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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
 
Introduction 

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.

Transition:

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.

Movida:

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’.

Approach:

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

Saxophone:

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.

- - -

 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.

- - -

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.

- - - 

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. 

- - -

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.

- - -

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.

- - -

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.

- - -

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.

- - -

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

- - -

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.

- - -

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.

- - -

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.

 

 

 - - -

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.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Abdul Moimême - Livro das Grutas (Creative Sources, 2022)





So, you know the old joke, "when is a guitar not a guitar?" No? Ok, that is likely because it doesn't exist, besides, the guitar is always a guitar, even when it is being played in utterly unexpected ways. Like, for example, the double guitars of Lisbon's Abdul Moimême, which are laid flat on tables and played with various tools, rather than by being strummed or plucked. Seen live, it is as visually compelling as well as interesting to hear - a choreography of cause and effect. 

Moimême's approach is one steeped in curiosity, eschewing a virtuosic or melodic approach, it is instead more spatial and visceral. On Livro das Grutas, Moimeme shares this space with Mariana Carvalho, whose prepared piano adds an complimentary set of textures and tones, and flautist Wilfrido Terrazas, who effortlessly switches from melodic ideas to extended techniques. While Carvalho and Moimême can be heard plucking at the strings inside the piano and extracting new tones from the guitars, it falls to Terrazas to connect these unexpected sounds.

The album starts kinetically with 'Descenso,' Terrazas is most in focus, playing a melody on the flute that somehow seems to fold back upon itself. Sounds erupt around him, and most discernible is the prepared piano, whose vibrations are familiar. Less familiar are the sounds attributable to Moimême - these are likely the percussive droplets, or the single string agitations and electric vibrations that open up the next track 'Reconhecimento.' In addition to the quivering note that reoccurs at irregular intervals, Terrazas can be heard shaping the air around it with his breath and sometimes high-pitched overtones. Over the span of twenty minutes, there is not a lot of movement in a traditional sense, but there is the aforementioned choreography of sounds, indirect cause and effects, suggestions that result in subtle changes of direction.

A contrast is 'Ritual,' the third track, which finds the trio following a much darker path. A metallic scrape instantly sets a threatening tone, and the vast aural space is given depth by the reverberations of the piano's lower registers and the crackling whistle. The buzzing may be attributable to the guitar, but what is most striking is how these instruments, approached from unique perspectives, can create a such a cohesive, other-worldly, impression. A jittery plink from Moimême triggers a skittish plonk from Carvalho, while being stitched together by Terrazas - and vice versus.

So, a guitar is still a guitar, even when it's lying flat on a table and its tones are shaped and sculpted between the excited strings and connected amplifiers; and the tones that Moimême makes suggest, react, and go off in their own directions, along with the encouragement and counter-arguments posed by his collaborators on Livro das Grutas.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Lionel Marchetti & Abdul Moimême - Ciel - Cristal (Sonoscopia, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

When Bebe and Louis Barron created the soundtrack for Forbidden Planet they both entered uncharted territory and created one of the tropes of 20th century culture, the collocation of electronic music and planetary exploration, or broader still, the exploration of other dimensions. The Barrons were reluctant to call their creation “music”, and so were the movie studio and the musicians’ union, leaving the Barrons credited for “Electronic Tonalities”. It was John Cage who eventually convinced the Barrons, credits aside, that they were producing “music”. Here two musicians make ample use of electronic sound as they record live in the Porto Planetarium in November 2021.

About a decade ago, I reviewed KHETTAHU (Creative Sources) by Abdul Moimême and Ricardo Guerreiro. The former already had an early version of his current rig in place -- two table-top electric guitars, employing e-bows, metallic percussion, various forms of preparation and objects dropped and scraped against the strings – while Guerreiro, on "interactive computing platform," processed the guitar sounds. I concluded by describing the sound as “a Balinese train yard in outer space”.

Here the roles of Marchetti and Moimême are much more distinct, with Marchetti playing synthesiser, Novation Bass Station 2 and electronics with Moimême’s current apparatus including a baritone guitar. The music here advances on a principle of paradox. Marchetti’s poetic annotation is revealing: “time upon time/ matter on matter metamorphosing to accommodate the paradox of/ immobile heat”. Is immobile heat akin to cold fusion? There is an additional quotation from the poet Fernando Pessoa: "I do not care. I don't care what? I don't know: I don't care.” Though the roles of Marchetti and Moimême sometimes seem distinct, I can rarely assign the source of the sounds I am hearing. Sometimes the most interesting music is that which resists even description, thus…

A particular not-knowing will drive these observations:

Ciel-Cristal (“sky-crystal”) begins in low-volume, pinched whistles, percussive knocks and glissandi, each with a kind of special precision, but an eerie precision, one without harmony or rhythm to judge it by, yet a precision nonetheless atmospheric. Is it the ghost of precision, or the faint luminescence of an alien sunrise? As volume rises and sounds become continuous and more numerous, that sense of precision persists, but it is also the precision of landscape or abstraction: the precision of what is, continuous with its life in time.

The sense of construction is absolute, as if the two were making something according to a detailed plan, though what that plan might be is indistinguishable from what is. The dividing line between electronically crafted and amplified physical sound is sometimes erased, at times blurred: something resembling a drum kit, an electric drum kit will appear, though of course it is uncredited. A series of cricket-like sounds do not insist on the existence of an originating cricket. In the universe of Ciel-Cristal, these sounds might predate the cricket, whatever that is. Any resemblance to the natural world a certain twang or swipe – is a gift, though there is not necessarily a donor.

Like the chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table occurring around the same time as the internal combustion engine, the reality of space exploration and the broad popularity of Evans-Wentz’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead arrived almost simultaneously in the imagination of the West. As the world grows daily less attractive, this music arrives with the ecstasy of space in a darkened theatre, the “Fantastic Voyage” of “2001” and the eternal return promised by the bardo, here refigured as a world suspended between the electronic and the amplified, the twirled and the scraped, the internal and the eternal, the intimate and the alien.

It sounds like outer space in a Balinese trainyard.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Large Unit - New Map & Clusterfuck (PNL, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-love reunited his flagship band, the Large Unit, in the autumn of 2021 to three days of recordings at studio Paradiso in Oslo that produced two albums. The 15-musician version of Large Unit featured old Scandinavian comrades plus three new members - Norwegian tenor sax player Marthe Lea (who leads her own band and plays in Andreas Røysum Ensemble), and German, Oslo-based trumpeter Richard Köster (who plays in OJKOS, Orchestra for Jazz Composers in Oslo) and harpist Lotte Krüger.

The twin albums, New Map and Clusterfuck (both recorded at the same time and were released on the same day) mark a return to the more experimental form of composing of Nilssen-Love, employing the Large Unit as a sound lab that investigates overlapping forms, textures and sonorities, balanced with blocks of improvisation. These albums were inspired by the compositional ideas of innovative contemporary composers like John Cage, Morton Feldman and Cornelius Cardew. They correspond with the compositional strategies of Nilssen-Love for the first albums of Large Unit, Erta Ale and Ana (PNL, 2014 and 2016), and a change from the festive spirit of the last albums of Large Unit, More Fun Please and Ethiobraz (PNL, 2018, 2019).

New Map is based on open-form “cells” of concrete ideas, notes and directions that the musicians had to respond to. The 22-minute title piece swings - sometimes, literally - back and forth between subtle percussive games, mysterious and sensual orchestral-chamber dynamics, anchored by harpist Krüger, accordionist Kalle Moberg and trumpeter Köster, and raw, noisy and abstract improvisations led by sax players Lea, Klaus Ellerhusen Holm, Kristoffer Berre Alberts and Finnish electronics player Tommi Keränen and Nilssen-Love on gongs. Nillsen-Love, as always, gives his musicians the freedom and responsibility to shape the music and encourages individual improvisation. The second piece “Circles” adopts a similar strategy but now guitarist Ketil Gutvik and Swedish trombonist Mats Äleklint and tubaist Per Åke Holmlander set a playful, free jazz vibe that welcomes all to contribute to the high-octane dynamics and suggests other powerful courses. Eventually, Nilssen-Love’s gongs declare on a short introspective, ceremonial segment before the Large Unit resumes its energetic free jazz course. The last and short “Gong Piece” stresses Nilssen-Love growing focus on gongs, as on recent albums by him with the new Band Circus (Pairs of Three, PNL, 2022) or with reeds master Frode Gjerstad and Moberg (Time Sound Shape, PNL, 2022). The Large Unit contrasts and softens the gongs' dramatic, deeply resonating effect.

On Clusterfuck, Nilssen-Love used graphic notations. The 24-minute title piece pushes the Large Unit to urgent and ecstatic blowouts but this powerful sonic adventure is often punctuated by playful, or subtle and reflexive, improvised solos. Eventually, the Large Unit exhausts its whole energy in the explosive coda before letting Moberg and Keränen end this piece. Nilsson-Love, second drummer Andreas Wildhagen and percussionist Celio de Carvalho navigate “Bubbles” to even more intense and energetic courses, but, again, when Nilssen-Love begins to play on his gongs the mode shifts into more introspective and reserved. The last piece “Moodplay” plays with these powerful veins but varies the dynamics with a series of individual solos, from the most intense to the most delicate and abstract ones.

Both albums suggest that the Large Unit, which celebrates this year its tenth anniversary, is still focused on exploring more exciting and challenging territories.


Monday, January 16, 2023

Spaces Unfolding – The Way We Speak (Bead Records, 2022)


By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

One of the most fortunate events of 2022 for jazz based music and free improvisation is the resurrection of Bead records. Bead had been one of the most important second wave independent labels that, especially from the mid-1970’s up to mid-1980’s, championed new sounds, configurations and, in general, battled against any preconceived ideas about music. Some highlights really worth seeking, downloading, searching and listening: the Chamberpot quartet of Richard Beswick, Simon Mayo, Phillip Wachsmann and Tony Mayo, the Ashbury-Stabbins duo, Cholagogues by David Toop, Nestor Figueras and Paul Burwell, the first Alterations LP and Fonetiks by John Butcher and Chris Burn.

The list, of course, is much bigger than my totally subjective choices, but we have to get back to the future, meaning today. With founding members Phillip Wachsmann and Matthew Hutchinson still around, drummer/percussionist Emil Karlsen has joined, bringing the extra drive and energy (fresh blood if you want to cal it this way) needed for a label with such a great tradition behind it, to start again. And it has, already, produced some fine results.

The trio of Spaces Unfolding is Wachsmann on the violin, Karlsen on drums and, another mainstay in improvisational circles, Neil Metcalfe on the flute. It seems quite odd, but even after we have listened to almost everything coming out from improvisers, this instrumentation still sounds unfamiliar. The violin’s history in classical tradition could be the answer here, but maybe not the only one…

Recorded in the summer of 2021 in a church, The Way We Speak definitely proves that it is a well defined and chosen title for those dialogues between the three musicians. Having no prior ideas on how to play and interact, the cd (which consists five long tracks) is a great documentation of that performance. Everything feels in the right place at that day. The space of the church provides enough room for each of them to breathe artistically and for the group to demonstrate its collective ethos. They freely improvise based on interaction and willingness to listen to each other.

My limited knowledge allows me to make the hypothesis that Wachsmann’s violin balances between melodic phrases and total impromptu improvisations. Karlsen’s playing (I’m a fan by now and it must be said) never conjures volume as a choice of playing, never saturates his two fellow players. Karlsen comes from a much younger generation of improvisers but he absolutely understands the collective ethos of improvisation. His playing is egoless. Metcalfe’s flute adds sparse notes, melodic phrases and improvisational gestures throughout this recording. His playing is the glue that keeps everything together, he seems absolutely concentrated in –along with his playing- listening and reacting to the others.

To be really honest, I’m not sure if the cd is divided into tracks to help the listener, because it feels like a big long improvisation with some pauses. This is by no means nostalgic, but The Way We Speak engulfs the edginess of those early 80’s recordings by the same label.

You can listen here:

 

@koultouranafigo

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Gabriele Mitelli, John Edwards, Mark Sanders – Three Tsuru Origami (We Insist Records, 2022 )

By Guido Montegrandi

“The album is a dedication to the world of birds, to the creatures of the world and their migrations.” With this statement from Three Tsuru Origami's liner notes, Mitelli (trumpet, soprano sax, electronics, voice) fixes the ideal coordinates of his work with John Edwards (double bass) and Mark Sanders (drums, objects).

The word “migration” in a broad sense seems to be the key to this work, migration as a display of great energy, everyday courage; migration as the artist’s sound: an “alien sound that comes in peace to find its own space (…) and, like everything that is different, is greeted with suspicion (…). Inspiration and the creative act come from afar(…) they have to go through a long process of migration and integration” (from Mitelli’s cover notes).

Birds like symbols: The Eagle and the Hawk - Go Godwit Go - Three Tsuru Origami - The Indian Geese and Himalaya - Green Lake, Black Bird - their stories give shape to the sound of the trio and open a different point of view (The stories behind each of these titles can be found in the cover notes).

photo by Giubracalia

Those are the thoughts that make up the framework in which music plays, and music is played with intensity and commitment.

The record opens with “The New One” a piece by Sean Bergin, he himself a migrant, one of the expatriates on South African jazz scene during the apartheid. It is a classical free piece reminiscent of the lesson of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman in which the three musicians exhibit their carefully carved intersections.

The second track, “The Eagle and The Hawk,” shows the other side of the trio, electroacoustic noises and a double bass that extends its sonority in the lower level of the mix.

Now the coordinates are set and the rest of the record moves between these extremes with feathery freedom.

The third piece, “Go Godwit Go,” is dedicated to the bird which can be taken as symbol of the idea of migration itself: The Godwit (Limosa lapponica) every year migrates from Alaska to Australia and New Zeland with a ten days nonstop flight.

The music starts from sparse noises on free bass and drum lines then the trumpet emerges to build a fragmented melody, which seems to translate the godwit bird song into a sonic memory.

“Fly Away” is marked by a beautiful bass solo and all of the other pieces confirm the perfect interplay that the three musicians have developed gifting us with a music that is always on the edge, with a sense of balance between sound and silence, melody and noise (Three Tsuru Origami). My favourite piece, “The Indian Geese and Himalaya”, displays at his best the sound of three talented musicians intensely conversing and listening to each other.

The final “Ritual part 3” is a rendition of a Composition by Mariam Wallentin, Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin, a beautiful piece that concludes a work that is absolutely worth listening and makes me hope that the three of them will re-join in the future for another flight together.

Available on Bandcamp

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Bill Frisell - Four (Blue Note, 2022)

By Martin Schray

Bill Frisell is a shy star. At the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 80s, he appeared on the scene with his very quiet sounds, which in their apparent hesitation, their pausing and patient gathering unfolded an energy all of their own: Wide-screen soundscapes, whispered. Frisell had a unique voice, completely different from anything familiar. You might say: he is a chamber musician of jazz. And we’ve been lucky enough to hear this voice on hundreds of albums.

But due to the COVID pandemic Frisell couldn’t do what he actually loves best for two years: playing concerts and recording music in the studio. He was thrown back on himself. However, he was able to reflect on his situation in a positive way: “I'm so happy that I’m still in love with my instrument. That’s probably what got me through this time now, too. I said to myself, okay, I have all day now. So I’m going to take my guitar and play. There was no goal, no deadline, nothing like that, it was just the joy of playing whatever came to my mind,“ he said in an interview with Bayrischer Rundfunk on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

Now, after two years, he is back with a new album on which he has musically processed his impressions and experiences of this time. Four, his third Blue Note album, is about loss, renewal and friendship. Within a short time, Frisell lost three longtime, very close friends, to whom he now pays his last respects, so to speak: “Dear Old Friend“ is dedicated to his childhood friend Alan Woodward, whom he knew even before he picked up a guitar for the first time. With "Claude Utley" he recalls the Seattle-born painter, and “Waltz For Hal Willner“ is a tribute to one of jazz’s most inventive producers.

Frisell recorded Four with a new quartet: Saxophonist and clarinetist Greg Tardy, pianist Gerald Clayton and drummer Johnathan Blake. He had never played with them in this constellation before, yet they present themselves as a strong harmonic and melodic unit. Frisell had jotted down many melodies and compositional ideas from quarantine and brought them to the sessions, but laying out little more than musical sketches for his fellow musicians, he motivated them to improvise. "Nothing was really planned down to the last detail," he says. "Everyone just had the information I gave them. But it was absolutely open-ended as to who would play what and when.“ Despite this improvisational freedom, however, they always stayed true to the original idea of each song. Only rarely does one step into the spotlight alone. Four consists entirely of original compositions, most of them written during the lockdown (others are reinterpretations of songs that can be found on Good Dog, Happy Man and Lookout for Hope).

The result is a jazzy album that is less in the tradition of Good Dog, Happy Man or Nashville than in that of Circuit Rider, his collaboration with Ron Miles and Brian Blade. Still, the Great American Songbook shines through in the music again and again, e.g. “Dear Old Friend“ is reminiscent of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot“ and “The Pioneers“ of Hank Williams’s “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry“. The latter is perhaps the best way to see how Frisell brings together the two great American musical styles - jazz and country. Whereas the song was a relatively straight folk rocker on Good Dog Happy Man, here it’s a mélange of relaxed swing (largely because of Hardy’s saxophone) and Frisell’s crystal-clear arpeggios that exude typical Southern country music charm. But Four also offers something for fans of more adventurous structures. “Dog On A Roof,” the last song on the album, starts out still quite melodic but slides very quickly into gloomy, weird realms. Frisell’s harmonics meet fragmentary saxophone lines, the drums stop playing time and the piano is limited to a few dark chords. Finally, the piece drags toward its conclusion in a tough and heavy groove.

It's great to see that this unique, wonderful voice is back after a short break. Hopefully nothing will hold him back from live performances and studio recordings in the near future.

Four is available on double vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

Listen to “The Pioneers“ here:

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, Tony Orrell - That​’​s My Life (577 Records, 2023)


By Ian Lovdahl

There's something invigorating about returning home after a long time away; reuniting with best friends and visiting old places, while excitedly preparing to make new memories. A native Michigander myself, I spent five years living among saguaros in Phoenix before moving back to the Mitten, and it felt amazing to once again wake up somewhere I called home. As the liner notes of this excellent live performance explain, "That's My Life" is an audio expression of that feeling of homecoming, and the two-song album explores with verve the musical relationship shared by these three players who first shared a stage in 1979 as the group Spirit Level.

Live in concert in their hometown of Bristol, the band kicks off with the eponymous track, an edge-of-your-seat 24-minute free jazz jam. For its intimidating runtime, it's shocking how quickly "That's My Life" flies by. There's a palpable sense of energy as the trio steps on the gas for the first part of the song; mostly dominated by Paul Dunmall's snaking soprano saxophone, his performance weaves amidst groaning double bass and collapsing drums, before striking fast with a flurry of arpeggiated notes. About halfway through, the atmosphere takes on a pseudo-spiritual vibe, until double bassist Paul Rogers unleashes into a mind warping solo of his own. The live bass casts a warm and organic presence that permeates the entire project, and Rogers' fuzzy tone adds a ton of personality to his playing. I think it has to be said that the audio fidelity of this opening track wavers throughout the first half, and I find it difficult at times to clearly hear Tony Orrell's kit; although it's a tad dodgy, the sound quality isn't a huge detriment, and after all, it's a live album, so it's not a big complaint.

The second song "Marriage in India", junior in length, finds itself bookended by a fiesty riff shared by the soprano sax and jaunty bass. A rambling kind of groove, the interplay sets up a nice opportunity to appreciate Orrell's glittering cymbals and hustling bass drum. As Dunmall finishes one more ferocious arpeggio, the sax takes a seat for several minutes to showcase an incredible double bass solo, and it's something beautiful to behold. Rogers' performance is sound poetry, evoking onomatopoeias with every pluck; angular harmonics "ping" and "pong" between the ears, and lower register notes snore like a bear disturbed during hibernation. Squishy and swampy reverberations from the low E mingle well with the unobtrusive percussion, providing a bed for the double bass to gurgle like a hungry stomach one moment, and like a shaken windchime the next. The musical creativity makes for a memorable few minutes of masterful control and no-holds-barred experimentation; and after the audience becomes acquainted with the sound of Rogers' finger callouses swiping against the strings, he picks up the opening riff again and the soprano returns for a skronk and drum tantrum to wrap things up.

Expressive and energetic, "That's My Life" takes the listener on a blistering thrillride of free jazz mayhem while successfully conveying the excitement of homecoming. The album's notes state that it's the product of ten years of anticipation, but it's clear as day in one's headphones that this band was having the time of their lives playing this music. It's that added layer of authenticity that elevates the record in my eyes (and ears) and fully expect to revisit it many times over the new year.