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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Dry Thrust - The Less You Sleep (Trost, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Less You Sleep sounds like it was conceived during an insomniac night full of nervous visions. This is the long-awaited debut album of the Viennese cross-generational trio Dry Thrust featuring experienced and highly inventive improvisers and sonic explorers - Germany-born Georg Gräwe, in one the rare occasions that he plays only the organ instead of the piano, who is known as the leader of the Sonic Friction Orchestra and has collaborated with Anthony Braxton, Joëlle Léandre, Marilyn Crispell, Evan Parker and Frank Gratkowski among many others, composer of three operas, founder of the Random Acoustic label and a visual artist who did the cover artwork; and generation younger, guitarist and electronics player Martin Siewert, known from the Radian trio and the duo Also with drummer Katharina Ernst, who is also in-demand recording engineer, who recorded this album and mixed and mastered it.; and drummer Dieter (aka DD) Kern, known from the free improv trio DEK with Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik and Chicagoan hero Ken Vandermark, as well as from the local alternative bands Bulbul and Fuckhead.

The Less You Sleep was recorded over three days in June 2020 and offers ten concise and brutal pieces that push Dry Thrust to its extreme limits. Gräwe sounds like a free jazz incarnation of the late Keith Emerson, extracting weird and otherworldly sounds from the organ. Siewert is a mad scientist who enhances the sonic spectrum of the electric guitar with his electronics set-up, and Kern keeps all on their toes with his fractured but powerful rhythmic patterns. But these idiosyncratic musicians are masters of the art of the moment. Their vocabulary is infinite, and they know how to play with abstract sounds and pulses, keep a positive tension and feed each other with completely unpredictable but always intriguing ideas.

Some of the pieces like “Vagaries I“ and “Afterburner” even suggest nightmarish, futurist cinematic visions. But “Wet Engine” and “Casimir Dynamics” takes a turn to the past and sound like a joyful collision of fusion with prog-rock, with generous doses of noisy distortion. It would be interesting to see this experimental trio plays live as it develops its powerful dynamics.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Two Free-Jazz 7-inches

By Martin Schray

In the comments to our Top Ten lists, our reader Jeff said that two singles were also among his favorites last year. Usually we don’t review 45s, our focus is more on complete albums, but even in jazz singles were hip in the past. Although LPs have increased in popularity at least since the 1950s, singles were the most popular and lucrative way to release music, reaching their commercial peak in 1974 when a reported 200 million were sold (according to However, even in jazz they were a popular medium, just think of Stan Getz & Astrid Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema (1964) or Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five“ (1961). Since the mid 1970s, the global demand has gone down. The advent of the CD in the early 1980s was the main factor that caused sales of the 45 to drop. Finally, as more and more people had access to the Internet, this seemed to be the ultimate death for the good old 7 inch. 

Yet, wherever there’s passion, there’s sure to be a revival and lovers of the format held on in creative ways. Sub Pop, for example, launched a “Singles Club”, where they mailed 7 inches to members, especially introducing the world to grunge. Against all odds, their sales have been growing steadily. After releasing stuff by many of the usual suspects like Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, their program has become more diverse. Acts like Moor Mother and Keiji Haino are part of their program today. And what is more, there are other labels that keep on releasing 45s as well (at least now and then).

Irreversible Entanglements - Down to Earth (Sub Pop Records, 2022)

One of the latest Sup Pop releases is Irreversible Entanglements’s Down To Earth. The track is a spherical explosion, reminiscent of Sun Ra at the beginning, since it’s aided by the strong reverb and interlocking horns and lyrics that could allude to a spaceship landing back on earth. However, Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother) (voice, synth) does not rage against social injustice as she usually does on former albums. She simply repeats the words “Down to Earth“ over and over again. Against this monotonous recitation the band, which has clearly taken command here, hurls excellent free jazz in the listener’s face. “All you Can Do Is All you Can Do“ then gives us the band in the way we’ve learned to love them. Against grumbling, menacing electronic loops which remind me of helicopters, Ayewa recites somber verses like “All you can do is all you can do / Nobody knows trouble like I do“. Between her rant, Aquiles Navarro’s trumpet soars to dizzying heights. “What else to be done?“ Ayewa finally asks. She doesn’t seem to have an answer. There’s a lot of resignation here, after all. But the music grooves in an unruly, somber way.

Down To Earth is available on vinyl and as a download.


[ahmed] - [ahmed] (A Cheeseboard Production, 2022)

[ahmed], the outfit that recorded our album of the year 2021, has also released a 45. Once again, the band unites free jazz and Arabic music released by the bassist and oud player Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Along with Seymour Wright (alto sax), Joel Grip (bass) and Antonin Gerbal (drums), Pat Thomas (piano) trims Abdul-Malik’s compositions to their rhythmic and harmonic bones, stripping away everything unnecessary at first. After the band has agreed on a groove - which can be a very weird one - they happily dash off on it into the sunset. The two songs here are called “Ahad“ and “Wahid“, both words meaning “one“ in English. However, there is a difference between the two words in Arabic. The name al-Ahad for Allah is more exclusive in its meaning than the name al-Wahid, referring specifically to Allah’s essence, communicating that Allah is absolutely singular and utterly unique in his attributes. As to the music, both of these “ones“ are excerpts from two live sets. They are new versions or arrangements of Abdul-Malik’s composition “El Haris (Anxious)“.

“Ahad“ puts the Arabic part of this project’s music in foreground. There’s a very nice crescendo in the middle of the song, carried by swelling bass and drums, before the piano takes over. From this moment on the band sounds as if Cecil Taylor has incorporated influences of a long stay in the Middle East into his music. While “Ahad“ follows in the vein of previous albums, “Wahid“ is the more spectacular of the two tracks. It relies on a monotonous, atonal piano chord in the high registers that hammers its way through the piece. In counterpoint, the low registers of the piano and bass move around this chord, which make it shine like a diamond.

Especially in “Wahid“ it seems as if you were constantly getting slapped in the face and your head is a buzzing top that makes you stagger blindly through the world. You are fully into the music and possibly want to jump up and down like a madman, but you don’t want the thing to stop. It’s a constant change, whenever you think you know what’s going on, the music turns off in another direction. “Even though you might hear the repetition, it’s not like systems music where everyone is doing the same thing,“ Thomas said in an interview. Exceptional music, everything Pat Thomas touches musically seems to turn to gold at the moment.

You can listen to [ahmed] here:

Saturday, January 28, 2023

James Brandon Lewis: Eye of I ... and beyond

James Brandon Lewis. Photo (c) Cristina Marx / PhotoMusix

Interview by Paul Acquaro (with help from Nick Metzger)

Last month, Nick Metzger reviewed several of saxophonist James Brandon Lewis' latest releases. In fact, one of them, Eye of I, had not yet been released. Nick wrote: 

On the forthcoming 2023 release Eye of I, Lewis’ first for the Anti label, he is joined by Chris Hoffman on electric cello and Max Jaffe on percussion for a scorching trio set... Lewis explained that he loves the give-and-take of this trio, stating “The first time we played, things just lifted up right away. Everything that group does just feels fresh. (See review)

On the occasion of the album's release next week, Nick and I pooled some questions for Lewis, which in practice were almost not needed as the conversation seemed to flow with the slightest prompting. Lewis and I talk about his career's trajectory over the past few years, his upcoming album Eye of I, and then thing get really interesting.  

This interview was conducted on January 23.

Paul Acquaro: So, it seems the past few years have been pretty busy for you. Just thinking of your recorded music, you have had the three Molecular Systematic Music albums on Intakt. Unruly Manifesto on Relative Pitch, Jesup Wagon on Tao Forms, and there are others I'm sure that I haven't mentioned, but just considering those recordings, that's quite a stretch. On the MSM Live album, which was recording mid-pandemic, there's a little snippet that always catches my ear in which you're saying how excited you are to be playing this music live for the first time... so, to kick things off, my question is, how did you fare during the pandemic? What kept you busy?

James Brandon Lewis: Well, you know, it's interesting, I think at the beginning of the Pandemic, my last gig was at Town Hall with William Parker. He had put a band together to revisit his Curtis Mayfield project ... like around March 5th, I want to say.

I was scheduled to go on tour. I had put together a band, it was me, John Edwards, Mark Sanders and D.D. Jackson. We were scheduled to play like maybe four or five gigs together. I was just an impromptu thing. I've worked with Jackson before, and I've played twice with John Edwards, but only once with Mark Sanders. Mark Sanders, John Edwards and I played at Cafe OTO, a few years ago and that was pretty amazing (4.2.18, OTOROKU, 2019). So when that got canceled, I was worried. Like anybody, I think during the first few weeks, I was super stressed out, trying to figure out what I was gonna do for money. Let's just keep it all the way real. I fortunately have always been pretty frugal with my money, especially money I make on tour. So, I had some savings, but after a while I knew that it was going to dry up. So I just went into action mode.

But also, let me just stress that I know that my identity as a person was not attached to the need to play for an audience. I enjoy playing for an audience, but I've reached a point in my life where that aspect of music is a part of it. But for me, I'm just enjoying as I get older -- I'm not 40 yet, but it's barking -- that I've just learned via spending time with my family, my loved ones, the people I care about, that my identity rests in who I am in general and not that I'm a musician. However, I've never taken any gigs or any opportunities for granted. So, if it was gonna be over, I was okay with that. What I was stressed out about was what was I going to do to survive? Because, of course, I had worked other jobs when I was younger. It could have easily been a possibility to go stock shelves or go work at a library.

So, I went into action mode and I purchased some electronic equipment, I got an iPad, and I taught a few lessons online, which was very encouraging. I haven't done a whole lot of teaching. I've been a guest lecturer, and I've done master classes, but this was an opportunity for me to teach a lesson that I would've wanted growing up, even though these people were my age and older. Pretty much every lesson would start off with a quote, something for us to ponder, either related to music or not, but something that we'd kick off the lesson with something to think about. I would also assign a documentary to watch a week. It didn't matter the length, it didn't matter to the genre, just something that relates to creativity, what it means to be creative. And then I would assign listenings, because they were sax players. So the listenings would cover as much of the continuum of the saxophone as possible. One week we might be going over Sonny Criss. The next week we might be going over Frank Lowe or Frank Wright, and the next week we might go over Teddy Edwards or Bill Baron. And so the whole point was to assign listenings so that a person could hear the palette, it's like when someone's experiencing food or wine, you have to develop a palette to understand all the different ways that saxophone can sound. It wasn't really the kind of lesson where I would tell you about two-five-ones or scales to practice. I'm not the guy for that. Not that I haven't that information. I went to school for it, but this is not an opportunity for me to regurgitate information. It was an opportunity to give a lesson of where I'm at now mentally. I'm not opposed to that information, but I think we covered different things to think about, conceptually, sound, making your own scales, or as Nicolas Slominsky calls it in his book The Road to Music, a tonal ladder.

Eventually, gigs picked up. I was very fortunate on Molecular Live, in fact we were one of the first bands to leave the country when things started to open up again. It was a lot of paperwork to make it to Switzerland, the Covid tests and all the proof you needed to be able to travel. That record came out really well. We released the album Molecular in 2020 and we had only played that music once before the recording session, and then the recording session happened. So this was the first time we played that music live and those gentlemen are amazing.

Molecular marks a few time periods. Number one, it marks the time period of me understanding what I needed to grow. All the musicians in the band are older than me, that's on purpose, and they can all kick my ass any day of the week. There's definitely a systematic way in which I'm organizing the material, without a doubt; however, what they add, bringing their individual voices to the table and their skill-sets really pushes me to another place of growth and understanding. So, that's a long answer for what I was doing during Covid, but I wanted to put context around everything.

Molecular Quartet at Warwaw Summer Jazz. Photo (c) Cristina Marx / PhotoMusix

PA: So, I think you could you say that something positive that came out of this time for you?

JBL: Well, sure. I think it was more of a realization of a few things. Number one is that it gave me insight into the fact that I'm okay with life and I'm okay with what I've done with my life. And that I can honestly say that I've never taken any moment to play music with people for granted, because I had accepted that it was okay if this was over. The living part of that stressed me out, not the music part. The music is not the problem, it's everything around music. That's always the problem. The music, as in creating, is never the problem. So, there's a couple positives, but it's also like positive slash not negative, things that happened during Covid that were weird to me.

I'll give you an example. 2020, no one's playing and I win Rising Star Saxophones in Downbeat Magazine. I start getting all these reviews and awards during 2020 / 2021 when stuff isn't really happening. But the positive in that, and what I think happened, is that people had an opportunity to go through my catalog because everyone was home. So, when I won these awards -- and by the way, I have a new philosophy on awards, and that is, they're just merely markers of existence within this time period. They're not validations of skillset. I'm appreciative of it, but they're markers, markers of time, of space, no different than music. That's not to knock my accomplishments, but it gives me peace of mind to put 'em in that category because the horn is on zero. It has no memory. When I pick it up, it doesn't remember anything, I'm on zero. Every time I pick it up, it's on zero. There's no artificial intelligence in the bell. So that's humbling too. Anyway, I think that when all of that stuff happened, and then people became more aware of my work and they said, 'wow.'

There was a part during Covid when I said to myself, what purpose is this music serving? My mom had a few cousins die from Covid, how can I still be inspired to blow air through a tube while people are losing their lives? But then, eventually, I got to a point where I realized you have to pull yourself up and realize that your ship can't sink. You can't help other people if your ship is sinking. So, I got to a point where I had decided, okay, I can't allow myself to sink because music is what keeps me going … and that's when Whit Dickie, from Tao Forms, called me.

He said something like, 'this is going to come off sounding odd, but I'm starting a record label.' I'm like, oh, okay, you're starting a record label in the middle of the pandemic. You know, matter of fact, at the beginning, I think this was March 2020 and he might have called me in May. I said, 'Oh, okay.' I had some ideas of what I wanted to record and had been pondering and thinking about George Washington Carver for a long time and that's how that came about (Jesup Wagon, Tao Forms, 2021). So, yeah, some positives, people's awareness of my work and my efforts. I mean, that was kind of odd. You know, we're in the middle of a crisis and my career is rising. It felt weird to me. I didn't know whether to be happy or just like, okay, well cool. <laugh>.

PA: I guess it's like you said, you need to keep on doing what you do. You can't let everything weigh on you in that way that stops you. So Jesup Wagon, I'd love to come back to that later, right now I'd like to skip to what you're doing now ... coming out in a couple weeks is the Eye of I recording.

JBL: The week after next, February 3rd.

PA: Funny, I was so excited when I first heard the recording back in November that I put it on my best of 2022 list not realizing it wasn't released yet! I'll just have to postpone that sentiment until a year from now. Anyway, this album is a bit of different concept, I suppose. It's a trio and I believe you might have mentioned elsewhere that you had been thinking about this trio for a while. So how did it finally come together with Chris Hoffman on cello and Max Jaffe on drums?

JBL: Well, I work with Chris in different capacities, with Rob Reddy. That's how I met him. Then I ran into Max at the Vision Festival. But the trio concept in and of itself, regardless of the instrumentation, really first started when I met Matthew Shipp in 2011 at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. He asked me, 'James, have you ever play with just a bass and a drum?' And I said 'no.' This was coming off the heels of having graduated from California Institute of the Arts and working with Wadada Leo Smith and Charlie Haden and Joe LeBarbera, all these amazing people. So, he brought in two people who had with Sam Rivers in Florida, Michael Welch and Doug Matthews, and they came to Atlantic Center for the Arts. For me, that was the first time I had felt, I don't know, I felt liberated. I felt free, I felt uninhibited in that the melodic line could travel where I wanted it to go. I could be the guide, you know, the anchor. I had never experienced that before, and I had never, quite frankly, thought about it. Obviously, I've heard the same recordings that a lot of different people have heard. I've been a huge Sonny Rollins fan, a John Coltrane fan, you know, a student of the game kind of person, that’s me. But I had never thought about it in the context of myself and writing for that instrumentation. Eventually, that led to me recording with William Parker and Gerald Cleaver on Divine Travels and later on making Days of Freeman with Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Rudy Royston, and then having another iteration of an ensemble with the bass and the drum. So these concepts aren't new as far as how I'm hearing the instrumentation. I think that for me, the concept in general is chasing energy.

During the second year of the lockdown, I was tasked with a commission to write a string quartet, and I really discovered that I have a very strong melodic sense. I did not know that for myself until I had to make a 40-minute string piece. And then I said, 'wow, okay. I think I do all right with writing melodies.' Also, the summer before last, I had come back from Europe where I was on tour with Giovanni Guidi, the Italian pianist. I made a tribute album of original music to Gato Barbieri with him (Ojos De Gato, CAM Jazz, 2021) in which Giovanni arranged his own original versions inspired by the recording Third World (Flying Dutchman, 1970) with Roswell Rudd and so on. We had a really amazing trombone player, Gianluca Petrella, also Brandon Lopez, Chad Taylor, and Francisco Mela. When I came back, I was on a high from that, plus my last trio album was No Filter (self, 2017) and that was 2016/17. So, there was a sense of renewal when I got back from Europe, and I said, 'I think I need to bring some trio music to the table. I'm feeling inspired again to bring that instrumentation back.' And the cello was just a thing that I wanted to have.

When I wrote all that music, I was thinking about certain things that Henry Threadgill had expressed to me during this time period in regard to sound, which is how I came up with the interludes. I had never had a saxophone player ever say to me, and I'm speaking about Henry Threadgill, 'are you into movies?' I said, 'no, not really.' He says, 'I'm into movies and I use movies as a way to think about sound as well as visual art." He says, 'have you ever thought about a note as having a foreground, a middle ground and a background?' I was blown away by that because as I'm playing saxophone, to think about a note, even spatially without the saxophone is, like my hands are just moving up and down. I'm listening for the note, I was never thinking about it from a spatial orientational point of view. I was only thinking about it as the sound. So, to think about it and then have a visual image of a note, having a middle, a front, a back, it was just really fascinating to me. And so I was thinking about that and I was also thinking about my ways of knowing and introspection, which is how I came up with the title 'Within You Are Answers.'

I was also thinking about birth and how we're untainted by the world, and I had played the Cecil Taylor piece, 'Womb Water,' which I've never found a recording of, but I had played with William Parker. When I started thinking about 'Eye of I,' I thought of the sense of enlightenment, of purpose, of how our perspective is always outside of us, and never it is in the opposite. You know, you're always, even when you're learning, they say, 'well, you should learn this person and this person.' They never say, 'well, you should learn you'. It's never that, it's never that for a while, until it's too late, and then you're off the planet. So, you spent your whole life learning someone else's ways of being rather than cultivating yourself. 'Eye of I' also has the whole kind of biblical premise that the eye is the lamp of the body, and when the body is filled with light, good things come from that. So, I'm trying to create music that reflects these sentiments, or reflects these feelings. I feel like titles really reflect, for me at least, exactly how I'm feeling. During this time of uncertainty, of war, of the back and forth between politicians, the mistreatment of minorities, mistreatment of women ... and politics is not something I'm at my house shedding, you know, I'm at my house playing music. I know my perspective on politics is very limited compared to someone who's a politician because they are masters at being mapped. People who want good for the world are working on it 24 hours a day, and people who want bad for the world are also working on that 24 hours a day.

PA: Yeah. Maybe even more.

JBL: Yeah. I'm not at my house working on the bad. When I was thinking about these titles, in all of that confusion and uncertainty, and all of the drama, for me, it's always a matter of, you know, send the 'Seraphic Beings' (a title of a track), send the things we need so we can get through this. And so everything's very purposeful.

And of course, Donny Hathaway, I love Donny Hathaway. 'Someday We'll All Be Free.' I love that. I've always loved that song. I've always felt like it sounds great, and it has this great metaphor in it ... (sings) "hang onto the world as it spins around. Don't let the spin get you down. Things are moving fast." That's awesome. Hang onto the world as it spins around. Yep. Don't let the spin get you down.

PA: You, you could hear that on several levels, right? Just take that word "spin"...

JBL: Right. On several levels. I'm excited for people to hear the music and I'll be on tour with that music, working with different musicians. I kind of just went to a model of opening up the ensemble. Working with Chad Taylor on some tours, and Josh Warner, and Bay Area based drummer Andy Niven. I decided I want to open up the trio concept to just not necessarily have set people. But I am definitely thankful for Chris and Max's participation in the record, but in the spirit of collaboration, I would like at least one of my ensembles to keep switching up.

PA: In, 'Someday We’ll All Be Free,' the second tune on the album, right after one of those little incidental tracks...

JBL: The interludes.

PA: Yes, the interludes, which I want to talk about too ... the Donny Hathaway song has a much different arrangement than the original tune. It's beautiful. The word I had written down for it was 'cinematic,' that song has a cinematic feel in the way you did it. What were your thoughts behind the arrangement?

JBL: Well, you know, it's interesting because I think I had been wanting to cover a Donny Hathaway tune for a really long time, but never felt like I was going give it a sincere JBL vibe <laughs>. What I mean by that is, there is what I would say is artistic integrity, right? I could go and make an arrangement and make it sound closest to how Donny Hathaway would perform it, but then I wouldn't be necessarily happy with myself because the me in it would be gone. So when I started thinking about this arrangement, -- another thing that I love doing, especially in the trio context is, after music school and all that jazz school is going back to some basic stuff like power chords, you know, just the one and the five and 1-5-1 or 1-4-1, whatever it's gonna be. I really like that sound because I feel like it is more open harmonically for me to really be able to hear outside of the key center. The beginning of that song kind of reminds me of the Eighties in the sense of everything was big. I heard that in my head, like if it was a stadium, and so compositionally I'm thinking rock. I'm thinking -- I mean, I was born in the early eighties. I remember certain things being big, and being like straight up rock vibes. And so then you have that intro, and then it segues into the verses, you know?

I'm pretty sure my melody, the way I'm playing Donny Hathaway's melody is in the same key except I changed the chords to power chords to make it loose, to open it up. I would listen to his version and the way he was singing it, and then I would sing it, and that's how I ended up composing it. I don't think you could play that song without really knowing the words, because the words are dictating so much of the rhythm of the melody.

There's so many Donny Hathaway-esque ways of phrasing. Something like when (sings) 'hang on to the world as it spins around, ride, just don't let the spin get you down. Things are moving fast.' This is exactly how we play it on the record. Then we rev up and then you hear Kurt Knuffke, who's on cornet, play that verse. It's a nice tribute. It's not exact, but I definitely felt like this is "Someday We'll All Be Free". I'm giving props to Donny because we're definitely playing the melodies. So that was that process of thinking about multiple things, thinking about soul music, thinking about rock, thinking about the Eighties. Then when we get to the blowing and it's all about freedom. Yeah. But we are free.

PA: <laugh>. You are. That's definitely free. I think that's the marker of a great song, right? You can take it, and you can change it, and you can make it yours, but it still is that song.

JBL: Right. Exactly.

PA: But now it's yours too. Thinking about rock, you have the song ‘Fear Not’ on the album. This tune almost gets into, I don't know, like Crazy Horse territory or something like that. How did that relationship or pairing come about you and the group, the Messthetics?

JBL: Well, I have worked with for many years at this point with Anthony Pirog, the guitarist. We first met at recording sessions with William Hooker and we know people within (Washington) DC. He linked up with the Messthetics a while ago. My interaction with them started before Covid. I think we played together at Winter Jazz, maybe 2018/19. They had me sitting in with them and we played a Miles Davis Tune and then we played something off Ask the Ages, the Sonny Sharrock album.

Then, over the summer, we all played at Union Pool together (performance space in Brooklyn). I sat in on two or three tunes and the vibe was so amazing. I had the opportunity to play with Joe Lally and Brenden Canty from the legendary Fugazi. It speaks volumes to their openness, and mine too, to not limit myself to 'well, this is what I am and this is what I'm not.' No, this is all about music in the spirit of music. And so during the process, after I recorded the album, ANTI suggested that I record a single, or some singles. It wasn't a requirement that I had to release a single off of the album necessarily, but they were in town, and they had asked me if I wanted to play at the Bellhouse in Brooklyn. So we played, and interestingly enough, it was the same night that Mark Ribot's Ceramic Dog was playing. Mark had me sitting in with them, and so basically I played the whole night, and it was a really great vibe. So, we're talking like three years at this point of collaborating.

I had written that song, 'Fear Not' years ago. Probably 2017/18, but I never had an opportunity to record it, though I played it in different ensembles. So, when this came up and they were in town, we knocked out a great arrangement of it, and the rest is history. Now we have these tours coming up. I have a tour coming up with them in February and March. And it's gonna be great, man. Those are great people to work with.

PA: Where is the tour? US?

JBL: Yes, on the West Coast. You know, we got some dates in LA, San Diego, the Bay Area, then a few in Portland, then in Seattle. In March, it'll be East Coast, New York, Philly, DC, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. It'll be pretty excessive, you know and I'm excited about it. They're a great band. You know, I actually have a gig coming up next Saturday with the Messthetics. We recently actually made a whole album together, but that's as far as what I can say about that.

PA: Okay. <laugh> a teaser. 'Eye of I' is being released by the label ANTI, which is kind of a rock label. I associate them with Tom Waits and Nick Cave and stuff like that. How do you see yourself fitting in on the label?

JBL: Well, you know, this is a thing. I think that the music itself, the entire album, is so many degrees away from ... it's like so close and yet so not so far <laugh> ... they're just open, you know, I felt like it was the perfect label for how energetic the recording is. I don't know if any other label could have really fit. For me, it felt perfect, a perfect label to put this stuff out with, and I think that when people hear the full album, they'll completely understand why.

I play the saxophone, which is always gonna dictate, based on the history of the instrument, jazz. That's what people think about, they don't necessarily associate it with rock, even though there's been this flirting with punk rock and avant-garde music as it relates to jazz avant-garde style or whatever you wanna call it, for a while. In fact, Thurston Moore did the liner notes. I met Thurston at a writer's institute at Naropa University, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Also, I've been collaborating with Ribot over the years. I'm on his Songs of Resistance album. So there's always this crossover, there's always these vibes that happen if you're open to it. And so, I've been open and I think people will receive it well. I think that ANTI has been very supportive, they're definitely trying to push the album to different people, different audiences, and I think it's already reaching different audiences. So yeah, I think it's a good fit for what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to chase energy. As far as dynamics is concerned, I don't know that I'm even thinking about dynamics too much when it comes to the trio music. I'm thinking about, especially live, that energy. I want it to be energetic and have that kind of punk rock vibe to it. It's not music for the faint of heart.

PA: The interludes, 'foreground,' 'middle ground,' and 'background,' they're really ear catching, let's say. They're different, there's a completely different aesthetic, and then they're gone. They start and you're like, 'oh, interesting. Where did that go?'' Anyway, do you hear a longer song in any of those?

JBL: Yeah, I do. But those were just kind of brief collective improv ideas. Some of this is stuff aesthetically that I have already done on previous albums. So, it's kind of like giving an audience a brief recap of what I've explored. Not necessarily all of them. There's some that I think could go anywhere, but those were definitely just kind of like little 30 second improvs.

PA: Since we're talking about how this album changes the energy or direction a little bit, I'm curious, what are some new releases or, or, or things that you've heard in the past few years that have caught your attention? It doesn't have to be jazz, of course.

JBL: Yeah. That's a great question because there's one album in particular that I've been telling everybody about that's been my unicorn, my fountain of youth, you know, my golden ticket, which is Motivation by Bill Barron, Kenny Baron's brother. That album has not been re-released, and you can only hear it on YouTube. Now, Bill Baron -- John Coltrane's generation -- when I discovered this recording on YouTube, I flipped the lid because it sounded so different. He sounds totally different than his generation. The way the tunes are structured intervallically, it's almost like hearing Eric Dolphy on tenor sax. So that's one of the things I've been listening to. Then the other day, I took a binge and revisited Ornette, which I do often, but in chronological order.

PA: Okay. Starting at the beginning.

JBL: At the beginning, yeah, Something Else. I just went forward and that was enjoyable. And then Teddy Edwards, I really got into him during Covid, a West Coast player. It just depends - oh, there's Stone Alliance with Steve Grossman. Chad Taylor hipped me to them. I don't think they ever made a bad album.

Something not related to music that I've been interested in is this philosopher, Henri Bergson. I've been reading Intro to Metaphysics. Bergson's philosophy centers around the fact that intuition is an absolute truth. And that reason, he makes the argument that a person who reasons or is operating in that vein is always outside of an object. They can give you the dimensions of it, and he simply makes the argument that a person who is operating with intuition is inside the object. They become the object, which I thought that is a good, that is what I need in my life, the intuitive.

PA: Oh, well, thank you. Some stuff to explore. Well, I really appreciate your time. I don't want to overstay my welcome here. So my absolute last question is, is there something that I should have been asking you? Something you'd like to talk about?

JBL: You know, the only thing I'm interested now in talking about is the fact that I'm, over the years, relentlessly determined to be my most authentic self. I've been putting out these recordings at a high rate not for the sake of doing it, but for the sake that I feel like I have a little bit to say, a little bit, not a lot, a little bit to say, and that you can't be beholden to the past forever. Eventually, you have to step out and say, 'I have something I would like to say if it's okay.' So, I've been releasing these recordings, Molecular Systematic Music. Some thoughts on that is that there is a recording that completes that series and will be released sometime in the fall, and then there's a follow up to Jesup Wagon.

PA: Oh, great. So you're taking the concepts behind these albums and exploring them a little further?

JBL: Yeah, they're already done.

PA: Okay. You've explored them further.

JBL: Yeah, they're done, they just haven't been released yet. I've been releasing at such a high volume because the older I get, the more I realize how fragile time is. I have something I would like to say and I have to get that out there. In regards to Molecular Systematic Music, that is coming along quite nicely. Basically for people who don't understand what it is, it's a metaphorical system that draws a correlation between molecular biology and music to then build artistic DNA for the purposes of improvisation and creativity, of which I am currently working on my PhD at the University of the Arts, a doctorate of philosophy in creativity. So I've been exploring the system and studying metaphor.

Metaphor is a way to conceptualize and build new realities with preexisting material, preexisting notions of how to think and it's how I've been working for the last 10 years. What has also increased my pace is that I discovered how I learn, and how I study, and what I am interested in, it became less about being something that I'm not. I've really kind of matured into being as opposed to proving.

PA: So would you say that you started the PhD program - and congrats on that, that's a big step – because you were you inspired by your own music to do so? Or was it kind of a separate thing and now you're looking back at your music and thinking about it in a new way?

JBL: Um, no, it's something that was already started in 2011. It went by a different name prior to Molecular Systematic Music. Covid also inspired me to start speaking and writing about my own approaches to music. I have several published articles via Arrowmith Press talking about philosophy and ways of being related to metaphor and Molecular Systematic Music. The PhD is something that I've had thought about for a while, and this program really allows me the latitude and the expansiveness to work on my own system, as opposed to other programs that foster something else. I have a dissertation committee, I do a lot of independent research, and Molecular Systematic Music is really extensive, the study of sign and symbol via Roland Barths and Charles Pierce. And then I'm studying molecular biology, and metaphysics as it relates to intuition, and have several books from Buckminister Fuller and Rudolph Steiner, who also talks about intuition. I think that it's ways of being and I'm just exploring something I've always been interested in, and then it helps to get a PhD to do my research. I think we live in a different age now, where the more documentation you have, the better, because then people are less inclined to -- I mean, they're gonna critique you regardless, but at least it's documented.

PA: Well, I'll be interested in reading the dissertation when it's done.

JBL: Ok, yeah. 2025.

PA: Okay. Very good. So, just a quick question to bring the music to a more practical level. What do the musicians see and work with when you present new music that you write using this system?

JBL: I have not charged them with the task of learning the symbols that I've come up with. They're using western notation. I can put the information in western notation or symbols. I recently got interested in lab notebooks, like what lab notebooks look like and felt very inclined to buy a lab coat. Okay, you know, not to wear on stage, 'cause I know that's already been done.

PA: Right.

JBL: I'm not interested in that at all. But for my own sake, wearing a lab coat as I'm practicing and getting into that mode of understanding and DNA is serving as a metaphor. When I say artistic DNA, it's basically just asking the questions of what makes you who you are. And then systematically defining that via whatever your metaphor is for life. We understand a lot of concepts in life through the use of metaphor and so that's what I'm deeply engaged in right now. It's been exciting, it has been exciting even before I got this stamp from the school. 

The idea of my work, my observations of seeing these two notes coalescing with each other, now I'm adding three notes, and I'm studying the double helix, it's exciting. You know, in science they're using language like 'triplet' or 'double time.' When we start talking about circadian rhythms and about the effect of light on ourselves and what that means as far as time, it's fascinating. They use all these things and draw correlations. I'm always reminded about Leonard Bernstein in The Unanswered Question. He says, the best way to know a thing is in the context of another. That is what metaphor is, basically trying to draw inferences between two separate entities.

So that's what I've been doing. I didn't call it Molecular Systematic Music at first, rather there's a way I'm building the music, and there's a reason why my skillset has changed through this system. If you listen to how I play now, as opposed to when I made Divine Travels, that playing is light years apart. Those are two different players. Same tone, but two different players. Two different, valid conceptions. I don't even practice like that anymore. I don't even remember how I was practicing then. But, so yeah, it's an exciting time period right now for me. I feel very confident. I feel very centered and not in an ego way, just in a very freeing way, like seeing everything as one.

I see more stuff as being one now than I have before in my life. If I'm sitting down and I'm reading, like I was reading the first chapter of the Rule of Metaphor by Paul Ricoeur, and as I'm reading that, I'm saying to myself, there's no anxiety about not picking up my saxophone. No, this too is a part of the saxophone. So, that in itself has been so freeing. I mean, when I was younger, if I wasn't on my horn, -- now, don't get me wrong, I'm on my horn almost every day for hours, but I don't have any anxiety, because I realize that everything is influencing everything. Basically, I got this from Charles Ives. I was reading biography on Charles Ives and it's describing the fact that every day he's going out and selling insurance -- he's actually one of the pioneers or founding fathers of the way insurance is in America, and on top of funding New Music and the New Music Journal, one of those journals that still exists and he barely got to hear his music in his whole lifetime. -- and every day he'd come home, have dinner with his wife, and then he would compose for the rest of the evening. They were asking him, 'Hey, do you ever feel like you're sacrificing something?,' to which he said, 'No, it's all one. When I'm spending time at the office, I sometimes learn more about music from people who are business people than from actual musicians.' Which is the same thing that Bill Evans said in an interview. He said that the layperson is able to understand more because they're not in it as much as the person who is in it. The person who's a musicians is always in the thing, where someone outside of the thing can appreciate it from a totally different perspective. So I think that that I'm at a beautiful place in my life where I know how to use my time wisely.

I pick up my horn and I think, 'okay, I need to do some long tones,' or I gotta do this other thing. Because I've created my own system, the onus of learning the system and practicing it is on me. The pressure is from me, it's not outside of me. This is where stuff used to get annoying, you know, I'm practicing all this stuff that basically had nothing to do with my own thought process or my own analytical abilities, but basically just copying and learning how someone else is processing information. I spent a large part of my life doing that and I retired from doing that a long time ago. When I discovered how I learned, which was basically in 2006 after I graduated from undergrad, it took me all that time to realize that the way that I learned, nobody taught me that in school.

Your first week of school, first your first three weeks of school, when you're an undergrad, in my opinion, someone has to say, 'well, how would you like to revamp education?' The first week, first three weeks, first month, you know what we're doing? I'm having the kids analyze and figure out how they study, how do they learn. How they are processing information. Then, once you figure that out, then we'll get to all the other stuff. But if you don't know how to study, you don't know how your brain processes information and you're ultimately only getting spoon fed the same way of learning that -- I grew up with an educator, my mom taught and I never once saw her teach a kid the same way. She knew how to teach one topic five or six different ways. Now that's how you educate. That's what I would do. So anyway, when I figured out how I learned, which is basically fragments, smaller amounts of information, cells, microlearning, then that's when I rocketed out of this realm.

PA: Well, probably a little bit of that groundwork is necessary in order for you to be able to know how you learn. If you actually asked some students, "how do you learn?" They'll probably say, "oh, I don't know." I don't think that you necessarily have that insight as an undergrad and you probably need to go through a little bit of what you don't like in order to figure out what you do like.

JBL: You know what? I actually agree with you, but I think that the problem is that when you're not exposed to two ways of learning, you don't even know it's possible.

PA: Yeah, sure.

JBL: I've been in certain situations ... when I was in my early twenties, where the only time an African American was mentioned as having contributed to avant garde music is when we were playing a traditional piece, what people deem as a traditional jazz piece, and they said, "oh, you made a mistake." I said, "no, I didn't make a mistake." "Oh well this isn't such and such band. This is x, y, z." But see, this is the thing. If you never know what is possible, because the people who are teaching you are inept, then you spend your whole life being boxed into a situation because no one ever shined the lamp on you and said, "Hey, here's another way." Your brain is not even thinking about the possibility of another way.

PA: Sure.

JBL: So then you're, you're just in the nebulous land. You're in this nebulous thing. I think the first time when I was in my early twenties, the first time I heard an Ornette Coleman recording, I felt robbed. I said, "wow, this is another way of thinking." This is somebody who no one ever talked about. They weren't talking about Ornette Coleman when I was a kid in Buffalo. Not at school, not at public school. They weren't talking about Ornette when I went to Howard. I was fortunate, when I met Charlie Haden, when I went to CalArts, I was blessed. I felt like, I felt like, "wow." That's how I felt. "Wow." This is amazing, man. 

PA: Do you, do you see yourself ever taking on that role? Teaching perhaps?

JBL: Indoctrinating people?

PA: No, un-doctrinating people. The Anti-doctrination.

JBL: Yeah. The anti-doctrination. You know what, I am not opposed to it. I think I'm open to the possibility of that. However, I think it's the same thing with when someone asks me about Molecular Systematic Music, would you ever want to teach someone your system? No, I don't think I do. But I do in the sense philosophically. I would love for someone to walk away and say, "what is my version of this?" Not, "I should do this." Nobody needs that, and that's Wadada used to teach me when I was at CalArts. He'd say, when you're composing, what problem are you trying to solve? And then we'd study, we'd listen to different examples. We'd study Tupac, we'd study Billy Holiday, Thelonius Monk and Michael Jackson. Then he'd ask us what is the unique moment? As he would call it. What is the thing that happens in the music that doesn't happen anywhere else?

That's argument with 'Giant Steps.' That was Coltrane’s thing. Only John can play it. No one has ever played 'Giant Steps' better than John Coltrane. No one. Because he came up with it. So then, what is your version of that? What is your - I'll never forget. When I was at the University of Denver for a semester and um, this pianist Eric Gunnison -- who's from Buffalo. I think he played with Carmen McRea -- he used to have us in class. We'd analyze for example John Coltrane pieces and different people and he'd say, "now I want you to go home and make whatever your version of what we just experienced is. Don't copy that version. Figure out what is your, what is your equivalent to this? What are you wrestling with? What progression are you wrestling with? Or what formula can you create from these principles, from these guiding principles."

And so I never forgot stuff like that in all my years of taking school and learning. There's this one thing that I can do on sax and basically was an etude. I wrote an etude for myself. Now I can play that way because I wrote an etude, this real application to play this piece over and over again.

PA: You just spoke about studying with or studying the work of, important musicians and composers. Are there any people, any musicians that you'd like to perform with still?

JBL: It's not something I think about often, I think I get called by the people that I want to work with. I work with William (Parker). When he calls me, I'm there. I just was at the Stone recently with Ches Smith. I work with Chad Taylor a lot. I work with the people that I want to work with. If tomorrow Jason Moran called me ... or, let me tell you about a group that was supposed to happen. I almost had the opportunity to play with Han Bennink. It got canceled because of Covid, but it was going to be me, him, and Shabaka (Hutchings). It would be nice to play with him. I'm up for working with anybody as long as they allow me to be myself.

PA: So, thank you. I'm glad I asked you the question of what I didn't ask you <laugh>. That went a whole other wonderful way, so I really appreciate that.

JBL: For sure. Actually, hopefully we can print all that, that'd be good. Give people something to think about, talk about.

PA: Oh, I think the Free Jazz Blog is a place to put something like this. Free jazz, free talk. Again, thank you, it was a real pleasure to speak with you.

JBL: Thank you. Likewise.

Eye of I comes out February 3rd on ANTI records.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Andrew Raffo Dewar, John Hughes, and Chad Popple - Reflejos IV-VII (Waveform Alphabet, 2023)

By Sammy Stein 

Reflejos IV-VII is the new release from the trio of Andrew Raffo Dewar on soprano saxophone, John Hughes on double bass, and Chad Popple on drums, percussion, and vibraphone (Waveform Alphabet February 9th, 2023). It is a follow-up to their 2018 trio CD Reflejos which showcased Dewar’s first three compositions in the Reflejos series. The trio has performed together since 2005 but this is only the second recording of their work together. 

Dewar explains, “The Reflejos (reflections) series of pieces are based on mirror images and other reflection/refraction-based compositional forms that use a limited set of musical materials to reorder and rearrange rhythmically and melodically. The concepts are used as springboards for improvisation. 

Reflejos IV-V11 includes a new formal extension to the series, that of ‘trizas’ (shards) which in live performance are loops drawn from the longer works that can be cued up for performance by anyone in the trio in real-time, but on this album are presented as standalone miniatures that function as interludes between the other pieces. This malleable approach and decentralized organizing of compositional materials derive from my long-term engagement with Anthony Braxton’s music system, whose work I have been fortunate to perform as a member of his touring ensembles (primarily the 12+1tet) since 2005. Another conceptual touchstone for this series of pieces is Jimmy Giuffre’s 1960s trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, whose simultaneously angular and melodic approach accompanied by complex asymmetrical counterpoint has fascinated me for decades.”

‘Reflejo IV’ is a gentle, atmospheric track with soprano sax musing around melodic themes at the outset before the bass and vibraphone develop a dialogue over which the sax improvises. In a multi-faceted track the trio create nimble, blithe riffs and ambient sections where bass and vibraphone explore concepts – especially in the middle section where beautifully worked contrasts are explored and developed before the soprano enriches the texture with its explorative parps and interludes – the trio expansively interacting for the rest of the track before the ending phrases which neatly bookend the track with a reflection of the opening.

‘Triza 111’ (trio) is a deft interlinking loop, while ‘Improvisation 11’ is a definitive conversation between the deep, guttural sound of the bass, ethereal percussion, and soprano sax, which drifts across the top in short, stuttering, carefully placed lines, the drums working up a storm, contrasting brilliantly with the sax.

‘Triza IV’ is trippy, fugue-like with the instruments entering one by one, the bass setting up a rhythmic pattern over which the others react and respond before ‘Improvisation 11’, which is a wonderful piece of music, with the trio imploding and expanding as they react to each other, forming crazy motifs, searing lines, and rolling percussive patterns. The heavy interaction between the drum and double bass is offset by the soaring, diverse soprano sax and the number holds a sense of the trio being a single entity.

‘Triza 111’ is a duet between sax and double bass, each offsetting and contrasting beautifully before ‘Triza V’ sees the vibraphones adding layers of reflective echoey sounds under a repeated bass and sax line.

‘Reflejo V’ is introduced by singular reflected notes from the trio, each repeating the rhythmic pattern set by the others and increasing the tempo until the sax diverges into a flurry of improvisation, which the others follow, the drums adding deep, rhythmic underlines and the bass sustaining the rhythm patterns. This track builds and builds until it becomes something of a beast, the gutsy riffles of the soprano sax being underpinned by full-throttle drums and bass, in what is an exemplar of improvisational exploration. Dewar’s playing becomes almost unhinged before it is reined in and the drums solo, leading into a final third, with bass warping in, followed by the percussion, sax, and finally the vibraphone. Glorious listening.

‘Reflejo V1’ is introduced by the vibraphone, with bass and saxophone joining, the saxophone gliding in to create a drifting melody. Atmospheric, ethereal, and other-worldly, this track offers a contrast in both feel and ambiance. There is one glorious section where the warbling sax counters the ethereal vibraphone effect and the bass enters, full-throated and powerful, deftly countering with its deep arco voice. It then sustains a note, on which the sax enters, creating a seamless change where the sax carries the momentum, developing and exploring the music from whence it picked it up. Clever and immensely well-worked improvisation. ‘Reflejo V11’ completes the album and is another beautifully worked trio dialogue and exploration with different sections, interludes, and some quite wonderful work from the sax, matched by the explorative nature of both the vibraphone and double bass.

This album is full of nuances, changes, and exploration and the improvisational quality of the trio is undeniable. The recording shows the dexterity of the underrated soprano saxophone. The echoey sound of the vibraphone is used to exquisite effect, while the deep, guttural impact of the double bass is also fully used, and the soprano sax creates contrast, effect, and impact. The percussive elements are from not just the drums but also the changing rhythms of the instruments. Impressive music. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Esbjörn Svensson - Home.S. (ACT Music, 2022)

By Kenneth Blanchard

There are somethings that that brilliant artists should never be allowed to do. Going anywhere near an aircraft is one of them. Scuba diving is another. Between the formation of trio, e.s.t., in 1993 and his death in 2008, Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson produced a marvelous body of music. Much of it was recorded posthumously, including several live albums. Apart from a few cuts on a collaboration album (Solo Flights, with Bobo Stenson, Steve Dobrogosz, Anders Widmark), I know of no solo recordings.

Until now. His widow, Eva recently discovered a set of solo pieces composed by Svensson and recorded at his home. Each of the nine tracks is designated by Greek letters going in order from Alpha to Iota. They range in length from about two to seven minutes. I listened to the album with no more information than that.

“Alpha” begins much like the recordings on Solo Flights: gentle and dreamy. It is difficult to imagine a more intimate dialogue that that between two hands in a solo piano work. You get a rich helping of that here. It quickly builds speed, firmness, and clarity, while intensifying the romantic flavor. “Beta” mostly preserves the soft, wistful touch.

“Gamma” is the most striking piece. I get the distinct impression by this point that the beginning of each number is like one or more sketches, before the real painting begins. The full color this time is decidedly blue. It is a slow walk down an empty street, hands in your pockets, round about midnight. The notes are vivid and bright, nonetheless.

“Delta” chases the quarry with a furious and virtuoso speed. It is more abstract than most of the cuts. “Epsilon” shifts back toward romance at the beginning, with an ambiance more reminiscent of the e.s.t. albums. “Zeta” strikes me as the least realized, but it is still fascinating to see this master tightly confining himself in order to explore a simple theme.

“Eta”, the longest track, is a shift from two compositions. The first is all storm and percussive notes, while the second winds out of that into what is more mysterious but just as beautiful.

I’ll leave the remaining tracks for your consideration. Home.S is a marvelous addition to the work of this wonderful artist. Just in case you don’t know the trio albums, here are some suggestions. From Gagarin’s Point of View is said to be his breakthrough album. If you like that one, Winter in Venice will curl your toes. I think my favorite, though, is The Esbjörn Svensson Trio Plays Monk. The first cut, “I mean you,” is the kind of thing you want to hear early in the morning, in a coffee shop a few minutes walk from The Art Institute of Chicago. If they play Home.S instead, that will do just fine. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Meson - Obscurer Subjectivity (Discus Music 2022)

“Everyone improvised here. My ad-libbing was in the form of condensing lines of nuance suggested by the patterns produced by my collaborators and adding fragments, as I recall, from Ahlberg, Beckett, Thompson (Hunter S.) and, probably, from almost everyone else that I have ever read, listened to and/or met - you are all to blame and so I hope you enjoy this, responsively “- Bo Meson 

Words surrounded by music or words led by a music that surrounds them, words and music like the rhythm of life. Bo Meson’s words are immersed in the music made by guitarist Andy McAuley, synthesist Jez Creek, saxophonist Martin Archer, bassist Peter Rophone, and cellist Sarah Palmer and their output is conceived as a non-interrupted flow (the digital version of this record presents also the option to listen with no tracks breaks), a stream of a consciousness both in words and in music.

Hypothesis: was William Borroughs right and language is a virus from outer space?

Every track deconstructs language structures trough repetition and fragmentation reminiscent of Steve Reich works, but they also deconstruct musical references with melodies and rhythms that dissolve into noises or into silence or into one-another.

Fragmentation is the key both for music and discourse. Apart “We Are Not” (in which a pervasive bass marks a pervasive 1984 vision depicted in what is like to be the most structured text) the other episodes are characterized by splinters of sentences supported by a music which moves along the same lines.

“Alternative Pope” may be the manifesto of the whole album, words laying on a catchy layered riff and developing meandering sentences - but I will never be too old to be too young - … - time reels out -… - a camera with obscurer subjectivity represents a transcendental hyperspace, an infinitely regressive point of view - … - I am intentionally blank so that only you can read me – Words like music and - time reels out –

So when in “Chronological Quantum Leap” we hear 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,' we are quite familiar with words but music is something else, we are somewhere else and we must be careful because the next section reminds us “We Are Not Here” and the final episode mixes physics (Gravitons) and pseudo-physics or better pataphysics (phlogistons). A sax riff leads the dance of the words until everything slows down and what remains in the end are some familiar noises maybe a teaspoon picking up the last grains of sugar from a tin-can. Silence.

Planet Gong seems in sight, I can see Daevid Allen smiling by the light of a Camembert Electrique and I must say that I’m very pleased too.

Available on Bandcamp.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Maciej Staniecki - Spirals (Alpaka Records, 2022)

Spirals is a sprawling 11-track electroacoustic album from the Polish guitarist, Maciej Staniecki released March 29, 2022. Coming in at approximately 41 minutes, this album presents a place of timeless electronic textures and broad cinematic soundscapes.

Each of the tracks is titled Spiral followed by a number as low as 20 and as high as 41, suggesting that these tracks have been selected from a much larger pool of related creative output exploring similar artistic ground. The tracks all share the constancy of sound, as silence is not an element of composition here, and a sparseness in textural complexity, most often consisting of some slowly evolving drone-like background or abstract, looping rhythmic accompaniment and a more rhythmically active melodic element from guitar (see tracks 1, 3, and 7 for the drone-like backgrounds; tracks 4 and 8 for looping rhythmic accompaniments).

Track 4, Spiral 39, is the most complex track of the album, consisting of an unchanging drone, field recording of chirping birds, a repetitive bass line, busy percussive rhythmic loop, a slow meandering guitar solo, and a sixth layer of sparse and subtle guitar interjections.

Track 6, Spiral 38, may be the most representative of the album’s overall impression with its deep, slightly buzzing, background drone/textural pad slowly fading in, slowly and subtly evolving, and then fading out, combined with a sparse meandering guitar solo in the middle of the track.

Spirals presents a careful balance of composition and improvisation. The composition appears in the construction of the background elements (drones, evolving textural pads, abstract rhythmic loops, simple melodic loops) and the improvisational elements are most present in the melodic guitar material, likely with large areas of overlap in the ultimate shaping of each track.

On the surface this music could seem simplistic, but on repeated listening and close attention, listeners will find subtle complexity in the timbres and textures presented. This is carefully crafted music that will take attentive listening in order to fully appreciate its detail.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Abdul Moimême: Sound Sculpter / Sonic Architect

Abdul Moiméme. Photo (c) Nuno Martins

By Paul Acquaro

This past summer, late July to be more precise, I had a partial chance encounter with guitarist/sound sculpture Abdul Moimême outside of the Jazz Messengers record shop in Lisbon. I say 'partial' because we had been in touch about his latest recordings and had made loose plans to meet up during the Jazz em Agosto festival. This turned out to be one of several impromptu meet-ups we had during the week, the rest at an outdoor cafe after the evening concerts.

Going back a bit further, my first encounter with Moimême, and his music, was at Jazz em Agosto in 2019. He performed in a hall with a set up where the audience was seated over the performer, a bit like a lecture hall, a bit like a surgical theater. I remember being intrigued and a bit confused. Going back to the sentences I wrote about the performance:

It's a microscopic moment blown up into a 45-minute expose, where all the vibrations, magnetization, and charge of a strummed chord on an electric guitar is turned inside out as the audience follows the note through the wires and out the speakers. Or, rather, as a fellow I spoke with after the show described, "it's like we are ants in a universe of sound."

On the landing outside the record shop, amongst the fantastic open steel staircases and exposed gangways, on the second level of a bookshop inside an old industrial building in Lisbon's LX Factory, we spoke about the record that Moimême had just picked-up. If I recall correctly is was Joe Pass' For Django - a must hear for any guitarist, any musician, or really, anybody. I suspected the was already quite well aware of the album, but such a treasure on 180 gram vinyl cannot be easily passed up. I likely recalled a story about when a friend and I 'snuck' to a jazz bar (we weren't yet 21) in New Jersey and saw Joe Pass play shortly before he passed away, and then about a guitar I built when I was in high school, an electric that looked good but whose intonation was a bit um … crude. I called it the "More or Less Paul." The conversation shifted to Moimême's art as he described how he had also built his instruments, the guitars that he lays flat on the table and he uses to perform and record. 

Photo (c) Nuno Martins

The conversation slowly turned into a plan, but as it often goes with a plan, it was interrupted by a few things unplanned, however now, finally, in the budding moments of 2023, here it is. Over the past two days, Stuart Broomer and I reviewed two of Moimême's recent works, Ciel-Cristal and Livro das Grutas and what follows here is an account written by Moimême about his life, influences and music. He takes quite a wide view, looking at traditions of music from both historical and personal perspectives. This is followed by an annotated discography, with comments from both Moimême and me.


Abdul on Abdul

By Abdul Moimême

Early years:

I was born in the heart of Lisbon, but at the age of 3 my family moved to New Mexico. At age 5 we moved to Dublin, where I began school, studying the English language alongside Irish. At age 9 my family moved to Madrid where I completed English secondary school, during the turbulent years that elapsed between the Portuguese ‘Carnation Revolution’ and the conclusion of Spain’s drawn-out and agitated transition into Democracy. Though we lived in Madrid, my holidays were spent in Portugal, which implied living in two totally contrasting worlds; the repressive governance of the latter-day Franco regime and, contrastingly, the euphoric and unbridled freedom of the early Portuguese revolutionary process, which culminated in our current Democratic regime.


During the days of the ancien régime, music was both a means of resistance, as well as a way of attaining a modest degree of freedom. I believe the title of the Jazz em Agosto festival, in its 2019 edition, Resistance, somewhat echoes the spirit of that time. After all, the code that unleashed the ‘Carnation Revolution’ and the demise of the Portuguese dictatorship was basically a protest song, played on the radio; Grandola Vila Morena, to which Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra paid a beautiful tribute. This to say that, for me, very early on, music and especially improved music, became an existential and aesthetic necessity of the utmost urgency.


Alongside both of these major political and social changes came an ample exposure to live jazz, as both countries began to frequently promote concerts and festivals. For me, some of the highlights in those years were (literally) sitting beside Bill Evan’s piano, during his stellar performance at Madrid’s Balboa Jazz Club, as well as listening to the Jazz Messengers playing totally acoustic, as the minute size of the same club so permitted. This was in the Madrid of the early Pedro Almodovar’s films and La Movida Madrileña, the counterculture movement that was to rock the very foundations of Spain’s intrinsically reactionary society.

During this period, I moved to Boston for a year, to begin college; living in Lexington, with a group of jazz musicians, which included pianist Bruce Torff. Though at the time I wasn’t actively playing music, I was exposed to the prolific scene there, topped off with the odd trip to New York’s jazz and rock clubs.

In 1983, after two decades of living abroad, I made Lisbon my permanent residence, where I concluded my degree; living for a short period in the Azores islands, where I began my career as a professional architect.

Musical background:

My itinerant life inevitably had an impact on my interest and approach to music. The necessity of adapting to regularly changing environments, as well as being exposed to different cultures, not only broadened my tastes as it also directed me toward improvisation, as if it were an inevitability of my own fate. Though many genres of music were played in my house, essentially, I discovered jazz and contemporary ‘classical’ music on my own.

I started learning the guitar at the age of 11, with a private teacher; later studying with her brother, Raul, a proficient flamenco and rock guitarist. With him I studied both genres. At the time flamenco was evolving from its traditional form, incorporating rock and other styles of music into its lexicon. Around that period, Paco de Lucia released his album Fuente y Caudal, which incorporated electric bass; the very same year Santana brought his Welcome album tour to Madrid’s Monumental Theatre. I was a young adolescent and very impressed by the latter’s band. By then, I had already worn out the grooves of Caravanserai and Axis: Bold as Love. In those formative years such LP releases as George Benson’s Body Talk, Jim Hall’s Jim Hall, Live!, Anthony Braxton Five Pieces, Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life and Miles Davis’ Aragtha were soon to suffer the same fortune.

As far as influences are concerned I am wary of acknowledging any, merely because it implies assuming the responsibility of a legacy; something I refuse to invoke light-heartedly. Besides, one tends to idealize one’s own work beyond realistic proportions. Contrarily, I acknowledge that the musicians with whom I have played have influenced me greatly.

Essentially, I consider myself a ‘street musician’.


The reason I became aware of the electric guitar as a very distinct instrument, as compared to the Spanish guitar, was the moment I discovered notes could be prolonged indefinitely by positioning the guitar in a certain spatial relationship to the amplifier. I’m talking about the kind of sustain Carlos Santana used to achieve simply with guitar and amp, with no added electronic effects. It took me a long time to realize how that simple physical phenomenon could open so many doors and help me sculpt my particular sound. Amplification became much more than an accessory of the guitar; it became an integral part of the instrument, modulating the vibration of the guitar’s strings in an array of possible forms.

It took me many years to really begin to fully explore these possibilities, something which has become an ongoing work in progress. It has come to the point where I have a metallic bar that attaches the guitar stand to the speaker. Laying the guitar horizontally also allowed me to use gravity as a technical resource, permitting me to constantly shift approaches and discover new techniques; though technique is only but a means to an end. For me, the most interesting musicians are those capable of subjugating their skills to the critical reflection of what makes a sound meaningful.

Only recently have I begun to incorporate electronics. Previously I only relied on straightforward amplification. Though it sounded like electronic music the only electronics involved were various stages of pre-amplification and amplification; the bulk of my sound palette relying solely on objects and the way I ‘prepare’ the guitar with them.

Although I acquired my first electric guitar when I was 16, a 1973 Fender Stratocaster which I still have, in the same year I decided to build another solid body guitar with a humbucking pickup, from scratch, starting with a raw block of mahogany. At the time, guitar parts were not on sale in Portugal, so my father had to bring them from the US. I ended up installing an early super distortion pickup and for the truss rod a solid brass bar, embedded into the neck with epoxy glue did the trick. The guitar has a beautiful tone and I use it more often than not. Recently, I designed and built a slightly more sophisticated instrument, a lap steel with a 27, 5 in. scale. Both these instruments constitute what I consider as one single instrument, as I frequently play them in tandem. 

Photo (c) Nuno Martins


In the early nineties I started taking saxophone lessons with Patrick Brennan. For the greater part of the decade I focused solely on the tenor; at the time I was also playing with an indie rock band called Hipnotica, with whom I recorded 2 CDs, also doubling on flute and the clarinet.

2007 was a year of significant change for me, as I abandoned the tenor and returned to the electric guitar, beginning to explore the possibilities of playing two guitars simultaneously. That change is documented in the Variable Geometry Orchestra’s CD, Stills (cs100). My first solo CD, Nekhephthu, followed in 2008, with the two guitar combination; at which point I also began playing solo concerts.

Lisbon Scene:

Returning to Lisbon had a huge impact on my listening and playing; especially due to the music scene that started to emerge from the early 2000s onwards. Through Ernesto Rodrigues’ Variable Geometry Orchestra and his smaller format groups, in which I participated, such as Suspensão, IKB, String Theory and the isotope Ensemble, I encountered a fertile environment for experimentation. As Lisbon became a hub for jazz and free improvisation, I was also fortunate to play with many visiting artists, something that clearly impacted both my listening as well as my playing.

The advent of a new generation of extremely well equipped and creative Portuguese improvisers has been a most welcomed occurrence.

Ongoing projects:

Currently, apart from playing in the various aforementioned ensembles led by Ernesto Rodrigues, some of the ongoing projects in which I’m involved include:

  • A duo with Wade Matthews (digital synthesis);
  • A duo with Patrick Brennan (alto saxophone)
  • A duo with Lionel Marchetti (analogue synthesizer)
  • Dissection Room trio with Albert Cirera (soprano & tenor sax), Alvaro Rosso (double bass);
  • A trio with Maria do Mar (violin), Sofia Borges (percussion);
  • Transition Zone trio with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Carlos Santos (analogue synthesis)
  • MJAJA a quintet with Mariana Dionisio (vocals), João Almeida (trumpet), Alvaro Rosso (double bass), João Valinho (percussion)
  • A duo with performer Lorena Izquierdo


Selected Discography

By Abdul Moimême and Paul Acquaro

In this section, Abdul Moimême reflects on select moments in his discography with additional commentary by Paul Acquaro. 

Complaintes De Marée Basse / with Diatribes (Insub,  2010)

Abdul Moimême: In March 2009 the Swiss duo, Diatribes, including electronics musician D'Incise and percussionist Cyril Bondi and I played our first trio performance at the Clean Feed Record store; playing at the Mapping Festival, in Geneva, the following year. In 2011 we tour in Portugal and southern Europe, culminating in a concert with the Insub Meta Orchestra, in Strasbourg. Complaintes De Marée Basse is a product of that collaboration. We later recorded a second CD, Queixas, touring in Switzerland in 2013.

Paul Acquaro: Drums, laptop, percussion large and small, prepared guitars (of course!) and as the CD notes say "metallic objects" - just the ingredients should give you a sense of the final product. From this inventory, you know that the the trio will begin building something with a lot of scraping, clattering and clanging and that the sonic structure the construct will be something never before seen heard. Each track is like a new floor, another layer of creativity, a new arrangement of tones. Track two, 'Crustaćes,' becomes beguiling as the tempo increases and the sounds merge, while track five, 'Entre Les Haut-Fonds,' is the audio commentary for a tour through the HVAC system, leading to track 6 'Pavillon Noir,' where it all comes tensely together.

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 Khettahu / with Ricardo Guerreiro (Creative Sources, 2011)

AM: At the time, as part of his approach, electronics musician Ricardo Guerreiro was especially interested in processing other people’s sound, using this as the foundation of his playing. We worked for a year, improvising together regularly, culminating in Khettahu, a live studio recording of improvised pieces.

PA: Real-time re-processing is fascinating. Taking something that in some ways is familiar and turning it into something new and unexpected can yield exciting results. Here we are invited deep into the visceral percussive and vibrating world that Moiméme builds with his two guitars and whatever he has prepared them with. By the middle of track two (#34), it feels like we are outside, blown by wind, sheets of metal clanging around us, and the middle tracks (#29.1, 29.2 and 29.3) are a trek through a barren land of blustery snow and bare tree branches.

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Fabula / with Axel Dörner, Ernesto Rodrigues, Ricardo Guerreiro (Creative Sources, 2012)

AM: As a follow-up to Khettahu, Ricardo and I invited German trumpeter and composer Axel Dörner to play and record with us. Violinist Ernesto Rodrigues joined the trio in this concert, recorded in central Portugal, on a freezing night in the winter of 2011. Stuart Broomer kindly wrote the brilliant liner notes. The piece was an improvisation and the quartet was playing together for the very first time.

PA: Adding the Dörner and Rodrigues to the collaboration between Moiméme and Guerreiro amps up the "unfamiliar" in many ways. Dörner's own foray into the sonic unknown with his trumpet and electronics can already be a riveting experience. With Rodrigues' viola, the undulating audio-landscape is filled with flashes of something identifiable, yet still out of reach. At times, certainly in the later third of the recording, the sounds become almost subconscious, leaving more of a feeling of something being there than a distinct memory of exactly what it was.

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Mekhaanu / Solo (Insub,  2013)

AM: Mekhaanu is my second solo CD and, as in all my solo works thus far, it was totally improvised, as I like to approach studio session similarly to live performances. In other words, using the solo context as a laboratory for experimentation. D’Incise, who had recently created his net label INSUB was amply impressed by the rough mix as to volunteer to concoct the final mix and master and release it on his label. It’s one of their first releases.

PA:  Moiméme's liner notes are particular interesting, as he draws contrasts between mechanisms and digitization. For the most part, Moiméme's work is "analog," in terms that he manipulates the sounds that naturally come from his prepared guitars and the waves between them and his amplifiers. In his notes, he writes"our daily lives are also permeated by mechanical sounds," and if we pay attention, we will hear "a territory where wild mechanisms live unbridled by any human restraint." So, what we hear in this solo recording is the unprocessed guitars and endless variation of sound generation - and for what it is worth, the sounds of a plucked string stands out of the drones, oscillations, overtones, and all out audio assaults. 

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Rumor / with Marco Scarassatti, Eduardo Chagas, Gloria Damijan (Creative Sources, 2015)

AM: Rumor was the result of our meeting at the MIA improvisation festival, held yearly in Atoughia da Baleia, Portugal. Marco Scrassatti is a specialist on Walter Smetak, the Swiss composer and instrument inventor, as well as being an improviser and composer himself, also teaching music at the University in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Gloria Damijan is an Austrian pianist and Eduardo Chagas a Lisbon based trombonist and improviser. Marco builds all his instruments and, at the time, Gloria frequently improviser with an assortment of small objects and the inside of a toy piano. This project was also a consequence of an invitation, the previous year, to a committee of Portuguese musicians, by the UFMG University (Minas Gerais), to play in Brazil.

PA: The opening moments of Rumor instantly have a different feel than the other recordings so far visited. There is the possibility of a melody, of some sort of musical structure, that seems to pervade 'Improvisation I,' then about half-way through, Chagas' trombone can be heard, pushing through the  layers of sound. It's a ghost though, submerging back into the restrained collective drone. Then, there is chiming tone, it too fade away, but each time noticeably suggestive. 'Improvisation II' continues with restraint and the feeling that something is lurking, about to happen. About two-thirds through there is a peak of energy that trails off to a exploratory exchange of sounds.

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Exosphere - live at the Pantheon / Solo (Creative Sources, 2017)

AM: Exosphere results from an invitation by the ‘Escuta Profunda’ festival, curated by João Silva, to play in Lisbon’s pantheon, where amongst the cenotaphs of various prestigious Portuguese historical figures is buried the seminal singer Amália Rodrigues. The building is also the culminating piece of Portuguese Baroque architecture.

The concert was totally improvised as I had no preconceived idea, at all, of what might be played.

Once again, Stuart Broomer wrote the wonderful liner notes.

PA: Broomer's notes contain all of the important points needed to navigate this 'music.' He discusses the physicality of the sounds, the metallic scrapings, the sonic spaces and the vastness of the landscapes. There is a point where he writes, "there is a sense in which Moiméme's guitar music is at once epic and abstract, physical and metaphysical, the reimagined instrument itself become projectile ... but both its launching mechanism and target are here subject to inquiry..." This incomplete quote sums up for me the haunting and emphemeral (but also so very real and tangible) sounds that Moiméme conjures from his instruments. Eyal Hareuveni also wrote about this work on the Free Jazz Blog here.

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Lisbon: 10 Sound Portraits / with Wade Matthews (Creative Sources, 2017)

AM: I believe my liner notes for this work are self-explanatory.

PA:  Again, I could hardly offer a better overview of this music than Stuart Broomer does in his article about the making of the source materials of this recording. In my articles about Jazz em Agosto over the past few years, I have indulged myself in writing about my wanderings around Lisbon, a city that really must experienced by foot - as dangerous as that can get on some of those tight, twisting streets. In addition to the sights, there are the sounds, sounds of the waterfront, the aqueduct, the scrape of a historic street trolly as it climbs the hills of the city, and much more. On this album, Moiméme has worked with Wade Matthews to record the sounds of the city - one whose sounds themselves are changing. The resulting recording is a pairing of Moiméme's sound sculptures with the field recordings, intertwining and becoming their own tone poems.

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Dissection Room / with Albert Cirera, Alvaro Rosso (Creative Sources, 2018)

AM: Dissection Room, as the trio is called (formerly AAA) was formed in 2015 and has since then played regularly. Catalan saxophonist Albert Cirera apart from his outstanding solo work and various formations, has worked regularly with pianist Agustí Fernandez. Uruguayan double bass player currently lives in Lisbon, playing with some of the most relevant Portuguese improvisation groups, including ensembles with violinist Carlos Zingaro.

PA: One long track, over 53 minutes in total, begins with some blurted notes from saxophonist Albert Cirera. Moiméme's distinct metallic clangs and warping strings are discernible. We are still waiting to hear from Alvaro Rosso's double bass ... and there it is, a low droning below the droplets of sound. A few minutes and this long standing trio's individual contributions are congealing into a cohesive, lightly abrasive blanket of tone. Around 10 minutes in the bass is hopping about a bit, while Moiméme is adding reverberating augmentation. Again around the 18 minute mark the interplay, especially between Cirera and Rosso is alight - though still firmly rooted in the atonal sound-world. The intensity ebbs and flows, but the tension is always present, until the recording's minimalist ending. Of the recordings so far in this list, Dissection Room seems to be the most musically varied. Eyal Hareuveni also reviewed Dissection Room here.

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Terraphonia / with patrick brennan* (Creative Sources, 2018)

AM: My association with Patrick dates back to the early 1990 when I was his student and played percussion in one of the piece of his landmark CD Which Way What. Which Way What was important for Patrick as it consolidated his career as composer and bandleader but also because it was, I believe, Acacio Salero’s debut as jazz drummer, an outstanding Portuguese percussionist who has since disappeared from the local scene.

In Terraphonia patrick and I establish a continuous dialogues, where the rhythmic and melodic lines of the alto are constantly interwoven with the rhythmic and textural material of the electric guitars (played in tandem). 

PA: For this one, I'm going to quote myself from my original review here on the Free Jazz Blog: "This is hard to define music, but even when the harshest tones are at play, the duo presents them with care and precision. Brennan compliments Moimême's sudden tonal attacks with quickly formed ideas, while Moimême fills the silences that the saxophonist's leave with unexpected sounds. The track 'gotabrilhar' stands out, the short track, mid-album, features a buzzing-bee sax and a darkly lit landscape painted by a droning and moaning guitar."

*spelled in lower case at the musicians request

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Aura / with Ernesto Rodrigues, Nuno Torres (Creative Sources, 2019)

AM: Aura is another trio improvised concert with two musician with whom I play regularly in Lisbon, in the various ensembles led by violist Ernesto Rodrigues.

PA: This short recording (31:28 minutes in total) is sort of an exercise in self-restraint. The three musicians, Ernesto Rodriques on viola, Nuno Torres on also saxophone, and, of course, Moiméme, blend their respective intruments seamlessly. All of the small sounds, long tones, crunchy textures, whistling tones that make up the bulk of the exploratory concert set reach a knotty crescendo in the final moment of the recording.

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Transition Zone / with Fred Lonberg-Holm, Carlos Santos(Creative Sources, 2019)

AM: Carlos Santos (analogue and digital synthesis) and I have an ongoing duo project where we invite or are invited to play with a third musician. Wade Matthews (digital synthesis), Wilfrido Terrazas (flute), Emidio Buchinho (guitar), Mariana Dionisio (voice) and José Bruno Parrinha (clarinets) have all been our partners.

Here we invited cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm to join forces with us. This improvised studio session was the very first time we played together as a trio. Since then we frequently play together when Fred is in town.

Rather than a traditional liner note, Stuart Broomer’s text functions as a conceptual extension of the music. 

PA: Quite true, the liner notes are a tone poem themselves. Playing with the sound of the words as they transition from the cardboard sleeve to the readers/listeners mind, and playing with the very words on the cardboard themselves, the notes should be read to the beat-less music with their own cadence. The music - well sound - pulsates with energy. With Fred-Lonberg-Holm providing eviserating, electroncally enhanced cello work, couple with Carlos Santos' synthesizer, Moiméme is in electric company here.  The opening 'Whirr' begins without reservation, buzzing, zapping, clattering from the count of ... whatever. Follow up 'Hush' begins with searing legato notes from the cello and vibrations from the prepared guitars. Crackles of electronic sound emanate from (likely) the synthesizer. As the track continues, sounds stretch like Silly-Putty being stretched to its breaking point. The wealth of sounds and their imaginative application abound on fascinating this recording.

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Ciel-Cristal / with Lionel Marchetti (Sonoscopi, 2022)


AM: When Wade Matthews and I played in duo, in the COPLEXA festival (2017), organized by the Sonoscopia Association, I was extremely impressed by Lionel’s duo with Xavier Garcia. Providentially, Sonoscopia invited Lionel and myself to do a residency at their premises, culminating in a concert at Porto’s planetarium. 

See Stuart Broomer's review of Ciel-Cristal here.



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Livro das Grutas / with Wilfrido Terrazas, Mariana Carvalho (Creative Sources, 2022)

AM: My association with Wilfrido dates back to 2016, when we played together at the Spanish Cervantes institute in Lisbon. Since then Wilfrido has returned on regular visits and consequently he proposed a studio session, to which we invited the upcoming Brazilian pianist, Mariana Carvalho, now residing in Berlin. 

See my review of Livro das Grutas here.