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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ken Vandermark/Matthias Muche/Thomas Lehn/Martin Blume - Soundbridges (Jazzwerkstatt, 2022)

By Martin Schray

Imagine the following scenario: A highly likeable German soccer club, whose team inspires mainly (but not only) by its playing style (but not only), augments themselves for one season with an outstanding international superstar (e.g. Cristiano Ronaldo or Erling Haaland). This is what it looks like when three top musicians of the German improv scene - drummer Martin Blume, who initiated this project, Matthias Muche on trombone and Thomas Lehn on synthesizer - invite Chicago legend Ken Vandermark as their turbo.

What you get is, a whole panopticon of what constitutes free jazz in 2022. Brutal, energetic, expressive outbursts; sounds that get lost like in a giant stalactite cave; moments of silence; a back-and-forth shuffling of tones. But what makes the band’s own sound so distinctive? The obvious and most interesting fact is that the bass in the rhythm section is replaced by an analogue synthesizer, which opens up completely different sonic possibilities. This is immediately evident in the short opener “Aperture“, when the pinpricks of the winds are mirrored by electronic gargle tones, or when Thomas Lehn blurs them with textures as in “Aspect Ration“. Here he sounds like a fierce wind whipping wet flags against a wall. What is more is the fact that the quartet excels in small gestures: The musicians harmonize with delicate ease, build tension without resorting to plain crescendos, slip from one unexpected note to another at the last second, find drama in silence and calm in chaos.

In some, rather quiet moments, this is reminiscent of Pauline Oliveiros’s Deep Listening Band, then again of sounds on a Formula 1 race track or a fairground, especially when Muche and Vandermark exchange wild blows, as at the end of "The Thirty-Nine Steps“.

Again, Soundbridges offers a lot: dynamics, wild free jazz, contemplative phases, sound excursions. Everything flows homogeneously into each other as if there were no dividing lines. Through sound bridges, in the most beautiful sense of the word.

Soundbridges is available as a CD. You can listen to it on the usual streaming devices (iMusic, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer …)

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Ivo Perelman - Reed Rapture in Brooklyn (Mahakala Music, 2022)


By Eyal Hareuveni, Sammy Stein, Gary Chapin, Tom Burris, and Paul Acquaro

In 2021, the prolific tenor sax player celebrated his 60th birthday with a major project, a nine-volume box, Brass And Ivory Tales (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2021), seven years in the making, and pairing Perelman with nine like-minded pianists. The improvised dialogues were often the first formal meeting between the Perelman and the pianists and the instant and rapidly evolving synergy was fresh and rewarding. Perelman focuses on camaraderie in his creative process and excels in maintaining his individuality while matching the idiosyncratic style of each of his partners.

In 2022 Perelman had released another magnum opus, the 12-volume Reed Raptures in Brooklyn, in which he meets and improvises this time with 12 reeds players, most of them for the first time. In fact, Perelman seems to be enjoying this approach as has plans to release another box set that documents one-on-one recordings with guitarists. Reed Raptures in Brooklyn is a celebration of the sax (ten different ones) and clarinets (three different ones) family, recorded over six months in 2021. These meetings cover a kaleidoscopic range of sound and offer another testament to Perelman’s dynamic musical evolution.

With Joe Lovano:

The fourteen tracks of Perelman and Joe Lovano demonstrate the different styles of each player, here succeeding in developing a dialogue that features sharp, shared phrasing and often intense, creatively interwoven episodes. Lovano demonstrates his versatility, egged on and encouraged by Perelman’s delirious and, at times, profoundly evocative playing. Creative interludes flow from blues-infused riffs, walking-paced marches, and dramatic, high-reaching held notes making for tone poems that interweave, switch the emphasis, and add color to phrasing, which only two musicians intensely listening and responding to each other can produce. Contrasts between the atmosphere on different tracks, from slower, whimsical melodic exchanges to dramatic contrasts, demonstrate that this pairing elevates both musicians’ playing to new heights. (Sammy Stein)

With Tim Berne:

Sometimes it feels like each duet creates a new space, with new rules, and new physical laws; sometimes it feels like Evo is entering the “world” of his interlocutor. Tim Berne’s compositions are famed and beloved, and his free improv is equally admired (see his Paraphrase sets) and equally a product of his unique voice. This set of five-edged conversations (arguments? contretemps?) sees Berne spending a lot of time in the jaggedy upper extensions of the saxophone—though his tendency to go from there to a low, low contemplative thought is kind of heartbreaking—and Ivo is happy to join him there. I’m sure others will have commented on the uncanny ability of Perelman and friends to reflect back at other (through imperfect mirrors) motifs, themes, moods. They whip and wend like birds in a murmuration. A saxophone dance with no “primas.” (Gary Chapin)

With David Murray:

David Murray plays exclusively the bass clarinet on one channel, while Perelman is on the other. Murray has one of the best bass clarinet voices ever, and it sometimes takes a spare setting like this to appreciate. From the first few seconds, I was loving just the sound of his horn. He’s also got one of the better dry senses of humor in our music. There’s almost this sense that Murray is laying a path, and Perelman is happy to play Alice to Murray’s rabbit. They chase each other around various settings, with wild outcries and celebratory yawps. They are having a great time on this one. I smiled a lot. (Gary Chapin)

With Lotte Anker:

Danish alto and soprano sax player Lotte Anker is the only female and non-American sax player here, but although this is her first meeting with Perelman both share similar aesthetics. Both are fearless and imaginative, kind of stream-of-consciousness, free improvisers who often frame their improvisations into instant, loose compositions. The opening, 90 seconds of “Eight” show how Anker and Perelman can crystalize their camaraderie into a touching ballad. The following pieces are much longer pieces are also much more fiery and energetic, but so is the rapport of Anker and Perelman, both often complement each other’s ideas, interweave their voices and explore a playful and harmonious balance between Perleman’s higher ranges of the tenor sax and Anker’s lower ranges of her alto and soprano. Anker often adds lyrical, melodic veins or hauntingly abstract musings into the intense, energetic dialogues, as on “Six” or “Three”, taking this meeting into deeper spiritual regions. (Eyal Hareuveni)

With Ken Vandermark:

Ken Vandermark brought his clarinet to his first meeting with Perelman. They play a set of twelve brief pieces, exploring an idea with short but dense, precisely matching phrases, exhausting their options and with no attachment moving to the next one. These eloquent, balanced improvisations swing between spirited, urgent discourse and lyrical and compassionate musings, almost chamber ones (check “Thirteen”). Hrayr Attarian, who wrote the insightful liner notes to this box set, wrote that Vandermark and Perelman’s dynamics are “musical equivalents of a cross between freestyle poetry and flash fiction”. You may also think about this meeting as a heated and vibrant conversation between kindred souls who have a lot to share and unburden in a short while, with extended breathing techniques and an acrobatic demonstration of circular phrasing, squawks with honks, even if Vandermark and Perelman often have dissonant perspectives. Given their immediate and deep rapport, Vandermark and Perelman just began to explore the potential of such collaboration. (Eyal Hareuveni)

With Roscoe Mitchell:

Roscoe Mitchell also sticks exclusively to the low end, playing bass sax. This is the only recording that Perelman left Brooklyn to record, and we should be glad he did. It’s a grand phenomenon for me that, as I plow through my 50s, to be reminded of things that I’ve forgotten. Not forgotten exactly. I hadn’t forgotten how good Roscoe Mitchell could be, but I had forgotten what it felt like to get a first listen to him being one of the most amazing creative musicians of all time. Yeah, I know what I said. These three tracks are a joy. Roscoe plays the bass track with a strategy. His game—a long game—is made of low pitches dropped at even intervals, at a not raucous pace. Perelman skitters over him, and you can hear, sometimes, that Perelman is trying to tempt Mitchell to flight, but Roscoe is not having any. (disclaimer: I don't know for a fact that this is what either were thinking. It's an impression.) And his persistence—in comedy they call it committing to the bit—his ongoing, breath paced desultory rhythmic minimalism becomes something transformational. A slow process over time that you don’t always notice because Perelman is doing some very cool stuff above. But when Roscoe, about halfway through, shifts to more melodic phrases, the satisfaction via contrast is extraordinary. An amazing set. (Gary Chapin)

With James Carter:

The Carter-Perelman pairing, with Carter on baritone, is ebullient and dynamic. Carter brings his range of styles to the fore, and the joy of this pairing is palpable as they come together, drift apart and then slam with such force the air trembles. Carter is controlled, Perelman more spontaneous, but equally, he listens and changes tack several times to align with Carter's dynamic, beautiful playing style. Carter’s blaring baritone is matched by Perelman's equally fiery explosions and tonal responses. There are fleeting echoes of classical compositions intertwined with immense improvised sections throughout which the pair maintain an intimate, witty conversation infused with delight. In a few places, Carter lets rip some rock-infused blasts, which Perelman responds to by allowing Carter to play solo before dropping his reply into the pattern. This is a remarkable and provocative pairing, demonstrating Perelman’s versatility in adapting his playing to allow a fellow musician to bask in the delight of improvisation and doing so himself. From diverse streams, the pair come together in harmony at times before veering off again, each on his own path but constantly surging back to the other. The music flows effortlessly from two brilliant masters. (Sammy Stein)

With Jon Irabagon:

Perelman's duet with Jon Irabagon never had a chance of being a run-of-the-mill affair, that simply is not a choice with these two innovative and energetic musicians. The opener, 'Six,' begins with a squall of notes followed by the sounds of giddy, avuncular baby aliens. The chattering sounds accompany Perelman's nascent melodic lines. Three minutes into the piece, the two have gone through a set of tandem legato melodies, followed by a stretch where Perelman presses against Irabagon's storm of extended sopranino saxophone techniques. Towards the end of the track, they seem to have found a sort of tune with piercing counterpoint from the tiny sopranino saxophone. On the following track, 'Seven,' the two carry on in a deeply syncopated, ping-ponging manner, reaching unusual levels of cohesion - both melodically and in sonic terror. Track 5, entitled "Three," is a jittery piece, made up of shards of contrasting sounds, but comes together to end in an intense burst of intertwining musical purpose. Throughout their meeting, the moments of unfettered sound making is equal to the melodic ideas that they share. (Paul Acquaro)

With Joe McPhee:

Let's just get this out of the way. Both Ivo Perelman and Joe McPhee are absolute masters of improvisation and the instant compositions on this disc only serve to solidify their positions. The most obvious mode of operation here is that McPhee riffs in the lower registers of the tenor while Perelman flies around up in the ether. But that's merely where most of the pieces begin or “go home.” Our heroes also wind around each other in the same register and pop into the stratosphere with similar punch and vigor, making it challenging at times to tell who is going what. This collaboration bears beautiful and often hypnotic results, as on “Five” or considers the magic weaving that conjures up the mysterious feel of duduk player, Djivan Gasparyan on “Two”. But at turns their conversations can become weepy and dark, or they can ascend into an Ayler brothers' style of rapid jabs and punctuation. My favorite of the bunch is “Three,” where Joe howls and brays at the stars that Ivo is punching into the night sky before both tenors begin the speedy process of connecting them with musical lines. McPhee has an epiphany of some sort that prompts him to begin speaking in tongues. When Ivo responds, it's nothing less than overtones of the barnyard and several stalls require cleaning. (Tom Burris)

With Colin Stetson:

Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson brings to his first meeting with Perelman the contrabass saxophone. Perelman and Stetson's duets attempt to find common, resonating ground between the higher register of Perelman’s singing tenor sax, which can be associated with his recent study of bel canto opera, and the vibrating, deep-toned growl of Stetson’s contrabass saxophone, including his extended breathing techniques that add percussive and otherworldly abstract touches. These patient, slow-cooking duets stress, again, Perelman’s uncanny ability to create spontaneous and stimulating synergy. These free improvised pieces sound like introspective and contemplative, deep meditations on the contrasting, sometimes dissonant and quite intriguing sonic palettes of the two horns playing together, but rarely reach turbulent, cathartic climaxes. (Eyal Hareuveni)

With Vinny Golia:

Playful, challenging, but accessible, it's not hard to find your place within the intertwining lines of these two woodwind masters. Golia, a master of a seemingly endless array of woodwinds, here sticks to clarinet, the basset horn - a slightly darker toned mid-sized clarinet - and the smallest of the saxes, the soprillo, trades lines deftly with Perelman in this alluring meet-up. The opening track, 'Seven,' begins with the lightly aching sound of Perleman alone, delivering a seamless stream of notes. A hint of a melody creeps in at some moments, and then Golia comes in on the clarinet, his sound a bit woodier than Perelman's. The two slowly build up their conversation, reacting to each other's musical intentions telepathically. Track two, entitled 'Two,' begins again with Perelman alone, but his arching lines are soon traced by Golia, at times the two seem to stretch their notes out over vast musical spaces, both complementing and competing with each other. Track 'Six' begins with Golia solo, his clarinet a buzz of arpeggiated runs. Perelman reacts with his own vibrating melodies that sometimes seem to spiral away from his horn into curlicues of air. The track ends with a sonorous tone from Golia as he then recaps his kinetic introduction. The interactions are rich and rewarding throughout this entire encounter. (Paul Acquaro)

With Dave Liebman:

The Perelman-Liebman tracks are immersive, and Liebman is given rein to bring his expansive range of style and expression to this series of duets. The silences are as important as the playing in some parts, and Perelman here shows his innate ability to tune towards another musician in exemplary lead or reaction, depending on the nuance of the piece. Each dialogue explores a different part of the unifying language of the music, with some tracks feeling like two or three as the atmosphere switches from sublime to dramatic dynamism. Liebman, at times, takes a suggestion from Perelman and works his emotive response, which intuitively, Perelman then re-takes and places his voice on it. There are moments when Perelman briefly sets up a blues/rock theme under Liebman’s whimsical top line, the line vanishing when the lead switches back to Perelman. At other times, the pair swap short, sharp riffs, reflecting and changing them, often ending as Perelman screams down the scale. These swapped themes echo throughout the tracks, creating a series of interlinked yet distinct conversations. Immersive and completely spell-binding. (Sammy Stein)

Monday, November 28, 2022

Kirk Knuffke - flexing the tradition

 By Stef Gijssels

New York cornetist Kirk Knuffke has a warm gentle tone on his horn, even in the most free and improvised formats. His sound is deeply rooted in tradition, as we will see on the albums on review here, while at the same time fully at home in improvised settings. Some of his music would not match the profile of our blog because it is too mainstream, but today we will make an exception, and show several sides of this versatile musician. Regardless of the subgenre, his music is always vulnerable, with emotions laid bare for everyone to hear and share. There are no gimmicks, no tricks, no false wizardry, no playing for the gallery, no showing off, no electronics, no dubs ... the energy is all invested in sensitive beauty, authentic and warm and welcoming. 

Kirk Knuffke & Michael Bisio - For You I Don't Want To Go (NoBusiness, 2022)

On the first album, we are treated by Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Mike Bisio to a 36 minute long improvisation, "For You I Don't Want To Go/ Sea Wamp", that progresses slowly, in a calm and meditative way, and as I wrote some years ago, Knuffke seems to relish duo performances, which allow for a more intimate and intense kind of interaction, balanced and balancing, giving space, listening and joining again, with careful and sensitive shifts in the sound, in the dynamics, even if they stay within the same range, that is never loud nor fast, as if the nature of music is to make the calm sounds resonate with more clarity if carefully delivered and allowed to merge with the other instrument. 

In the absence of structure, theme and rhythm, inventiveness, in-the-moment creativity and ideas drive the music forward: both artists use the core techniques of their instruments, plucked or bowed, muted or not, giving the music a voice of spontaneous authenticity, freedom and enjoyment of the here and now. Both artists are creative enough to make the long piece full of variation and changes, sudden thematic ideas, unexpected rhythmic bass lines, offering the listener a natural flow that can only be enjoyed. 

There's nothing boundary-breaking, just two artists at the top of their skills, who love the freedom of jazz, and who demonstrate what sincerity and selflessness sound like.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Kirk Knuffke Trio - Gravity Without Airs (TAO Forms, 2022)

The second album brings the cornetist in the company of Michael Bisio on bass and Matt Shipp on piano. Of the fourteen tracks of this double LP, six were composed by Knuffke, the other ones are improvisations by the trio. 

The title captures the music well: "Gravity without Airs" refers to a line in Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD), a description which indeed fits the sound. The music is slow, subdued, never loud, never violent, never fast ... it moves, progresses and develops with dignity, with respect, with seriousness, but without having the connotations of self-importance or weight. Paradoxically, and possibly because of the chamber jazz line-up, the overall sound is light, floating unanchored forward. 

Bisio and Knuffke sense each other blindly, which is no surprise if you check all their collaborations of the last seven years, and I think this is a first collaboration with Shipp - at least on record - and it works remarkably well. Shipp has the same musical sensitivity as the two other musicians: gentle, measured, authentic and open-minded. 

Mainstream fans might find the music at times too open-ended, while free jazz purists may find it too gentle and not adventurous enough, and that's good. 

It's cold outside and raining hard. There is no need for adventure now. You're welcome to come inside, to warm your bones by the fire, and listen to this gentle and warm music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Per Møllehøj, Kirk Knuffke, Thommy Andersson - 'S Wonderful (Stunt Records, 2022)

Let's go back in time now. Let's get to the blues of Louis Armstrong, WC Handy, Ellington, Gershwin. The listener is welcomed by WC Handy's "Beale Street Blues", with Per Møllehøj on guitar and Thommy Andersson on bass. The percussion-less trio gives the music an intimate closeness that works pefectly well with Møllehøj's precise and economic playing, Knuffke's warm tone, and Andersson's infectious bass. 

This all brings us back to the origin of jazz, but with today's technical quality - of the musicianship and the recording - that can only be appreciated. Knuffke and Møllehøj each penned some of the compositions, and these form a coherent match with the older pieces. 

There is no sought complexity, no real artistic agenda, and no intention to take the listener on any adventure: it's music all for the joy of the sound itself, the melody, the interaction, the mood and the deeply felt emotions. A tribute to the fathers of jazz, in a rendition that we will all enjoy. 

The centerpiece of the album is Gershwin's "'S Wonderful", a little more uptempo than the other pieces. 

Personally, I grew up with Louis Armstrong - my mother's favourite music - and as a kid one of my preferred pieces was the "Saint Louis Blues", which gets a great rendition here, with Knuffke singing the lyrics, and I truly admire his deep bluesy voice. 

If you're in a mainstream mood, or want to hear some great modern take at tradition, I'm sure you will enjoy this. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Mali Obomsawin – Sweet Tooth (OOYH, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

Sweet Tooth is the debut release of bassist, composer and vocalist Mali Obomsawin. On it, she is joined by Savannah Harris (drums, vocals), Miriam Elhajli (guitars, co-lead vocals), Allison Burik (bass clarinet, alto saxophone, vocals), Noah Campbell (tenor, soprano, alto saxophones) and Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn).

The first piece, Odana, is based on an 18th century Odanak ballad and sets a fittingly pensive mood with Spanish horns and a plodding hymn that fall somewhere between the entrancing theme to Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio) (the first track on Sketches of Spain) and the opening bars to A Change is Gonna Come (Otis Blue). From here, Sweet Tooth travels through traditional hymns and poems and a wholly new pieces (Blood Quantum (Nəwewəčəskawikαpáwihtawα)), all arranged and composed by Odomsawin with the help of a series of other, mainly Indigenous, composers. The entire album is dedicated to storytelling, starting from the ancestral stories of Odana and traveling through reflections on the histories of the Abenaki First Nation, the Wabanaki confederacy of which it was part and, more universally, Native American struggles and perseverance against colonialism. Hence the pain, the hope and defiance threaded throughout this suite.

And this is, indeed, a suite. A few pieces stand out, especially Wawasin8da, which shifts from an askew march to a full-on blow-out at the end and, in the process, approaches the Albert Ayler Funeral March in its unfettered, mournful wail. That said, I am not sure any of these pieces make the same impression outside of this context. Together, however, they form a complete journey. They batter the listener between moments of escape and memorialization, of curious exploration and sadness but also, as form reflects content, of reconstitution. This comes through in the laggard swing of much of the album, the combination of third wave composition, free and winding ascensions, deep, clattery drum rambles and, of course, the haunting and consoling vocals of Obomsawin and Elhajli. Indeed, as much as I had expected to hear Elhajli’s guitar or Obomsawin’s bass forcing its way to the front or Bynum’s cornet slicing through the hazy sonic stew, none of this really happens. Instead, Sweet Tooth is a finely balanced group effort, where the vocals sparingly but effectively take control. I guess this balance is somewhat natural for an album constructed around storytelling and languages, whether understood in precise articulations or just colors and moods. Still, it stands out.

The one outlier on this album is the final track, Blood Quantum (Nəwewəčəskawikαpáwihtawα). Penned by Obomsawin with the help of several other First Nations composers, it is the most contemporary. It is an extended piece and it seems the most open, if also funky. Yet, it maintains the enough of the aesthetic of the rest of the album and, in a sense, brings the narrative – and the Abenaki past - into the present. Indeed, one hears the echoes of previous struggles in the final chant, which translates as: “I stand to face him, I face him defiantly, unflinchingly, I confront him./We remember our matriarchs./We remember our grandmothers.” It is left to the listener to determine who “him” is, though the implication indicates a timelessness of the confrontation.

Throughout its 37 minutes, Sweet Tooth examines similar questions of the construction of the present through the past and the comprehension of that past through music that sounds both vibrantly relict and thoroughly contemporary. And it does so with a rare beauty and potency. One of the best I have heard all year.

Sweet Tooth is available on vinyl and CD or as a download through Bandcamp:

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Jacob Wick - Standards (Full Spectrum Records, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Gibrán Andrade, Mabe Fratti, Amanda Irarrázabal, Federico Sánchez, and Jacob Wick play five songs from others with drums, cello, contrabass, guitar, and trumpet on the 46’ Standards.

Eight minutes pass. The viscous rhythms of drums, a gyre of lethargy from groaning strings in complementary spaces, picked music box melodies and brass elegies develop a tender, somber mood. And then Wick sings. A wooden croon and wail in and out of tune with a delivery of slack-jawed apathy and in this way the voice conveys a tension that is always felt if not understood through the music. It turns Bruce Springsteen’s timid ballad urgent, gives Waylon Jennings’ country western melodrama gravity.

In the arc of the set, a continuous take, this simultaneous presence of opposing feelings cultivates a complex emotivity. The buoyant jubilation of Andrew Hill’s groove brightens the dark moods around it and the disarming earnestness of “Nacho” shifts the deadpan diction before it towards a tool to express the heart and soul. Humor peppers the heaviness and Strayhorn’s standard comes with a wink after the object of desire in “I’m On Fire” becomes a boy. It’s queer art that renders its queerness by acknowledging the everything in everyone.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Mikołaj Trzaska, Petr Vrba, Mark Tokar, Balázs Pándi — Malá Pardubická Vol. 4 (Gusstaff Records, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

This quartet consists of musicians from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Ukraine, a potential conscious or unconscious survey of the former Eastern Bloc. Mikołaj Trzaska appears on various reeds, Petr Vrba on trumpet and electronics, and Balázs Pándi on drums. For his part, Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar is currently defending Ukraine, as the notes so finely puts it, “changing his double bass for a rifle”. Given the current geopolitics of the region, maybe there was some prescient solidarity behind this aggregation.

That said, such speculations are hardly necessary to appreciating Malá Pardubická Vol. 4, recorded in the autumn of 2021. The gist: this is wonderful experimental music. Trzaska plays some controlled flourishes while Vrba huffs out raspberries, hushes, flutters and beeps (once he switches to electronics.) On much of this, Tokar’s playing is thick and viscous, a perfect complement to Pándi’s cluttery percussion. Vrba and especially Trzaska, meanwhile, add everything from the squeaky atmospherics to billowing streams of sound. Still, this is pulse-driven, rather than melodic or chordal music. All four musicians feed more off the herky-jerky rhythmicism than anything else. And that is to their credit. This is the kind of off-kilter free jazz that exists between the new music, non-idiomatic aestheticism and the melodicism and steady drive of so much of post-Coltrane, post-Coleman, post-Ayler music. It really stands apart in its concerted, for lack of a better term, clunkiness often balanced by Vrba’s atmospherics and sometimes by Tokar’s quieter passages of background (or backbone) wandering. In short, Malá Pardubická is a fine set of improvisations and an interesting twist on where experimental jazz-based music resides today.

Malá Pardubická Vol. 4 can be purchased directly from Gusstaff Records.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Cécile Cappozzo Quintet - Hymne d'automne (Ayler Records, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

This invocation of autumn moods often attends to the explosive rather than the pastoral, though both are in evidence. It marks a debut for both pianist Cécile Cappozzo’s quintet and for her compositions, though it shares much with her two preceding recordings. In 2018 she debuted her trio with bassist Patrice Grente and drummer Etienne Ziemniak in an all-improvised program on Sub Rosa (also on Ayler Records). In 2016 she recorded Soul Eyes, a beautiful duo exploration of Charles Mingus and Mal Waldron compositions called Soul Eyes (on Fou Records) with her father, distinguished trumpeter Luc Cappozzo, also present in the quintet here, along with tenor saxophonist Guillaume Belanger.

Traditions arise here in various ways. Once is in the form of an epigram, here a poetic quotation on the subject of nature and art from the anarchist ex-urbanite Henry David Thoreau: “Man’s progress through nature should have an accompaniment of music. It relieves the scenery, which is seen through it as a subtler element, like a very clear morning air in autumn.” Henry David Thoreau (in Autumn: Journal - January 8, 1842)

The second tradition is in the instrumentation, the quintessentially urban configuration of the hard- to post-bop quintet of the 1950s and ‘60s – trumpet, tenor, piano, bass, drums – not just in the trend-setting forms of the Jazz Messengers and the Max Roach and Miles Davis bands but in a remarkable number of the Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige recordings, the three big New York independents.

Quotation and instrumentation alike speak to a certain kind of turbulence, and it arrives in multiple degrees. “Exposition” begins with a scattering of piano notes, attacks and rhythmic values as random as leaves whipped by the wind. The intensity builds with each successive entry, sparse trumpet joined by a flurry of drums, a sudden bass and then the vigorous assault of the tenor saxophone. There follows the first appearance of “Hymne d’automne”, a wistful homage to the season that begins with Jean-Luc’s exposition of the theme, his phrases echoed by Bellanger, the mood maintained through a series of solos.

“Dance Dance”, the central event, unleashes Ziemniak and Belanger, both forceful, propulsive players, and Cécile Cappozzo as well, who has constructed a seemingly conventional quintet that ultimately mirrors her own wide-ranging impulses from moody abstraction to expressionist fury, further reflected in the contrast between the melancholic “Carla” and “Orage”, the latter a brief (3:11, to be exact) trio explosion in which the first two minutes are given to a Ziemniak drum solo, the remaining 70 seconds to an off-the-rails roller-coaster theme statement by Cécile Cappozzo and Belanger.

The program concludes with a reprise of “Hymne d’automne”, but it's a rearrangement, almost a deconstruction, beginning with a free-bop pairing of Belanger and Cécile Cappozzo with Jean-Luc’s entry signalling a gradual diminuendo to a reflective (but also choppy, there’s a certain kind of “Paul-Bley-out-of-Monk” disjunctive edginess in the younger Cappozzo’s make-up) improvised passage between her and Grente, then a balladic theme statement that some might hear as verging on the mawkish, then a moody piano interlude then concluding with a brief and evanescent bass solo to conclude the piece and the CD.

Cécile Cappozzo works with traditional elements stretching from hard bop to free jazz, but there’s nothing predictable about the way she and the quintet order the material, skewing mood signals and continuities with sudden, almost arbitrary, impulse. The result is as engaging as it is distinctive.

An Interview with Cécile Cappozzo

Cécile Cappozzo. Photo (c) Rémi Angeli

How are the compositions born? Do they come from improvisations, are they directly written on the score with the players and instrumentation in mind? Do they form a whole, or are the pieces written over a longer period of time and brought together for the recording?

For this record there are really only four compositions: 'Autumn Hymn', 'Dance Dance', 'Carla' and a rhythmic phrase without a fixed melody called "Orage'. I wrote the 'Carla' theme when I was 19, it's very short. At that time I listened to Carla Bley and Paul Bley a lot.

I wrote the other three songs about two years ago, during the time of Covid lockdown. My approach is as follows: first I sing the melody, write it, then I look for the bass to anchor it, then the harmony, and finally I imagine how to divide the voices between several instruments. I gave them to the musicians and the idea was to start with improvised pieces in which the themes can arise at any moment, from anyone's initiative, in any order. This record, Hymne d’automne, is better suited to listening in its entirety because it is designed as a whole, a single and same piece.

When are you ready to record? Is it programmed well in advance, or is it about capturing the music in all its freshness when it appears?

We had booked a date and room to work as a quintet and record the proceedings, without a goal to make a record. I simply said to myself that if it held up, I would have Stéphane Berland (Ayler Records head) listen to it to find out if he liked it. He knew that after my trio record on his label I wanted to put together a quintet with some written melodies.

How would you describe your evolution as a composer and pianist between the previous album and this new one? There is a sense of continuity, given it looks like an augmented version of your previous trio.

Yes, continuity is an apt description. I remain faithful to the same people, and would like to make the group grow with each new project.

What is the role of the producer in this case? Did he initiate the project, made some suggestions?

Not at all. We recorded, I sent the recording to Stéphane Berland, he listened and he said "I love it! I'm putting it out! We're not touching anything!" I can never thank him enough for his support.

Your father is trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo – who plays in the quintet. Does he give you his opinion on your music, your way of making it happen, can he be critical or bring his point of view?

Yes, he throws ideas, just like the other musicians in the band. I certainly listen carefully to my father’s advice. We don't always agree, I try to listen to everyone while remaining faithful to my concepts and instinct. I would describe myself as a "diplomatic leader" [laughs].

What are your influences on the instrument, or in jazz in general?

I am touched by the history of several people and cultures, I don't really have precise historical notions but the feeling is there, and although I am neither American, tall, black, gypsy nor Spanish, I feel closely related to the piano sound of McCoy Tyner when I hear it, but also feel at home when invited to dance a pata por buleria… The most important pianists in my training and listening background are Mal Waldron, Ran Blake, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett, Dollar Brand… Critics usually mention a Cecil Taylor influence on my playing, but I haven’t listened to him that very much, so I don’t think that’s relevant.

Where does the inspiration for the title choices come from?

'Carla' is a tribute to Carla Bley, Hymne d’automne is the title of the album because I wanted to hear a hymn, with a solemn side (I love the music of the Semana Santa in Andalucia, one of my greatest listening epiphanies), but also with a reference to nature, an evocation of the sound of leaves, rustling of the wind... 'Dance Dance' refers to the idea of the dancing body (my other form of expression), and 'Orage' is composed of a rhythmic phrase inspired by a type flamenco in 12 beats; I named it 'Orage' [i.e. Thunderstorm] in connection with the title of the record, since it is a mixture of freedom and forecast.

What is the part of jazz, improvisation, how do you organize your music and present it to your partners?

We work on the themes, playing the melodies and rotating the grids, but I'm often attracted to a back and forth motion : the idea of making a "free” piece into which the themes can sneak in (or not), which are in a corner of our heads, they can come and go, the whole process is like a collective walk, where we decide to stop at times to take a break, without either diminishing the individual input or “pack” state of mind.

Can you introduce us to your partners in the band? Do they have a creative role in the compositions?

Patrice Grente probably has the most influence because if he doesn't like a grid, he will say : "I'm going to do something else, huh" [laughs] and that's fine with me. Patrice is a great double bass player, jazz musician and improviser. Etienne is a multifaceted drummer, comfortable in many areas, he also understands what I want to hear, it's magic! Guillaume Bellanger is very skilful in finding the right place, and my father just hovers above all this racket. They are all creators since the themes are only supports, places of rendez-vous, they do not constitute the goal or the destination.

What would your dream project be, if it could come to fruition?

I would like to have the means to gradually increase this line up, up to about fifteen musicians, always with this idea of free pieces punctuated by a few thematic reference points that we can decide to play, or not.

Would you say that the fact that music is not your only professional activity gives you additional creative freedom or input?

This is a difficult question because I feel half and half! Certainly, since my return from Spain, I give more shows as a flamenco dancer than concerts as a pianist, but it is beyond my control, I go where the work takes me. I would love to have more concerts with my projects as a pianist. As for creative freedom, it's rather the fact of having a dual activity that makes me grow: one passion feeds the other, it's very complementary. Going further in precision and rigor allows me to go further in creative freedom. I used to practice the piano enormously when I was younger and have acquired technique which I can summon even if I don’t play the piano on a daily basis anymore. The physical discipline involved by flamenco dancing helps me focus and clear my head and that translates to my piano playing, which is a combination of mind and body; the goal being to becoming able to let the music guide the way and follow it with full mind and body availability and commitment, without forcing anything, in a state of complete listening.

- November 13, 2022

Cécile Cappozzo. Photo (c)Rémi Angeli

Cécile Cappozzo, flamenco. Photo (c) Donatien Leroy 


Cécile & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Soul Eyes (FOU Records, 2016)

Cécile Cappozzo Trio - Sub Rosa (Ayler Records, 2018)

Cécile Cappozzo Quintet - Hymne d'automne (Ayler Records, 2022)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Basher - Doubles (Sinking City Records, 2022)

By Matt Gagnon

In Basher’s short Rockumentary: Up Up We Go; Bash, Bash, Bash , we get to view the behind-the-scenes musings and banter of simpatico musicians taking in the moment of being invited to play their music at the halftime show for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. Byron Asher, whose first name and surname provides Basher with their band name, tells us that “we are going to play some free jazz for them at halftime, it’s what they want, it’s what they asked for.” What this seemingly inauspicious commentary masks, in a way, is Asher’s attention to constructing composed tunes that draw on danceable avant-pop-orientations that are not always featured or practiced in creative music or free improvisation. (One might think of the work of Golden Valley Is Now or further back to Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time as an analog to what Asher is up to.) At the outset, there seems to be something incongruent about playing a strange amalgam of free jazz laced with pop sensibility in the depths of a multi-million dollar industry athletic arena for an audience that has come to watch the “titans of the tape.”

But the more I think about it, and the more I listen to Basher’s synthesis of styles, the more I understand that this is an opportunity to disrupt the divisions between what gets heard and in what spaces. Why not play this heady mix of free jazz and avant pop at a halftime show? Why not gather at the center of the court and make music that teases the listener’s expectations and offers them some new sounds to move to and to think with? It reminds me of how the comedian, Amy Schumer, would have her brother, Jason Stein, open up her shows with his trio, Locksmith Isidore. It’s the rupture of expectation, of what should be played and heard where, and the merging of two seemingly opposed acts into one that creates the possibility for people to experience diverse forms of information under one roof. And, as I want to argue, Basher’s music is prepared to challenge how we hear creative music and what we might do with it: have an embodied experience with sound that extends the aural registers of listening. Often, in my listening, I’m looking for fresh propulsive energy to shift the way I hear music, to alter the way I move in the world, and to do so among others interested in the kinetic power of creative music. Luckily, for this listener, Basher has been billed as a New Orleans “free jazz party band.” And Asher, for his part, describes his Basher project as a “Freak out dance band, free avant-pop, post-jazz groove punk. Basher is about walking the line between creative improvisation and dance crazed party music by way of two saxophones, analog synthesizers and two drumsets.”

Basher’s new album, Doubles, is a sonically engaging and texturally dense record that continues to grow on me with each listen, revealing something new in the wonderfully hazy atmospherics of the synthesizers, the territorial mapping of the tenor and alto sax in their braiding and bifurcations, and the stabilizing pulse and spare energy of the double drums. By territorial mapping, I mean that Asher’s compositions offer a space for the listener to ground themselves, feel themselves around the sound and tap their foot, while also moving outward towards an expressive soundscape that’s interested in an exultant ambiguity. Along these lines, I wouldn’t really hesitate to call Doubles a free jazz dance record, which takes joy in moments of what Asher has called “improvisational mind-reading.” The emotive interplay between groove and mood is what makes Doubles such a breath of fresh air in the creative music milieu.

Byron Asher, the New-Orleans based composer, saxophonist and clarinetist, and leader of Basher has built what I think is a wonderfully evolved sound and identity with his new iteration of Basher. Doubles seems less like a second record and more like a debut with a new band. Basher’s first album, 100% Humidity , recorded in 2017 and produced by Jeff Alberts, was a trio date with Asher on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Reagan Mitchell on alto saxophone, and Brad Webb on drums and cymbals. Recorded in Webb’s basement, the sound quality is not as fine-grained or focused as the new band featured on the Doubles record, where the drums are more prominent in the mix, but it does hint at what Asher’s Basher project can do as a vehicle for exploring and experimenting with the blending of styles and idioms, as well as contributing a new take on the double group concept that is part of the creative music tradition.

One can easily hearken back to Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz record, where the left and right channels featured parallel instrumentation playing simultaneously. More recently, we have Ken Vandermark’s one-off Barrage Double Trio - Utility Hitter (Quinnah Records, 1996), Stephen Haynes’ and Taylor Ho Bynum’s The Double Trio - Live At The Festival Of New Trumpet Music (Engine Studios, 2008), and Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double (Firehouse 12, 2017) and March (Firehouse 12, 2019) which all play on the double group concept with varying approaches. But what Asher’s creative compositions contribute is a bit of a wrinkle to the lineup of musicians. We have two saxes, two drums, and analog synthesizers, though the whole ensemble is not featured on each recording. Doubles makes use of different combinations of the doubles concept in a way that creates blocks of thick sound dynamics and various speeds that pulsate through the songs and improvisations. The synthesizers add a remarkably inorganic and otherworldly chordal and ambient texture that ups the ante for Basher’s new band.

The new Basher lineup consists of Asher on tenor, Aurora Nealand on alto, Daniel Meinecke on analog synthesizers, and Brad Webb and Zach Rhea on drums. Of all Asher’s ensemble players, I’m most familiar with the multi instrumentalist, Nealand, whose Kobra Quartet (Astral Spirits/Monofonus Press, 2019) recording and work with Tim Berne are worth exploring. And her jazz ensemble, Aurora Nealand and The Royal Roses , engages with New Orleans jazz idioms, and especially, her interpretations of Sidney Bechet’s compositions are joyful and revitalizing. And Meinecke’s psychedelic, acid jazz, and funk infused work with Glenn Echo on Partly Cloudy (MotorCity Wine, 2021), offers an early demonstration of what his Moog and Prophet rigs can bring to Asher’s compositions in terms of song structures and creative improvisation.

Produced by Asher and Alberts in New Orleans, Doubles is organized around tunes and improvisations, though, of course, Asher’s compositions build in space for collective improvisation. For the most part, the track order alternates between improvisations with Asher, Nealand, and Meinecke, with the exception of “Zephyr,” which is an ensemble improvisation that includes Webb and Rhea. At the outset, I hadn’t noticed this alternation of improvisations and composed tunes, but on repeated listen, there’s something compelling and refreshing about the way the tunes get interrupted with more short form mood-oriented improvisations. While the improvisations on Doubles typically run much shorter than the compositions (though not always), they enable Basher to expand their sonic vocabulary to something that verges on what I would call improvisational impressionism. Collectively, these dense sound collages propagate new ideas and textures, and individually, they offer Asher, on tenor, a frame to try out new lexicons and phrasings. As individual demonstrations of collective music making, they don’t so much resolve themselves, as kind of float, saunter, or trot around a feelingtone. As John Corbett writes in A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation, “Improvised music challenges us to get over it. Overcome our collective anxiety about the ambiguous and the unresolved” (114). It’s notable that the titles of the improvisations are derived from Greek and Roman mythology, and while we can’t be sure of Asher’s intent, we know that myths offered ancient civilizations a way to understand their origins and deities. If we try to connect the stories of the gods and goddesses that Asher calls on to the music, perhaps we can say that he sees the improvisations on Doubles as a staging for new creation possibilities.

Side 1 of Doubles opens with the brief and airy improvisatory workout,“ Diana,” conjuring some atmospheric interplay between Asher’s tenor and Nealand’s alto layered over Meinecke’s patient splashes and plucks of warm synth. There’s some reverb on the saxophones in the recording and this deepens the impact of the sonic atmosphere. As the improvisation gets going, the interaction between Asher, Nealand, and Meinecke becomes more insistent, the layering of sounds serving a common cause that’s both grounded and unearthly. The improvisation ends with Meinecke’s lingering synth chromatics, and before another step can be taken, the composition, “Primetime A Go-Go,” opens with a fuzzed synth bass groove. Webb and Rhea, using their stripped down drum kits, provide a rhythmic pulse before Meinecke saturates the proceedings with his glittering synth. Asher’s and Nealand’s funk lines coil around each other in what I can only describe as a joyous groove-based party-like atmosphere. Later in the song, there’s a more improvisatory dynamic between the saxes as they alter velocity, fast talking through dense rhythmic proceedings. It’s here that Asher really starts to show his rich tenor sound in exploratory territory, notating the moment before the saxes come back to their compositional groove.

The short “Artemis,” which is Diana's Greek counterpart, opens with a caterwauling saxophone and an eerie synth presence. In a way, this is an aqueous-sounding improvisation, with fluttering saxophone notes and watery phrasings that recall high-pitched whale moans in conversation. “Claptrap Clapback,'' the lead single of Doubles, works out a laid back hazy funk. Meinecke brings back his thick fuzzed synth groundwork and spaceship wizardry, and the whole ensemble rides out a motivic journey. Webb and Rhea add cymbals and pot covers to the strike surface of their snare drums and organically achieve what sounds like electronic drum beats. Asher and Nealand, again playing in unison, create a powerful polyvocal effect, until Asher’s bright tenor takes the lead while Nealand’s alto punctuates from behind. The composition closes with Asher and Nealand returning to their braided lines and closing quiver. Side A closes with “Ponchatoula,” a slow funk by turns painterly, tender, and even woozy. It conjures what I can only imagine to be a paean to place, like figuratively placing a stethoscope on one’s memory, and capturing the sounds that made a place part of the makeup of your world. Midway through the song, Asher stretches out on his tenor, elaborating a soulful and expressive run until joined by Nealand to complete their particular sonic rendering of place.

The very brief “Bacchus'' opens Side 2 with Asher laying down a steady pneumatic white noise with his pedals. Meinecke offers intermittent electronics, which is undergirded by Nealand’s searching and vibrato alto lines. This improvisation is followed by the cosmic, “Step Pyramid,” which hints at more of an art rock-orientation with the ensemble contributing a steady state groove that opens with Meinecke’s galactic refrain and gradually introduces Webb and Rhea in a collective rhythmic pact, while Asher and Nealand talk around each other. Midway through the song, we get something that closes in on a more of a traditional chorus that introduces Meinecke’s use of a wailing organ, as Asher and Nealand blow the roof off. This song comes the closest to exploring the architectonics of arena rock, and it’s a surprising example of how improvisation and jazz idioms can be disrupted with art rock and pop sensibilities.

“Zephyr” is the only ensemble improvisation on Doubles and it’s easily one of my favorite instances of collective sound-making on the album. Opening with Asher’s and Nealand’s soft wind-like sounds on their respective horns, the improvisation gradually moves into a startlingly loud dynamic with Meinecke selecting his moments to saturate the moment with synth ambience. The addition of Webb and Rhea with their use of snare, bass drum, and cymbals offers an arrhythmic acoustic layering to Asher’s and Nealand’s propulsive explorations.

Asher’s “Carnival 2019” communicates something of New Orleans’ street atmosphere during Mardi Gras with its own storied street parades and gregarious drumming. Asher leads with a rush of notes until the ensemble enters in a frenzy of joyous foot stomping persuasion. In keeping with the marching drums tradition in New Orleans, we get a brief drum-only workout between Webb and Rhea that’s packed with energy. The song returns to a raucous street funk, but in an updated version given Meinecke’s presence on synth, which shimmers through the song. In the remaining 15-seconds, Asher and Nealand, alone, with their reverb drenched horns, bring the song to close by repeating the theme.

“Borealis” is the longest improvisation on the record, clocking in at just over 4-minutes, and it is the most intense and dense sequence of music-making on the record. It opens with Asher’s fragmentary honks and after his opening statement, Meinecke begins to drop synthetic ripples into the soundsphere, while Nealand’s countering alto seems treated with an effects pedal. This final improvisation is a raucous free jazz sound-collage and one hopes they return to this level of mind-reading on future recordings. While Doubles plays with the double group concept, it does so in a way that often features sets of double sounds at different moments. The closing composition, “Refinery Skies,” is a case in point. It features Meinecke’s Moog and Prophet rigs establishing a plaintive mood for the first minute and a half, until Asher and Nealand enter the fray and wind around each other with delicate balladry. The double drum kits are used with spare effect, here, offering more atmosphere than pulse. Light touches on the snares and cymbals help to create what is the record’s most crepuscular sounding composition. It’s really a mood-piece that, given the title, might recall Louisiana’s crude oil refineries at nightfall, and what this refinery process might mean for the future of a habitable planet.

At the heart of Basher’s project is a blurring of the boundaries and categories that define genres and styles of making music. And this blurring can also disrupt the kinds of spaces in which this kind of music might be heard. Some of the best qualities of Basher’s record is that the music doesn’t stay in one place or settle on a singular sound, although this band can certainly be said to have a recognizable sound. As a compositionist, whose other projects include the trio, Nutria, and his 11-piece ensemble Skrontch Music , Asher brings all kinds of speeds and dynamics to his writing. And his Basher project allows him to focus on developing his vocabulary on tenor, while straddling the interacting borders between individual technique and collective partnership. Asher’s ability to write tunes and to take things off the grid, to get rid of the plot, while also recognizing the more somatic components of making music, make him a creative musician to look out for.

Doubles is available as an LP, cassette, and a download. You can listen to it and buy it here:


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Ben Lamar Gay - Certain Reveries (International Anthem, 2022)

 By Stef Gijssels

Chicago trumpeter and composer Ben Lamar Gay is touring around Europe at the moment with his quartet consisting of Tommaso Moretti on drums, Matt Davis on tuba and Edhino Gerber on guitar, and it was one of the best concerts I've seen in years, a true musical listening experience, a journey from ancient tribal trance-like incantations to modern electronics with a very strong dose of AACM influence, especially the Art Ensemble of Chicago, possibly mixed with the eclectic approach of a Don Cherry. There is only music, with sorrow, joy, magic, creative surprises and personal authenticity. Lamar Gay does not care about genre or style. He cares about authenticity and creativity. Every sound is possible, as long as it resonates with his musical vision. Check out his other albums that we reviewed over the years. 

On "Certain Reveries", we find him in a duo setting with Tommaso Moretti on drums, and as can be expected, he turns this format into his own kind of approach. The straightforward acoustic cornet-drums improvisations are embedded in a longer narrative with electronic drones, rhythms and themes providing the background for Lamar Gay's idiosyncratic singing and shouting. His music gives the paradoxical impression of on the one hand not caring much about musical roots and influences, because he does his own thing, totally out of the ordinary, while on the other hand performing full of reverence for all types of music. 

The opener, "You Ain't Never Lied", starts with electronically distorted singing, a kind of plaintive incantation, with repeats and echo, setting the scene for the magic to come, in the form of even more electronics, a deep rhythmic pulse that pushes the singing to the background, and opens the space to Morretti's exceptional drumming and even more vocals merging into a mesh of sound. It is uncanny, weird and incredibly compellling. To dispell any thoughts that jazz is dead, the second piece, "Paradise Debris", starts with cornet and drumming, wild and free, rhythmic and intense, with drone-like electronics weaving a dark background for the fresh acoustic interaction between the two instruments, that by itself is full of - rhythmic - surprises, seamlessly moving to "To Be Behaved Upon", another genre-breaking mix of incantantion and electronics. 

Lamar Gay and Morretti do not alternate between cornet-percussion duets or more electronic-driven pieces. Anything can happen at anytime. On "The Bioluminiscence of Nakedness", Lamar Gay uses his mini-keyboard for some wild soloing with just a few notes, while Morretti goes berserk on his kit, paving the way for a real jazzy cornet intervention. Anything can happen in Lamar Gay's musical universe, and it does. 

His musical inventiveness and creativity know no boundaries, yet he manages to control this into a very coherent narrative, that can be overwhelming, deeply spiritual, compelling, or plain funny. 

Because the music takes such a wide sweep at different musical genres, die-hard free jazz fans may raise some eyebrows when hearing this, yet on the other hand you will need very open ears to enjoy it to the full. 

So, I can only recommend to open those ears to new concepts, and to welcome Ben Lamar Gay in your catalogue of great music. 

The entire performance was presented live at the EFG London Jazz Fest in 2020 and is accompanied by a video that you can watch below, a tribute to the late inventor/composer Eddie Harris

Monday, November 21, 2022

Dave Rempis/Elisabeth Harnik/Michael Zerang - Astragaloi (Aerophonic, 2022)

By Martin Schray

The day before I wrote this, I was at a concert of this band consisting of Dave Rempis (saxophones), Elisabeth Harnik (piano) and Michael Zerang (percussion). It was probably the best free show I’ve seen this year, as the trio offered a complete range of what makes this music so fascinating. It was certainly an advantage that the concert was in the middle of a small European tour, so the musicians were already rehearsed. The three were somnambulistically confident, everyone seemed to know what they had to do.

The same applies to their third album, released shortly before the tour (the first - Wistfully - came out in 2016, Triple Tube then in 2019). On Astragaloi the excitement of the music initially draws from the special instrumentation, because the bass-less piano trio has always been both a challenge and sonic experiment in one, just think of the legendary Schlippenbach Trio. Rempis, Harnik and Zerang have developed a sound space that is truly their own in the nearly ten years they have been playing together. This sound space is opened up even further, the three musicians push a little closer to their tonal barriers. It’s like a galaxy of its own that keeps expanding. They pack everything into this growing sound space, every musical thought, every musical reference is welcome to them: the harsh noises, the apparent contradictions and above all the contrasts, which make the music so exciting: Rempis combines free improvisation with emotional honesty and fire-breathing dynamics, Harnik uses a whole range of sounds with pure expressivity, she connects European abstraction with Tayloresque clusters, and Zerang mixes his very own delicacy with the Middle Eastern percussion tradition. This is most evident in “Lafo Litupa“, the album’s nearly 15-minute centerpiece. At first, all the stops of abstraction are pulled out, Harnik tracing the interior of the piano, Zerang stroking the skins of his drums. The improvisation seems wild, choppy and shot up, the percussive nature of the music taking center stage. Then Harnik shifts to a muffled keynote and Rempis’s runs get going. It seems as if three rivers have converged and now form a raging torrent that cannot be stopped washing everything away. Harnik whips the two men forward with her clusters and runs before the stream enters calmer realms to finally plunge downhill again in a crescendo. This whole process happens very organically and flows astonishingly easily. But the highlights on this album - as in the live concert - are the quieter pieces, like “Macateta“ and “Goat’s-thorn“. Here Rempis can indulge his penchant for melody without slipping into kitsch. This is free jazz of the old school.

Astragaloi is an excellent album, the five pieces prove how varied the spectrum of this trio is. A real recommendation.

Astragaloi is available as a CD and a download. You can listen to it an buy it here:

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Moor Mother –Jazz Codes (Anti, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

There’s been a lot of praise on this site for the vibrant, politically charged free jazz (and beyond) of Irreversible Entanglements. But what about the other projects of Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa? Well, since the mid-2010’s when she blasted herself into the current music world, everything she produces –be it solo or collaboration- gets well deserved praise. It would be no exaggeration (but, yes, I’m a fan) to comment that her music is deeply rooted in the great Black tradition, Afrofuturism, while the political (especially her identity as a Black female in contemporary USA) is ever present.

So, definitely, there’s a lot of jazz in her music and it couldn’t be any other way. On Jazz Codes, nowadays on a bigger label like Anti-, collaborations with musicians like Keir Neiringer and Nicole Mitchell (check their duo live album on Don Giovanni Records from 2020) and the whole of Irreversible Entanglements support the aforementioned remark. Even though the title suggests a more jazzy approach, that seems, after repeated listening, a rather arbitrary comment. Moor Mother’s music, be it more improvisational or more structured like here in Jazz Codes, is totally based in the jazz tradition, as much as it in funk, soul, hip-hop.

The eighteen tracks that comprise Jazz Codes are no less edgy, angry and full of energy compared to her previous ventures. All of them (and I mean all) seem like a journey through styles of Black music, a journey through time within the music of the past decades. It would take a lot of words (and that is never my focus), if I wanted to describe, track by track what goes on Jazz Codes.

There’s a certain laid back atmosphere, especially compared with earlier albums, while her lyrics –which, again, could stand on their own without music- seem to contain less anger. But, have no doubts at all: the music of the album takes a different path, a different approach, but with the same goals. All of the tracks on the album are collaborations and seem to balance between Moor Mother’s lyrical and musical choices and each collaborator’s free will. I’m pretty sure that there’s a little improvisation on this album, but that’s not an issue –improvisation is never a goal, rather a means to an end.

Jazz Codes incorporates everything that a jazz fan might like and, in its kaleidoscopic world, even more.

 Check it out here:



Saturday, November 19, 2022

Music Unlimited Festival 36

Wels, Austria
November 4-6, 2022 

By Eyal Hareuveni

This year’s program of the Austrian, free - Unlimited - music festival was curated by Austrian, Oslo-based since 2008 vocal artist Agnes Hvizdalek, who, apparently, was born when the festival celebrated its first year. The program reflected Hvizdalek’s open, compassionate and somehow eccentric musical personality and interests, with a majority of female bandleaders and musicians, a great representation of Norwegian musicians, and music that encompassed chamber, contemporary music, free improvisation, techno, free jazz and metal. As, always, the festival had a photo exhibition, this time by Peter Gannushkin, NYC – The Future is the Present, and a sound installation, They Sound, designed by Heike Waldner-Kaltenbrunner, Thomas Grill and Hvizdalek.

Day 1, November 4

The opening act of the festival brought together the Viennese duo of recorder player Gobi Drab, who plays on the great double bass paetzold recorder as well as a much smaller and conventional recorder and sings, and electronics player Veronica Mayer, who has been working as a duo for several years now, for the first time on stage with Czech, New York-based accordionist and electronics player Lucie Vítková. This trio played intriguing and subtle electroacoustic textures that moved freely between minimalist and abstract textures to more sound-oriented textures that explored and investigated the sonic palettes of their respective instruments and their personal improvisation strategies. Vítková integrated organically into the suggestive dreamscapes of Drab and Mayer and her subtle interventions enriched the delicate tension.

The following two performances promised much but were quite disappointing. Pianist-trumpeter-percussionist Jalalu Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson, was described once by William Parker as an “unsung hero… on the same level as Ornette Coleman and Duke Ellington”. He, who lives now “in the middle of a national park some people call Switzerland,” was augmented by the 4Strings chamber quartet, and offered lighthearted, simple and playful songs, far from the experimental spirit of the festival and nowhere near the aforementioned giants. The next performance of the Norwegian trio Yawn promised a mix of brutal, metal guitar riffs with improvised and contemporary electroacoustic music, enhanced and synchronized by custom-made software. Yawn released this year its debut album Materialism (Mindsweeper Records), but sounded like a nerdy kind of prog-metal, that adopts some of the metal clichés but lacks the dangerous, intense energy or the gripping sound of metal. Still, the machine-gun, rhythmic precision of drummer Oskar Johnsen Rydh was impressive.

PNØ: Agnes Hvizdalek and Jakob Schneidewind. Photo (c) Eckhart Derschmidt

The last set featured the duo PNØ - Hvizdalek and electronics player Jakob Schneidewind (of the celebrated, local techno trio Elektro Guzzi), saved the night. Hvizdalek and Schneidewind have been working together since they studied music in Vienna. She sang, chanted and whispered her intuitive stream of songs of consciousness while he layered, sampled her voice and arranged techno-like beats around her vocal flights. Throughout this arresting set, both Hvizdalek and Schneidewind established a totally natural flow of the music but cleverly avoided reaching cathartic climaxes and chose to play and deconstruct and reconstruct the accumulated tension in inspiring ways, all emphasizing how techno music can appeal to high-brow, experimental music aficionados.

Day 2, November 5

The afternoon set of Norwegian, Copenhagen-based Aron Dahl (formerly known as Danielle Dahl), once a student of composer Michael Pisaro, focused on queer desire, loneliness, and a search for self-identity through gender fluidity and included a film showing Dahl pleasing themselves. But the music did not match Dahl’s bold personal journey and bordered with a bland version of new-age music.

Fortunately, the evening sets promised and delivered much more. The Berlin-based duo Beam Splitter of Taiwanese-American vocal artist Audrey Chen and Norwegian trombonist and electronics player Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø (also partners in life), already released two albums. Their set was staged within the audience, very close to the spectators. It stressed their deep and immediate affinity and the always inventive, unpredictable and poetic manner in which Chen’s highly emotional and virtuosic vocal utterances were intertwined with Nørstebø’s more reserved, single-note trombone scapes and electronic sounds.

Hanne De Backer and Signe Emmeluth. Photo (c) Eckhart Derschmidt 

The next set featured another duo - Belgian baritone sax player Hanne De Backer and Danish, Oslo-based alto sax player Signe Emmeluth first met in Kraków in 2019 when they played in Steve Swell's tentett, and since then performed with Paal Nilssen-Love's Large Unit and Terrie Ex, and as a duo. De Backer and Emmeluth have developed immediate, almost telepathic, tight and uncompromising dynamics. They often sounded like a two-headed, massive sax entity, constantly complementing and expanding each other ideas, triggering more nuances and sharing instantly composed themes and fragments of touching songs. Their intense and powerful set was one of the highlights of the festival and demonstrated their restless, searching tones but also joyful and uplifting energy, which enriches the great legacy of spiritual, free music.

The Norwegian chamber quartet Tøyen Fil og Klafferi (named after an imaginary sound factory in the Tøyen neighborhood in Oslo) - flutist Hanne Rekdal, clarinetist Kristine Tjøgersen, violinist Eira Bjørnstad Foss and cellist Tove Margrethe Erikstad, released its debut album, Botanisk hage (botanic garden), two years ago (Aurora Records), that featured their choice of unconventional, surprising repertoire, all by contemporary composers, two of them were present at the performance - Carola Bauckholt and Lars Skoglund. These composers know how to compose intriguing but also ironic and humorous music, with animation, sound samples and field recordings and films. Tøyen Fil og Klafferi captured the attention of the audience with their imaginative and inventive playing and the commanding elegance of their challenging repertoire. The last piece of this engaging and thoughtful set was by Tjøgersen, who was commissioned to compose a piece for Beethoven’s 250 birthday anniversary that referenced his last piano sonata, no. 111, once described as the “first boogie-woogie composition”. This clever piece was accompanied by a seventies film instructing middle-aged audience disco dance moves and somehow this matching of Beethoven-inspired music, disco, and swinging boogie-woogie made perfect sense.

The American, New York-baed free improvising Borderlands Trio - double bass player Stephan Crump, pianist Kris Davis and drummer Eric McPherson, the only American outfit in this year’s festival, already released two acclaimed albums (the last one, Wandersphere, Intakt, 2021). The trio played one long free improvisation that emphasized that on this night it was not a balanced collective, as on its albums. Davis and McPherson played precise, delicate and often poetic gestures, always feeding the interplay with minimalist ideas and always in as perfect timing, but both sounded like if any of their reserved harmonic and rhythmic idea would omit the whole balance of this trio would immediately crumble. During most of this set, Crump’s powerful playing, all over the double bass, sounded as if insisting to intensify the subtle interplay of Davis and McPherson but rarely attached himself to the delicate rhythmic sensibility of Davis and McPherson.

The last set was of the Norwegian, all-female black metal trio Witch Club Satan - drummer Johanna Holt Kleive, guitarist Nikoline Spjelkavik and bassist Victoria Fredrikke Schou Røising, which released so far one single, earlier this year. Their theatrical, ritualist "transformative séance" referenced ancient Viking sorcerers' legends, focused on feminine empowerment and included spraying incense on the audience, frightening facial make-up, and changing a few tribal costumes. Mid-performance, the trio even played topless, and later, dressed a bit more, the three musicians walked among the audience and chanted spells to the female spectators. Witch Club Satan brings some refreshing spirit to the way the too-masculine metal universe and knows how to deliver a spectacular performance, sonically and visually.

Day 3, Nov. 6

The last day of the festival began with the afternoon screening of the recent work of Viennese experimental audio-visual artist Billy Roisz, mostly with her partner dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič). The videos were made for the Norwegian band MoE and with the festival curator Agnes Hvizdalek, and focused on the enigmatic matching of electronic sounds, field recordings and samples with abstract and suggestive images.

The evening program began with a solo set of Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén, a bandleader and the Disorder label owner. The free improvised set weaved carefully elements that refer to Ullén’s background as a classically-trained pianist and experimental, contemporary music with ideas from the free jazz school associated with Cecil Taylor. This instantly composed piece flowed naturally, but in a totally free and unpredictable manner, often employing the piano as a highly resonant percussive instrument, and kept adding more and more nuances to the reserved dramatic narrative.

SPUNK. Photo (c) Eckhart Derschmidt 

The next performance was by the long-standing outfit in this year’s program. The Norwegian quartet SPUNK (the name comes from Astrid Lindgren's character Pippi Longstocking who invented the word "spunk" and then spent the day looking for a meaning for the word) - electronics player and vocalist Maja S. K. Ratkje, trumpeter and flutist Kristin Andersen Høvin, French horn and electronics player Hild Sofie Tafjord and cellist Lene Grenager - was founded in 1995 as a free improvising unit where each member's individual expression matters equally, and as an ensemble that sees the concert space almost as a fifth member. The extensive experience of playing and improvising together as a collective, with the highly idiosyncratic voices of these four musicians led to a magnificent, inventive and exciting set. The chaotic, weird, noisy and nonsensical ideas were structured playfully and made perfect sense. The urgent dynamics gently shifted into almost refined chamber electroacoustic ones, still sounding strange but totally captivating with its free, wild imagination, and Rarkje’s whistling at the end of the set added a chilling Ennio Morricone-tinged touch. The attentive, appreciative audience clearly played its part in the best set of the festival.

Swedish vocal artist Sofia Jernberg followed with a short solo set. This set moved freely and organically between traditional and highly emotional Ethiopian hymns and laments, and Jernberg’s personal and experimental vocal artistry, often sounding quite otherworldly. Jernberg left the audience hungry for more of this right and expressive stuff.

The festival ended with the ad-hoc Future Orchestra, Hvizdalek with 25 of the performing musicians in the festival - Beam Splitter, SPUNK, PNØ, Tøyen Fil og Klafferi, Ullén, Drab, Mayer and Vítková, Roisz, Nelson, 4Srings, Yawn, Dahl, augmented by Austrian electronics player Daniel Lercher and double bass player Nina Polaschegg, in a free improvised finale. With no conductor or an organizing structure, this playful improvisation was dominated by the expressive vocals of Ratkje, Chen and Hvizdalek but also left enough space for the ripple-like movement of the string and woodwind instruments, Ullén’s delicate piano and the subtle electronics.