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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Solo sax - The searchers - The Overview III

 Most of the music reviewed yesterday was still in the realm between modern jazz and free jazz. Today, we give you an overview of solo sax albums that go beyond style and genre, integrating electronics and studio effects. 

Bendik Giske - Cracks (Smalltown Supersound, 2021)


Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Giske works within his own musical universe, characterised by the "expressive use of physicality, vulnerability and endurance". On "Cracks" he is assisted by the studio environment set up by producer André Bratten. If I understand it well, the space is full with mics who respond to the sound of the sax, depending on Giske's position and movement in the space. 

The liner notes speak about "the new “resonant” space of Bratten’s reactive studio tuned to his original sounds. If this new studio-as-an-instrument process has brought Giske one step closer to the man-machine, it’s also a way to bridge the separation – or crack – between the two. This kind of liminal space, according to Giske, is to be treasured. “The tracks wedge themselves into the cracks of our perceived reality to explore them for their beauty,” explains Giske. “A celebration of corporeal states and divergent behaviours.” 

As a listener you get treated to some first class saxophone playing, with lots of circular breathing, which - in combination with the electronic loops, result in mesmerising soundscapes. 

Watch the beautiful "Flutter" video. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Colin Webster - Castle (Superpang, 2021)


Colin Webster treats us to a 20-minute sonic tidal wave of baritone saxophone and synth-generated loops and layers. It requires some effort to listen to this with attention, as the massive sound appears montonous at first listen yet it contains myriads of slight variations and changes. As a listener you are swept up by this, to become part of the inexorable and primal force, or possibly crushed by it. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


José Lencastre - Inner Voices (Burning Ambulance, 2022)


This is not a pure solo album, since José Lencastre plays alto and tenor with many overdubs, sounding like a quartet or more, with electronic alterations made during production. The focus is on the harmonic structures, and 'edifice' might even be a better word, because the relatively short pieces are sonic constructions with sounds produced by one musician, carefully crafted, finalised with precision. The melodies and themes have a naive quality, and could often come from simple folk songs, rather than jazz, yet they bring the polyphonic complexity of modern classical music (at times Michael Nyman comes to mind). 

The last two tracks bring a complete change in the musical environment. If the first eight tracks are compact musical jigsaw puzzles, the the last two present more open-ended improvised music that has become electronically altered with additional synth sounds. By itself both pieces are worth listening to, but the stylistic break with the rest of the album is too big to make the whole a coherent endeavour. It can be that it shows the difference between "Inner Voices" that are rational and organised (Appolonian in nature) whereas other 'inner voices' can be emotional and chaotic (Dionysan in nature). 

Whatever the reason, it is an album worth looking for. 

In light of his career in improvised music so far, this is an outlier. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Solo Sax - The Overview II

By Stef Gijssels

One more overview of solo sax albums, in random order, but we start again with a female saxophone player. 

 

Catherine Sikora - Corners (Self, 2021)


I have once been in the situation that I was the only member of the audience when a free improv trio was expected to perform. Something must have gone wrong with the promotion of the concert, or people had other things to do, I don't know. The musicians were friendly and agreed to give me a private audition, not an entire concert but half an hour, which I thought was more than generous on their part, and also a unique experience as a listener. 

On "Corners", saxophonist Catherine Sikora does the same, but here deliberately: on a beautiful Sunday in May 2021, she gave 14 private improvisations at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, each time for only one person. It's a long album, with each piece clocking around 7 to 8 minutes, but worth listening to. I imagine the open space of the room, the interested and possibly somewhat uncomfortable listener, and Sikora's effort to bring her music, the listener and the space into a coherent whole. 

It was her first concert since her performance in Paris in 2020 at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, released as "Sanctuary". With "Jersey" (2016) and "Warrior" (2019), this makes it her fourth solo album. Performing solo is the backbone of her work, even further reinforced by the digital single track release of "Backbone" on Bandcamp last year. 

Her skills are excellent, navigating complex runs with agility and determination, with a warm and pure tone, but her strongest quality is the lyricism and melodiousness of her improvisations. Her music sings, soars, sometimes jubilates, and all this in a very gentle and welcoming tone. There are meditative moments, sometimes a little sadness or melancholy, but more often than not there is a feeling of joy, possibly because of being able to perform after lockdown, and probably because that's in her nature of her music. There are never violent outbursts of very expressive moments of overblowing. Her style is more intimate, focused on the miniatures of her art, the play with form and structure. 

The 14 listeners on that Sunday in May must have had a great listening experience. We can be happy to be part of it now. This is an excellent album. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Aaron Burnett - Correspondence (Relative Pitch Records, 2022)

Possibly best known as the saxophonist of bassist Esperanza Spalding's band, Aaron Burnett deserves wider recognition for the quality of his playing and his sense of musicality. The fact that he performed with Wynton Marsalis, may be good evidence of his technical skills in traditional jazz. 

Aaron Burnett began studying classical saxophone at the age of 9 and became interested in jazz music around the age of 16. He studied classical and jazz performance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from 1999 - 2001, then studied classical composition at the Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2008.

"Correspondence", his first solo album, is nothing less than fascinating: his compositions/improvisations are complex, with lots of counterpoint, as if he's dialoguing with himself, and creating a kind of natural tension in the music, and the incredible speed at which he plays makes it even more exhilirating to listen to. 

Even if all the pieces are improvised, they are still structured around musical concepts that remain for the length of each track. 

Somehow, he mentions that "this is his final avant-garde record", which is in itself a bizarre statement, and one we also deplore. This is a very promising record and I wish we could hear more from him in this abundant and exploratory environment. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Massimo Magee - Toneflower (577 Records, 2022) 


Massimo Magee is a British writer, visual artist and musician, whose artistic output is abundant and diverse. As a musician, he is equally versatile, performing on sax, clarinet, piano, trumpet, electronics and percussion. His first solo album, called "Seven Solos" dates from 2009, with each solo played on another instrument. Other solo albums are "Music in 3 Spaces" (2016), "Tenor Tales" (2018), and "Poussez" from 2014 is his first solo alto album. 

This is his second solo album, clearly the horn that he is most comfortable with. His playing is intense and focused, exploring the legacy of great jazz saxophonists and musical innovators. Even if all tracks are improvised, they are still built around a core structural concept that gives the pieces solid anchor points around which to explore. This gives the album both variation and freedom. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Adam Pierończyk - Oaxaca Constellation (Self released, 2021)


Adam Pierończyk is among those virtuoso Polish musicians who feel at home in any context, and who thrive in the various forms of jazz. 

There are 35 tracks on this album, each one a few seconds longer than the previous one, starting at 1 minute and ending at 3 minutes. It was recorded in 2016 at a 16th Century Dominican monastery of Oaxaca, Mexico. Like in the music of John Butcher, the actual space of the performance plays an important role, resulting in a strong resonance of Pierończyk's crystal clear pure tones. The reverberation adds a strong quality to the music, and a more timeless quality to his playing, in contrast to the more intimate closed space of his previous solo soprano album "The Planet Of Eternal Life" (2013). The inspiration for this performance is now also to be found in nature and the stellar universe.

Pierończyk is not a timbral explorer. He stays within the sonic boundaries of traditional jazz soprano, but the real treat is the lyrical and melodic power of his musical poems. 

Available from the label


JD Allen - Queen City (Savant, 2021)


JD Allen is not a real free jazz player, but this album still nicely fits in this list of solo albums. JD Allen is possibly best known as a sideman with many jazz ensembles - and when you hear him play you understand why - and his own work is strong and high quality modern jazz. It is therefore a pleasure to hear him in a solo setting, the first of his career. 

His playing is jazzy, rhythmic often, with a warm round tone. His playing is gentle, unhurried and relaxed.  The compositions are nice, the sound quality is great. "Queen City" (named afer Cincinnati, where the album was recorded, makes for pleasant listening. 

Will Vinson - Solo (Whirlwind Recordings, 2021)


British altoist Will Vinson offers us his ninth solo album (although I could not find any information about the other eight), a gentle and welcoming record with 18 tracks that were composed/improvised and recorded during the lockdown, while he was visiting his family in Australia. The quality of the playing is excellent, yet it stays on the safe side. He writes in the liner notes that the music was created duing"an intense period which began with the death of my beloved father and was closely followed with an intense and wretched 31 days of solid police-guarded hotel isolation". I wish the music expressed that intensity and sense of grief and revolt.

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Monday, August 29, 2022

Solo sax - The Overview I

By Stef Gijssels

All these solo sax albums! They keep coming, possibly as a result of Covid-19, possibly because they're fun. 

This year we've already had three solo sax reviews with Masayo Koketsu's "Fukiya", Robbie Lee's "Prismatist", and Joe McPhee's "Route 84 Quarantine Blues." Last year we've been spoiled, with Evan Parker's "Winns Win", Darius Jones' "Raw Demoon Alchemy", Patrick Shiroishi's "Hidemi", Dave Rempis 's "Scratch and Sniff", Erin Rogers' "2000 Miles", Jon Irabagon's "Bird with Streams & Legacy", Jean-Luc Guionnet's "l'épaisseur de l'air", Rachel Musson's "Dreamsing", which brings us to our previous "Solo Sax" overview from April last year. 

I'm sure we missed some, so please inform us if we did. The reviews are short, just trying to capture in a few words what you can expect. 

Alexandra Grimal - Refuge (Relative Pitch, 2022)

A beautiful album by French reedist Alexandra Grimal - here only on soprano - recorded in the famous double revolution staircase in the castle of Chambord in France. 

On eight improvised tracks, she explores sound and space, including some multiphonic wizardry. Strangely enough, the sound is often damped, despite the stone surroundings, with little echo or spacial resonation, giving a very intimate and fragile closeness to the listener. Her improvisations can vary from the lyrical, as in "Salamandre" to the unexpected, as in the short bursts of surprise in "Martinets". 

She again confirms her skills as well as the power of her imagination. She has a daring vision on music, and has tried several approaches in the past, some of which I truly liked and others less, but this one is a winner.

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Ken Vandermark – The Field Within A Line (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2021)


Despite Vandermark's humongous output - 670 albums on which he appeared, if we can believe Discogs - this is just his fifth solo album, after "Furniture Music" (2003), "Mark In The Water" (2011), "Site Specific" (2015) and the "Snapshots" (2021) series on Kilogram records. And it is a welcome one. Very few saxophonists have the versatility, the mastery of so many reed instruments, and the musical archival knowledge to expand and to be build on the great work of other artists. 

Like on most of his other albums, all compositions/improvisations are dedicated to artists he admires (not necessarily musicians, but also movie directors, painters and poets. 

The liner notes capture the album well: "The compositions, which are platforms for invention, are dealt with in relatively economical, almost stripped-down fashion, ringing with a kind of bell-like clarity and focus". Yet, the title of the album can also mean the opposite: a simple linear structure (a phrase, a core concept, a chord progression, ...) can expand into a broader field of exploration, opening up the simple form to a more elaborate but coherent creation. 

Whatever the concept, there is much to enjoy here, and a must-have for Vandermark fans, of which I'm sure, there are many. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Josh Sinton - b. (Form is Possibility, 2021) 

Josh Sinton’s b., his first solo saxophone album, is a record that "took two days to record but thirty years to prepare for" according to the liner notes. The b. stands for baritone, the sax that has Sinton's preference. Sinton is a well-recorded musician, but less so as a leader. To listen to him here, in perfect isolation, is interesting, especially because he uses some basic forms for the different tracks to elaborate on, to develop and to improvise on. He refers to some inspiration words by Charles Olson, a poet who also wrote an influential essay called Projective Verse in 1950: "He discusses writing poetry as an act of venturing into an 'open field' and the form of a poem being an extension of its content. This immediately struck me as a very practical approach to both improvising and making music generally." Sinton does the same here: using personal insights, feelings and ideas that are confined by self-imposed format, scales and techniques. 

His playing is very personal, with apparently no objective to perform for an audience, but rather to work on the material as a individual quest. This gives the overall sound its intimate and unhurried nature, with barely any use of power or force or even energy. There is nothing to show, only music to explore, and silence. Some of the tracks have moments of silence around which his baritone 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Stephen Gauci - Solo Improvisations (Gaucimusic, 2022)


New York tenor saxophonist made a great decision to start his own label, called Gaucimusic, to get some more exposure. This has resulted in quite a list of albums on Bandcamp over the past years, including this solo album by him, which is I think his first. We are used to his playing in smaller ensembles, in duo or trio format. This album is the direct result of the covid-19 lockdown. 

Gauci's playing is true free jazz, authentic, intimate, personal and soaring. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Lao Dan - Self-destruct Machine (Hou Wa Records, 2022)


Chinese virtuoso alto saxophonist and flautist Lao Dan presents his fourth or fifth solo album. He is a classically trained musician, who was admitted with the highest score to Shenyang Conservatory of Music in 2007, and who served as the principal flute player of Youth Chinese Orchestra thoughout his college years. He was titled the outstanding graduate in 2011.

I am not sure what his teachers may think of his music today, but for free jazz fans there is a lot to appreciate and admire. The first track brings fierce and fluttering, often bird-like sounds, but full of intensity and anguish, and is in stark contrast with the calmer nature of the second piece, starting on flute (dizi) and voice for a meditative introduction, but changing in nature when he switches to alto. 

Apart from mixing different levels of intensity and power, he also alternates between authentic and deep emotional outbursts, pure lyricism and moments of fun, a little rebellious in nature. 

The concert was recorded live concert in Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan in 2019. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Albert Cirera & MuMu - Âmago (MuMu, 2021)


We get another great treat from tenor and soprano saxophonist Albert Cirera and the mysterious MuMu who is responsible for half the compositions. MuMu's only other findable album is "Five Pieces For Stones" but with no further information available. Cirera's four extensive and intense circular breathing improvisations bookend the album, while the shorter, sound art by MuMu is concentrated in the middle section. 

Readers familiar with "Lisboa’s Work" (Multikulti Project, 2017), Cirera's other solo album, will find this one more welcoming and accessible. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Catherine Sikora - Corners (Self, 2021)


I have once been in the situation that I was the only member of the audience when a free improv trio was expected to perform. Something must have gone wrong with the promotion of the concert, or people had other things to do, I don't know. The musicians were friendly and agreed to give me a private audition, not an entire concert but half an hour, which I thought was more than generous on their part, and also a unique experience as a listener. 

On "Corners", saxophonist Catherine Sikora does the same, but here deliberately: on a beautiful Sunday in May 2021, she gave 14 private improvisations at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, each time for only one person. It's a long album, with each piece clocking around 7 to 8 minutes, but worth listening to. I imagine the open space of the room, the interested and possibly somewhat uncomfortable listener, and Sikora's effort to bring her music, the listener and the space into a coherent whole. 

It was her first concert since her performance in Paris in 2020 at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, released as "Sanctuary". With "Jersey" (2016) and "Warrior" (2019), this makes it her fourth solo album. Performing solo is the backbone of her work, even further reinforced by the digital single track release of "Backbone" on Bandcamp last year. 

Her skills are excellent, navigating complex runs with agility and determination, with a warm and pure tone, but her strongest quality is the lyricism and melodiousness of her improvisations. Her music sings, soars, sometimes jubilates, and all this in a very gentle and welcoming tone. There are meditative moments, sometimes a little sadness or melancholy, but more often than not there is a feeling of joy, possibly because of being able to perform after lockdown, and probably because that's in her nature of her music. There are never violent outbursts of very expressive moments of overblowing. Her style is more intimate, focused on the miniatures of her art, the play with form and structure. 

The 14 listeners on that Sunday in May must have had a great listening experience. We can be happy to be part of it now. This is an excellent album. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Aaron Burnett - Correspondence (Relative Pitch Records, 2022)

Possibly best known as the saxophonist of bassist Esperanza Spalding's band, Aaron Burnett deserves wider recognition for the quality of his playing and his sense of musicality. The fact that he performed with Wynton Marsalis, may be good evidence of his technical skills in traditional jazz. 

Aaron Burnett began studying classical saxophone at the age of 9 and became interested in jazz music around the age of 16. He studied classical and jazz performance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from 1999 - 2001, then studied classical composition at the Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2008.

"Correspondence", his first solo album, is nothing less than fascinating: his compositions/improvisations are complex, with lots of counterpoint, as if he's dialoguing with himself, and creating a kind of natural tension in the music, and the incredible speed at which he plays makes it even more exhilirating to listen to. 

Even if all the pieces are improvised, they are still structured around musical concepts that remain for the length of each track. 

Somehow, he mentions that "this is his final avant-garde record", which is in itself a bizarre statement, and one we also deplore. This is a very promising record and I wish we could hear more from him in this abundant and exploratory environment. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Massimo Magee - Toneflower (577 Records, 2022) 


Massimo Magee is a British writer, visual artist and musician, whose artistic output is abundant and diverse. As a musician, he is equally versatile, performing on sax, clarinet, piano, trumpet, electronics and percussion. His first solo album, called "Seven Solos" dates from 2009, with each solo played on another instrument. Other solo albums are "Music in 3 Spaces" (2016), "Tenor Tales" (2018), and "Poussez" from 2014 is his first solo alto album. 

This is his second solo album, clearly the horn that he is most comfortable with. His playing is intense and focused, exploring the legacy of great jazz saxophonists and musical innovators. Even if all tracks are improvised, they are still built around a core structural concept that gives the pieces solid anchor points around which to explore. This gives the album both variation and freedom. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Adam Pierończyk - Oaxaca Constellation (Self released, 2021)


Adam Pierończyk is among those virtuoso Polish musicians who feel at home in any context, and who thrive in the various forms of jazz. 

There are 35 tracks on this album, each one a few seconds longer than the previous one, starting at 1 minute and ending at 3 minutes. It was recorded in 2016 at a 16th Century Dominican monastery of Oaxaca, Mexico. Like in the music of John Butcher, the actual space of the performance plays an important role, resulting in a strong resonance of Pierończyk's crystal clear pure tones. The reverberation adds a strong quality to the music, and a more timeless quality to his playing, in contrast to the more intimate closed space of his previous solo soprano album "The Planet Of Eternal Life" (2013). The inspiration for this performance is now also to be found in nature and the stellar universe.

Pierończyk is not a timbral explorer. He stays within the sonic boundaries of traditional jazz soprano, but the real treat is the lyrical and melodic power of his musical poems. 

Available from the label


JD Allen - Queen City (Savant, 2021)


JD Allen is not a real free jazz player, but this album still nicely fits in this list of solo albums. JD Allen is possibly best known as a sideman with many jazz ensembles - and when you hear him play you understand why - and his own work is strong and high quality modern jazz. It is therefore a pleasure to hear him in a solo setting, the first of his career. 

His playing is jazzy, rhythmic often, with a warm round tone. His playing is gentle, unhurried and relaxed.  The compositions are nice, the sound quality is great. "Queen City" (named afer Cincinnati, where the album was recorded, makes for pleasant listening. 

Will Vinson - Solo (Whirlwind Recordings, 2021)


British altoist Will Vinson offers us his ninth solo album (although I could not find any information about the other eight), a gentle and welcoming record with 18 tracks that were composed/improvised and recorded during the lockdown, while he was visiting his family in Australia. The quality of the playing is excellent, yet it stays on the safe side. He writes in the liner notes that the music was created duing"an intense period which began with the death of my beloved father and was closely followed with an intense and wretched 31 days of solid police-guarded hotel isolation". I wish the music expressed that intensity and sense of grief and revolt.

Listen and download from Bandcamp



Sunday, August 28, 2022

Pat Thomas & XT (Seymour Wright, Paul Abbott) with Will Holder - “Akisakila” / Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees) (Edition Gamut, 2022)


By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

It doesn’t make me very happy but there’s a certain polarization that’s sweeping many western societies (including the one I live) right now. On the one pole you have all this neoliberal, racist, fascist, misogynic dreadful rhetoric that, thankfully, provokes many healthy reactions from all those people that still believe a better world is possible. Music (as always) couldn’t stay away or hide from this struggle.

I’m really happy to comment that a lot of people seem to look back at the great, radical tradition of free jazz and improvisation as a means to express or, even, free themselves. I do not know if this may sound like hubris, even to emancipate themselves as human beings and artists. We know by now that free jazz in the 60’s and 70’s, before it became commodified, was a force of change in many ways. The sad part in my miniscule dialectic is that it had to be for this polarization for a lot of people to look back with new eyes. But a lot of people do and the products are fruitful and forward thinking. And, yes, it is indeed great Black music, ancient to the future.

There isn’t a lot to say, that hasn’t been said, about the music of Cecil Taylor, one of the greats for 20th century music. As for the duo of XT, Seymour Wright and Paul Abbott are continually pushing the envelope by being one of the few who still can be recognized as making new music –whatever that means in 21st century music. They have also made it to my top ten lists for this site, if that matters to anybody.

Apart from the music itself in “Akisakila” /Attitudes of Preparation, which is burning free jazz, what strikes me as more important is that the three of them (with Pat Thomas on the piano in full blow out form) create something like a bridge connecting the past with the present. This double vinyl (yes!, we the fetishists applaud in joy) is not a product of three musicians who rely on the past and it’s not, either, the result of the present manifestations of what jazz is. The three of them have managed to create a timeless album, one that incorporates music, words with radical avant-garde tactics and practices.

All the above are handled in the most sublime way. This is not a showing off of how deep informed they are about jazz or about the amazing, still to be discovered, work of Cecil. It is just three great musicians that present their music, or their take on musics past and present if you like. As our societies are immersed in negativity, art will (or I wish it will) present one of the barriers to stop all this. “Akisakila” /Attitudes of Preparation is one of the works that stays in the forefront, on the right side of history and in a more banal point of view should be a strong candidate for best album of 2022.

Dig in.

@koultouranafigo

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Pat Thomas & XT (Seymour Wright, Paul Abbott) with Will Holder - “Akisakila” / Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees) (Edition Gamut, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Edwin (Eddie) Prévost wrote recently, “The personality, and quirkiness, of a jazz artist is an indicator. Although, jazz has become, in recent decades, increasingly formalised, there are now subtle, insidious, prescribed approaches on offer. Jazz has become more codified, and commodified: even if clothed within an artificial narrative of modernity… Certainly, it became the ‘go to’ music of the Western professional classes. Whole books would be devoted to significant exemplars, like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Given such a cultural/market push, it should surprise no-one that newly emerging jazz musicians would find a postmodern response as the only viable market position to adopt. We return to alienation. We note the history and social trajectory of the inventors of jazz.”

The duo of Paul Abbott and Seymour Wright, under the name XT, has inherited the mantle of AMM, releasing some of the most forward-thinking, freely improvised music out there—way, way out there in many cases. Credits bill each as playing “actual & potential” drums (Abbott) and saxophone (Wright), and performances stack samples, loops, enhancements, and other layers over their rich, sharply honed improvisations. To pay tribute to the grand master of free jazz, Cecil Taylor, Abbott and Wright team up with the legendary Pat Thomas.

As a pianist, Thomas both is and is not like Taylor. Starting around 1979, Thomas constructed a unique set of improvisational languages—used in solo, duo, and small-group contexts—linked closely to Taylor through their mutual association with Tony Oxley. Recently, Thomas has played with Wright in the quartet أحمد [Ahmed], another example of the postmodern response, revisiting another inventor of jazz, Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Just as Abbott and Wright use XT to (re-)invent the semantics of improvised jazz, Thomas’s music with Wright and Abbott deconstructs Taylor’s circa-1973 compositional approach by gradually pulling it apart into referential bits that obliquely recall Taylor, Lyons, and Cyrille without over-cleverly aping or outright quoting. “Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees)” was recorded live in 2018, with the trio playing an extended improvisation inspired by and recontextualizing Taylor’s classic Akisakila, the Unit’s 1973 “comeback” performance. On the hour-and-a-half “Bulu Akisakila Kutala,” Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, and Andrew Cyrille’s first recorded performance together since 1969. Akisakila was the precursor to Taylor’s return to New York City . In revisiting this vital moment, Thomas, Abbott, and Wright begin by de-/re-contextualizing the spoken introduction into a syncopated loop, “drums, piano, sax, Unit,” a wind-up from which Wright immediately jumps into a Lyons-esque melody line.

Digitally, the live performance runs unbroken for over an hour, roughly equal to the length of the original “Busu Akisakila Kutala.” Although, “Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees)” is something of an investigation and a questioning, of sorts. The group asks “Who was Cecil Taylor?” and also “What is improvised jazz after Cecil Taylor?” The answer is wickedly complex and eminently listenable. Scraps of interviews and written words from Taylor and a dozen others move to the forefront towards the second half of the performance. The samples play in conversation with Thomas, Abbott, and Wright’s improvisation, the answer to our questions sure to emerge from listeners’ re-experiencing the whole. On vinyl, the unbroken performance is cut into four sides, emphasizing different aspects of the night in a suite-like restructuring, yet another re-presentation of “Akisikala” itself. The cover consists of interviews from Taylor, Thomas, Abbott, and Wright, edited and assembled by Will Holder, who appropriately receives a credit on the album’s liner notes. The text serves as a fourth voice, adding a literary dimension to the aural experience, and providing listeners with more material to enjoy and explore.

As a recording, “Akisakila” / Attitudes of Preparation (Mountains, Oceans, Trees) is undoubtedly in the running for album of the year. The trio’s music is deliriously engaging, frenetic and charged with a hot energy that burns brilliantly. Sidestepping all of Prévost’s warnings about “subtle, insidious, prescribed approaches,” XT and Thomas instead create something direct and uncommonly provoking, a must-own.

Available in digital and limited-edition vinyl

Friday, August 26, 2022

Sélébéyone – Xaybu: The Unseen (Pi Recordings, 2022)


By Troy Dostert

When Steve Lehman’s Sélébéyone project debuted in 2016, it was widely recognized as a pathbreaking advance in merging jazz with innovative currents in underground rap. With an intercontinental ensemble drawing on the talents of well-established avant-garde jazz musicians and the artistry of rappers HPrizm and Gaston Bandimic, the recording bridged not only musical divides, but linguistic and cultural ones as well. The juxtaposition of HPrizm’s English and Bandimic’s Wolof (the dominant Senegalese language) was integral to the music’s boundary-challenging nature, as was its insistent exploration of Sufi religious themes over more time-worn topics. As impressive and challenging as that first outing was, its follow-up, Xaybu: The Unseen represents a fuller realization of the group’s concept, and an even more dizzying array of beats, textures and wordplay.

It's tempting at first to see this release as moving a greater distance from the jazz world; the first album employed the talents of keyboardist Carlos Homs and bassist Drew Gress, neither of whom are present here. So this is a “stripped down” ensemble, with soprano saxophonist Maciek Lasserre, drummer Damion Reid and Lehman (on alto saxophone) working alongside the rappers as a quintet, essentially. But the debut relied so heavily on samples and studio layering that it was frequently impossible to determine where the “live” musicianship ended and the produced elements began. Xaybu is in the same way a producer’s record, with Lasserre and Lehman each composing and producing half the tracks. To be sure, there isn’t much to be found by way of conventional jazz rhythms, although there are instrumental voicings, particularly from the saxophones, that retain a tenuous tie to idiomatic jazz elements. Moreover, there are spoken word clips from Billy Higgins and Jackie McLean woven throughout the album, which bear not only on the music’s connection to jazz but to the Islamic tradition as well, as both musicians were Muslim converts. But regardless of its diverse stylistic and cultural touchstones, this release has successfully created a musical world of its own—one that demands to be appreciated on its own merits, irrespective of its antecedents.

Like all significant music, this is art that can be engaged on multiple levels. The musicianship is superb, with dazzling contributions from both saxophonists. Lehman’s meticulous, angular lines on “Liminal” pave the way for the questing flights of Lasserre, who like Lehman seems energized by the track’s expansive yearnings. And Damion Reid is once again astonishing, able to take a bewildering variety of rhythms and shift, fracture, and reassemble them at will. The rhythmic multiplicity on this release seems a definite leap over what was on offer on the group’s debut. Tracks like “Djibril” and “Gas Akap” possess kaleidoscopic range, with unsettled beats that are transformed well before one can ever get completely comfortable with them. And the assorted sounds and textures introduced at the production stage are themselves something to marvel at; a nice set of headphones is an asset in helping to unravel some of these mysteries.

There’s also a spiritual integrity to the music that is worth mentioning. If Higgins and McLean saw their artistic creations as emanations of their religious pursuits, Bandimic and HPrizm are certainly making the same acknowledgement here. “Go In,” after McLean’s voiceover, sees HPrizm asserting that “It’s harder to connect to the source/Amid the chaos the signal wasn’t lost/But across time to find the through line it took a lot of work/Uncovering, unlocking, unblocking, maneuvering, not stopping/Trekking through the rumble of a crumbled empire/My legacy was buried underneath all of that/And it’s still there.” Bandimic’s vocals (translated into English on the Pi website) are just as potent, delivered with invigorating urgency and energy.

In the end, analyzing the music only takes us so far, as it can get in the way of what is, when all is said and done, a very engaging musical experience. In the liner notes describing the album’s creation, Lehman says that “ultimately the way that things come together to imbue a piece of music with meaning and substance remains largely elusive and mysterious.” It’s an apt description of the listening process as well, one exemplified by this captivating recording.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Anteloper - Pink Dolphins (International Anthem, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Readers will likely have seen the news that jaimie branch died earlier this week. Probably, like many of you, I dove back into albums and videos of Branch performing, and during a Constellation livestream, after explaining that FLY or DIE II was about more than simply the Trump administration, that the group was addressing issues far bigger than one person’s misdeeds, she said something that got right to the heart of things: “We gotta fix this shit and take care of each other. How? I think we make music like this.” The rest is on us, to keep the lamp lit, keep making music, and keep lifting each other up.

* * *

If, as they described them, the first Anteloper albums are a “proof of concept,” then jaimie branch and Jason Nazary’s newest is more like signed, sealed, delivered. On Pink Dolphins, branch, Nazary, and the newly added Jeff Parker go hard in a swinging, swirling darkmagusaqueminibioaquadoloop fashion. The album is a trip, and also a journey, with branch and Nazary extending a line that runs from Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, to Lester Bowie and Philip Wilson, all the way through to Wadada Leo Smith’s many drummer duos. As we’ve noted here before, branch is one of the most diverse and innovative trumpet players on the scene, and Nazary is an equal in every way.

From the opening, there’s a brand new, heavy sound, informed as much by Parker’s role as producer as by Nazary and branch’s ever-expanding palettes. On “Earthlings,” branch lays down a smooth vocal line over a trip-hop inflected beat and highly addictive trumpet melody. It’s the kind of track that would have landed on a hundred mixtapes 25 years ago; today, it’s likely to play on a thousand streaming playlists. The retro vibe is a shimmery top layer, the depths reveal dozens of cracked loops and punchy synths. There’s an undeniable, self-acknowledged punk vibe, an aesthetic that extends to the delightfully neon artwork..

With Parker at the helm, Anteloper shows again how they’re something of a next-gen Chicago Underground, subtly reflected by Taylor’s mbira on the superb “Delfin Rosado.” The sonic depth of “One Living Genus,” which effortlessly unfolds over 15 glorious minutes, is reminiscent of Age of Energy, Mazurek and Taylor’s 2012 album. Nazary unhurriedly folds in kick drums and toms, as synth waves rise up. The back half of the song evokes Art Ensemble of Chicago’s unique uses of drone and space to explore a number of different textures, with branch’s trumpet flowing through like an independent current in the river. “One Living Genus” is, in some ways, the truest display of Anteloper’s unique take on electro-acoustic improvised jazz; there are few players aside from branch, Nazary, and Parker who are breaking through the boundaries of improvisation with such exciting results.

Available on black and limited-edition “aquadelic pink” vinyl, CD and digital direct from International Anthem.


“Earthlings” video



“One Living Genus” video



Anteloper live in Torino, 29 March 2022



Anteloper with the jaimie branch trio live at Roulette, 18 June 2021

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/HYdZJcaWrIs





Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Tim Berne - Decay (Screwgun, 2022)

By Gary Chapin

Two years into the pandemic and Tim Berne is casually throwing us archival music like it’s just a normal thing that happens. Color me amazed. It’s like he’s searching through his couch cushions for change and he comes out with these wonderful, magic coins. Producer David Torn shines them up, and then they come to us.

This quartet of Berne’s, playing a 2015 gig, has two of the usual suspects—Ches Smith on drums, and Michael Formanek on bass—and one unusual suspect, Ryan Ferreira on guitar. The history of Tim Berne and his guitarists could be the basis of a Netflix mini-series. Such extraordinary and unique voices coming through his groups, and Ryan fits right into that set.

The album starts with Berne playing a solo, noodling melody, medium dynamic, medium speed, mid-range. Ryan comes in playing the low-pitched strings, sounding a bit like rebar hitting a high tension wire. Ryan widens the palette, and in come the bass and drums.

I’ve had occasion to praise both Smith and Formanek in the past. On Decay, Formanek seems to be especially foundational. He’s the twisted, gnarled trunk of the tree that all the branches radiate from. His melodies in the bass are as satisfying as anything I’ve heard. Ches Smith is like the floating matter that everyone else walks on. As if they’re stepping into open air and his shimmers and bangs come up to put some ground under their feet, adding some risk or urgency to the emotional content.

Towards the end of the second tune, “Imperfect,” I begin to put together what’s different—to me—about Ferreira’s playing. With his long tones and squeals, he’s creating an atmosphere for everything else to breathe in. His voice is an influential one in the construction of this soundtrack, reminding me much more of Berne’s work with David Torn than Marc Ducret. It makes sense since one of Ferreira’s other projects is Music for Images, which moves into ambient territory. He likes to create space.

“How Hip is the Ocean,” takes us into a different space and, apologies to Berne, the ocean is never “hip” to me, but always dark and brooding. And, yes, I know the title is a pun. The piece IS dark and brooding, though. I’m from New England and we live for dark and brooding. The walking pace gives everyone space to make their statements and play their roles with confident, reluctant élan. A good piece of aural theater.

“The Fantastic Five,” opens with a delicious swing from Formanek and Smith, part of the head. They’re joined by Berne and Ferreira. the guitar takes a solo over bass and drums, and after only a few minutes it becomes a conversation between the three of them. Every one of these tracks has an arc to it. A story to tell. The slow rises in intensity can give goose bumps. No one gets to far out ahead, the narrative is never prematurely rushed.

“A Third Option” closes the disc, beginning in the long tone sax/guitar effects duet space, before tapping on the wires and fleet alto lines commence. It’s a 21-ish minute piece that, like the rest of this album, embraces Berne’s vulgar and broad side. Berne is a truly great melodist. So is Formanek. But this album takes as much advantage of the textures available as anything else. Kudos, again, to David Torn for the sound work here.

Jaimie Branch (1983 - 2022)

Jaimie Branch. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

By Martin Schray

It’s horrible news that trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch has died in her home in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She was only 39 years old.

Branch, who was born in Huntington, Long Island, began playing the trumpet at the age of nine and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. In her teens, she moved with her family to Chicago and later returned to work there as a musician, promoter and sound engineer in the scene with Jason Ajemian, Tim Daisy and Ken Vandermark, among others. During those years, she formed the trio Princess, Princess (with bassist Toby Summerfield and drummer Frank Rosaly). With Jason Stein, Jeb Bishop and Jason Roebke, she played in Block and Tackle. In 2012, she moved to Baltimore, where she earned a master’s degree in jazz performance from Towson University. During this time, she also founded the record label Pionic Records, releasing her music in vinyl pressings, and performed with her formation Bomb Shelter. Back in New York City, she went on to work with Brandon Lopez, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Mike Pride, among others. She also participated in recording sessions with independent rock groups but it took her until her thirties before she had her breakthrough with the globally acclaimed Fly Or Die Quartet, which included Chad Taylor (drums), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Lester St. Louis and Tomeka Reid (cello), respectively. “I attempted to put out a couple of records myself and they didn’t really come out, so I had that earlier failure,” Branch said in an interview with the Village Voice. She felt she needed to “live life,” soak up more experience. “So I waited, and I played music, and I got caught up in drugs, and dealt with that but just kept playing.” Her drug issues — precisely her heroin addiction — had been behind her, she said. With Fly Or Die Branch put together rawness and delicacy in such an artful and idiosyncratic way that one could not really find a comparison. The way this extraordinarily intense improviser was capable of spectacular flights of fancy when grounded to the max and handled her instrument was sensational and indeed never heard before. Her energy alternated between minimalist structures, HipHop and punk, song form and collective improvisation.

Anyone who has seen Branch live will never forget her electric presence. How she wandered across the stage and through the audience in her often flowing clothes, a mic in one hand, her trumpet in the other, joking with people. With Fly Or Die, she could rock every house. The band knew how to build up tension, loud passages were always followed by tender moments, sometimes Branch let the compositions implode, only to enter the next free sound field again. She managed to get the audience to sing along without being awkward - few can do that. During the set break at the Mars Williams Ayler Christmas Project concert in Weikersheim in December 2018, she chatted animatedly with a few of us about her dog, smoking like a chimney, possessed with a pure joy for life. Nothing is known about the circumstances of her death at the time of this writing. The news that she has passed away has hit me like a bolt of lightning in the middle of the night. Our thoughts are with her family. The jazz world is poorer today.

Watch her in concert here:

 



Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Die Hochstapler - Beauty Lies & Within (Umlaut, 2022)


 By Eyal Hareuveni

The pan-European quartet Die Hochstapler (The Impostors in German) - French alto sax player Pierre Borel and trumpeter Louis Laurain, Italian double bass player Antonio Borghini and German drummer and vibes player Hannes Lingens, was founded in 2011 and since then has been developing a distinct style based on collective composition and radical and often eccentric individual dynamics. Die Hochstapler’s music is created collectively in extensive rehearsal periods where the repertoire grows and renews itself constantly. Typical for a band that dedicated its debut album, The Braxtornette Project (Umalut, 2014), to the music and philosophies of both Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman (and inventing on its sophomore album the alter-ego of mysterious Chicagoan musician, linguist and mathematician Alvin P. Buckley), poetry, alphabets and game structures serve as a basis for the common memory basket from which the four musicians are drawing in every performance in a new and unpredictable way.

Now, four years after the release of Die Hochstapler’s third album, The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog (Umlaut, 2018), the quartet cooked a two-course menu out of its February 2022 residency at the now legendary Berlin venue Au Topsi Pohl. The first album Beauty Lies documents the quartet afternoon performance, without an audience, playing 25 short pieces (the shortest last only four seconds, the longest is about ten minutes), almost without any improvisation. This album is a kind of a straightforward catalog of Die Hochstapler’s collective and individual languages developed throughout the quartet’s decade-long work. The well-crafted and notated music swings - often, literally - back and forth between early be-bop and fragmented Monk-ish ideas to Coleman’s harmolodics and Braxton-like complex musical systems. It is performed with playful irony (and check titles like “Squid Pro Quo” and “How Many Hairs”) and an amused nostalgic feel, with one dadaist song sung unassumingly by Laurain, “Beuty Lies Within”. Die Hochstapler plays these simple ideas with a strong sense of invention and precision, but with no attachment, just articulating the idea and moving on, but always highlighting its fast and razor-sharp, almost telepathic dynamics.

Within was recorded live in front of an intimate enthusiastic audience. Now Die Hochstapler’s fast and razor-sharp, profound almost telepathic dynamics are employed for a free improvised set, but still using the quartet’s game structures, alphabets and morse code, but, obviously, in a less disciplined manner than Beauty Lies. Listening to this album is like taking a wild and hyperactive ride in a musical park full of shiny attractions. You may acquire a better insight of Die Hochstapler’s leaderless, wise but intuitive free-improvised dynamics, its passionate yet complex pool of game-like tactics, and the way this quartet embraces surprising, labyrinthian detours, sometimes just for the sake of it. Die Hochstapler is not shy about experimenting with cerebral, minimalist new music, openly emotional music, dramatic pathos, swinging joyfully, or exploring challenging rhythmic patterns. Die Hochstapler constantly juggles a few musical cards in the air, alternating restlessly between free associative improvisions and its own kind of instant composing that incorporates a few recurring themes, but always lands on its tight feet.

A provocative but stimulating musical feast.


Monday, August 22, 2022

Rolf Kühn (1929 - 2022)

Rolf Kühn. Photo by Gregor Fischer, picture alliance
By Martin Schray

Rolf Kühn, the great clarinetist and elder statesman of German jazz, died August, 18th at the age of 92.

Kühn was born in Cologne in 1929, but grew up in Leipzig, where his family had moved shortly after his birth. He quickly discovered his musical talent and learned the violin, accordion, piano and eventually the clarinet. In Nazi Germany, however, the family went through hard times because Kühn’s mother was Jewish. His father, who worked at the circus, was not allowed to perform anymore because he refused to divorce his wife, which led to the family's financial problems. Early on, Kühn therefore earned extra money by playing the harmonium at funerals. Still during the war, in 1944, Kühn’s younger brother Joachim was born, who was to become a famous jazz musician as well. After 1945, Rolf Kühn then played dance music as a professional musician and through the pianist Jutta Hipp he became acquainted with the music of Benny Goodman, which was to change his life.

Via various orchestras, Kühn became first saxophonist in the RIAS dance orchestra in Berlin. But the clarinet was always his real instrument. In 1956 he  moved to New York. “Everything went surprisingly well, so I stayed for six years and I think they were some of the most important years in my life. To really play in place with the people you knew from records for many years, that was great. And there were a lot of opportunities to play with them," he said in an interview with the Bavarian Broadcasting Station. Benny Goodman (whose orchestra he conducted in the absence of its leader), Tommy Dorsey, Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker - these are just some of the jazz greats Rolf Kühn played with in the USA. There he also recorded his album Be My Guest (Panorama, 1960) with guitarists Chuck Wayne and Jim Hall, George Duvivier and Henry Grimes on bass, Don Lamond and Ray Mosca on drums, John Bunch on piano and organ and Jack Sheldon on trumpet. At the beginning of the 1960s Rolf Kühn returned to Germany and became the leader of the NDR television orchestra in Hamburg. In 1964 he played in a quartet at the Jazz Jamboree festival in Warsaw with his brother Joachim, a month later he recorded Solarius (Amiga, 1964), in quintet with Michal Urbaniak (then saxophonist), Joachim Kühn (p), Klaus Koch (b) and Czeslaw Bartkowski (dm), which remains, to this day, one of his best albums.

In 1966 he helped Joachim to escape from the GDR. This was achieved with the help of a friend, the pianist Friedrich Gulda, who organized a jazz competition in Vienna in 1966, and at Kühn’s request Gulda invited Joachim there as a participant from the GDR. Joachim Kühn went to Vienna and did not travel back to the GDR. In the same year the Kühn brothers played at the Berlin Jazztage and the gig became a sensational success.

After this concert, the Kühn brothers were booked for the legendary Newport Jazz Festival and in 1967 they traveled together to the USA. Several great record productions followed, many for the Black Forest-based label MPS. Transfiguration (Saba, 1967) - with Karlhanns Berger (vib), Beb Guérin (b) and Aldo Romano (dm) - shows that Rolf Kühn was familiar with free jazz as well,

In the 1970 and 80s he composed more and more for film and television, but he always remained faithful to jazz and kept releasing records. He remained open to new, interesting sounds throughout his life. At the same time, his curiosity seemed to have become even greater and his musical approach even freer. This can be heard, for example, on the recording Stereo (Edel, MPS) with his Unit from 2015, with Ronny Graupe on guitar, Johannes Fink on bass and Christian Lillinger on drums.

Rolf Kühn was an excellent technician, but always far more than that - a great musical personality with a completely unmistakable playing full of brilliance, daring, sovereignty and beauty. 
 
Listen to the Rolf Kühn Unit here:

Cologne Jazzweek (Final Day)

By Martin Schray

The last day of the Cologne Jazzweek always starts free concerts in the afternoon at the Ebertplatz, which is in the center of the city. Of course, something like this is more like a happening or a fair with live music than a real concert, because the bands had to play against the very loud fountain on the Ebertplatz as well as the volume of a neighboring street festival, the normal conversations of the spectators coming and going, and frolicking children. Mental Garden (a sextet) started in the afternoon, followed by two really large formations: Paradoxy Urban feat. Martin Fondse, an ambitious large-scale project with over 60 musicians from the Cologne jazz scene, and LEONEsauvage, a project by saxophonist and composer Luise Volkmann, who explores the African-American roots and conventions of jazz, with obvious parallels to Sun Ra’s music. The band was certainly the most ambitious and musically challenging one, however the Sun Ra approach was very obvious and being something really unique it is hard to get some new aspects from it. But for the event it was quite fitting.

LEONEsauvage

The festival ended in the posh Sartory Ballroom with Danish guitarist Jakob Bro’s Trio Uma Elmo, feat. Arve Hendriksen (Norway) on trumpet, voice and electronics and Jorge Rossy (Spain) on drums, followed by singer Becca Stevens and Tamara Lukasheva + INSO-Lviv Orchestra - especially the two last ones of rather mainstream acts, which is why I decided to leave the festival after Uma Elmo.

Jakob Bro’s Trio Uma Elmo

This turned out to be an excellent choice, because Bro’s project played an outstanding gig. Especially the connection of several songs from the album to a 37-minute whole was very cleverly constructed. The musicians started ultra-atmospheric, taking advantage of the spatial conditions of the high hall, which created a very strong reverb. The quiet beginning evoked associations with Scandinavian landscapes, with fjords, it was as if the spherical music of northern lights became audible. But this approach, very close to kitsch for some, was repeatedly roughened by a consistent electronic processing of the music by Bro and Henriksen, the music turned from too pleasing ways, got something eerie and uncanny. The surface-like was emphasized, because Henriksen’s trumpet, in particular, repeatedly sounded off-key and slightly atonal. Especially when he sang and whistled, the imagined northern lights turned into wandering voices of ghosts. Finally, it was Rossy who, with a few hits on the snare, picked up the tempo and steered the band in the direction of jazz rock, only to bring the whole thing to a near halt again with a few wipes of his brushes. It was amazing how well this music works live. The concert was one of the best of the week, a real surprise.

So, what remains of the second Cologne Jazzweek? More than 50 concerts, about 5000 spectators. It’s certainly positive that young people were being addressed, though I had the impression that many of them were connected with the music academy. New listeners might become interested in a music that otherwise only a few have on their radar. The program was diverse, from Bushman’s Revenge to Christopher Dell’s Working Concert to Sons of Kemet and Reich/Risser/Totenhagen, an enormous stylistic spectrum was covered. The venues are beautiful and varied, and the sound was always really good. The festival is very present in the city, which speaks for a very good organization. The fact that it is grassroots-democracy based is certainly exemplary (the involved Cologne musicians elect a 5-member board of trustees, to whom acts can be proposed and who then put the program together). For free jazz friends like the majority of the readers of this blog, however, the inconsistent spectrum is a disadvantage. Not all concerts were worth listening to, and there was a lot of mainstream stuff. Whether the event's approach ultimately serves the music remains questionable. Young people often attended just the free concerts. Whether they are willing to pay for music that is very unwieldy remains to be seen, should funding flow more sparsely in the future. The competition between the festivals in the Ruhr region is fierce, with the also very new Triennale in Monheim and the long-established Moers Festival as strong rivals. But the Cologne Jazzweek was well worth a visit.