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Monday, October 31, 2022

Tamarisk - Plays a Word for Sun (Waveform Alphabet) (Binaural Recording, 2022)

Tamarisk comprises bassist, composer, and writer David Menestres, composer and improviser Andrew Weathers, and guitarist and vocalist Christina Carter. Tamarisk Plays A Word For Sun was recorded live at Co-Opt in April 2022.

The recording inexorably draws the listener in as the trio improvises around guitars, vocals, and percussive elements provided by instruments and the spaces between the notes.

Starting as almost a whisper, the music builds into a sonic landscape that carries the listener through, with intricacies shared between the musicians, emotional outpourings, and twists and turns in the metric patterns and tempos, which are breathtaking.

The profound intensity of this music is what free playing is all about, with subtle and not-so-subtle atmospheric changes dictated by reactionary and profoundly interpreted complementary actions.

After the gentle introduction sections where the voice and strings communicate together, the bass sets up a rhythm over which the voice drops again, searingly emotive and sounding at times like an extension of the strings themselves.

The extremes of the instruments are explored with the bass at times grinding on stretched strings or weaving intricate melodics behind the vocals. The vocals largely dictate the essence of this recording as Carter swings between breathy intakes to gloriously held upper notes and short, plucky interludes where she sings like a sigh in a folksy, spiritual manner, almost shamanic in its delivery.

Around the 16-minute mark, the listener is treated to threadbare vocals over percussive additions. This works into a well-timed and exquisitely delivered louder section with horn-like blasts, scratch bass, and glorious disharmonies.

When the voice enters again, it is tremulous, almost inquisitive, and the bass reacts, seemingly welcoming the return.

The approximately halfway mark is stamped with electronic sounds under which bells shift and shuffle, creating mesmeric sound tones, with the guitar gently imbibing chords underneath. The percussive elements rise and fade, and the strings are given a voice, to which vocals add repeated, 'I hear you.' A delightful wave pattern of guitar and bass interaction follows, and the effect is transformative.

The rhythm patterns develop a regularity, and the vocals preside over deep, thumping strings before the voice is left to solo, high, and pure.

The recording is unsettling at times, as the musicians interact with various and intricate language, which is musical, yet pushes many boundaries, so the brain takes a while to catch up with the ears, as the complex depths reveal themselves with each listen.

Throughout this live recording, there is a sense of intense communion between the musicians; sometimes, a complex conversation happens, and the listening is almost palpable at others.

With a clear understanding of breath control, noise, musical sound, and instrumental exploration, this recording is, to borrow a quote from Andrew Weather, 'special and extremely weird.' It exemplifies how three musicians, working closely and listening profoundly, can take the listener through various soundscapes, developing the music and understanding the effect it will have, whether they are playing solo or in harmony.

What is striking are the changes in the atmosphere, developed from the simple or complex nature of the sound created.

Special indeed, this is a recording for the committed free improvisational music audience, and it will not disappoint. Weird, not so much because it is music that flows from the musicians' hearts and into that of the listener. Menestres told me he was convinced the recording would be a good idea – so convinced he drove 3780.9 miles round trip between his base in North Carolina and the others' bases in Texas to make it happen. He was right to go with his instincts. This recording was a very good idea.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Rob Mazurek - Creating light through music

By Stef Gijssels

Over the years, Chicago trumpet player and composer Rob Mazurek has developed his own kind of musical subgenre, while at the same time still trying to move forward and break boundaries, without relinquishing his own musical signature. This years he brings us two gems: a quartet and a solo album. 

His signature sound is a combination of strong themes, rhythmic complexity and the capacity to bring light to music. His music, and his soloing shine. They radiate joy and bring clarity to the listener's environment. It's hard to describe, but that's how it comes across: a majestic brightness arises out of his music. 

Rob Mazurek - Father's Wing (RogueArt, 2022) *****

The quartet consists of Mazurek on piccolo trumpet and electronics, Kris Davis on piano, Ingebright Håker Flaten on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums. The music is dedicated to Mazurek's father Henry who passed away in 2016. You would expect the music to be sad and intimate, yet it isn't. It is vibrant with life and energy, it is an ode to life and possibly to all the good things remembered about him: "sometimes harsh and sometimes sweet as a blue bird... but he was an Honest Man... took care of his family". 

The quality of the music is excellent. Most tracks are built around core themes, with ample time and space for improvisation, and with an even more remarkable space for individual instruments to take the piece to surprising areas, but with great respect for its coherence.

The whole band is spectacular. Mazurek does not often play with acoustic pianists - with the exception of Angelica Sanchez on a few albums - but Kris Davis really co-creates the wonderful sound of this album. She is fully at ease with the grand themes, and in her comfort zone for the rhythmic soloing. Håker Flaten drives some of the greatest parts of the album, including the repetitive bass vamp and solo on "Sun Ohm 3". Chad Taylor and Mazurek have a long-standing relationship, and they feel each other almost subconsciously, with the drummer's inventive and solid playing adding to the brightness of the sound. Mazurek's sound is also clear and jubilant, even if he takes the front position only at rare occasions, but his real strength - like on most of his ensemble albums - is the quality of his compositions, the smart structuring and pacing of the pieces, and his incredible talent for beautiful themes, that will continue to resonate in your head long after you've stopped listening to the album. 

For the last few weeks, I have been listening to this album possibly three four times a day, and it grows on you, sharing and more and more of its beauty and power as you listen to it. 

This is jazz at its best, with great music, exceptional musicians, and a brilliant delivery, making the listener rejoice with the quality of it all, while at the same time being moved by its emotional power. There are gentle moments, joyful moments, sad moments, energetic moments, chaotic moments ... Life is complex, and so are father-son relationships. I guess most fathers would appreciate a tribute like this one. 

Rob Mazurek - All Distances Inform (RogueArt, 2022)

"All Distances Inform" is a great addition to Mazurek's oeuvre of solo recordings. I assume that the title refers to the spaces in which the improvisations were performed, at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, located in the desert. 

I am not sure the performance was recorded in the space in the picture below, but it might well be the "large room" mentioned on some of the track titles. It presents a permanent collection of works by Donald Judd, 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986. 

You can imagine Mazurek performing here. You hear his piccolo trumpet resonate in the space, you can hear him walk through this environment that is both closed and completely open, with the desert light shining and reflecting on the artwork in the hall. You can hear him listen to his own echo and dialoguing and expanding on what he hears. His playing is slow, precise, allowing the notes to develop their sound colour as they explore the world around him. Is it moaning? Is it singing? Is it praying? I think it's more like an incantation, a spiritual experience that is physical at the same time. 

The album has an amazing coherence of sound, and is in that sense more to my preference than his other solo work like "Abstractions On Robert D'Arbrisel", and definitely more accessible than "Mother Ode" or "Silver Spines". 

The overall sound is austere, stripped of melody, rhythm, with no frills or unnecessary sonic ornamentation. The sound is clear, crystal clear very often, like the light that floods the room, and makes it shine. 

Both albums are easy to recommend. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

John Escreet - Seismic Shift (Whirlwind, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

I read somewhere recently an enumeration of pianist John Escreet's unique selling points. One placed him the pantheon of modern masters such as Kris Davis, Matthew Shipp, David Virelles, Myra Melford, Marilyn Crispell, and Craig Taborn. That is one hell of a list, and after many listening to the British expat's most recent release, Seismic Shift, I feel there is no reason refute any of it. The album is fantastic outpouring of tough melodic statements and bracing rhythmic drive. Escreet, whose previous work includes forays into fusion, mainstream, modern chamber and avant-garde jazz (check out his 2014 album with Evan Parker, Sound Space and Structures and the follow up live recording The Unknown from 2016) has delivered a solid album that defies easy categorization.

Joined by bassist Eric Revis and drummer Damion Reid, Seismic Shift was recorded in Escreet's new home of Los Angeles. Maybe Seismic Shift refers to the move to a place that lives on the edge of seismic activity, always waiting for the big one, or maybe it refers to the bold, vibrant, and uncompromising rhythms and harmonic movements that the trio creates together. Regardless, from the opening track 'Study No. 1,' all of those adjectives come to play - the piano work is melodic and rambunctious, the bass playing veers kaleidoscopically between punctuating lines and spitfire runs, and the drumming is driving and supportive, both mirroring the intensity and speed of the piano. The power of the track rides on the rich interplay of the three musicians.

The second track is a rendition of pianist Stanley Cowell's 'Equipoise.' Starting off with a pendular swing between two deeply resonating chords, the piece quickly opens up with a gentle, but firm, melodic groove. Revis is up first for a solo, which he delivers with near shadowing the from Reid. Escreet takes over next with a growing cascade of arpeggios and gently angular statements. The next track, 'Outwards and Upwards,' begins with a great you-are-falling-into-a-deep-(and-disturbing)-sleep sequence and continues along a dreamlike stream of discontent, unexpected rhythmic changes and questioning ribbons of notes. It eventually settles into an uneasy gait, and as ungainly as it is, it is hard to turn one's ears away.

The ballad 'Perpetual Love' is a highlight of the recording, starting off patiently mid-tempo, the bass and piano start peeling away layers, exposing a deep, melodic core. Reid's drumming is provocative and pushes Escreet along, until a bare solo from Revis springs out in the middle of the song. This turns into something else entirely as rhythmic figures from the piano and drums begin disrupting and rerouting the musical flow. Interestingly, the title track is less hard hitting as one may anticipate, or at least at first. It is a slow burner that starts darkly, rather abstractly, many musical ellipses between the notes, but its power builds subtly, until Escreet's runs reach a gripping climax. The album wraps with the evocatively titled 'The Water is Tasting Worse,' more than just an aftershock of the main events, Revis and Reid provide a deep, syncopated path for Escreet's accentuated phrases and finally, a melodic and rhythmic softening to wrap up this exhilarating recording.

Working now with some of LA's finest, Escreet has captured the energy that comes from new constellations and compatible collaborators. Seismic Shift lands in a provocative space between modern and avant-garde jazz and documents the start of a new musical adventure for the pianist. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Sammy Stein - The Wonder of Jazz (Independent Publishing Network, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Caveats to apply: Sammy Stein is a contributor to this blog and a friend, and I am quoted and mentioned once each. Given those, you can imagine I heartily endorse The Wonder of Jazz and Stein’s writing, generally, but, as well, given the same, I think it’s worth talking specifically about why Stein is so good and why this book, now, is quite important to the broader conversation about capital-j Jazz, which free, improvised, and avant-garde music we cover here is strongly associated with.

The overall structure of the book is something of a set-up, knock-down approach, although that oversimplifies that Stein seems to be getting at, which is something like, given all the history behind us, now that we’re here, where are we heading? The “we” royally includes artists both established and up-and-coming, critics, club owners, fans, and casual listeners. While the historical chapters are brisk, they function more like background for the later chapters, which cover a lot of the key topics Stein has been investigating and pursuing for several years now, notably women in jazz, financial sustainability and market influences, and the educator/elder-player relationship, both as mentor and bully.

It’s these topics that separate Stein from other writers on jazz, broadly speaking. She has a way of bridging the past and present that demonstrates how little has changed in some areas. In two brief sections on exploitation, she addresses ways musicians can be exploited by agents and clubs, and how writers can be exploited by publications. As ever, there’s both a look back and questions about how to move forward. What one gets from reading Stein is someone who asks the questions, who doesn’t shy from prompting conversations, but she isn’t insistent on having one final answer. The fluidity of the music seems to inform the multi-perspectival nature of all her writing. The Wonder of Jazz is a book to share with friends, to chat about over drinks, and to revisit, for the sheer enjoyment of Stein’s love for jazz and all its associated sub-genres. For the readers of this blog, there are extensive quotes from Peter Brötzmann and Mats Gustafsson, as well as Stein’s ever-present warmth and genuine curiosity about this music, and yes, wonder.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A Survey of Recent Lance Austin Olsen: Part II: Collaborations

By Nick Ostrum

For a few days a couple of times a year, I get pulled back into the soundworld of Lance Austin Olsen and listen to him intensively, when I am working, when I am reading, when I am just bumbling around. This two-part review (see part 1) is the result of one of those recent dives and covers much of his work since 2020.

Lance Austin Olsen and Terje Paulsen – Nattinsekter (Infrequency Arts, 2021)

Much of Olsen’s work can leave the listener feeling lost and wide-eyed, floating in the sonic doldrums wherein sound surrounds and undulates, but no singular line really breaks through to push the listener in one definitive direction or another. Other releases have a different kind of motion that is more linear, even if that line twists, turns, and entangles. It moves. This frequently comes with collaborations, such as A field of wildflowers for our lost souls (with Barry Chabala) (reviewed here ) and Nattinsekter (with Terje Paulsen).

The title Nattinsekter refers to Olsen’s childhood experiences in southern Rhodesia venturing out into the night to hear the dense orchestra of insects that surrounded him. (For an insightful piece on the score, see the latest issue of harmonic series.) This makes sense of these otherwise disembodied sounds, a combination of Terje Paulsen’s field recordings and organ work and Olsen’s guitar and amplified objects. Indeed, this sounds full. It surrounds the listener. As Drouin has done in collaborations with Olsen, Paulsen seems to lay the sonic tapestry through which he and Olsen weave their sprawling embroidery. Indeed, the quilting of field sounds really works for this piece in a way it might not for others, with other inspiration. The insect sounds are implied and captured in memorial essence, but never mimicked or simple recorded and played. The recordings come from elsewhere, which helps universalize the listening experience. This may be inspired by the Zimbabwean velt, and, like any nighttime field or forest, is strange and curious. However, it is also calming, with impressionist hints of nature here and there to spark the listener’s own reminiscence of a youth in whatever nighttime wild they found themselves. Turn this one up loud and let it take you back.

Lance Austin Olsen and Jamie Drouin – This, and the Other Space (Infrequency Arts, 2020)

Another recent collaboration inspired by Olsen’s youth in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) is This, and the Other Space. Here, he is joined by his long-time creative partner Jamie Drouin. This one has a balmy/dreamy ambient backbone – which seems to be Drouin’s domain - onto which the artists lacquer their scraps of sounds that range from indecipherable slashes and crinkles to more recognizable but frugal sounds of a piano (another uncharacteristic addition to this album) and the jangle of keys to a prolonged muffled interview and an old-time radio introduction to a Sherlock Holmes broadcast. (Again, although voices are not new to Olsen’s work, he seems to be using them more than ever lately.) In line with Olsen and - in collaboration, at least - Drouin’s other recent output, This, and the Other Space walks and muddies that fine line between memory and dream. Maybe this is some post- Look at the Mouth that is Looking at You turn. That was one of the first times I heard Olsen dig so deeply and directly (especially through its use of voice recordings and musical snippets) into that liminal realm. Then again, Covid isolation must have played some role in these hazy trips down memory/fantasy lane. Indeed, the modes of abstraction are sometimes more discernable and, even, more human than Olsen and Drouin’s early dives into minimalism. As far as I am concerned, this is a welcome aesthetic turn.

Monday, October 24, 2022

A Survey of Recent Lance Austin Olsen: Part I: Solo Releases

By Nick Ostrum

For a few days a couple of times a year, I get pulled back into the soundworld of Lance Austin Olsen and listen to him intensively, when I am working, when I am reading, when I am just bumbling around. This two-part review is the result of one of those recent dives and covers much of his work since 2020.

Lance Austin Olsen - Fukushima Rising (Infrequency Arts, 2022)

Since the last time I wrote about his work, Olsen has released a mess of albums. All fall somewhere into the electoacoustic montaging that he has been exploring for decades. Their feeling, however, vary from the light and colloquial to the absurd to the suggestively menacing. Fukushima Rising, a sound-art accompaniment to a gallery installation he co-designed with Jeremy Borsos inspired by the 2011 catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan, is an example of that latter. The album begins more musically than I expected, with a repeating pair of tones overlain by clicks suggesting some new music gradualism. As the piece unfolds, these hints shift to the background as the sound-snippets take over. By the end, the ghostly and musical elements combine in a cloud of writhing murmurs, ringing tones and those same stubborn clicks from the beginning. Together, they evoke a seeping nuclear catastrophe rather than the tsunami that caused it. This is not about shock and rupture but about the meticulous development of a sonic mood.

Lance Austin Olsen - The Telling (Infrequency Arts, 2022 (2015))

Fukushima Rising is an interesting juxtaposition to The Telling, a rerelease from 2015 recently remastered by long-time collaborator Jamie Drouin. (Drouin actually mastered most of the releases reviewed here.) This one is unique among the batch as it sounds more like a physical, almost real-time performance (toy accordion, trainer guitar, voice, amplified objects), albeit captured and fractured on computer. The Telling begins with a deep, rhythmic crackle of various objects. After several minutes, the sounds disappear, and Olsen reemerges from that vacuum with a slowly rising drone, which is gradually peppered with other sounds that refract the pulsing undertones of the drone. What is most striking here are the voices, which have become more prominent in Olsen’s work over the last few years. Or, they are at least more catching my attention more in this period of alienation. The Telling gets quite dark at the end with an ominous staticky voice conveying some mysterious and inscrutable message from another time, place, or dimension until it abruptly cuts to silence. Then, a ringing of bells and a calm child’s voice. Whatever foreboding that had existed before seems to have been a fantasy, or at least has been restrained for the time being.

Lance Austin Olsen – Polishing the Mirrors of Psychosis (Infrequency Arts, 2022)

Much like The Telling, the next release, Polishing the Mirrors of Psychosis, is disjointed, noir and quizzical affair. The ambience is engaging enough. However, the narrative fragments really stick out on this one. Take the line about ten minutes into the title track: “Life is a thought, or slice of bread, or cat’s meow, or poem, or Diane Wakowski.” Is this dada or stream of consciousness, absurdist or zen? The second piece, They Did Something with the Margarine, consists of persistent church bells and tapestry of found and electronic sounds, capped by a conversation about infant mortality, old age, malnutrition, medical progress, and margarine. Covid is never mentioned by name, but the very alignment of this conversation – people meeting in person discussing such matters – and our current age invites comparison that makes our exceptional time seem, for better or for worse, less exceptional. Simple and steady but also koanically provocative, as Olsen’s creations tend to be.

Lance Austin Olsen - Sure is a Good Hamburger (Modern Concern, 2022)

Sure is a Good Hamburger is another curious solo release that consists of a single track. It begins with sparse, irregular metallic twang soon coupled with beeps and an array of muted noises. Then comes the hum, both in drones and flutters. Then, the extended rings and some minimalist guitar work. This sounds more of objects and manipulated soundscaping than many of Olsen’s other releases, which bear clearer marks of found sounds and field recordings. ( The Telling is a notable exception.) Around the seven-minute mark, however, it turns to a deeply textured crackling and voice recordings that display the hallmarks of Olsen’s recent work. As always, Sure is is mysterious and unnerving, but the lack of linear narrative and the entanglement of elements (more objects and guitar than computer sounds, it seems) prevent the listener from identifying what, exactly, produces that discomfiture. Is it the sequence of sounds, or the uncertainty of their origin? Is it the crypticism of the piece, an implied narrative (the snippets of conversations come from Olsen and visual artists Luis Ituarte and Roberto Romero-Molina, so there must be some intention in the recordings themselves), or the unfulfilled desire to unlock the riddle? Is it the haziness and the grind (this gets somewhat heavy for Olsen a quarter of the way in and radio-fuzz signal drone toward the end) interrupted by silence and softer tones? Whatever it is, Sure is a Good Hamburger is dark but not overwhelmingly so. There is something in the voices that cuts that uneasy and lonely alienation and something in the rich crumbling tones that offer relief from the gloam.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Jones Jones - Just Justice (ESP-Disk’, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Following several albums of exceptional live performances, Jones Jones—the improvising trio of Larry Ochs, Mark Dresser, and Vladimir Tarasov—has landed at ESP-Disk’ for their first studio album. Losing none of the wit, fire and creativity that defined their previous three albums, Just Justice continues the trio’s gradually tightened focus.

 A founding member of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Ochs has been on the cutting edge for over four decades, and yet he’s rarely sounded better than he has in recent years. Tarasov is an incredible drummer, lesser known in the States perhaps, and also a really interesting visual artist. Dresser (the baby of the group at just 70 years old), is easily one of the most accomplished, creative bass players in improvised music. All three are so versatile, each one often creates sounds that could easily be attributed to another member of the group.

 The relatively brief “Articulating Jones” works as a preface for the album, which really kicks into gear with the incredible “Bali Hai Jones.” Like the later “Jones In the Sonar System,” “Bali Hai Jones” showcases Ochs, Dresser, and Tarasov drawing out every possibly wry, artful sound from their instruments. “Call of the Jones” highlights the trio’s grittier side, as Och’s snarls over Tarasov’s clanging cymbal work. Recorded at UC San Diego by Andrew Munsey, and later mixed by Munsey, Ochs, and Dresser, the latter’s bass has rarely sounded this beautiful. Likewise Tarasov, who punctuates with a delicate, painterly touch (no surprise, he’s also a visual artist). On “The Further Adventures of Miss Microtonal Jones,” it’s clear how Munsey, also a drummer, brings a welcome depth to the recording, giving Tarasov’s playing ample room to breathe and be heard. Ochs’s sopranino shines here, a patient, if slightly urgent, voice that rides just high enough in the mix to blossom towards the latter half. The previous session, A Jones In Time Saves Nine, runs a close second, but use of the studio for Just Justice gives Ochs, Dresser, and Tarasov that bit of extra room to try some daring new exchanges; the gambit pays off handsomely.

Available on Bandcamp

Direct from Ochs

Direct from ESP-Disk’

Friday, October 21, 2022

Trio Xolo - In Flower, In Song (577 Records, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

In just about every mention of Trio Xolo's debut recording "In Flower, In Song," the following seems to appear: the trio is "an improvising group composed of Mexican-American bassist Zachary Swanson, Baltimore-based saxophonist Derrick Michaels, and Lithuanian percussionist Dalius Naujo." Knowing who plays what on the recording is good information, however, the music they make together seems to defy any need for other details, as the three seem to melt together musically in shared purpose.

The trio's instrumental composition, bass, sax and drums, is one of the classic arrangements in modern jazz, with Sonny Rollins's being an oft cited originator of the form on 1957's Way Out West. Of course, Rollin's music still had a lot of classic structure and swing, and this format has continued to evolve and become ever more abstracted over the half century since. On In Flower, In Song, the Trio Xolo, the approach is somewhere between fully improvised and delightfully melodic, and free floating and abstractly swinging.

The opening track, 'Texcoco,' is a fine example of this claim. It starts calmly with Michaels playing a snaking, spacious line over Swanson's thick plucked bass notes and Naujo's arrhythmic lines. Evolving, the tempo picks-up and the bass and drums lock into a groove, while the sax line grows dense and intense. The following track, 'In Ruins,' finds the group locked into that abstracted swing - the feel is light, space between the notes, space between the players, but dialed into a slightly askew gait. Swanson's solo bass begins the next 'Anchored in Peace,' in which he plays an engaging melodic idea that eventually connects with a busy but supportive pattern from Naujo. Michaels' sax playing begins delicately here, circling the bass, sidestepping the drums, but gains in some intensity as the song continues. The music flows seemingly effortlessly from the three, and it's really only on the later track, 'Vantablack,' that Michaels delivers some overblown lines supported by intense drumming. It is a fierce couple minutes that is too quickly over.

Trio Xolo's feel is flows consistent throughout the recording, wavering between inside and outside playing, they never stray too far from being melodic but also do not rely on it for very long either. Their collaboration is approachable without being predictable and swinging without a consistent beat. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

‘A’ Trio - Folk (Al Maslakh, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

‘A’ Trio is for sure the oldest free improvisation group to come out of Lebanon and, most likely, also the oldest one coming from all over the Middle East. Certainly, it is the first band that recorded a free jazz album in the Arab world (A, La CDthèque Productions, 2003). The trio - trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, who is also a gifted visual artist who did the cover art, guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui and double bass player Raed Yassin, also organizes the only Lebanese free music festival, Irtijal, since 2001, and runs the record labels Al Maslakh (with the motto: publishing the un-publishable) and Annihaya. The A’ Trio celebrates this year its 20th anniversary with two albums, the live recording entitled The Binding Third (due out by Unrock) and the studio album Folk which offers a set of five new pieces.

The ‘A’ Trio in its early days relied on the free jazz legacy, but soon the music of the trio moved away from its structural-textural approach as Kerbaj, Sehnaoui and Yassin relied more and more on highly inventive and imaginative prepared and extended techniques. These techniques not only expanded the sonic palette of their respective instruments but reframed the trumpet, acoustic guitar and double bass as abstract sound generators. Kerbaj often divides the trumpet’s mouthpiece from its body and bell which is laid between his legs, and employs the trumpet’s bells as a springboard for assorted objects; Sehnaoui attaches an array of objects to the guitar’s strings and rarely touches the strings in a conventional way; Yassin usually lays his double bass on a chair and plays all over its wooden body and strings, with his hands, bows and objects.

The ‘A’ Trio calls its characteristic sound and dynamics “textural swing”, and, indeed, there is a strong visual dimension to the trio’s live performances and a captivating and powerful intensity that probably only a band coming from such a torn and about to collapse country as Lebanon can have. There is nothing folkish in Folk except its complete acoustic sound, captured with no cuts, overdubbing, or any kind of electronics at Audio Cue Studio in Berlin in March 2018. But there are a few elements that reference the past meetings of the ‘A’ Trio, as a collective and in their respective solo practices, with like-minded folks from all over the globe like the Australian jazz trio The Necks, the American folk outlier Alan Bishop (of Sun City Girls fame), and more recently British free improv pioneers AMM (with whom the trio released AAMM, Al Maslakh, 2017). The ‘A’ Trio has also collaborated with the Turkish free jazz collective KonstruKt; French poet Patrick Dubost; Lebanese punk-rock band Scrambled Eggs, Martin Küchen, David Stackenäs and Michel Doneda.

Folk presents the ‘A’ Trio in its most inventive form but also in its most playful side. Kerbaj, Sehnaoui and Yassin never surrender to familiar routes and conventions but know how to develop arresting and often ironic textures with great emotional intensity and wild imagination. The abstract but quite cinematic music flows organically despite the restless and sometimes chaotic usage of extended techniques, or the rare reliance on rhythmic patterns or loose melodic veins. It feels fresh and urgent as if time is running out fast and there is so much that this trio wishes to deliver. Only that last piece “A Tower with No Imam” has a conventional narrative, and its minimalist and dramatic atmosphere corresponds with the ‘A’ Trio with Alan Bishop's title piece of Burj Al Imam (Al Maslakh, 2015. برج - Burj - in Arabic means tower), a loose reworking of early Sun City Girls track “The Imam” (from Funeral Mariachi, Abduction, 2010). The new, much darker and more melancholic piece may be listened as a sonic warning about the deteriorating situation of Lebanon, with no Imam - no spiritual leader - to save it.

Like the description of ‘A’ Trio’s Al Maslakh label, the music of this unit is a sonic UFO created in an isolated place, far from seminal free music artists or legacies, and invents its own suggestive language and its own music on its own DIY terms. A great trio that guarantees to enrich the mind of anyone who cares to expand its sonic imagination.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Makaya McCraven - In These Times (International Anthem, 2022)

By Martin Schray

The first thing that stands out is the impossibility of pigeonholing this music: the comparison with Kamasi Washington mentioned by some critics doesn't really fit (thank God), symphonic soul jazz doesn’t fit either, avant-garde is completely off the mark. Free Jazz? Not even remotely. If you still need references: most likely 1970s fusion in the style of the quiet pieces of George Duke or Billy Cobham. Possibly Alice Coltrane, but without their tendency to the uplifting hymnal. Rather, a gossamer ambient fog lies over these eleven complexly interlaced compositions.

What distinguishes this music in any case is its lightness, you are inclined to let yourself drift away. In These Times is the perfect soundtrack that Elton John’s rocket man might have on his headphones in his space capsule in the infinity of the universe. Doolittle, one of the astronauts in John Carpenter’s Dark Star may listen to it when he surfs into the atmosphere to die as a falling star. The lightness of the music simultaneously creates a kind of kinetic energy: everything is in flux, a constant becoming, being and passing away.

The first ten minutes alone: McCraven lays out a polyphonic carpet for a kind of ambient music here with harpist Brandee Younger and a larger string section, which he then gently tears down with his drum loops and a free saxophone. By the third track, “High Fives“, the album has touched on several genres: spoken words jazz reminiscent of the Last Poets, grand pop gestures in the style of Serge Gainsbourg, drum’n’bass, spiritual jazz, ambient, epic soundtracks, minimal music, etc. That the whole thing doesn’t end in chaos is ensured by McCraven’s rhythmic framework, which keeps the ship on course despite all the stylistic complexity. McCraven sometimes draws on years of his own recordings and improvisations, from which he pulls loops for his personal reimagining. The result is a track like “Dream Another“ that could also make an off-the-wall easy listening soundtrack à la Herb Alpert - thanks to De’Sean Jones’s flute and Jeff Parker’s guitar. You might not even call this music jazz; McCraven and his Band of Fifteen detach themselves playfully and as if guided by digital magic from the attributions associated with times, places and styles.

It took McCraven a whole seven years for In These Times, from the first idea to the final album. There was always something in between, like his album Universal Beings, which was conceptually simpler and came together more quickly. In These Times, on the other hand, is a truly orchestral work, an early opus magnum. It’s a suite with extremely refined arrangements, a total of sixteen musicians were involved, including the aforementioned Jeff Parker (guitar), Brandee Younger (harp), who has worked most recently with Beyoncé and Kanye West. In addition, Greg Ward (alto sax) and Irvin Pierce (tenor sax) and many more. By the end of the work the music has come across even more styles: reggae and South African mbaqanga (“So Ubuji“), jazz rock (“The Knew Untitled“), and folk (“Lullaby“). It’s what jazz means beyond improvisation and swing - a melting pot of different musics that creates something new.

For regular readers of this blog, the album might be too mainstream. But maybe you know someone who wants to start with jazz in the broadest sense. For them, this is a good place to start. An album for those who are ready for it.

In These Times is available on vinyl, as a CD and a download. You can listen to it and order it via bandcamp: 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Louis Sclavis - Les Cadences Du Monde (JMS, 2022)

By Guido Montegrandi

This record is inspired by a photography book, in turn inspired by a travel book; this is the path that led from L’Usage du Monde by Nicolas Bouvier (1963) to L’Usure du Monde by Frédéric Lecloux (2008) and finally to Les Cadences du Monde by Louis Sclavis (2022). In a sense it is a multimedia, multi-time, multi-author work and now it’s our turn to take part in this journey. We can go all the way down, read the book, watch the photos, listen to the music or we can opt for one of the paths, which is what we will be doing here as we follow Les Cadences du Monde to discover what pictures it has to show and what stories it has to tell.

The journey described in the book which is the origin of our story covers a six month travel from Zurich trough Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan made in 1953 on a Fiat Topolino (a very small economy car), the photography book depicts the same journey 50 years later. The music of Les Cadences du Monde is like a synthesis of the two, largely reminiscent of the direction of this journey but in personal non-didascalic way.

Sclavis is no stranger to music in relation with voyages and photography (see the splendid Carnet de Routes with Romano and Texier and Le Querrec, 1995) and this record confirm his idea of a journey through music and pictures. In this case, though, the images are just a declared inspiration. If you want to see the pictures you have to search for L’usure du Monde - which I really suggest you to do.

Now some information:

The musicians and their tools: Louis Sclavis, clarinets, Annabelle Luis, cello, Bruno Ducret, cello, Keyvan Chemirani, zarb, percussion – possibly a chamber music set with a twist toward the music of the world given by the sound of percussions,

The title: a cadence in western music theory is the end of a phrase in which the melody or the harmony (usually) creates a sense of consonance . Indeed a sense of consonance is something we can feel even if more often we feel a sense of suspension.

The most relevant feature of this work are: melodies, many beautiful melodies often following scales and pattern inspired by eastern music, rhythmic breaks with a melodic development (Les chaos du monde, Les chaos du monde), pizzicato to create a counterpoint to the long sustained melodic lines (Ce logis dépouillé ), glimpses of western chamber music (Les deux ècritures, Montée aux étoiles), percussions to end it all (Red point).

The pictures by which Sclavis has been inspired suggest a sense of strain, his music instead seems to escape from this feeling thanks to the balance that the melodies create, they sound like memories of a snap-shot, the picture is here but the moment is gone and we’re moving on to the next moment in time and space.

Nicolas Bouvier starts his book l’Usage du Monde freely quoting Shakespeare “I shall be gone and live. Or stay and die” (the original was “I must be gone and live…” from Romeo and Juliet) So moving over is what saves your life and moving over is what music does here, from place to place through time.

Because the idea of travelling is such a central point to all of this work I found myself thinking about what makes a journey worth being travelled (personal point of view of course). A list of words to describe this idea would include : energy, nostalgia, desire, movement, changing horizons, encounters, light and sounds so, yes, for me Les Cadences du Monde is a journey worth being travelled.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Peter Brötzmann with Old and New Comrades

When writing about such seminal and iconic musicians like Peter Brötzmann you almost unconsciously refer to testosterone-laden adjectives like fiery, muscular and manic. But these one-dimensional terms miss the complex musical personality of this titan (another expected adjective) of free music, as well as his shift to playing more structured pieces, often influenced by blues and jazz songs. His own kind of angry ballads.

Peter Brötzmann / Keiji Haino Duo - The intellect given birth to here (eternity) is too young (Black Editions/Purple Trap, 2022)

This 4-album box-set, The intellect given birth to here (eternity), is too young, from Brötzmann and his old polymath comrade Haino, proves remarkably the above mentioned point. Haino, who is 12 years younger than Brötzmann, is still a wild card, and the tension between these great free improvisers makes their music so unique.

This box documents two live performances of Brötzmann and Haino, the first one took place at Zebulon in Los Angeles in August 2018 and the second one was four days later at The Chapel in San Francisco. These live setting exhaust not only the alchemical dynamics of Brötzmann and Haino, but also their extensive experience and the wisdom of their playing, and, as can be expected, it defies easy categorization. Brötzmann and Haino have been collaborating consistently since 1996, first as a duo (進化してゆく恥じらい 或いは加速する原罪 = Evolving Blush Or Driving Original Sin, P.S.F., 1996), then with Brötzmann joining Haino’s Fushitsusha (Nothing Changes No One Can Change Anything, I Am Ever-Changing Only You Can Change Yourself, Utech, 2014), as a trio with drummer Shoji Hano (Shadows = 影, DIW, 2000), Brötzmann’s Full Blast trio hosting Haino (Crumbling Brain, Okka Disk, 2010), and with as a trio with guitarist Jim O’Rourke (Two City Blues 1 & 2, Trost, 2015), and again as a duo (Houston 09 X 2013, BRÖ/Black Editions, 2018), and recently in live performances, again as a trio with pedal steel player Heather Leigh.

Brötzmann and Haino did not follow familiar, stormy courses. The first performance begins with “Begging your pardon, Master Sokushinbutsu” (Sokushinbutsu - 即身仏 - is a kind of Buddhist mummy. In Japan, the term refers to the practice of Buddhist monks observing asceticism to the point of death and entering mummification while alive), an irreverent ritual with Haino banging wildly on a drum-set and its cymbals and Brötzmann wailing on the tarogato. Both sound possessed by higher powers and totally at the moment, determined to exorcize all evil spirits, then and now, but expressing gentle compassion that briefly translates into an intoxicating melody and groove. This gentle spirit charges also the following piece, a lyrical and sparse one (you can check Haino’s enigmatic titles in the Bandcamp link below), with Haino hitting gongs and cymbals and later strumming sparse and distorted, bluesy notes on the electric guitar while Brötzmann singing on the clarinet. This piece anticipates inevitable catalytic attacks and they do explode more frequently on the third piece. Still, Brötzmann and Haino alternate between manic, noisy storms and a twisted jazz ballad. The last piece avoids, again, the expected turbulent freak-out and suggests a spiritual blues, obviously, in the raw and intense vocabularies of Brötzmann and Haino, with Haino’s wordless vocals adding a vulnerable aroma.

The second performance radiates a melancholic, lyrical atmosphere. Brötzmann focuses most of the time on the tenor sax, and this set begins with Haino screaming, shouting, whispering and chanting and later hitting wildly his drum-set cymbals and banging the drums in a ritualist manner. At the same time, Brötzmann charges these emotional cries with thoughtful and poetic depth. The following piece gravitates toward a free jazz piece with strong bluesy overtones as a sax-drums duet that shifts into an electric guitar-sax duet that patiently gains more power and volume. These strong bluesy veins continue to inform the lyrical third piece, but mid-piece it incarnates into a free-associative electric guitar solo of Haino that triggers a brutal and manic dialog with Brötzmann. The last piece colors again these fiery cries with a comforting and, emotional bluesy ballad that suddenly erupts briefly into a cathartic coda. But Brötzmann and Haino added an encore, another lyrical, ritualist ballad. Almost three hours of sublime music.

OXBOW & Peter Brötzmann - An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today: Live at Moers (Trost/SGG, 2022)

“Once you go on stage, it's political. In a very broad sense. It's a declaration. And it's a political statement too,” Brötzmann says about his collaboration with American experimental band OXBOW (vocalist Eugen S. Robinson, guitarist-pianist Niko Wenner, bassist Dan Adams and drummer Greg Davis), known for its mix of noise and metal, free jazz, spoken word, musique concrète and blues, and has been operating since the late eighties. Brötzmann (who plays here only the tenor sax) joined OXBOW for a live set at the Moers Festival in May 2018.

Brötzmann and OXBOW do share a similar kind of raw and uncompromising, up-in-your-face energy and a constant need to challenge themselves, but more in the political sense of the music and its direct messages. Brötzmann, like OXBOW, confesses (in the attached you-tube clip) how he gravitated in recent years from wild and sometimes chaotic, free improvised onslaughts into song structures, often melodic ones. The opening piece, the bluesy “Angel”, proves his point. Brötzmann intensifies naturally and immediately the charismatic, totally possessed delivery of vocalist Robinson, with his authoritative, charismatic sax voice. Later, Brötzmann charges guitarist Wenner playing with thorny, fierce power on the following “Cat and Mouse” and “Skin”, and owns completely the latter song with his lava-like power.

Brötzmann, as Wenner later states, instilled a sense of necessary “discomfort” into OXBOW dynamics and pushed this band into freer regions. He feels completely at home with the nervous energy of OXBOW, whether it plays rock anthems like “A Gentleman’s Gentleman” and “Host”, the dramatic and stormy “Over” or the last song, the high-octane blues “The Finished Line”, and feels a great affinity with the apocalyptic paranoia of Robinson’s texts. The encore, one of the early songs of OXBOW, “The Valley”, highlights the organic and wise way Brötzmann’s singing phrasing integrated into this legendary band's free-wheeling aesthetics and bringing them to even greater climaxes.

KonstruKt & Peter Brötzmann - Dolunay (Karlrecords, 2022)

Dolunay ('full moon' in Turkish) is a remastered edition for a double vinyl reissue of 2008, the first meeting of Brötzmann with the Turkish, Istanbul-based free-form meets free jazz quartet KonstruKt - sax player Korhan Futacı, guitarist Umut Çağlar (who also plays in the Middle-Eastern supergroup Karkhana), percussionist Özün Usta and drummer Korhan Argüden (the album was originally released as limited edition disc on KonstruKt’s Re:konstruKt in 2011). Since that meeting at the Deneyevi Studio in Istanbul Brötzmann recorded again with KonstruKt, Eklisia Sunday (NotTwo, 2013) and The Message: Live At Kargart (Holidays, 2016) and KonstruKt released a bootleg recording Live At Babylon (2019) with Brötzmann and Joe McPhee, captured at Babylon music venue in Istanbul in 2015.

Brötzmann, who plays here the alto and tenor saxes and clarinet, adds turbulent energy and fury to the loose but massive grooves that KonstruKt cooks. He often channels this studio meeting into a tough and muscular freak-out and shifts KonstruKt Middle-Eastern overtones into explosive, distorted regions. But somehow his wild clarinet and sax wailings fit perfectly the exotic, snaky tones of KonstruKt (not so surprising given that Brötzmann already played with Yemenite musicians traditional songs on Berg-Und Talfahrt - A Night In Sana'a, ARM, 2009), but he also knows how to inject raw, emotional vibrations within the distorted, rhythmic mayhem, as on “Makinalı” and “Nokta”.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Oxbow feat. Peter Brötzmann - An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today: Live at Moers (Trost Records, 2022)

By Martin Schray

At first, Oxbow seem to have little to do with free jazz, but the band has been playing for more than three decades against all the rules, restrictions, and apparent certainties that the classic rock lineup with guitar, bass, drums and vocals should actually impose on them. They’ve always made use of noise, blues, new music, rock and, of all things, improvised music. After all, they don’t want to be pinned down. So the idea of playing with Peter Brötzmann is not as surprising as one might think, because of course it’s about bringing a new perspective to their music. And it’s fascinating how well Brötzmann fits into the context of Oxbow’s philosophy. In an interview before the gig at the Moers festival, where the album was recorded, the Wuppertal saxophone icon said that he had been enjoying playing songs lately (think of his solo album on which he plays classics). After many years of destroying them (his notorious “blowing-to-pieces“ era) coming back to clear structures represented a new, different challenge for him. He simply likes pushing against restrictions. Apart from that, there’s another common denominator with Oxbow. Like them he’s also a blues man. It’s always been the basis of his music, its essence.

“Angel“, the opening piece of An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today, is a perfect example of this. It’s a classic murder ballad about betrayal, disappointment, a man’s claim of ownership over a woman, in which Oxbow’s singer Eugene Robinson roars his lyrics into the microphone, yowling, screaming, whispering and barking against the musical storm of the band. His desperation is palpable in every second. Brötzmann backs this up with heartbreaking melancholic lines, the whole thing sounding as if Nick Cave’s blues project Grinderman had booked a crazed saxophonist to make the message of their music even clearer. Another example is the monolithic “Cat and Mouse“, which meanders and breaks off, it rebuilds, transforms and changes, yet always remaining monstrous. The sound of the band is vicious and virile, but also warm and human. Above all, it demonstrates what Oxbow’s music is about: the vibrant discrepancy between the organic pieces seemingly created in jam sessions and a systematic approach. Isolated ideas and small licks and phrases are picked up again and again, varied and developed further. However, in fact, the conceptual rigor can also be ignored, the music can be easily enjoyed without it. As to their project, Peter Brötzmann said that he was also interested in the energy they share, and although he considered himself the outsider in the whole thing he enjoyed listening to the band the days before their gig and liked what he heard - which finally won him over to join them. In the end this also makes sense, since he’s been looking for new challenges throughout his career - especially if it comes to rock (think of Last Exit , Black Bombaim , even Full Blast). For him music is mainly about not feeling comfortable. He literally mentioned that he was tired of playing that “free jazz bullshit.“

To cut a long story short, Oxbow and Brötzmann really let loose, they had enormous fun with what they were doing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sluggish, furious, stomping blues rock (“Over“) or abstract free art rock (“Skin“), they stress the genres to the extreme. An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today is a welcome alternative in Brötzmann’s enormous oeuvre. Just the right thing for fans of Captain Beefheart and the like. A real killer.

Listen to “Cat and Mouse“ here:

An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today is available on vinyl (in a very limited red edition and in a regular black one), as a CD and as a download from bandcamp.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Elton Dean Quartet - On Italian Roads (Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979) (British Progressive Jazz, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Like many jazz greats, saxophonist Elton Dean had his own versions of early and late quartets. One of his best known groups came in the 1980s and ’90s, with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, and Tony Levin. However, a decade earlier, it seems he was touring with a quartet that would help catapult him forward. Unless I’m mistaken, the release of On Italian Roads (Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979) marks the only official release of Dean with the all-star quartet of Keith Tippet on piano, Harry Miller on bass, and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums. As it stands, that alone would be cause for celebration, but the high quality of the performance sets this one even further apart.

From the jump, the quartet plays with a brilliant, edge-of-your-seat ferocity. The set is made up of five Dean originals that have circulated on a number of quintet and related albums: “Oasis,” “Fara,” “Dede-Bup-Bup,” “That’s for Cha,” and “Seven For Lee” (possibly best known as part of the Ninesense repertoire). Dean’s blazing performance spans alto and, like David S. Ware, the little-played saxello, which has a keening wail. By the halfway mark of “Oasis,” the 20-minute opening track, Tippett sounds absolutely bonkers, smashing the high and low ends of the piano simultaneously. And Miller and Moholo are a roaring hydra, two heads with one purpose: rolling and thundering ceaselessly. “Dede-Bup-Bup” (which can also be heard with 3/4s of this group on the Ogun classic They All Be On This Old Road ) is a crunchy, swift reprieve. Then, the quartet launches into 25 minutes of straight fire music.

This particular quartet is something of a core Ninesense group (for those familiar with the large ensemble), playing a distilled take of that big-band’s blend of jazz, fusion and South African influences crossed with high-intensity improvisation. British Progressive Jazz has already released a stunning Keith Tippett set as well as an expanded Odysseus Suite from Dan Rendell , Graham Collier in 1968 with Harry Beckett and Ted Curson, and Michael Garrick with Joe Harriot from 1965. Uncovering these would be reason enough to support British Progressive Jazz, but they are doing an incredible job remastering these recordings. On Italian Roads has an immediacy to it, with a lovely balance between the four instruments, Miller’s bass fairly high in the mix, and nice separation of piano and drums. Anyone interested in post-Coltrane jazz should hopefully have Dean (and, for that matter, Dunmall) on their radar. And if you’re new to Dean, On Italian Roads is an excellent place to start.

Available on Bandcamp

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Bill Orcutt - Music for Four Guitars (PALILALIA, 2022)

By Guido Montegrandi

This is music for the eyes and the mind - put the titles of the pieces in a sequence and you get this story:

A different view, Two things close together, At a distance, In profile, Or from behind, Seen from above On the horizon, Glimpsed while driving, Only at dusk, Barely visible, Out of the corner of the eye, In the rain, From below Or head on.

To complete the visual and intellectual side of the package you also have an 84 page booklet containing the tablature transcription of the pieces made by Shane Parish - music for the eyes and the mind.

As for the ears, the record is made up of fourteen pieces for four four-strings guitar (the usual guitar setting for Mr Orcutt). All are very short pieces, with the longest one being 2’50,” “... apparently percolating since 2015 (…) in the culmination of years ruminating on classical music,” as Tom Carter states in the liner notes. Each track is a frozen counterpoint that distances itself from the recent free improvisation work with Chris Corsano and makes this record appear like the other side of the looking glass of “Guitar Trio is my Life” by Rhys Chatham. So minimalism in its electric incarnation: “four guitars, each consigned to a chattering melody in counterpoint, repeated in cells throughout the course of the track, selectively pulled in and out of the mix” (Tom Carter again).

Each riff could have become a rock ‘n’ roll song and you can follow the different lines with this feeling in your mind until, all of a sudden, they drop into silence - this sense of impermanence gives the record a strange meditative slant, from the treble side of guitar to the left side of brain with a fuzzy feeling in your ears.

Orcutt has chosen to play all of the four parts so becoming a quartet in himself and this adds spices to the speculative side of the matter without sacrificing to the emotional one because you can easily listen to these pieces while driving at dusk in the rain, from below, from above or from behind. It’s a different view.

One of my favourite records of the year – blues and abstract truth.

Latest News: Music For Four Guitars is going to be performed live at Big Ears Festival 2023 with WendyEisenberg, Ava Mendoza, Shane Parish (the transcriber of the tabs), and Mr Orcutt.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Ankersmit/Dafeldecker/Johansson - Ny Musikk (SÅJ, 2022)

This album of ‘new music’ was recorded back in 2010, but due to the respective talents of the trio presented herein it sounds totally fresh. Thomas Ankersmit is better known these days for his work on the Serge rather than the saxophone. His previous two albums on Shelter Press, 2018s Homage to Dick Raaijmakers and last year's Perceptual Geography which he dedicated to electronic pioneer Maryanne Amacher are among my very favorite non-jazz releases in the past handful of years. Likewise bassist Werner Dafeldecker is known as much for his compositional avant-garde as he is for free improvisation. I’m still fairly smitten with his amazing 2020 release Parallel Darks. He featured here on another great trio release with Burkhard Beins and John Butcher earlier this year that provides a great contrast to this one, so I highly recommend making some time for a Dafeldecker listening party. And speaking of listening parties, I’d just been revisiting the two archival Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett SÅJ releases from the last couple of years when I saw this release show up in my Bandcamp feed. Sven-Åke has been quietly releasing gem after gem on the digital platform, including new and archival releases to this reviewer’s eternal delight. On “Ny Musikk” these men subvert the disposition of a classic saxophone trio and deliver something strange and absorbing.

Recorded on a cold Dec 3rd (the titles reference local temperatures at the time) at Cafeteatret in Olso during the Grønland Kammermusikkfestival, the trio presented five relatively brief pieces. The first track “-11oC'' sets the stage for the chilly tone fields to come. Its long, sustained sounds (bowed and blown) and blurry textures yield some sublime moments of superposition. On the following “-13oC'' the track coagulates around irregular, piercing sounds, themselves evocative of early electro-acoustic music, before the piece really groans to life across the second half. On “-7oC'' violent shudders usher in foghorn missives and machine room grima. These ragged sounds drift through gloomy spaces like twitchy patches of reflected light. There’s an uneasy steadiness to the piece that’s organic and foundational but oddly nonspecific and evolving. On the warmest track “2oC'', reedy screeches are dispatched beneath brambles of thorny percussion. Long warbling tones radiate and collide, relying on duration to set the stage for more fleeting, ephemeral phenomena. The final piece “-10oC'' pairs high pitched tones with heavy crackle and groaning textures. The trio play at the very edges of their instruments, only occasionally does a stray sound present in a familiar way.

This is really one of the better minimal albums I’ve heard in quite a while , perhaps you could even call it ‘free minimalism’, but I don’t mean that it’s necessarily quiet or sparse (as anyone who listens to minimalism knows). It’s definitely not a type of music that is made easily palatable, and the glut of attempts at this sort of thing either fall flat or aren’t interesting- happy to say that’s not the case here. It is however a music where the participants’ discipline and level of experience can really shine through, and vice versa. These guys are great at this, and it’s apparent to the discerning listener just how seasoned and well versed they are. The trio maintain a steady focus throughout and approach both their instruments and interactions with a calibrated restraint that gives the music a clear sense of progression and dynamics. A very worthwhile listen if you’re after something different.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Matt Weston – Sparky 4 (self released, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The Sparky series, a somewhat of a serialized percussion opera as Matt Weston describes it, has reached its fourth installment, presenting what is probably the best and most playful of the four. As I have written here before, Weston deserves much more attention than what he is receiving right now. I know this description fits to a lot or artists nowadays, so, do the right thing and support them.

Weston, ironically I guess, comments that Sparky 4 is for percussion ensemble and electronics. Obviously it is his solo venture (otherwise pity the poor reviewer who got it all wrong), one that –another guess here- keeps him going through the hardships of the covid era dystopia. Everything is done by Weston himself apart from the mastering by the great Jason Lescalleet. Sparky 4 comes out as a limited cassette only release, but listening to it as a download I’m not exactly sure if it is the same experience. I’m not the biggest fan of cassettes, to be honest, and I strongly believe that the wearing down audio capacity of the cassette is not providing the best service for Sparky 4.

Clocking in almost at twenty minutes, both sides are full of ideas, gestures, blasts, blowouts and a-rhythmic atonalities. Apart from his playful approach he seems eager to present a narrative to the listener. This narrative moves in more than one way. Sometimes interrupting a fresh idea to follow a different path, other times locking in one percussive gesture and following it. Both tracks (one each side) are complex and packed with small or bigger moves. There are a lot of electronics involved but I can only comment on that as a listener with minimal technical knowledge on this field.

I find the music in Sparky 4 truly innovative and fresh and even though a download never reveals all the sonic possibilities of a recording, it seems to me that the Sparky series has still to offer as he is just now providing his best efforts. More to come, I guess. As all proceeds go to the Transgender Law Center, check it out here: