. Still, it seems to me that in Berlin the musical quality is higher. There are more musicians from the first generations of improvisation that enrich the scene a lot, also because Berlin it's bigger, it's a multiracial city, and it's in the centre of Europe.

***

Guilherme Rodrigues & Harri Sjõstrõm - The Treasures Are (Creative Sources, 2019) ****


A few years ago now - I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, but admit I will - a CD showed up called The Treasures Are that paired cellist Guilherme Rodrigues with woodwindist Harri Sjostrom, who was a part of Cecil Taylor’s quintet in the 1990s (recently documented with Lifting the Bandstand from Fundacja Słuchaj.) For some reason the CD stayed nearby on the desk, along with short note still tacked to my pin board, and even though the music was long ago loaded into my smartphone, I simply had not written about it. Now is as good as a time as any to rectify this situation!

Above, Rodrigues mentions this particular recording as being representative of his work in Berlin, and for good reason. It is an intimate recording that captures the moment compositions are being made. There are no solos or look-at-me moments, rather one hears the exquisite push and pull of musical actions and reactions resulting in miniature compositions. 

To grab a couple tracks as examples: 'Treasures 1' begin with the quick swipe of the bow across the the cellos higher register and then trickling lines from the soprano sax. It's over quickly, just a minute to establish the atmosphere. The next 'Treasure II' starts with some overblown saxophone tones and deeper, longer tones from the cello, coalescing into a near tandem passage. 'Treasures III' is a different, both musicians offering dense squalls of sound. 'Treasures V' is a longer track, at 5 minutes it offers a classical like start, with both musicians engaged in a pointed dance and evolving into a lovely reflective piece. Then, 'Treasures VI', at 3 and 1/2 minutes, features the two playing with different aspects of their respective instruments, Rodrigues plucking like a bass, Sjostrom shaping the air through the instrument until settling into some middle eastern-like scales. Each miniature contains unique characteristics, making the The Treasures Are quite rewarding to the attentive listener.




Guilherme Rodriques & Sebi Tramontana - Han Jiea (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020) ****


Recorded in Berlin, but with the Munich based Italian trombonist Sebi Tramontana, Han Jiea is another fine duo collaboration from Rodrigues. What drew me to this recording was in fact the duo setting, this time between the cello and the trombone, an instrument that also has the ability to expressively slide between tones and timbers. 

The duo begins with a demonstration of that expressiveness on "I". A burst of tone and a slide, the cellist then follows Tramontana's advances up and down the octaves. Rodrigues' bowed lines and percussive hits on his strings provides intriguing counterpoint to Tramontana's melodic ideas. "II" begins with plucking on the lower strings and a muted exclamation from the trombone. The two build in intensity, the cello's register rising, the horn's wail turning into tighter rhythmic figures. "III" grows a little more demanding, with extended techniques creeping in on the cello's side and feverish exploits and metallic human cries from the other. The other tracks continue on this expressive route, using air, embouchure, bowing and plucking to create a captivating world of music.



Friday, February 25, 2022

Cecil Taylor: The Complete, Legendary, Live Return at The Town Hall NYC November 4, 1973 (Oblivion Records, 2022) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

First thing first, given this audience tends to prefer physical media, inarguably digital is the right, best solution for this release. Yes, inarguably. Here’s why: the last major group performance recorded before 1973, The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor or Nuits De La Fondation Maeght, Vols. 1–3, is one set split across six sides of three LPs. Without a digital transfer, it’s impossible to get the feel of the whole thing, and Cecil Taylor works on a large canvas, as evidenced by the hour-and-a-half Town Hall opener, “Autumn/Parade.” To splice or edit this set in any way would do a disservice to Taylor’s intention at the time. Consider the LPs from 1976 and 1978, where the limits of physical media at that time led to edited release, which remained the de facto canonical recordings until the advent of compact discs. And here, we have a recording that simply doesn’t exist in full outside of the digital format. For some, the loss might be worth the artifact (have at it in the comments), regardless the release of the complete November 4, 1973, Town Hall performance is a major milestone for any fan of free jazz.

The 1973 group presaged the great 1978 Unit configuration, where Taylor brilliantly played with combinations of horns and strings. Here, steadfast partners Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille are joined by Sirone on bass, in his first official appearance with Taylor’s Unit. And this Unit is on fire.Taylor’s facility for bringing together sympathetic players is evident from the start. “Autumn/Parade” opens with an initial 5-second statement from Taylor, followed by an echoing call-back from Lyons, ballasted with Cyrille and Sirone. All three are among Taylor’s most important partners, helping him realize the fullness of his vision, thrillingly synthesizing blues, jazz, folk, and rock forms. Lyons is, as always, phenomenal. A lyrical player with a style mimicking something like dance, he and Cyrille’s deep knowledge of swing and blues plays off Taylor’s playing just beautifully. Near the midpoint a long trio stretch with Cyrille and Taylor helps foreground Sirone, who brings a striking avant-garde voicing to the Unit. He was fresh off the first couple of Revolutionary Ensemble albums, and his ability to play across the various planes of the Unit demonstrates why he remains one of the most important players. Having just spent the past several years at University of Wisconsin and Antioch, Taylor was returning to New York City to kick off a big, bold vision for 1974, as he wrote in the program:

“The premiere of the first of these projects will take place of ( sic) Avery Fisher (Philharmonic) Hall, January 1, 1974. By what can only be termed an ambitious undertaking, it will include the unit core, dance, voice, special effects, an ensemble of musicians who have participated in the Cecil Taylor Unit program at the institutions mentioned… Other projects funded in part by a Guggenheim fellowship, include a solo piano recital, publishing both prose and poetry, a dance recital, and a series of recordings, the first of which has already been released.”

With all of this looming, the Town Hall performance was a homecoming and practice run, a return to form and a preview of what was to come. Taylor seems to have been absolutely buzzing when he came back to NYC. About 30 minutes into “Autumn/Parade,” he plays a gorgeous, leaping figure that extends into the upper register, as Lyons performs a dense, circular pattern. It’s all thunder and lightning, the two crackling and sparking and shaking the house. There’s a drive and relentlessness demonstrating just how happy and prepared Taylor was to be back home. And the crowd bursts into loud, appreciative applause in response.

In the evening’s program, “Autumn/Parade” took up the first set, and the second featured “Spring of Two Blue-J's” in solo and quartet settings, followed by a “Service.” The Complete, Legendary, Live Return release brings the second set—previously released in a limited edition on Taylor’s own Unit Core label—back in print in a lovely remaster. Listening to the solo performance, the piano’s acoustics are nicely highlighted, without losing any sense of the room. And for anyone who has heard the original LP, the fiery quartet performance remains one of the finest in Taylor’s discography. Sirone is a bit easier to hear now than he was on the LP, and Cyrille’s cymbals and snare sound bright and snappy.

Taylor is a fascinating composer, and listening to sets of performances within the same year really help listeners focus on how the compositions were shifting and changing, where lines are played within clusters or through solo runs. Circulation of dubiously sourced bootlegs has filled many gaps in our knowledge of Taylor’s career, but quality masters of archival material are invaluable.

Complete liner notes https://www.scribd.com/document/535151354/Cecil-Taylor-The-Complete-Legendary-Live-Return-Concert-at-the-Town-Hall-NYC-November-4-1973-Release-Booklet


Thursday, February 24, 2022

2 Albums from Clarinetist Michael Thieke

By Eyal Hareuveni

Two duos of the German, Berlin-based clarinetist and composer Michel Thieke, both suggest distinct and minimalist, contemplative and highly immersive listening experiences.

The International Nothing - Just None of Those Things (Ftarri, 2022) ****


Every three or four years the Berlin-based clarinet duo The International Nothing reminds the innocent listeners about the merits of corporate nihilism and somehow associating these dubious statements with artwork of friendly wild animals, always designed by Tanabemse. Just None of Those Things, the sixth album (and the fifth for the Japanese label Fatrri, which means two people in Japanese, 二人) of the duo - Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski - continues this more than two decades remarkable tradition The album was conceived between 2019 and 2021, and recorded by Thieke at Fagaschinski’s living room in Berlin-Kreuzberg on two dates in June 2021.

This album distills more than ever the duo’s obsession with their own long-form compositions. Thieke and Fagaschinski always focused on multilayered sound sculpting, multiphonics, beat frequencies and difference tones as an integral part of their language and performed with great detail, precision and subversive sense of humor. They still sound like a collective entity, blurring the dimensions of time and space with their great attention for weightless statis. The 42-minute title composition, with only the acoustic clarinets of Fagaschinski on the right channel and Thieke on the left one, plays with air like a delicate, tactile sonic matter. This arresting, meditative piece often sounds like an abstract, futurist and psychedelic piece for minimalist electronics. But these gifted improvisers sculpt, color and layer, and investigate carefully in their own commanding poetic manner its primordial, subtle ethereal qualities, further down into the abyss of weirdness and nothingness. At least until The International Nothing will have more breaking news about the nature of humankind and the future of this planet.


Michael Thieke / Luigi Marino - Native Languages of Nowhere (Emergent Idioms, 2022) ****

The duo of Thieke and Italian, London-based Luigi Marino explores optimist sonic territories similar to The International Nothing. Thieke plays the clarinet and Marino plays bowed custom cymbals, the Persian goblet drum - zarb, and electronics generated by a 9v battery and projected by the vibrations of the instruments themselves. This duo began working in Berlin in 2016 and performed all over Europe. Native Languages of Nowhere is the debut album of the duo and the debut album of the newly founded Emergent Idioms label, released on cassette with a limited environmental footprint.

Thieke and Marino have established a subtle dialog focused on the way the ethereal breaths and sounds of the acoustic clarinet resonate within the metallic surfaces of the bowed cymbals, raw electronics, or the echoing zarb, and together offer an enigmatic, fragile collective entity. Like The International Nothing, the dynamics of this duo are patient, precise, focused on extended segments of statis, investigate methodically the timbres of the acoustic and the simple electronic sounds, and offer a weird and hallucinogenic, listening experience. But this duo colors its fascinating dynamics with rawer, noisier sounds, depicting abstract and quite cinematic, suspended landscapes, or morphing organically into simple melodies and odd, sparse pulses. The second extended piece “Dusk” cements even further the futurist and cinematic, surprisingly lyrical sceneries of this duo’s imaginary territories while the last, short piece “Breaking Song” charges its electro-acoustic interplay into deep, dark space.


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Sara Schoenbeck – Sara Schoenbeck (Pyroclastic Records, 2021) ****

By Stef Gijssels

The bassoon is a rare instrument in improvised music. The musicians we've reviewed over the years include Claire De Brunner, Sara Schoenbeck, Aya Naito, Sophie Bernado, Katherine Young, Rebekah Heller, Dana Jessen, Karen Borca, and last Alessio Pisani, the only male representative in this list. 

Schoenbeck is credited as leader and co-leader on only four albums, although she's credited as an artist on no less than 72 albums, including work with Vinny Golia, Antonthy Braxton, Steuart Liebig, Harris Eisenstadt, Wayne Horvitz to name just a few. 

On this self-titled album, her first as a full leader, she invited nine musicians to perform duets with her, showcasing the power of her instrument, its versatility in different narratives, but also her skills as a composer and performer. The objective was also to pay tribute to these artists and their influence on her. 

Having listened to it dozens of times, it's hard to tell which of these duets is my favourite. It changes each time I listen. The opening track with Harris Eisenstadt on percussion is a clear winner (see video below). The long, plaintive, sustained notes are sparsely supported by Eisenstadt's subtle percussion, who colours the background for the slow piece to evolve and develop. 

On "Sand Dune Trilogy", she is in the company of flautist Nicole Mitchell, and both artists circle around each other in an avant-garde classical mode, with high interval shifts and counterpoint gradually moving to a more harmonised ending. The difference in pitch between both instruments offers an interesting sonic canvas. 

"Lullaby" with Nels Cline on guitar is again of a totally different nature. His more rock-influenced slow arpeggiated chords of the composition by the American indie rock band "Low", create a quite accessible foundation for Schoenbeck's extremely sad and melancholy playing, including stunning microtones. 

The relatively short duet with Roscoe Mitchell is surprisingly of less interest. Its abstract nature forms a stark contrast with the preceding piece. 

The longest piece is "Auger Strokes" with Matt Mitchell on piano (the third Mitchell in five tracks!), a partly composed piece that she commissioned from the pianist, and it is a true winner. Mitchell's playing varies between the playful and the lyrical, allowing surprise elements to intervene, rhythmic inventions, structural changes, and all this with such a relaxed openness to allow the bassoon to shine and take the forefront. 

The duet with Mark Dresser on bass, "Absence", starts as a freely improvised piece, until the bassist starts playing a solid vamp somewhere near the middle, shifting the dynamics of the improvisation. "Anaphoria" is the second duet with a pianist, this time Wayne Horvitz, who uses his keyboard sparingly, with little pointillist touches, contrasting with the sustained notes of the subdued bassoon. It is followed by a duet with Canadian cellist Peggy Lee, a more restless improvisation, with colliding and unifying moments, an abstract dance of two like-minded instruments. 

"Sugar", the last track with pianist and singer Robin Holcomb is not really my cup of tea, but that's a question of personal taste, not of quality. 

In all, the album is a strong statement, not surprisingly self-titled, as a kind of message: "here I am" or "this is who I am". Schoenbeck shows her virtuoso skills together with an incredible sense of musicality in various forms and contexts. The only downside of the album is due to its core concept: the unity between the nine tracks is Schoenbeck's bassoon, which diminishes the stylistic coherence of the album as whole, but you have to be an incredible grumbler to complain about this, considering the total quality of the music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Watch the opening track O'Saris with Schoenbeck and Harris Eisenstadt: 



Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Robbie Lee - Prismatist (Relative Pitch Records, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

Multi-instrumentalist Robbie Lee presents fourteen tracks for sopranino saxophone, tuning forks, and electronics on the 37’ Prismatist.

Lee works in an eclectic variety of contexts with a diverse range of instruments. Some previous recordings of particular interest to readers might include Seed Triangular with Mary Halvorson, Exotic Sin’s Customer’s Copy , and contributions to tracks on Fraufraulein’s Extinguishment and Lea Bertucci’s Resonant Field . A duo with Bertucci, Winds Bells Falls , is due in February 2022 from Telegraph Harp, a label Lee co-runs.

The press release describes an aspect of Prismatist’s sopranino as “folk-like,” and that’s certainly a sense at the fore of my ear. Beyond glimpses of something familiar - or maybe melody is comfort enough to convey familiarity - and a strong personal association of the instrument with Lol Coxhill, whose practice contained parallels to folk music, the instrument’s petulant timbre imparts the rawness imagined of ancient winds, essential and piercing in its diminutive shape, the melodies’ circularity feels fit for the ritual of dance, appearing iterative but expanding and contracting - zooming in to one sound or out to flourishes - and trying nuanced stresses and inflections in its fleet-footed variations, and tracks’ lengths are short, songs’ lengths. The speed of play is fast, sometimes slurring into skronk. Some moments reveal the limit of breath, not just inhalations and rest amidst its tightly wound soundings but groans like vocal multiphonics from the pressure required of the instrument. Sopranino-forward tracks alternate with tuning-fork-forward tracks, twinkling fork strikes’ singing sines and their distortions’ lullaby chorus. Vibrating close to other objects to clink like alarm clocks. Tapping as if to find the room’s resonance rather than their own. Ringing like some repurposed bell choir for morse melodies. Seemingly suspending overtones’ decay to paint tone colorfield. There is an unsuspected warmth and dimensionality to the tuning fork tracks, compared to the sharp attack of sopranino, and in one sense these flipped expectations reflect the prism.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Volker Jaekel – Short Stories (jazzwerkstatt, 2021) ****

By Matty Bannond

Travel broadens the mind. But travel has been restricted for two years. To fill the void, pianist and composer Volker Jaekel has combined memories and emotions from past journeys to create the solo album Short Stories. Recorded live, it carries the listener across countries and continents to stimulate the mind – and the spirit and soul too.

Tours, concerts and festivals around the globe have always been part of Volker Jaekel’s work. The pianist, organist, choir leader and composer from Berlin is also used to crossing borders of genre and style, from religious music and Baroque forms through to pop ballads, jazz and contemporary improvised music. Short Stories is clearly marked by that free-roaming attitude. It was recorded live at the Nikodemus Church in Berlin in March 2020. “What I didn’t know at the time,” Jaekel says, “is that it would be my last solo concert before lockdown.”

Too raw, too real

Road to Asyut is the first song on the album. Heavy left-hand rumbling meets feathery right-hand rippling. Here is sadness. Reflection. Truth. The mood and energy climb slightly in the middle of the piece, but it somehow fails to stick. The feelings are simply too difficult, the emotions too raw and real. It feels less like a performance, more like a heart-to-heart. “This track was 100 percent improvised,” Jaekel says. “I had an image of the Egyptian desert in mind. Nothing else. I just played.”

The next two songs make a handsome couple. The Morning After is cheerful and show-tuney, rousing the listener with a strong coffee and flinging them into the morning’s Zoom meetings with zip and zest. Tell Me Everything unfolds beneath the listener’s feet. Jaekel uses classical elements to explore mysteries, always straining to express something unspoken, to show something hidden.

Peace, precision

Racing fingers cause racing pulses in Fuge 2020, a piece packed with pep and punch, modes and messages mingling, dense flurries building pressure. Then comes a song that encapsulates the album. Avenida Paulista is a short track with a call-and-response feeling, light and darkness, beauty and chaos, crowded passages and empty space. The last minute opens out into a tumbling pattern that showcases Jaekel’s command of the keys – and his depth of emotional expression.

Another highlight follows. Waiting for an Answer begins with spiralling restatements, reimaginings and reinterpretations of a heart-shattering melodic shape. The heat goes out. Passions deepen. A harsh chill descends. Things start to fragment, fumble and fluctuate. Senses swim together, alarms ring. Then rhythms return, the refrain rises. There is peace. There is precision. The song is an immersive experience, a bit like the ongoing pandemic. But it’s an experience the listener wishes would never end.

Falling in love, taking the train

Close to You tells the head-over-heels story of love in its freshest phase, with all the soft-sighing sweetness of a perfumed letter stored in a shoe box under the bed. The final song is Transsiberian, featuring a marching melodic pulse that is ready to rise and ready to rumble from the first bar. “I toured Russia and Siberia a few years ago, and took the train very often,” Jaekel says. “The trains were old, I could hear and feel every movement – for me, it was music in the ears. I tried to capture that feeling of constantly moving forward in this song. A sense of endless momentum.”

Focused on feelings

Short Stories takes listeners across landscapes and cultures, and provides a portal to the before-times, when the world felt more open. By sharing this loose collection of memories, Jaekel invites his audience to reflect on their own past journeys. He also reminds them of what they’ve missed about in-person performances. “I prefer recording live because it’s always spontaneous and feels more natural than a studio,” Jaekel says. “I have a melody and some chords, but about 70 percent of the album is improvised. I think, constantly, about the overall sound. Then I focus on a specific feeling. And make music.”

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

Check out this video of Volker Jaekel performing Avenida Paulista:


@MattyBannond


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Peter Orins: two from Circum-disc

Peter Orins – vrtn & vbrtn (Circum-disc, 2021) ***

Peter Orins’ solo venture on the drums is hard to pin down. On both tracks of the cd he uses the drums as a means to resonate other audio sources. Especially on the first track, 'vrtn,' Orins uses the drum solely to resonate materials like wood, metal and glass. What makes 'vrtn' more intriguing (and less of “drum solo” cd at least for the listener) is that after the initial sources, the musician treats his sounds electronically (you can find the technical details here).

This way his sounds tend to give the feeling that it’s not just one person who is producing them but more. There is a certain feeling of avant-garde experimentalism that left me wandering if this was Orins’ intention.

The first track lasts just over half an hour, while the second, 'vbrtn,' clocks on nineteen minutes. On 'vbrtn,' he focuses more on the timbre and audio manipulation of his drum set. Three floor toms and three cymbals plus three woodsticks comprise what it could be called a small symphony of the drums. Again you have the feeling that there are more people involved than just one.

I wrote the word symphony because the recording of 'vbrtn' slowly builds up towards a climax that never materializes. Instead the focus moves to construct a piece that is really cinematic.

On both tracks I had the feeling that there are a lot of ideas involved, a lot of thinking and that both tracks are a part of a process that will be more fruitful in the future.

You can listen and read more here:


Peter Orins & Paulina Owczarek –You never know (Circum-disc, 2021) *****


Sometimes things are just that simple. This duo of Peter Orins on the drum set and Paulina Owczarek on alto saxophone is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. Too bad I listened to this recording after I submitted my best of for 2021 list. It should be in there.

Both artists know each other for a while now and that’s totally transparent on You never know. Their interaction is amazing; it is like you are listening to one person playing two instruments at the same time. Quite simplistic, I know, but that’s the truth and there’s no reason to put it in another way.

The two main pieces of the cd, 'How people behave' and 'Three rules that live,'   clock around eighteen minutes and they could stand on their own as digital tracks (a current trend but not my cup of tea) for any listener to get to listen to them for the first time. They master their instruments and are willing and able to travel the distance between free improvisation and free jazz (even high energy at some points) quite easily.

Orins seems in total command of his drum set, a master on small gestures, moves, noises. But not like a solo artist. He plays in unison, they play in unison. Owczarek’s alto has the capacity of playing any melody she decides, gargling and blowing out. Amazing stuff indeed. Sometimes, totally unexpectedly, they climaxed, allowing raw energy to pour out from the speakers. At other instances the explored the microcosm of their instruments in detail.

If you are into sax-drums duos, or any other label we tend to give to capitulate in front of a great work of art that defies all labels, well, you know. Buy it.

Here:

 


@koultouranafigo

Friday, February 18, 2022

Black Top Presents: Hamid Drake / Elaine Mitchener / William Parker / Orphy Robinson / Pat Thomas – Some Good News (Otoroku, 2021) ****½

By Anthony Simon

“What can’t the human voice do?” This is what I wonder while listening to Elaine Mitchener embody her vocal instrument on this live recording captured at Cafe OTO in 2019. She performs alongside the joining of two esteemed duos: Pat Thomas (piano, electronics) and Orphy Robinson (marimba, electronics) collaborate as the duo Black Top; and the other is the canonical pairing of William Parker (double bass, guimbri) and Hamid Drake (percussion). This one hundred and six minute journey, divided between two tracks of some fifty minutes apiece, is titled Some Good News (Otoroku, 2021) – and it ain’t lyin’.

If you’re new to Black Top (as I was), you may well enjoy their prior recordings with Steve Williamson (2014) and Evan Parker (2015). They also have an excellent 2018 album with William Parker and Hamid Drake, and they doubled down on that established synergy when they invited experimental vocalist Elaine Mitchener – who sends the ensemble digging, spinning, boiling, flowering.

From quiet duos to full-ensemble exclamations, these artists explore a morphing spectrum of sounds and styles, while always feeling whole and unified. There are deep grooves that plumb your soul. There are rollicking blues that make you want to dance and praise. There are electronic dub effects that can mine granite in one moment and blast away from earth’s gravity in the next. And there is the warm communing of drum and chant and guimbri that feeds your spirit.

And within many of these deeply engaging moments is a voice. Mitchener summons her voice’s seemingly limitless capacity to excite and inspire, to confuse and bewilder, to mystify and transfix. Her 3-octave range has operatic training, and the listener is treated to brief currents of lovely singing, but the primary elements of her style comprise experimental sounds that are intensely rhythmic and visceral. Her voice gales gleefully, and gasps; it flutters through long threads of alliterative syllable repetition, and groans primal emotions; and it whirls with aspirated invention. In an article in The Guardian, she notes, “I’m drawing on what I hear around me,” she says. “Watch young children – they’re making the weirdest sounds. It’s only as teenagers we’re told to stop. My ears are always on – it’s this library of information.” Hers is a presence and a performance that rivets the listener’s attention, even amidst equally inspired performances on this album. Mitchener’s solo and collaborative work is also deeply invested in multiple artistic mediums across classical and the avant garde, and deals with the violent realities of discrimination and prejudice.

This video clip appears to be a low-tech audience recording from their performance at Cafe OTO, but it captures well the group’s dynamism: William Parker, Hamid Drake, Black Top and Elaine Mitchener (Quintet) at Cafe Oto (28 July 2019)

Some Good News is available on 2 CDs or digital download.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 5: Stammer (triptych) (Audiographic, 2021) ***½

By Kenneth Blanchard

Ken Vandermark is a virtuoso on at least two instruments. One is the saxophone. Two is the impossible integration device. The various Vandermark 5 recordings were certainly instrumental in the ontogeny of my ear for jazz. Each V5 recording gave me something that I could hear and comprehend, as well as something that shocked and puzzled me. I am also a connoisseur of great titles: Airports of Light, Elements of Style, The Color of Memory.

Jazz composers sometimes appear as frustrated painters. Consider William Parker’s Painter’s Spring and Painter’s Winter . By chance, I suppose, this is the second recording I have covered recently that counts as much as performance art as jazz. Vandermark, I learn from the booklet that came with the recording, was inspired by another famous recording: Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room.

I confess that I have not experienced the entire 45 minutes of Lucier’s recording, but I did listen to part of it all the way through. You can listen to it here. It consists of short speech repeatedly recorded and played again. Very quickly the feedback reduces the words to an incoherent hum. The key to the word “stammer” can be heard in the first statement of Lucier’s text.

Vandermark more or less reverses the direction of coherence: giving us snippets of speech or dialogue, that come into intelligible focus only on occasion. This happens just behind the spread of compelling free jazz. Well, it did create in yours truly a desire for a French beret and a pipeful of hashish. Having neither on hand, I can still say that I was pleasantly propelled by Momentum 5.

One more reason for that lies in another word in the title: triptych. In the liner notes, KV informs us that he was inspired by Max Beckmann’s painting: The Actors (1942). I strongly recommend viewing Beckmann’s triptych before you listen to Vandermark’s Triptych. And while you are at it, take a look at Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480 to 1505) and Francis Bacon’s Triptych (1944). Bosch’s trip may explain why Beckmann’s trip has a guy with a fish running down from his hat to his ass. Momentum 5 is a triptych (three panel painting) because it consists of three untitled tracks, each a hair over twenty minutes, punctuated by two short tracks.

Bandcamp lists the personnel as: Kim Alpert (visuals), Tim Barnes (percussion), Katinka Kleijn (cello), Damon Locks (samples/electronics), Nick Macri (basses), Lou Mallozzi (recordings/electronics), claire rousay (percussion), and Mars Williams (saxophones/little instruments). I gather that the Bandcamp download contains a video, but I have not seen it.

The tracks have numbers but no other title. Track 1 begins with a sax flutter, quickly joined by percussion, which is quite vivid throughout. At about one minute, the vocal background begins. What sounds like a clip from NPR is the first coherent snip. Something about a boy being dragged off a bus by the police. Other clips seem to be dialogue, and some give us the effect of a mike in a room with lots conversations going on. In a voice that seems to pin down an irritated mother, we hear this: “you’re not Santa Claus you know… we expect to see you more than once a year.” The clips are repeated many times.

The music almost always cloaks the speech. It is classic free jazz in a classic Vandermark vein. If the music crowds out the words that we are tempted to try to hear, the instruments never crown out one another. I really like the sound of heavy strings, accompanied by long, emotive horn notes. There is plenty of that here.

In track 3 we get an explicit, technologically generated stutter. The bits of voice become increasingly distorted, sometimes slowed into a smear, and sometimes tightened into a helium-chipmunk effect. The middle of the track raises tempo, volume, and lets the crowd-voice sound compete with the instruments.

The final track begins with a rare stretch of coherent dialogue: apparently someone kicking off some kind of conference. The verbal material becomes much more prominent but increasingly distorted at the same time.

Now I can listen to Vandermark and this ensemble all day, pretty much any day. I nevertheless find his project a bit frustrating. I have the impression that, if I could just spend enough time listening to it, I would get out of it a fair portion of what he invested. I can’t. Very few people ever could.

I’m not recommending against the purchase or the listen. I do think this sort of project puts the difficulties of an art fan, in a world awash with projects, right up front.

In addition to the recording, there is a film (or is it the other way round?). The Stammer film is a literal triptych: three rectangular screens against a black background. Each screen displays colorful, frenetic, intricate patterns. A narrative voice, persistently distorted, pronounces snippets of dialogue that mostly seem to come out of a small meeting room, or a court rooms, or a political speech. The left screen gradually begins printing fragments of phrases. I think the flashing art on the screens is built up from vertical and horizontal lines. A loaf of bread, a tab of acid, and thou… .

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 5: Stammer (triptych) (Audiographic, 2021) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

The creative process is really fascinating. Where it begins, how it evolves, when it achieves something, are evergreen questions. Trace the bouncing lines of a simple thought, it may begin with "what shall I eat for breakfast" and within a few moments ends up at thinking about a stretch of the Utah desert with rock formations that look like goblins. Extend such an internal monolog into the real world and you may just end up with a stunning multimedia artwork.

For composer/woodwinds Ken Vandermark, his latest installment of the Momentum series, now at #5 and entitled Tryptich (stammer), is the product of being inspired by avantgarde sound artist Alvin Lucier's I am Sitting in Room along with a somewhat incomplete memory of Tony Conrad's Film Feedback. While it would be interesting to dig deeper into both of these pieces, it's probably wiser at the moment to say that it seems that the connecting fiber is in the concept of making the process of making the art into the art itself, and along the way, reprocessing the pieces made back into the process in the making. The rest is managed through the inexplicable flow of creativity that sweeps up any other ideas and forms it all into something exciting and unique.

And so, we have Stammer (triptych), which brings together a large ensemble of several of Vandermark's older and newer musical acquaintances (see below) along with the real-time video artistry of Kim Alpert, to deliver a provoking live performance and a subsequent recording that stands sturdily on its own. As mentioned, the process is key, and in Vandermark's thoughtful liner notes, he discusses both the background of what brought the influencing works together for him, as well as intuitive need for balance in creating three equal length musical movements (his triptych). Vandermark's compositions effectively intertwine components of spoken word samples provided by Damon Locks and Lou Mallozzi, which repeat, stammer and mix, with extensive passages of improvised and composed music. With woodwindists like Mars Williams and Vandermark, you can also be rest assured that at some point infectious grooves and ripping melodies will manifest. 

As I've listened to the recording again and again, in all sorts of settings, from picking up some items from the grocery store, to sitting on the sofa, to riding my bike on a muddy path, it's the second movement that seems to really grab my attention. Maybe it's the quote about someone not being Santa Claus, or the way that Katinka Kleijn's cello (or is that Nick Macri bass?) commands the introduction, sometimes slamming into the samples, or when Macris' electric bass brings in the instruments back after a long voice sample passage, whatever it is, the track is quite effective in its integration of the samples and the music. In fact, during Mars Williams edgy solo, the voice samples become an important part of the comping, adding some extra glitches into the process. The drum work of Claire Rousey and Tim Barnes is also noteworthy, especially at the end of the third triptych, along with a bassline that is capable of altering a heartbeat, the percussion brings the piece to a startling end.

Below is a video except from the performance of the piece. As I understand it, there was a pre-made film that contains patterns and text snippets, then a real time processing that produced a film that was a reference of itself. Like the music, and the samples, there is constant remixing, layering, and re-presenting which intriguingly anchors these exploratory pieces. Like the natural forces that shape the otherworldly landscapes of the Utah desert, the creative forces here shape the music of Stammer (triptych) sometimes may escape easy explanation, but their results are unexpected and riveting.



Performed and improvised by:

Kim Alpert – visuals
Tim Barnes – percussion
Katinka Kleijn – cello
Damon Locks – samples/electronics
Nick Macri – basses
Lou Mallozzi – recordings/electronics
Claire Rousay – percussion
Ken Vandermark – reeds
Mars Williams – saxophones/little instruments 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Joe McPhee (Part III)

By Gary Chapin

Flow Trio & Joe McPhee - Winter Garden (ESPDisk, 2021)


The liner notes for this one explore the beginnings of “free jazz” and namecheck Guiseppei Logan’s eponymous 1964 ESP album. It’s an apt shout out because listening to Winter Garden I felt it was almost a platonic ideal of a free jazz record. When I find myself thinking, “I’d like to listen to some free jazz, now,” this is exactly what I’m talking about. Everything I want out of free jazz is present. The Flow Trio is Louie Belogenis (soprano and tenor), Joe Morris (bass), and Charles Downs (drums). Add Mcphee on tenor and you would be right to expect intricate, knotty, cracked, and entangled saxophone lines. The music is entirely extemporaneous and, for the most part, seems joyful and extravagant. In the moment composition happens, as in the piece “Recombinant,” where Mcphee starts with a very brief and simple ostinato. It becomes an anchor for Belogenis’ soprano for two minutes, when the bass picks it up and the drums come in. It’s strikingly lyrical.

In a group like this, I think it’s natural to organize the sound in your head as horns and rhythm section. Maybe it’s the nature of physics and sound? All four are equals on Winter Garden, and when the horns drop out, the bass and drums deliver improv as complex, intriguing, and compelling as any.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Joe McPhee & Lasse Marhaug – Harmonia Macrocosmica (SmallTown Supersound, 2021)


The shift from Winter Garden to Harmonia Macrocosmica is jarring. The two contexts are that different. It’s not surprising if you’ve spent any time with Mcphee’s catalog, but sometimes it can catch you unawares. 

Harmonia Macrocosmica is a collaboration with Marhaug setting a scene of electronics, industry, and dystopia, which Mcphee’s horn inhabits. I don’t usually go right to the programmatic interpretation of a piece—what movie would this be the soundtrack for?—but with pieces titled “This Island Earth,” “Gravity Check,” and “Two Lost Worlds,” I feel comfortable saying this is a storytelling set of music. The stories may not be articulated, but they are evoked. The deep hums, scrakity buzzes, moany screams, skittering horn, and murmured conversations in no language you ever heard take us to a place of dread, suspense, and anticipation. It’s only 35 minutes, but you come out the other side changed.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


By Stef Gijssels

Paul Lytton, Joe McPhee & Ken Vandermark - Prime Numbers (Catalytic Artist Album, 2021)



Prime Numbers is the 38th release in the Catalytic catalogue, and it presents a performance of Joe McPhee on tenor and soprano, Ken Vandermark on tenor and baritone sax, as well as Bb and bass clarinet, and saxes with Paul Lytton on drums. The concert was Recorded at the 7th Annual Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music in 2003. The concert consists of three lengthy pieces, two with great and dynamic free jazz interaction between the three improvisers, with an unexpectedly quiet and calm free improvisation in the middle section. 

Despite the many years of listening to free jazz, the magic of three virtuosi co-creating a common sound and even harmonies without prior agreements, whether in the ferocious or the the more sensitive moments, remains a wonderful surprise.  

The album is released in the Catalytic Artist Album series, and only accessible to subscribers. 


Joe Morris & Joe McPhee – ERA (Catalytic Artist Album, 2021)


Another Catalytic Artist Album is available without having the subscription. It is duo recording of Joe McPhee on tenor and alto with Joe Morris on drums. We all know Joe Morris as a guitarist and bass player, but not really as a drummer. In the liner notes he humbly accepts his limited experience on the instrument, even though it's already his fifth album on the instrument, but he rightfully thanks Joe McPhee for the opportunity: "Joe McPhee is one of the few musicians I’ve known who is totally open to making music in any situation, with anyone. It seems to me that his main criteria is camaraderie and artistic credibility, simply put, a kind of “let’s do our best to make it sound good by working well together and helping each other” approach.. There’s never a weird burden of any specific technical demand, except maybe “please don’t box me in” and more :" At 80 years old he has an almost boyish enthusiasm and willingness to be open to new things and especially to the surprise that happens with the best improvised music. He often follows a gig or session with an email saying “Thanks for letting me relive my childhood.” I think I speak for every musician who has played with him and every fan who listens to him when I say that I have never heard him do the same thing twice. Sure, he has a sound on saxophone and trumpet, but he repurposes them for every performance. The only way to be that unpredictable is to have a mastery based on employing very particular material in spontaneous response to the moment you are living in. True openness."

We could not have said it better, and it's nice to close the overview on new McPhee albums with this quote. 

This album consists of five fully improvised tracks, recorded in May of last year at Morris's own Riti Studios. The playing is good, as is the interaction, with lots of variation despite the limited line-up. "ERA One" is exploratory, "ERA Two" is more uptempo, "ERA Three" is subdued and calm, "ERA Four" switches dynamics frequently, and "ERA Five" is a great closing of the album, with a short drum solo by Morris. 

The title is explained in the liner notes, and refers to the corona virus pandemic, "the end of an era and the start of a new one". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Joe McPhee (Part II)

By Martin Schray

Joe McPhee, Giardullo, Heward, Caloia – Sala Rossa - 2001 (Musique Rayonnante, 2021) ****


I will never forget the moment when I saw Joe McPhee for the first time. It was at the concert series for Peter Brötzmann’s 70th birthday in Wuppertal and he opened the first show with a solo performance for his late friend Billy Bang. It was ten minutes of real sympathy, real emotion, absolutely moving. You could feel that the great violinist meant something to him. Ten years before this event, McPhee played with Joe Giardullo (woodwinds), John Heward (drums) and Nicolas Caloia (double bass) at the Centro Social Espanol (now known as La Sala Rossa) in Montréal. 

However, originally scheduled to perform as their trio Undersound, McPhee was to play with Heward and bassist Dominic Duval. Sadly, Duval had to cancel because his wife Katherine had died suddenly two weeks earlier. McPhee and Heward therefore asked Giardullo and Caloia to accompany them, and about 40 minutes into the first set McPhee announced he wanted to play a solo piece in memory of Katherine. 

That piece can be found at the end of the album, and again McPhee exudes pure magic, maybe in a way only he can. McPhee’s voice cracks and breaks as he sings and vocalizes through his saxophone, one of his trademarks. These four minutes alone make this recording worthwhile. But this highlight has already been hinted at in the set, it seems like the whole performance boils down to this. The wild free jazz, the iconoclastic energy, interrupted again and again by contemplative, very intimate moments. 

The Music is also reminiscent of Rodrigo Amado’s Quartet, of which Joe McPhee is also a part of.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Joe McPhee, Michael Marcus, Jay Rosen & Warren Smith - Blue Reality Quartet (Mahakala, 2021) ****


If one thing is true it’s the fact that reality is blue for many people these days. Mainly because of the pandemic - as the cover of this release suggests - but also for various other reasons. “Blue Reality is a nod to a terrible time in our collective history that had an incalculable impact on the music industry and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people worldwide“, the liner notes tell us.

In 2019 hornist Michael Marcus and drummer/percussionist Jay Rosen were invited to the Jazzgalerie in Nickelsdorf/Austria but when the two arrived the organiser asked for a double duo, so to say. He suggested Joe McPhee, who has a history with Jay Rosen in Trio X, and McPhee called his friend Warren Smith, who he played with in the Ayler Project. The gig went extraordinarily well and Marcus wanted to revive the spirit of the show during COVID with a studio recording. 

Blue Reality is a surprisingly accessible album, especially when the vibraphone provides thick layers of harmony for the saxophones. McPhee has always been known for his penchant for beautiful melody and for the blues, here he gets to live that out to the fullest. Melancholy is the main characteristic of Blue Reality, which in the end is more reminiscent of an evil version of Stanley Turrentine’s Blue Hour than McPhee’s wilder ventures. It’s an album that might be happily enjoyed with a heavy red wine in the wee hours of the morning.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Survival Unit III - The Art of Flight- For Alvin Fielder (Astral Spirits & Instigation Records, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

This is already the seventh album by McPhee's Survival Unit III, an ensemble with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Michael Zerang on drums. This album is dedicated to the late free jazz drummer Alvin Fielder. The only record I could find on which McPhee and Fielder collaborate is the excellent "Six Situations" from 2017 on Not Two, but I assume they performed much more. This set was recorded in 2018 at the Instigation Festival at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which also saw the last performance of McPhee with Fielder. 

This live performance of the trio is easy to recommend. The sound quality is good, the interplay between the three musicians is excellent, their musical vision finds the right balance between soulful roots and adventurous inventiveness. Even if Lonberg-Holm does not use any electronics on this album, his disruptive and sometimes harsh treatment of his strings create the right challenges for the ensemble to push the limits. McPhee gives a lot of variation too by switching between trumpet and saxes. Zerang is also in super form, using his instrument to color the overall sound with intense drive and subtle accents when needed. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.  

Monday, February 14, 2022

Joe McPhee (part I)

Today is valentine's day, an appropriate day to put horn-player Joe McPhee in the picture. Not only because he is - at 81 -  still as prolific as ever, but also because "My Funny Valentine" was one of the standards that he made his own over the years. Different versions can be found on the following albums: "My Funny Valentine" (on "The Watermelon Suite" (1999) "Trio X: On Tour" (2001), "Nation Time: The Complete Recordings" (2013), and its adaptation in combination with "War" by Edwin Star called "A Valentine In The Fog Of War" (on : "Moods: Playing With The Elements" (2005), "Air: Above & Beyond (2007), "2006 U.S. Tour" (2008), "Live In Vilnius" (2008)). Occasionally, he also introduced the song's main theme in other improvisations. 

Over the last year, we already reviewed the following albums: 

And we did not review all his output. Today and the following days, we're giving you an update. 

... but let's start with the beginning, and that means literally back to the early days of his career as a leader ...


By Stef Gijssels

Joe McPhee - Black Is the Color (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2021)


Credit to Corbett & Dempsey to release some unpublished performances dating from the time of Joe McPhee's hard to find "Underground Railroad" debut album from 1969. The performances were given in Poughkeepsie - still the place where McPhee resides - and New Windsor, both in New York state. 

The first disc brings the ensemble of McPhee on horns, Tyrone Crabb on bass, Ernest Bostic on vibes and Bruce Thompson on drums. 

The sound quality is relatively good, and so is the music. It does not yet have the subtlety and deep soul of Trio X, yet it offers a wonderful view of McPhee's early free jazz, demonstrating his tributes to Coltrane with "Afro Blue" and "Naima", to Billie Holiday with his almost personal standard "God Bless The Child".  

The second disc offers two performances. The first with the band of McPhee on trumpet and saxes, Reggie Marks on sax and flute, Tyrone Crabb on bass, and Bruce Thompson on drums. The sound quality is less good, and the playing somewhat rougher, especially the drumming by Thompson can be brutal. 

The last three tracks are performed by McPhee on horns, Tyrone Crabb on electric bass, Chico Hawkins on drums, Mike Kull on piano and Octavius Graham on vocals. These give a different kind of angle to the music, moving away from free jazz, with the boppish "I Don't Want Nobody", the funky "Funky Broadway" and the bluesy "Blues For The People". Even if the nature of the music is more mainstream, it's fun to hear McPhee navigate the structures on trumpet and sax. 

Is this essential? Probably not, but fans of McPhee will appreciate this music, also to bookend the evolution of his playing. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Joe McPhee - Route 84 Quarantine Blues (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2021)


Quaratine rules also impacted Joe McPhee, which resulted in this solo album, one that is easy to recommend to fans of the horn player. This his thirteenth solo album, the result of output delivered over the period of 55 years. The other solo albums "Tenor" (1977), "Graphics" (1978), "Variations On A Blue Line" (1979), "As Serious As Your Life" (1998), "Everything Happens For A Reason" (2005), "Soprano" (2007), "Alto" (2009), "Sonic Elements" (2013), "Solos: The Lost Tapes" (2015), "Flowers" (2016), "Zürich (1979)" (2016), "Seattle Symphony" (2017). 

The album offers music that spans from the overdubbed soulful and bluesy title song to the more avant-garde timbral extended technique and the ambient sound of water dripping in "Tzedek, Tzedek (For RBG)", dedicated to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the US Supreme Court judge and human rights advocate who passed away last year. 

The opening track is a variation on Carla Bley's 'Ida Lupino', and he gives his own intimate rendition of Mingus's "Pork Pie Hat", with the lyrics that Joni Mitchell added to her take of the composition. 

He even presents us with a "Self Portrait In Three Colors", that starts with the words of T'Chaka Black Panther in the Marvel movie: "You are a good man, with a good heart. And it is hard for a good man to be king". By coincidence, this movie was released on Valentine's day four years ago. 

This is an album by a musician who has the absolute comfort of his career to do whatever he wants, and the result is great: intimate, personal, humanistic, ... with nothing left to prove, either musically or personally. 

It's unassuming and authentic, offering his soul on a platter. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Joe McPhee, Jen Clare Paulson, Brian Labycz – The Mystery J (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2021)


"The Mystery J" offers a completely different picture of the artist, here in the company of Jen Clare Paulson on viola and Brian Labycz on electronics. This is the label's first LP, and only available in 500 copies. 

Jen Clare Paulson has been a very active member of Kyle Bruckman's ensembles of the years, as well as being a member of various avant-garde ensembles, including Ken Vandermark's Audio One. Brian Labycz is a sound artist, also from Chicago, who has performed with musicians such as Jason Roebke, and who also set up the Peira label. 

The music is unlike any of the albums reviewed above, much more avant-garde, and even if I am not a fan of electronics, Labycz uses them wisely and with taste, collaborating to create a common sound (in truth, I find electronics often go against the acoustic instruments, instead of working with them). Labycz is good. Paulson is also not intimidated by the presence of the jazz luminary. 

The music has a slowly evolving linear shape, allowing McPhee's trumpet to share its deeply melancholy sound (on "Joy"!) before the trio moves into a more parlando style intimate conversation, with McPhee on alto (on "Justice"), on which he allows Paulson to shape the scene, then adding his inimitable sensitive alto in full harmony. The intimacy is maintained on the second side, first on "Jupiter", then on "Josiah", and against the avant-garde and often unfamiliar sounds of Labycz's electronics, McPhee weaves the most sensitive sounds imaginable, as well as ferocious outbursts to contrast his own sound. 

The titles of the four track all start with "J" and the album's title refers to the "Mystery J", the boat McPhee's father worked on (McPhee was born in Florida). 

I enjoyed myself by trying to find back pictures of the ship (found in the The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida) Fri, Jan 5, 1923). The caption of the bottom right picture reads: "The aptly named smuggler Mystery J is shown here as she arrived from the Bahamas with her cargo of booze for thirsty New York. The Mystery J is one of the best known crafts "in the trade" and up to the present has been a phantom ship so far as prohibition agents are concerned". 


This is definitely a hard to find vinyl, and I am not sure whether it will ever be made available digitally or on CD. I find it one of his best of last year, if only because of the new context, the more abstract environment in which the master adapts, reinvents himself to a degree without compromising on his incredible emotional power. 


... more in the next days ...