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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Leroux/Van Isacker/Vanderstraeten – Als Ik Niets Meer Van De Kano Zie (Aspen Edities, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Improvisation is a universal non-verbal language. For many of us it is a practice, not a music genre, one that knows no boundaries. Personally I’m really interested in the locality of an improvisational recording. I find it much more intriguing to listen to someone who improvises and lives outside of the big hubs for free jazz and free improv of the western world. It might seem trivial to many of you, but the fact that the titles and bandcamp notes are in the spoken language of the musicians add to this sense of locality.

Belgium, of course, belongs to what we call the western world with all the cultural connotations that this given facts drags along. But since the language (anything out of the English speaking world I would say) continues to form a barrier of difference, this LP only recording of one hundred copies carries the weight of bringing something new. Quite successfully I want to say.

The trio of Frans Van Isacker on alto saxophone and clarinet, Frederik Leroux on electric guitar and Kris Vanderstraeten on percussion and other objects gives us a free improvisational recording (from early 2021 making it another product of the lockdown era) of the highest order –and one of the best for 2022 so far. The musicians know each other for a long time and that shows quite clearly on the rapport of their playing.

Fragments of melody from the saxophone and the clarinette undermine deliberately the fragmented nature of their improvisations. Vanderstraeten’s percussion work balances between a polyrhythmic subtle playing and syncopated low volume drum playing. Leroux’s guitar works its way between the aforementioned two, acting like the glue that keeps all the lieces together. His playing (his contribution in general) makes me feel he is not eager to lead, his presence is equally shy as it is important.

There’s no need for anyone to lead as, on both sides of this vinyl, this is collective improvisation and the three musicians interact on an egalitarian basis. They seem to have totally embraced the egoless nature of their music, feeling so much comfort in it. The abstract nature of the cover art adds to this wonderful recording, plus that it’s quite telling, in its non-verbal nature, about the music that you will experience.

Learn more and listen here:


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Samo Salamon - Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar (Samo Records, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon is having a busy 2022, just half-way into the year and there are at least four recordings that he has released, two of which my colleague Matt Banash reviewed this week: Joy and Sorrow and Pure and Simple. Going back to the start of the year, Salamon released Dolphyology, an ambitious solo guitar project featuring the complete works of Eric Dolphy.

Personally, Eric Dolphy had been a bit of an enigma. When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, I played bass clarinet and it was suggested to me to listen to Eric Dolphy. I found a CD release of his 1963 release Conversations, but I wasn't sure what I was hearing as it sounded kind of 'normal' to me. For a high school student infatuated with Bob Dylan, Violent Femmes and Dead Milkmen, what could I really hear? However, my love for the bass clarinet never subsided - it's still my favorite instrument next to the guitar - and when Salamon released this effort, fusing Dolphy and the guitar, it was more than time for me to re-explore this music.

This real take away from this rediscovery was already neatly summed up in Salamon's liner notes. He writes, "although Dolphy belongs to the jazz greats, in a way he is still such an underrated improviser and especially composer – having composed beautiful compositions throughout his fairly short career." That's it. The bulk of Dolphy's recording career occurred in the early 1960's, when free jazz was forming, and the reeds-man humbly applied his virtuosic musicianship to his compositions and playing in such a way that the 'in' and the 'out' were subtly and cohesively intertwined. I'm sure many musical scholars have done what if exercises to imagine how he would have continued developing had he not tragically died from complications of undiagnosed diabetes after a concert in Berlin in 1964.

As Salamon further explains, his work on this album was the result of being inspired by a conversation with fellow guitarist Miles Okasaki who had released a solo guitar project of Thelonious Monk's oeuvre (Salamon has a great podcast, Dr. Jazz Talks, which is worth an article itself!). So, using his Covid lockdown time wisely, Salamon revisited some of his own arrangements of Dophy's music that he had been playing and figured out how to make it work on solo guitar. Mixing more straight ahead interpretations with his own improvisations and free-playing, Salamon truly makes the music his own.

Recorded on a small recorder in his apartment, which sounds great, Dolphyology is both an intimate recording with sounds his breath, or a pet along, captured along with the rich sounds of his acoustic six and twelve string guitars and mandolin, as well a major showcase of his own humble virtuosity. The first track of the 2-CD set is 'Miss Movement,' which was a Dolphy composition released in 1958 by Chico Hamilton, in whose band Dolphy got his first career break. The Hamilton version is upbeat, it swings, and sounds pretty modern for the time. Here, Salamon takes the core melody and plays it once slowly and then picks up the tempo, retaining the swinging feel, but stripped of the lush horn arrangements and percussion, it is stark and revealing. The unusual intervals that Dolphy favored can be heard in the melody and the guitarist's improvised lines, revealing the brilliance of the composer even from his earliest output. This track is followed by 'Serene,' from Dolphy's 1961 Prestige recording Out There. Salamon's rendition is austere and gently flowing, in comparison to the slightly original languid version, on which Dolphy's brilliant bass clarinet solo mixes cry of the blues with rapidly repeated figures and smears of notes. Just these first two samplings already showcase the sensitivity to which Salamon approaches the music and the extent in which he made his own musical choices to condense the rich music to a single instrument.

Some other excellent arrangements are 'Lotsa Potsa' (which inspired the name of Dolphy interpreter Silke Eberhardt's project Potsa Lotsa and Posta Lotsa Plus.) Salamon's arrangement features catchy double stops in the head giving the song a slinky momentum. This is followed by a spirited improvisation that follows the general feel of the tune. 'Strength with Unity' seems like it could become a standard, or at least a favorite with guitarists, with its strong lurching introduction and sharp melodic hook. Played on the 12-string, the instruments natural chorus give this rendition an extra resonant richness. The music continue with excellent arrangements of 'In the Blues,' featuring a  frenetic free solo, and 'Red Planet,' with its catchy opening riff, are all found towards the end of disc two shows that Salamon's inspiration did not flag as he worked diligently through Dolphy's music.

Dolphyology is a deep dive into Dolphy's small, but influential, body of work. Every track has sometime to savor, acoustically and musically. This is a must for guitarists, Dolphyologists, and everyone in-between.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Samo Salamon & Sabir Mateen - Joy and Sorrow (Klopotec Records, 2022)

By Matthew Banash

Joy and Sorrow is a direct title for this collection of tunes. Sabir Mateen plays tenor sax, Bb & alto clarinet while Samo Salamon sticks with electric guitar. It's a briefer recording but don’t let the length or sparse instrumentation deter you from digging deep. In fact, those qualities reward a close, enjoyable listen.

Salamon’s notes read, “A beautiful, improvised duo session we did a couple of years ago (don't know exactly when) with Sabir...good times…” and really that’s about as much as you need to know.

“Joy” opens the proceedings and the two really pack a lot into this tune while keeping the parameters of tones and notes focused, eschewing scaling the heights for keeping each other and the music on target. There’s a nice playful bounce off one another throughout, too. They use squalls and squawks for effect along the way, not for blind alleys or fruitless searches. The bars and plateaus the duo reach keep inching up as the song plays so by the end the listener has scaled the same heights as Mateen and Salamon. It's also music of its own time, in its own time, unfolding as the notes ring out.

Where “Joy” starts slowly and builds, “Sorrow” begins in “medias res.” Mateen picks up the Bb clarinet, I think, and that noticeable timbral change is one of my favorites in all of music. It always sounds so wood-like to me, a full-throated, husky fluidity that seems practically tangible. Salamon lays down a little reverb laying for Mateen knotty parleys. And Salamon doesn’t step on or intrude. Mateen returns the favors. They both build up then one will step back and, in that moment, that nanosecond before the gears shift, Mateen or Salamon dig, excavating ideas from the music and mood. Salamon’s solo is prickly yet again within a range that eschews a wide swath of sounds for the plumbing of them exploring what their depths hold, say, and inspire. The track ends perfectly, sounding like a foghorn as we depart a lonely port shrouded in early morning mist.

Salamon opens “Motion” with fluid tones that evolve into sharp runs that counter Mateen’s alto clarinet. These two never get in one another's way but still manage to play with each other. Salamon’s playing on this track is some of my favorite. It has a slow, deep groove that hints at funk, as well as in other places on the release. Mateen’s keening tone on the alto clarinet cuts through Salamon’s lush sound in a deft rapport.

Mateen names the last track after it concludes. It's a brief excursion that could pass for a sweet tenor/bass duo, one with a slightly smoky sax and a plucky bass. “That was it,” says Mateen as Salamon’s guitar fades and the session ends. A simple wistful finish in the spirit of the recording.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Samo Salamon, Arild Andersen & Ra Kalam Bob Moses - Pure and Simple (Samo Records 2022)

By Matthew Banash

Samo Salamon calls this recording a dream come true in the liner notes and with Arild Anderson on bass and Ra Kalam Bob Moses on drums and percussion it’s easy to see and hear why.

The trio wrote most of the tunes collectively and there’s a sweet Albert Ayler cover.

Call it “American primitive meets pan-global jazz” if that does it for you. But don’t stop there. This tidy trio recording illustrates how Salamon, and the trio moves between genres, styles, and settings aplomb.

“Tell Yourself” opens with Anderson’s rumbling, thick but fluid bass and Moses creating the wide expanse for Salamon’s piquant playing. At eight minutes it's the release’s longest track and unfolds at a nice even simmer harken back to an ECM sound.

“Room of Clouds” is a perfect title with Salamon’s deference to Anderson’s bass and Moses’ Eastern tones. Salamon glides behind laying down shimmering violin like tones echoing a saxophone. These three move at their own pace, a hallmark I have noticed on more than a few of Salamon’s recordings. I call it “timelessness” as in without time.

The term Power Trio will get tossed around and that’s cool, it applies, but the music transcends the label. “The Golden Light of Evening.” This may be that “typical” cut but as pacing goes it's in the right place, nudging the ambience and tones up a bit, building on what came before. It shows Salamon’s versatility as well, interacting with and complimenting the bass and drums. Anderson has some nice touches that mingle a percussive style with his usual dexterity.

Salamon picks up the 12 - string for “You Take My Arm” and Moses plays a subtly dizzying array of beats as Anderson forges the song ahead. This is my favorite track so far, a mix of world music and American primitive, world rhythms and acoustic guitar with lustrous shimmers. There’s always plenty of space for the three to not just play but build. And again, the timeless is there, the music is on its own clock.

Another favorite is “Something Unusual “with Salamon getting a clean but expansive palette out of his electric guitar with Moses playing percussion that sounds like the Amazon flowing by. Anderson’s bass is the mountain and Salamon’s guitar are the climber’s steps. Moses’ percussion the human breath propelling them all upward.

Onomatopoeia: the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz, hiss) - I don't know how this works with the song titles but it must have happened with this one. It reflects not only the spirit of a composition and recording but sounds to me like The Moon Departing After a Night With Us. Enjoy.

“Little Song” has an ECM / Rypdal vibe, tribal, emotive, and locked in. Embodies what the release’s title signifies, crystalline essence in the now… I could listen to this all day and night.

“Pure Simple Being” Moses’ song is the farthest thing away from the power trio concept, co-favorite song.

The recording concludes with “Ghosts'' by Albert Ayler. Perhaps another left turn but then again perhaps not. Ayler was known to have folk elements to his music, and this is an example of the perfect execution of that form for it feels like they are returning to the source for the apotheosis. A brilliant culmination tying all the personalities, styles, sounds and timbres together in way that personifies this trio.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Secret People - Secret People (Out of Your Head Records, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

The Brooklyn and Richmond-based Out of Your Head Records, founded by bassist Adam Hopkins in 2018, has quickly become something of a playground for like-minded, polymath experimentalists. Altoist Nathaniel Morgan, guitarist Dustin Carlson, and drummer Kate Gentile appeared on record together for Carlson’s OOYH debut, Air Ceremony. That one featured a lush septet, and Secret People finds them contracting into a sparkling trio.

Similar to Dan Rosenboom, Jake Vossler, and Tina Taymond’s Trio Subliminal, there is a real collaborative drive behind Secret People’s music: unlike a de facto democratic structure—where a single dominant leader occasionally gives voice to fellow group members—Morgan, Carlson, and Gentile seem to operate on fully equal footing. Each track bears strong marks of the players’ signature sounds: Gentile ties threads of jazz, funk, and rockabilly into addictive polyrhythms, Carlson punctuating lyrical Frisell-like sections with shades of No Wave and shoegaze, and Morgan playing a series of astonishingly clear, jumpy, unbroken lines.

Morgan’s alto tears the roof off on the opening to “Peephole,” alternately dueling and syncing with Carlson, as Gentile rides a cymbal-heavy intro, soon skittering off into a spacious group improvisation. On the surface there’s nothing to necessarily suggest Art Ensemble of Chicago or fusion trios like Tony Williams Lifetime, but the searing groove on “legitimate perseverance,” the laid-back blues of “U,” and pointillist, percussive interlude on “swamp gaze” all hint at some of Secret People’s bedfellows.

If there’s any secret sauce to be found here, it’s arguably Morgan in the mixer’s chair. He previously mixed and mastered a number of Free Jazz Blog favorites, including the Webber/Morris Big Band’s Both Are True, Devin Gray’s RelativE ResonancE, and both Anna Webber’s Clockwise and Idiom (he also played on that album’s second half). Morgan’s albums have a typically deep depth of sound, instruments sound bright and lively. Carlson’s guitar has plenty of edge and bite, and there’s ample space for Gentile’s percussion and vibraphone to echo and fade. Much like Webber’s two Pi albums, nothing gets lost, and not a moment is wasted: Secret People is a nonstop series of addictive tunes and jaw-droppingly impressive solos. Highly recommended for summer days and summer nights, rooftop barbeques and beach bonfires, and all points in between.

Available on Bandcamp

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Peter Brötzmann / Fred Van Hove / Han Bennink: Jazz in der Kammer Nr. 71 (Trost, 2022)

By Martin Schray

In 1971, the Kammerspiele of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin-Mitte were located in what was then East Berlin, not far from the Berliner Ensemble, Bertolt Brecht’s theater, and only a few minutes away from the Friedrichstraße border crossing, the checkpoint for incoming visitors from the West but the final stop for GDR citizens, which is why the place was also called the palace of tears. The overall atmosphere in the city at that time can be described as heated, the political mood between the two German states was tense. However, those were also musically raucous times. In 1968, Wuppertal saxophonist and clarinetist Peter Brötzmann formed a trio with Antwerp pianist Fred Van Hove and Dutch percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Han Bennink, marking the transition from the power phase of European improvised jazz of the larger formations (e.g. his Machine Gun octet) to more sophisticated but still energetic playing in smaller lineups. The trio’s concert in East Berlin was Brötzmann’s first “official“ concert in the GDR (there had been a few unofficial encounters before) and the audience vibrated with excitement and anticipation. Now, on the basis of this sound document, one can listen to how the three musicians made the air burn.

Jazz in der Kammer No. 71 is a contemporary document of this second initial spark in European free jazz. Conventional “jazz rules“ were still broken, but especially sound was redefined in the process. Brötzmann, Van Hove and Bennink moved away from the boisterous outcries of early European free jazz and discovered the quiet, delicate sides of their instruments. They gave free rein to their ideas, tamed only by few agreements: spontaneous music, linked with humorous interludes and excessive atonality. The variety and density, structure, fine dynamics and musical microcosms of this music are still surprising - even after more than 50 years. A rich, musical world unfolds that has not taken on any patina.

For Jazz in the Chamber no. 71 offers everything that one has come to love on the nine albums released so far by this trio (if you count the four with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff as well): The clash of different creative means, Peter Brötzmann’s expressive spectrum from primal screams to the most delicate, softest breaths, as well as his drones on the baritone saxophone reminiscent of foghorns; Han Bennink’s instrumental variety through the use of his home made junk (exotic drums and rattles and unconventional instruments); but especially Fred Van Howe’s energetic, ultra-fast trills, his oddballness, the folk songs he likes to intersperse, and his Taylor-like cascades, which, when combined with Bennink’s attacks on cymbals and snare, make one think of barrages. Brötzmann himself is rather restrained by his standards, which brings Van Hove more to the fore compared to other recordings, since in the past he often threatened to be drowned in the saxophonist’s and Bennink’s storm of steel. As a result, the basically highly condensed music gains more space, humor loosens the tension, and unusual techniques and stylistic elements are integrated into the musical events in an almost collage-like manner.

These live recordings are already one of the finest reissues in 2022 jazz (along with Albert Ayler’s Revelations - The Complete ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recording and Charles Mingus’s The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott's). This band’s music is so radically democratic, technically sophisticated and musically pleasurable that after listening to the album you want to start over again and again. The striving for openness, contrast and structural clarity is also evident in the fact that there is plenty of room for solos and duets - also to Van Hove’s advantage. The musicians, for all their lack of agreement, have such a sense of cohesion, such a frenzy of quotation, that it seems the music is being put through the meat grinder of their imagination. The repertoire of sounds and techniques, the density and pace of development of the events and the wit of this music have no equal to this day.

Jazz in der Kammer Nr. 71 is available on double vinyl, CD and as a download.

You can listen to “Schwarzspecht“ and order the album here:

Friday, June 24, 2022

I AM (Isaiah Collier & Michael Shekwoaga Ode) - BEYOND (Division 81, 2022)

By Nick Metzger

I AM BEYOND is another must-listen from Isaiah Collier and Michael Shekwoaga Ode, who had me completely gobsmacked last year on “ Cosmic Transitions ” with Mike King and Jeremiah Hunt. The duo recorded these platters at Chicago Recording Company, again in collaboration with producer Sonny Daze, and again the results absolutely smoke (h/t rod j). It’s an exceptionally tasty manifestation of spontaneous musicality, whetted chops, and good ol’ fashion ecstatic abandon.

The Bandcamp info notes that one of their goals was to revisit some ideas from an exchange during “Mercury’s Retrograde” from “Cosmic Transitions” and to explore their spiritual consciousnesses more deeply through sound. And to these ears it sounds like that’s what they’ve managed here: two young, crazy talented musicians channeling urgent and soulful music. Daze selectively highlights portions of the album with echo and reverb, working to enhance the galactic sentiments by spilling over boundaries and dissolving lines, resulting in some wildly psychedelic phantasms at the just the right moments. The sax-drums format has been fertile ground for some great free jazz albums and I count this among the best I’ve heard in the last decade. Really just excellent music all around. Collier and Ode dial in the sweet spot between melody and bedlam then go to work with an eagerness and passion that makes it all wholly convincing.

It begins with an extended, ambient introduction subtitled “Take Me Beyond”. Daze invited the poet and sound healer Jimmy Chan into the studio for an initiation, or perhaps invocation is the right word. Ceremonial sounds - shakers and singing bowls, gongs and world instruments - envelope Chan’s croaks and growls. On “Suns of Mercury (Storms of Revelations)” Collier paints in broad, reedy strokes while Ode pushes the intensity with his wild, albeit hyper-controlled grace. It’s a sizzling wind-up of jagged shrapnel that directly counters the billowing haze of the introduction, serving as a right cross after the left lead, softening the listener up for what’s next.

Melody seeps in on the (initially) understated theme for “Confessions of the Heart'', a piece that gets wilder as it progresses. When the duo really gets it going - acknowledging the production - they let no light pass. This density eventually diminishes and the first quivering notes of “Bend the Universe (Trust With All Your Heart)” are let loose. The tendrils contort into intense undulations of glissando and heavy handed percussion that the duo leave unresolved, building tension.

On “The Vessel Speaks” all the momentum built up over the preceding tracks finally takes the roof off and the duo detonate in joyous musical invention. It begins with an illuminating riff that leads the listener on to further golden chambers of rapturous squall before violently collapsing into silence. From this silence comes the skronking split tones that initiate “Omniscient (Mycelium)”, maybe the most buoyant cut herein. When Ode’s drums roll up under Collier’s bouncing vamp it’s just perfect, and I could honestly listen to these two all day. The album closes to the bugle-like calls of “Hymn: Love Beyond Compare” which distend into contemplative tangles of melody snaking among a rough fauna of percussion then finally coagulating in an exigent coda - resolution.

I’ll note that the double LP sold out shortly after the pre-order began, but as with “Cosmic Transitions” I would speculate that a second pressing may be necessary to satiate the demand. It’s also worth noting that “Cosmic” was vinyl-only initially but is now also available on compact disc as well, so to lovers of physical media I would advise patience and perhaps a slight vigilance. In the meantime I AM BEYOND is available digitally through Bandcamp. While you’re there grab “ Lift Every Voice” (if you haven’t already), a digital single released in February which was recorded during the same sessions at Van Gelder that produced “Cosmic” and is a stunner in-and-of-itself.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Stefan Schönegg - Enso: Strukturen (impakt Records, 2021)

By Ron Coulter

Enso: Strukturen is a lovely, contemplative, 10-track release of compositions from the German, composer, improviser, and double bassist, Stefan Schönegg. It was released on the Cologne-based label that he runs, impakt Records, on November 19, 2021.

His ensemble, Enso, featured on this album consists of: Michael Thieke, clarinet; Sandra Weiss, bassoon; Nathan Bontrager, cello; Stefan Schönegg, double bass; and Etienne Nillesen, extended snare drum. Schönegg describes this variable-personnel group as dealing “with quiet intensities in between free improvisation and composition…” and it is further described on Schönegg’s website as:

For his ensembles entitled Enso, Schönegg writes contemporary chamber music for different instrumentations. Since launching the project back in 2016 he has embraced minimal materials for the group, allowing for patient exploration of tone colors and melodic gestures, blurring the line between improvisation and composition.

These are accurate descriptions. Strukturen tanslates to structures, and the first six tracks of the album are titled 'Struktur I' through 'Struktur VI.' These six tracks have an obvious compositional element (i.e. structure, or perhaps more accurately, form) to them that manifests as durational and pitch controls of some nature; this gives the tracks a sense of coherence/focus and forward motion in their existence. On these six tracks, the group has a cohesive sound, like that of a singular pipe organ or accordion, billowing out subtle phrases with timbre variations creeping in at the edges.

The final four tracks, titled 'Reflexion I' through 'Reflexion IV,' present with less obvious structure to the listener and less focus than the six 'Struktur' tracks. These final four tracks appear to lean more heavily on improvisation than composition, and they have an unsure, tentative quality about them, generally speaking.

Overall the album clocks in around 46 minutes and contains music of subtlety and patience, with performers that are very attentive to sound and its detail and its context. Curious listeners are encouraged to seek out other releases from Schönegg’s various Enso groups, as they will find a wide range of expression and differentiation between iterations of the group. Enso: Strukturen is available as digital download and as a limited edition 12” vinyl LP.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hyper.Object - Inter.Independence (Phonogram Unit, 2022) - Portuguese electronics III

By Stef Gijssels

After "Má Estrela" and "Mata Mata", this album with electronics is without a doubt the most jazzy in the series, even to the extent that at times it's hard to even discern the electronics. 

The band consists of Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, João Almeida on trumpet, Carlos Santos on electronics, Hernâni Faustino on double bass, and João Valinho on drums. Pinheiro and Faustino and two thirds of the brilliant RED Trio, and Almeida and Valinho have been part of several reviews on our blog in various ensembles, and Carlos Santos got a special post last year for his collaboration with the Creative Sources label. To hear them all together here, and in great shape, is a real treat. 

The music is freely improvised during the scarce moments when lockdown was lifted last year. The title "Inter.Independence" refers to the performing concept of the band, "that all musicians have complete freedom to improvise and to choose what to play, there should be an active focus for each one to develop their ideas individually and to not immediately react or engage in direct dialog with the other musicians on the group. What was being experimented was the creation of several individual and independent layers that would interact organically, so that the tension would arise by the textures and by the expected and unexpected interactions created between these different layers that each musician was taking care of".
This being said, the music still appears to be very cohesive despite the almost absolute freedom of each musician, with lots of respect and open space to expand their own ideas. 

This is without a doubt one of the best albums I've heard this year. The quality of the playing is excellent, the sense of surprise and joy makes the attentive listener anticipate the unpredictable evolution of their 'in.coherent' narratives. The instrumental wizzardry is combined with smart musical ideas and deep emotional expressivity. Whether it's the quality of the musicians or the value of their concept, their music has a wonderful freshness from beginning to end. 

Don't miss it.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Scolari - Mata Mata (Favela Discos, 2021) - Portuguese electronics II

By Stef Gijssels

For this album, Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente is in the company of António M. Silva on synths, and Vitor B. Pereira on electronics. 

This the ensemble's second recording, after one side of a cassette on the Faux Amis label, which I have not heard unfortunately. António M. Silva and Pereira are also performers on Bernardo Álvares' "&Fantasmas", released in 2019 by the same label, a minimalist dark drone composition for jazz and electronics ensemble. 

The liner notes on this album make reference to Jon Hassell, "gone through a goth phase and set up a studio in the garage of an abandoned mall", but this falls short of describing the music. On this album, Silva, Pereira and Vicente fully co-create an electronic drone-like soundscape, not as the backdrop for the trumpet, but as a composition in its own right.  Even if the context is different and darker than the settings we have heard Vicente play in during the last years, his approach to the instrument and to music remains intact. Like the synth and the electronics, the trumpet participates in a musically meaningful dialogue, creating novel sound experiences that stay away from the cheap sentiment that we hear on so many "nu jazz" trumpet albums. 

Not for purists, but lots to enjoy despite the joyless atmosphere. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Monday, June 20, 2022

Pedro Alves Sousa - Má Estrela (Shhpuma Records, 2022) - Portuguese electronics I

By Stef Gijssels

Our "Doom Jazz" label on the topic list of our blog is not the most crowded, but we can add this one that pushes the word jazz to the darkest corners of the musical universe. Portuguese tenor saxophonist Pedro Alves Sousa invites us to an electronic journey with Simão Simões and Bruno Silva on electronics, Miguel Abras on electric bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums & electronics. 

The result is a masterpiece of musical collage, repetitions, overdubs, distorted sounds, multi-layered and dark, but at the same time compelling, infectious and full of emotional power. I am usually very suspicious and often quite averse even of the use of electronics in jazz, but here it works to perfection. The colliding sounds create a sonic wall over which Sousa's horn weaves repetitive wails, while the bass and the drums underpin the bizarre sound with emphatic bursts of power and energy, or quieten the whole movement down to eery moments of anticipation. Sousa's sax is further 'amplified via guitar and bass amplifiers and an effects pedalboard', we read in the liner notes, ambient sounds are introduced, human voices, snippets of songs, drones are repeated, and the bass and drums keep the pace going, with the raw sax sounding full of despair, alternated by an unexpected jubilating phrase. 

The music crackles, sputters, sizzles, rumbles, crashes, throbs, thumps, thuds, clunks, roars, clonks, drips, bursts and explodes. 

The atmosphere is unreal, relentless and magisterial. The effect is far beyond the familiar and incredibly coherent, as if the whole piece was conceived as a suite. Even the strange shifting melody of the title song create an eery intro to the deep industrial sound of distorted and mangled shreds of music. Despite the unfamiliar and almost hostile setting - it is a journey to an 'unlucky star' after all - the music is captivating from beginning to end. 

Purists will not like this, but again I can only invite them to give it a try, to go for the incredible sonic experience that Pedro Alves Sousa and his band have in store for us. 

The liner notes end with the cryptic "Even inside the shadows you can find hope", so not entirely doom. 


Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Ensemble Nikel - Klaus Lang: Bright Darkness (Self Released, 2022)

Ensemble Nikel is a Bern-based alternative chamber quartet featuring American percussionist Brian Archinal, Israeli electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch, Swiss keyboards player Antoine Françoise and German sax player Patrick Stadler. Nickel was founded in 2006 as a music lab “for new musical ideas is not based on aesthetic prejudice or dichotomies of musical genres but on passion and devotion to making and performing great music”, and its repertoire is entirely based on music written for the quartet by both established and up-and-coming composers.

Austrian contemporary composer, organ player and improviser Klaus Lang collaborated before with experimental, contemporary ensembles like the Austrian-German quartet Polwechsel and Klangforum Wien. Lang is famous for his saying that music is “is time that has become audible”, and insists that music is “not a means to convey extramusical contents, such as emotions, philosophical or religious ideas, political propaganda, advertisement etc.“, as well as for his focus on elusive, illusory textures. Bright Darkness, with Lang’s motto: "Listening with clogged ears and seeing with closed eyes” cements his unique compositional approach.

Lang claims that we are all ”impeded in realizing our sensory perception by a learned mechanism of our mind. It’s not uncommon that our preconceived expectations, our prejudices, are exactly the opposite of what we sensorial experience. If we obviate all noises, it gets louder, if we close our eyes, it gets light. We might question what we really see when we close our eyes in order to ‘see nothing’, and what even is our idea of ‘seeing nothing’ and ‘darkness’? The same applies to movement, too. Sometimes we can’t tell whether an object is moving or not. Is it a chord we’re listening to, or a line? A layer or a process? Or is it just our mind moving? Where can we find the answers to these questions?"

Bright Darkness was commissioned from Lang in 2017 and was recorded in Bern in October 2020 after being performed several times before by Nikel, often performing outdoors in parallel to sundown. This 61-minute composition creates an elusive notion about time or the way the sounds move - or simply float - and often it suggests that it barely moves forward or backward at all, creating delicate and minimalist, resonating layers and patterns that keep echoing in each other until all are lost in hypnotic, vibrating statis. Clearly, this composition offers a synesthesia impression of a “temporal phenomenon of audible time”. But if I may add, this notion of frozen time has also moral and humane implications. This elusive ambiance not only demands us to sharpen our aural attention but asks to try and find answers to what we experience and forces us out of our numbing comfort zones.

Buy here:

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Dave Gisler Trio with jaimie branch and David Murray - See You Out There (Intakt Records, 2022)

By Kenneth Blanchard

Dave Gisler: Guitar
Raffaele Bossard: Bass
Lionel Friedli: Drums
jaimie branch: Trumpet
David Murray: Tenor Saxophone

This is one of my favorite kinds of albums. It is a prism splitting the jazz spectrum from the middle to one end. From younger X-persons and a seasoned superhero, we get music that would fit comfortably on an acid rock playlist, sandwiched between spooky art house soundtracks and genuine blues ballads. Sometimes we get more than one of those in the same cut. Gisler can be subtle and romantic. He can also play with so much electromagnetic energy it’s a wonder he doesn’t black out whole city blocks.

The trio, consisting of Gisler, Bossard and Friedli, has at least two previous albums: Rabbits On the Run (2018), and Zurich Concert (2020). Both are available from Bandcamp. Trumpet virtuoso jaimie branch (I gather from documentation that branch prefers her name in small letters) joined the trio here and on the 2020 album. I recommend both of the Gisler Trio’s previous recordings. So much for the X-gang.

Then there is the aforementioned superhero. I cannot exaggerate Murray’s influence on me as a jazz fan. More than anyone else, he drew me out of more traditional hard bop toward a whole new world of composition.

Meanwhile, if you don’t know Murray, do yourself a favor, listen to Ming, The Hill, and I Want to Talk About You.

#1 “Bastards On the Run” is very high energy romp with everyone playing amped sound and fury all at once all the way through. #2 “Can you hear me” start with a slower, more romantic duet between Gisler and branch, over a rapid, almost solid ribbon of drum and bass. A subtle friction is provided (I think) by Murray’s horn. Very interesting blend of instruments.

The title cut, #3, is pure haunted house, the kind of thing that might remind you of Albert Ayler, but dialed five notches toward the graveyard. #4 “The Vision” has playing the kind of trumpet that always reminds me of walking alone, down a wet Chicago street, round midnight. Gisler brings up the lights a bit. #6 “Medical Emergency” is, and it does seem to be possible, electrified New Orleans. Murray’s playing is brilliant on this one.

We change gears and altitude with #7 “What Goes Up.” Think of Frankenstein in a hot rod on an alpine highway.

#8 “High as a Kite” is the most dreamy, almost ethereal, cut. I may be exaggerating the spookiness in some of these cuts but here, there is literally something going bump in the night or at least in the right channel.

We get a nice taste of drum and bass in #9 “Get a Döner,” until the trumpet and guitar inevitably overwhelm them. I would have liked a little more of that percussive dialogue.

#10 “Better Don’t Fuck with a Drunken Sailor” gets us back on Bourbon Street. It is such a beautiful piece of romance, allowing Murray to fully extend his command of reed and heart. Gisler and branch in turn reply to Murray’s solo. Oh my. If someone asked me to recommend one cut that represents the album, I would be at a loss. This is whole or nothing. The last cut, however, is the one that followed me home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Two from Relative Pitch

Kaluza/Roder – Am Frankfurter Tor (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Relative Pitch has been a mainstay in my personal list of independent labels that constantly push the envelope. I have written before about it but it’s never an overstatement to mention who is doing some important work in a musical practice, like improvisation, still marginalized by the music industry.

Another key factor for my fondness towards the label is that is continues to present small scale music, which is always a preference for my personal tastes. Don’t get me wrong, music is just music, it doesn’t matter if it produced by one or forty one people. But, to put it simply, I’m really drawn by the minimalism of a couple of people getting together to play and interact.

This is exactly the case with the duo of Anna Kaluza on alto saxophone and Jan Roder on double bass. Their "get together" attitude produces a sublime recording that reminds the laid back atmosphere of past seminal duos from the free improvisational canon. Most of the short tracks feel like snippets, exercises for edgy melodic lines, timbre and exchange of ideas. Roder’s double bass is in no way just keeping the rhythm. His syncopated plucking follows Kaluza’s sax every step on the way.

In the longer tracks, they both seem to feel more relaxed to explore their ideas, while the notion of heading towards all directions at once is present in all of them. Am Frankfurter Tor deserves a lot of listening, so watch out because it demands your attention.

Masked Pickle – 7 (Relative Pitch, 2022)

The trio of Masked Pickle (Olivia Scemama on bass, Tom Malmendier on the drums and Clara Well on any kind of vocals) is a lot more edgy, plus it confirms that the presence of women improvisers on the label’s catalogue is much higher than the average. A fact that shouldn’t pass unnoticed as well.

The instrumentation, by itself, makes this CD a “weird” listen. I really enjoy when at a first glance on a recording (be it a physical object or a digital one) I’m totally clueless on what I’m about to listen. Masked Pickle fall exactly on this category. The frustrated, funny and aggressive vocalizations of Well form the basis of a noisy improvisation that stands proudly on the margins of anything that could be called as jazz based music. After repeated listening I believe it’s more accurate to comment that is thrives just outside of them…

The electricity of Scemama’s bass gives 7 a rock edginess that deliberately deconstructs any easy path for interpretations about this recordings. The most obvious “jazz” element of 7 is Malmendier’s polyrhythmic drumming, but do not take this for a fact. He is constantly provoking the others to leave any kind well trodden path and run into the wilderness.

Malmendier’s choice is followed (or he follows her) by Well’s vocals. Well (a first time listen for me) takes no shortcuts in presenting her vocals as gutsy and witty as possible. I really loved how she blends with the other two, making her voice the third noisy instrument of the recording, while standing out as angry as possible.

No star ratings needed here dear reader, this is one of the best recordings for 2022 and probably will stay on my list until the end of the year.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Paul Plimley 1953-2022

Paul Plimley at the 2014 Vancouver Jazz Festival. Photo by Mark Miller

By Stuart Broomer

The Canadian pianist Paul Plimley passed, from cancer, on May 19. It was a sudden event. He had moved to a hospice just two weeks before. Around that time, I had written a review of a remarkable recording by Paul with John Oswald and Henry Kaiser, At One Time. Before it appeared in print, John told me about Paul’s condition and asked if I would share the review with him before publication. I did. The review appeared in print the day of Paul’s death. It’s available at and Paul Acquaro reviews the recording here as well. It’s been one of my favorite recordings of the past year, a unique revision of the act of collective improvisation.

During that interval between Paul’s entering hospice and his death, John Oswald compiled an album length anthology in collaboration with Paul. Called simply Paul Plimley, it’s available on Bandcamp and it’s the best kind of tribute from one collaborator to another, full of the rare wit that they shared. John is a highly creative improvising saxophonist and has been for about forty-five years, but he’s likely better known for his work in Plunderphonics, his term for the appropriation and deconstruction of old music and its reassemblage into the new. The program includes two of John’s pieces with Paul’s participation as pianist, radical remodellings of two very different works from the European classical tradition, one entitled Oswald's 1st piano concerto by Tchaikovsky (as suggested by Michael Snow) , which ironically begins with Paul quoting Grieg, and Para D, a reworking of Satie’s ballet score for Parade.

As strong as their musical relationship is, the relationships of Paul and John to Cecil Taylor’s music may be even stronger. Paul studied with Taylor at the Creative Music Studio in 1978-79 and managed to be the pianist on a Cecil Taylor record, playing on the orchestral Legba Crossing in 1988. John’s first venture into Plunderphonics was the construction of a kind of “Cecil Taylor Quartet”, combining solo recordings of Taylor, Steve Lacy, Barre Phillips and the late Toronto drummer Larry Dubin, a piece inspired by Michael Snow’s efforts to arrange a duet performance of Taylor and Dubin, a drummer of genius, who had died in 1978.

The most sustained piece of Paul’s solo playing on Paul Plimley, the 8-minute “Foremost”, comes from a concert at Quebec’s FIMAV (Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville) in 2000. It comes from a duet set by Oswald and Plimley that was hastily arranged when Cecil Taylor was late for an appearance at the festival, and is drawn from a three-CD document of the event, Complicité (Victo), the year’s ultimate festival concert: a set by Oswald and Plimley, an hour of Marilyn Crispell and an hour of Cecil Taylor, likely the greatest evening of free jazz piano in Canadian history (the background here is sourced from John’s extensive note to Oswald's 1st piano concerto by Tchaikovsky (as suggested by Michael Snow) which can be reached through that work’s title in Paul Plimley, at the bandcamp site).

There’s also a remarkable sample from the construction phase of At One Time, constructed from solo improvisations over Cecil Taylor recordings, in which we hear Paul playing vibraphone along with a 17-minute Taylor piano solo. Sprinkled throughout Paul Plimley are 11 short “pieces”, gem-like phrases and passages running from five seconds to one minute, 24 seconds, fleeting glimpses (snapshots, haikus, images), drawn from Paul’s solo CD Everything in Stages (Songlines)

* * *

To get more of a sense of Paul Plimley’s range, his sheer brilliance and the emotional depth of his playing, there are some other recordings one might seek out. For an easy transition, recalling Taylor’s remark that “If I was a bass player, I would want to be Barry Guy” (Good grief, I just checked google for that quote and I was the first source cited—how untrustworthy is that?!?!), the place to go is Hexentrio (Intakt, 2012) by the trio of Plimley, Guy and drummer Lucas Niggli. What can I say about Lucas Niggli’s drumming? If you constructed a machine to play drums like him, it would probably overheat and break down. The group turns out to be the perfect place for Plimley, whose spectacular creative velocity (mind, fingers) could find few optimal homes.

Paul first garnered significant attention in a duo with bassist Lisle Ellis, a group that emphasized the conversational and lyrical dimensions of his playing. I’ll single out two recordings that demonstrate those aspects of Paul’s work. One is Kaleidoscope (hat ART, 1992), on which the duo present a program of Ornette Coleman compositions, most at up-tempo but all showing Paul’s gifts where the emphases are specifically melodic and rhythmic. “Peace” might rank highly among all piano performances of a Coleman composition (not far off Paul Bley’s fine avant-funk recording of “Rambin’” recorded in 1966, on the eponymous LP). Another recording involving Ellis, in which Paul’s clarity and empathy shine through, is Sweet Freedom - Now What? (hat ART, 1995), Joe McPhee’s profound reflections on Max Roach’s civil rights-inspired works circa 1960. It’s particularly evident in the expansive, even haunted, chording of the extended “Garvey’s Ghost”; it’s equally felt in the rapid, percussive abstraction of the piano solo “A Head of the Heartbeat”, a nod to Taylor’s influence and significance as well as Roach’s message.

For a contemporaneous trio recording, the Paul Plimley Trio’s Density of The Lovestruck Demons (Music & Arts, released 1995) with Ellis and drummer Donald Robinson is very good, with a fine performance of Coleman’s “W.R.U.”

Something to suggest Paul’s significance? When Mark Miller, Canada’s most distinguished jazz chronicler, published The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada (Mercury Press, 2001) he used one of his photographs of Paul as the cover image.

John Oswald, Henry Kaiser, Paul Plimley - At One Time (Improvisations for Cecil Taylor) (Metalanguage, 2021)

By Paul Acquaro

I was tipped off to John Oswald, Henry Kaiser and Paul Plimley's At One Time at the same time that I learned that Canadian pianist Paul Plimley, who plays vibraphone on this recording, had just passed away rather suddenly from cancer. Wanting to know more about Plimley, his work and life, I turned to my Free Jazz Blog colleague Stuart Broomer, whose knowledge of experimental music in Canada is vast, for help. Please see his wonderful tribute to Plimley here.

As for At One Time, let us start with Plimely, whose playing is simply excellent. His vibraphone playing outlines melodic and rhythmic ideas with incisive directness and he is in good company with guitarist Henry Kaiser and saxophonist John Oswald, along with guests, drummer Scott Amendola and 6-string fiddler Tracy Silverman. Perhaps though the most important member of the group is the one who is not there at all, but who both shapes and structures the entire recording, Cecil Taylor. Each member of the trio had played with Taylor at one point, and the influential and dynamic pianist is the recording's binding presence.

Using some extended down time during the pandemic, the group members each separately improvised to a series of Taylor's recordings that they then combined to create the new tracks of this recording. This novel approach to creating spontaneous music from a distance, and not all at once, could have failed as such music would seem to require hearing and feeling the subtleties of each other's playing and presence, however it succeeds wonderfully as the process completely disappears into the music.

The opening track, 'Anagram Ritz Rewording,' starts with a quick blast from Oswald and stark, percussive strikes from Plimley. Kaiser can be heard on acoustic guitar, sticking to the lower register (it sounds like it is tuned low) and switching between chord fragments and walking bass-like single note lines. The music has a lightness, the three contributions are like fine intertwining lines, sometimes densely bunched and other times airy and flowing. The following track, 'Oceans Felons Salad,' sees Kaiser switching to electric guitar with a razor-edged tone. It also features the string playing of Tracy Silverman, a progressive minded player who combines electronics and effects with his unique 6-string fiddle, who adds a great deal of color to the track. The playing on this 27-minute track is more aggressive, Kaiser's lines slice through and Oswald can be heard in short intense bursts. Plimley's vibes hover throughout the background, sometimes coming into the foreground, but often providing a gentler sound to contrast with Kaiser and Silverman. 'Targeted for Who,' track three, is a quick duo between Oswald and Kaiser. The electric guitar supports Oswald's atonal melody with suspended chords. Next, 'Loon,' is a duo between Kaiser and Plimley. On it, Kaiser returns to acoustic guitar and his Derek Bailey-like approach to the instrument here is a real highlight as Plimley darts around the impressionistic plucking with dexterous precision. The closing track, 'Fir Loom,' features Scott Amendola on drums. The percussion adds an extra bit of pulse to the music and again the pieces, all recorded separately, fit together flawlessly.

At One Time is a remarkable recording, utilizing an unusual concept for recording that results in a real time collaboration made in separate times and spaces. It is a result of chance - how easily could the distant collaborations not have meshed so well? - as well as a document of deeply intuitive musicians whose own reactions to Taylor's music are captivating in their own right. I believe that At One Time came out late enough in 2021 to technically fall into my top 10 for 2022.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Solo bass

By Stef Gijssels

Earlier this year Eyal Haruveni already made an overview of new solo bass albums. It's time for an update,  starting with the re-issue of the first solo bass album ever, Barre Philips "Basse Barre". 

Barre Phillips - Basse Barre (Futura, 2021) 

This iconic album was first released in 1971, and it was itself a shortened version of three hours of performance in St James Norlands church in London on 30 November 1968. It's been re-issued now both on CD and digitally by the Futura label. Check it out, if only for its historical importance. It was amazing then that such music was released, and it remains amazing even today. 

Phillips singular vision on the instrument and his skills make this even after all these years still a brilliant piece of music, that has not aged at all. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Michael Bisio - Inimitable (Mung Music, 2022) 

Despite Michael Bisio's large musical output in many bands including his own ensembles, I think this is his first solo album, and it is a winner. Over the years, and possibly thanks to the various contexts and sonic environments in which he performed, Bisio has managed to benefit from the full capacity of his instrument combined with a wealth of musical ideas, be it on plucked bass or bowed. His playing is authentic from beginning to end, and varies between the playful and grave austerity, between lightness and darker sides, between the intimate and the profound. 

Even if I do appreciate the efforts by other artists to use pedals and electricity to broaden the sound of their instrument, Bisio's acoustic playing again demonstrates the beauty of the physical interaction between the musician and his tool, including the effort, the tangible touch, the deeply resonating natural sounds. 

A winner, as I said.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Michael Bardon - The Gift Of Silence (Discus, 2022)

Michael Bardon is an Northern-Irish national, born in 1986, who moved to Leeds in 2007 to study jazz. He graduated with honours in June 2010. Other albums on which he performed are "Roots" (Not Two, 2017) and "Craig Scott's Lobotomy - I Am Revolting" (self-released, 2021), both reviewed on our blog.

His first solo album is the result of the lockdown of 2020. He used this time to further experiment with sounds, drones, microtonality, using pedals and extended techniques, and Harry Partch's 11-Limit tonality diamond tuning system. Most of the pieces are built around bowed sounds, which resonate in overdubbed versions both on bass and cello, creating unexpected and multi-layered soundscapes.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Marc Johnson - Overpass (ECM, 2021)

Bassist Marc Johnson is one of the mainstays of creative contemporary jazz, with lots of albums on ECM in various ensembles, with amongst others John Abercrombie, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Joey Baron and Enrico Pieranunzi. 

On "Overpass", he treats us to his phenomenal technique, his beautiful tone and sense of timing, performing a few known compositions such as "Freedom Jazz Dance", "Nardis" and the intimate "Love Theme from Spartacus". In contrast to many of the other solo bass albums, he improvises without losing the tunes basic rhythm, making it less free but not less interesting. 

Some tracks have overdubs, as on "Samurai Fly", where his bowed lead is accompanied by plucked bass. The best parts are when he goes fully in improvisational mode, where the emotional tension gets more attention than the form. 

Ksawery Wójciński - Tower of Pressure (Antenna Non Grata, 2021)

Ksawery Wójciński is a Polish double basss player, born in 1983, and comfortable in many styles, from folk over classical to jazz. 

This is his second solo bass album, after "The Soul" from 2014, on which he also played other instruments. This one is also not a true solo bass album, since he is accompanied on two of the eleven tracks by Maurycy Wójcińśki on trumpet. Since his collaboration with Wojciech Jachna on "Night Talks" and "Conversation With Space" he clearly enjoys the trumpet-bass duo format too, as do we. 

Most of his pieces are played arco, bringing incredible depth, breadth and dynamics to his music. He varies from the quiet contemplative over heart-piercing emotional moments to daring explorations. On "Eon VII" he sings too, in a kind of wordless melancholy incantation. 

The duets with Wójcińśki continue this mood, resulting in a quiet and peaceful closure for the album. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Thomas Pol - Blue Soil (ZenneZ Records, 2022)

We get one more debut solo bass album by Dutch bassist Thomas Pol, a technically brilliant and versatile musician who departs from his usual jazz environment to bring solo pieces that bridge many genres and styles, but always with taste and taking the coherence of the album into account. Pol describes his own adventure as an exploration of his instrument, a dedicated time to work with more intimacy on the instrument that usually supports other musicians. It's great to hear its voice now on its own. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Daniel Studer - Fetzen Fliegen (Wide Ear Records, 2022)

Swiss bassist takes his bass to a different level of music. Call it avant-garde or experimental, he is exploring the sonic space of his instrument as integrated in the surrounding environment, recorded and mixed to put listener and instrument in the centre of this enlargened space. The result is a truly physical experience of micro-sounds, barely audible caressses of the strings that stir the silence, almost like quantum particles bouncing in total emptiness. The result is both intimate and magical. 

This will not be to everyone's taste, but it's more than worth a try with a good headset. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, June 10, 2022

Catching up with A New Wave of Jazz

By Nick Ostrum

A New Wave of Jazz is a label run by Dirk Serries whose first activities reach back to 2015. Since then, it has accrued over 50 releases of free jazz and related minimalist music, if one takes into account those recordings released through their subscriber service. Many of these involve Serries himself; others do not. Invariably, however, these releases are compelling, when not also pushing the boundaries of their respective aesthetic corners. Below is a review of several of the label’s recent duo releases, and one quartet, which was a long-distance pandemic collaboration.

Tom Jackson and Colin Webster – The Other Lies (A New Wave of Jazz, 2021)

Tom Jackson : clarinet
Colin Webster : alto and baritone saxophones

It begins with protracted, stable layered tones. First Jackson, then Webster deviate into more active territory, but still hold back in volume as the piece builds in intensity. They then slip into ping pong of short chirpy phrases, feinted wells of sound, and percolation, huffs and whispers. Although each of The Other Lies’ six tracks has its own focus and intensity, all are somewhat restrained considering much of Webster’s other work. And they are all the more interesting because of it. Indeed, these pieces, all improvised, run the gamut from long-tone minimalism to a sprightly neoromantic races to free arrhythmia. Webster and Jackson are both deft reedists and, although they do not follow the post-modern extended techniques playbook completely, they add just enough clucks, squeaks, tinny trills and breath to keep this duo session interesting for the entire hour it runs.

John Edwards and Dirk Serries – Melancholia (A New Wave of Jazz, 2021)

John Edwards: double bass
Dirk Serries: acoustic guitar

Two masters of improv, an acoustic guitar and a double bass. What is not to like? This is very much what one would expect from John Edwards and Dirk Serries. It ebbs; it flows; it contorts. Serries’ metallic strums are met tit for tat by Edwards. Edwards’ itinerancy is circled by Serries’ clangy runs. And vice versa. Edwards deploys his array of techniques, shifting from extended periods of strums to struts to scratchy bowing. Both musicians really show some patient creativity, here, without grandstanding or grooving. Some of that likely has to do with the intimacy of these types of duo sessions. It gives him and Serries space, especially in the second of two tracks, to explore their own corners of sound when they are not looping through each other. Little information about the meeting is offered, though this sounds like a free improv meeting, wherein ideas may have been discussed beforehand but little was put on paper and parameters rather than charts were set.

NB: Raw Tonk has a quartet release featuring Edwards, Serries, Colin Webster and Andrew Lisle recorded at these same sessions. I am not sure which was recorded first in the day, though I would wager Melancholia was. Regardless, taking the two together displays just how adaptive and responsive Edwards and Serries are. Despite a similar tendency toward subtlety and understatement, Peck and Fleet is a very different release.


Anton Mobin & Martina Verhoeven – Cure and Mound (A New Wave of Jazz, 2021)

Anton Mobin: prepared chamber
Martina Verhoeven: piano

I was very excited when I first encountered Cure and Mound. I first encountered Anton Mobin’s work years ago, through live online release with Thomas Thiery through Audioactivity. Since then, I know he has worked extensively with field recordings and cut-and-paste musique concrete and was featured on disc 5 of the Sonny Simmons box-set Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom And Brilliance / Chasing the Bird . That said, I, in my restricted corner of listening, have not really heard much of him since. On Cure and Mound, he joins pianist Martina Verhoeven for a compelling romp through some strange sonic terrains. This is another duo, like the previous two, recorded in February of 2020, right before Covid got real for many of us and the bare-bones (and heavily produced) solo, then duo, became the ensemble of choice. Indeed, this sounds more social than that. Recorded only a few months later, this almost inevitably would have been a remote affair. (See below for a success in remote improvisation and convincing cohesion.)

Verhoeven and Mobin engage is a brilliantly noisy dance, the metallic clangor of the piano and the tortured grind of Mobin’s prepared chamber (see a description and image here) intermingle into a single, scraping force. Verhoeven herself shuffles between truncated phrases on the keys and pounding the piano, both inside and out, implying some extra-acoustic elements through extended techniques and piled sounds. For his part, Mobin bends the electroacoustic barrier in his custom box of objects, pickups and contact mics, which contribute further to the listener’s wonder of where exactly these sounds emanated. Although some of this is more tuneful, such when Verhoeven stretches out about two-thirds into the first track, it is more generally noisy, cacophonous and glitchy. And wonderfully so.


Tom Ward, Martina Verhoeven, Dirk Serries, Cat Roberts – Imaginary Junction (A New Wave of Jazz, 2020) 

Cath Roberts : baritone saxophone and objects
Dirk Serries : acoustic guitar
Martina Verhoeven : piano
Tom Ward : flute, clarinet and bass clarinet

I had wanted to hear more from Cath Roberts ever since I reviewed some of her archival releases from the beginning of the pandemic. When I saw Imaginary Junction, with NWJ label-owner and prolific guitarist Serries in addition to Verhoeven (see above) and the hitherto-unknown-to-me Tom Ward on other reeds and flute, I jumped at the opportunity to listen. As far as Roberts’ work, this is some of the best I have heard yet.

The musicians here are remarkably responsive given the situation. This sounds like good, practiced, live improv. And, in a sense, this is live. It was recorded in two locations – Brockley, England and Sint-Lenaarts, Belgium – simultaneously, though the two locations were reacting to each other remotely. For such a situation, however, this sounds remarkably tight. Sometimes Roberts and Ward dance together as the leads. At others Serries and Verhoeven enlace their strings. (I assume these are the duos respectively in Brockley and Sint-Lenaarts.) These, however, are hardly sections in the strict sense, even if the reeds tend to take the amelodic front and Verhoeven and Serries often provide the nonrhythmic backing. This is deeply steeped in European free improv, albeit with the tonal dynamics and odd sounds that root it more firmly in the present. In short, it shows Roberts, Serries, Verhoeven and Ward can hold their own and create some truly compelling music together even in unconventional circumstances.