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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Jessica Pavone, Lukas Koenig & Matt Mottel – Spam Likely (577 Records, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

Free and improvised music has a unique power to shapeshift and change its spots. The album Spam Likely shows that this magic can even happen in passages that seem securely nailed to the ground. It features a pair of tracks, each about twenty minutes long, that are at opposite ends of the atmospheric spectrum. But they share an elusive and constantly mutating quality.

The record brings together Jessica Pavone on viola and electronics, Lukas Koenig on drums and Matt Mottel on keytar and 3-string guitar. They conspire to deliver a two-part listening experience that feels both contrasting and consistent.

“Binge Listen” is the first track. It’s characterized by a pumpy electronic bassline and clicky percussion throughout. Pavone’s viola darts in and out of focus. The group maintains a high level of adrenaline for almost the entire twenty-three minutes, often presenting groovy passages that set heads bobbing and toes tapping. It’s a track that makes a physical impact. While the bassline sticks around and the intensity remains turbo-charged, there are constant shifts in texture and complexion.

The album’s title track follows this rock-solid landscape with a more austere sonic setting. Viola and keytar resist gravity side-by-side, like a hammer and feather dropped on the moon. Microcurrents and microorganisms swell beneath a placid ocean surface. It’s a stark contrast to the howling climate of the first track, producing a psychological rather physical effect. But it achieves the same stealthy, slippery metamorphosis as each wave of sound submits to the next.

Spam Likely unites three popular collaborators on the experimental music scene. Their individual voices and visions mingle to form a pair of musical adventures that weave along divergent narrative paths, but unfold similar tales of imperceptible transformation. That is the magic of free and improvised music. And it is powerful in this album.

The album is available via streaming, digital download and on CD here.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Necks - Travel (Northern Spy, 2023)

By Ian Lovdahl

Dissecting The Necks invites an unavoidable discussion regarding genre. After sampling the various albums from the Australian trio's prolific career, one may wonder how exactly to categorize their style of music; instead of applying labels from the outset, it may be best to determine what The Necks are not. A self-described "cult band", the threesome qualifies that their creative output isn't "entirely avant-garde, nor minimalist, nor ambient, nor jazz." They specialize in engagingly repetitive and textured longform pieces, but tags of krautrock, jam, and drone also don't stick. Quite simply, The Necks play improvised music, creating a wholly unique and freeform musical universe while pulling inspiration from aforementioned genres in their orbit.

In an effort to capture a recent studio practice of playing extended improvisations, The Necks recorded Travel, their nineteenth album. Kicking off with "Signal", a shy piano treads lightly over a steadfast bass line and light percussion, composing mystery in the air for twenty minutes; muscular runtimes are a hallmark of the band's aesthetic, although Travel offers four medium-sized pieces instead of one or two goliath tracks. Eventually, the meek piano is replaced by a percolating keyboard that sounds vaguely like a smartphone alert; all the while, the bassline stays strong, followed closely by the drums. Even later when they introduce an organ and combine the two other key instrument variations, the rhythm remains steady, the tempo stays calm. Constructing a room of pseudo-spiritual ambience, the mood turns serene on the follow-up "Forming", where a softly-clamoring bass supports beautifully-organic percussion and inquisitive keys. The piano seeks jazz, but the drums simply attempt to keep peace, and the hazy scene yawns with the satisfaction of a lazy Sunday afternoon.

As Travel ages, two very specific album comparisons spring to mind: the Chilly Gonzales piano redux of Plastikmann's acid techno classic Consumed In Key, and Jeff Parker's excellent improvisational Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy. The former features sly piano fingers that ask questions with each press, while Mondays at The ETA composes grooves that ponder at the fork of spiritual jazz and jam. The back half of Travel fits suitably between these two LPs, which isn't to make a derivative accusation of the Australian trio; it's just interesting to note new comparisons to the group's very active discography. After an adventurous third excursion, the album closer "Bloodstream" wraps up with flowering keys that bloom amidst rumbling drum rolls and bowed melancholy. A courageous bass drum beat inspires the organ to speak up, droning in and out of consciousness like a self-medicating Sandman before sending the rest of the band to bed.

If you're a fan of The Necks, you'll be glad to know that the band hasn't altered their tried-and-true formula. Of course, it'd be difficult to mistake Travel for the recent Three or my personal favorite Unfold, but the foundation on which the trio's success is built remains reliable. Those patient listeners who get down with double-digit minute song lengths will certainly find a welcome home in The Neck's nineteenth record; and if you're wondering what an unclassifiable band sounds like, Travel is a fine way to indulge your curiosity.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Tristan Honsinger Fund Raiser

Tristan Honsinger. Photo by Laura Sanson.

We do not typically publish calls for fundraisers. There are often ones to help start or finish projects and so on, it is quite difficult to draw a line and say "this is something we will post or this is something that we will not post," however the following fundraiser for cellist Tristan Honsinger is one that seems right to share. After a brief return to the US, after decades of living and making art and music in Europe, Honsinger finds himself back in Europe in a precarious position in regards to living and medical expenses.

To learn more and possibly help out, please visit the Go Fund Me here.

To read more about Tristan Honsinger on the Free Jazz Blog, check out this scouring of the Free Jazz Blog reviews.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Two from Zlatko Kaučič and his comrades

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Disorder at the Border plus Tobias Delius-Kataklisma (Fundacja Sluchaj!, 2022)

I must admit from the start that being a fan of Zlatko Kaučič's brings the compulsive side of myself up front. Always trying to find flaws, trying hard to minimize the impact of his work to me as a listener. You can understand, as you read these lines, that it’s a failure. Every time. The trio of Disorder at the Border consists of Kaučič at the drums and percussion, Giovanni Maier playing the bass and Daniele D’ Agaro on the clarinet and sax. On Kataklisma they are joined by the imaginative playing of Tobias Delius on tenor sax and clarinet.

The Polish label Fundacja Sluchaj! has been constantly revitalizing the European improv scene. But what’s most important, at least to my ears, is that it is a part of some labels that exist outside the main hubs of improvisation, (Western Europe and North America to be more specific), spreading, geographically, the gravity for a musical field still marginalized.

The music on Kataklisma, clocking on almost an hour, is constituted by improvisational dialogues between the players, was recorded some time ago, in 2017 at Kaucic’s native Slovenia. This fact also leads me to comment that, it seems, there’s a vibrant small scene there, another miniscule hub in places that, once upon a time, were on the other side of the Iron Curtain (…). But Kataklisma is a multinational affair, deeply informed but what is going on in improvisation on both sides of the Atlantic.

All the four tracks (The Šmartno Odyssey, Calls From Ithaca, Polypheumus and Kataklisma) have titles, as a narrative I guess, from Homer’s epic, Odyssey, a choice that suits the music perfectly. This aural story by Homer tells the tale of Ulysses and his comrades and is a story of friendship, things you lose on the way and all those you find in a parallel way. I don’t believe there’s a better description for the quartet’s music. It is really hard to pin down any individual playing as the collective mature of their sound navigates the music to your ears. There are no egos here, no old-school solo playing. Their interaction is impeccable.

All of them are qualified (but not through a scene that allowed them to ascend, but through playing and interacting with others all over the globe) players that are well aware of the non verbal language and practices of improvisation. And the strong demands I dare to add. The two wind instruments have the audacity to play in unison and keep their individual voices at the same time. There’s no actual bass-drums backbone here, at least not in the traditional jazzy sense. But, mind you, tradition is a word whose burden doesn’t belong in a text that describes the charms of Kataklisma.

Exploratory, adventurous music at its best. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Kaučič / Simon – Žepi/ Pockets (Jazz Cerkno Records, 2022)

Zlatko Kaučič is definitely at ease with any instrumentation and any number of players along him. Here, on a duo with Slovenian sax player (he also utilizes electronic sounds), finds himself in a supposedly difficult position to play along with occasional electronic sounds. The difficulty, to my ears, is that electronic sound sources tend to, at some point at least, take a percussive role during a recording, leaving the drummer with no specific role. But Kaučič is not the usual drummer.

Simon’s playing, on tenor and soprano sax, reveals its jazzy roots but his focus is definitely to fit into the wide variety of gestures by Kaucic’s drumming. But Simon is not the player who follows. He plays and interacts on an equal basis with Kaucic, making it clear –as he is an active member of jazz in Slovenia- that they have played together in the past.

There’s a certain feeling, certainly coming from using their native language on the titles, of locality on this recording. Jazz, like any music obviously, is a universal language, and the different approaches that derive from different geographies and languages can only breathe much needed new life into improvisation. Translated into pockets, the titles of this cd are meant to describe all the tracks (or should I say songs?) as small, sometimes unfinished, vignettes.

I find this idea quite charming, one that delves into the history of improvisational music. This is not “easy” music. Every time that I was getting at ease with each small track, it ended and a new one was just beginning. This is mainly a sax and percussion duo with occasional electronics coming on the foreground. The techniques Simon utilizes allow a certain but difficult to describe electronic nature to his playing. Kaučič is at ease on those moments as well, leaving room for the saxophonists’ playful extravanganza.

Listen, among the other releases of the label, to the cd (kudos for the artwork guys) here

Friday, February 24, 2023

Tyondai Braxton - Telekinesis (Self-Released, 2022)

By Ian Lovdahl

People will certainly argue this, but besides the incomparable Kali Malone, I don't think there's a more exciting contemporary composer than Tyondai Braxton. Perhaps overshadowed by his legendary father Anthony's massive body of work, the younger Braxton's oeuvre features decidedly fewer altos, instead exploring an amalgam of organic and synthetic sounds. Many of us were introduced to Tyondai in the nascent days of the math rock band Battles' career, trying to make sense of his pitch-warped vocals on 2007's highly-acclaimed album Mirrored

The sky seemed like the only limit for the experimental quartet, but the composer had a grander vision, departing Battles and focusing on constructing his opus, the 2009 electroacoustic chamber masterpiece Central Market. Inspired by Stravinsky and the prior year's housing crisis, Tyondai translates his imagination into twisting, zany soundscapes with the vital help of New York's Wordless Music Orchestra. As a big fan of Frank Zappa's unique contributions to 20th century classical, I connected with Central Market's grandiose style and tongue-in-cheek virtuosity and now consider it a modern classic. Braxton has released further experimentations in the interim, but the announcement of Telekinesis, a commissioned 87-piece work inspired by the science fiction anime and manga Akira, became my most anticipated album of 2022. I was expecting Central Market 2.0, but after dozens of plays digitally and on vinyl, I can safely say that this new work is something entirely different.

Like the opening minutes of the album's anime inspiration, Telekinesis unfolds with tension from the start. Shoulder-clenching strings give way to descending synthesizers, undercut by an advancing tuba and woodpecker percussion; similarly, the second track "TK2_Wavefolder" follows suit, albeit more frantic and curious. Throughout Central Market, there exists a palpable sense of silliness that bounces freely between the bright strings and xylophones; it's music with a spring in its step. 

Telekinesis, in comparison, shows restraint. Case in point: electric guitars are ubiquitous in the piece, but the subtle manner in which they're played blends perfectly with the quiet tumult of the performance; it calls to mind Glenn Branca's six-string totalism, although more subdued and mechanical. Hitchcockian synths mingle with both bowed and plucked strings, wading through an ever-present current of choral voices, as provided by The Crossing and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The electroacoustic action ebbs and flows, clashing with operatic drama one moment before crocheting a finely-textured silence with Braxton's ominous electronics. 

Each of the four movements have their own sonic character: mature opener "TK1_Overshare" sets the stage for the chaotically playful "TK2_Wavefolder", and the ghastly "TK3_FloatingLake" disavows levity with its cold haunting choirs and walls of strings. A heroic "TK4_Overgrowth" bookends Telekinesis, slowly building with pumping brass and returning to motifs established in the first movement with tremolo guitar and chirping violin. Then, before you know it, most of the 87-piece band vanishes, leaving behind only whirring electronics and a single piece of percussion, clicking three times before expiring into the dimensionless void.

Even after numerous playthroughs, I'm still finding new aspects to appreciate about my vinyl copy of Telekinesis. For instance, while preparing this review, I heard very softly roaring motorcycle engines on "TK1_Overshare", a brief homage to the record's inspiration that made me grin. Not to call Braxton's earlier work juvenile by any means, but Telekinesis, to my ears, is his most mature composition; more so than Central Market, this sci-fi excursion requires careful listening and a handful of patience to squeeze out every specific detail. The eighty-seven players at work crafted a tremendous sonic adventure that chases the duality of organic lifeblood and chilled artifice, and even if Braxton's next project isn't as ambitious, I sincerely look forward to hearing more.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Kaja Draksler & Susana Santos Silva - Grow (Intakt, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Within the first minute of the opening “Moonrise”, Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler and Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva have established themselves as the most compellingly weird improvising duo in contemporary music. Draksler is playing an erratic pattern on what sounds like a de-tuned toy piano. It’s somehow at once repetitious and varied with gong-like sounds interspersed. Santos Silva is creating a choked, quavering sound that seems less a trumpet than a strangling creature, possibly alien. Possibly alien? The first time I played this, things were suddenly going on and I was barely listening, not even half-listening, and I thought there was also a tape playing in the piece, a strangely alien, pitch-distorted tape of vocal music, some odd Asian opera accompanied by insistent quarter-tone keyboards, some interference pattern picked up from somewhere in the vast near-empty steppes available on globe-hopping internet radio (It used to work—today I’ve reached Nizhny Tagil, enthusiastic commercials in Russian and Fat Boy Slim’s “Rockefeller Skank” from Fifa99). Heard again, repeatedly, “Moonrise” was still mysterious, but it’s trumpet and piano, prepared and miked.

'Grow', a 41-minute performance from the 2021 Copenhagen Jazz Festival, creates its own sonic world. To describe it as a duo seems like a disservice. There’s nothing particularly conversational about it, no sense of piano accompaniment, no dividing line between composed and improvised. Rather, its four segments are stages in a dream voyage, one compound mind creating complex, unified music at an exalted level with constantly shifting timbres. That opening “Moonrise” will turn to limpidly beautiful lyric trumpet amid cascading chromatic piano; the next stage, “Close”, will have circular-breathing, Morse-code trumpet with a refracted sub-text, the piano eventually revealing itself in crystalline high pitches with electronic echo and suggestions of glockenspiel and drum, the trumpet becoming the sound of rhythmic air, with what sounds like someone walking cautiously on piano strings.

Liquid Rock” demonstrates the trumpet’s simultaneously empathetic relationship with mining equipment and rock, assuming a great industrial roar with overblown multiphonics, eventually matched with rapid, sustained, keyboard knitwork. The concluding title track moves through various transformations, including a passage of Harmon-muted trumpet that suggests Miles Davis and which is set against e-bowed piano string tones that sound like Draksler is sometimes employing an oscillator, at other times rustling through the contents of a kitchen miscellany drawer after having first transferred them to the piano’s interior.

No description can do more than suggest the depth and complexity of this cumulative work, in which extended techniques are not effects but organic methodologies plumbing new regions of meaning and expression.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Joseph Petric – Seen (Redshift Records, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

Being an accordion player, I will admit to a bias in trying to boost the free reed team when I can in any field of music. The accordion—in this case a chromatic button accordion with both stradella AND free bass set ups—is not unheard of in avant circles, but it’s still rare enough that its appearance is worthy of comment and its timbrel gifts still intrigue. Joseph Petric comes to us from the “contemporary classical” world, which, according to the liner notes, has an accordion tradition going back to the mid-20th Century. All but one of these pieces were commissioned by Petric himself

The disc opens with some sounds that might be described as idiomatic to the accordion, the deep bellow swell, and shifts into a place of knotty, jagged melody. Presently, the electronics begin doing there thing and the duo of Petric/Jaegar’s “Spirit Cloud” becomes absorbing.

One characteristic of this piece, and this entire disc, is that whatever else is going on, it’s fascinating. That may sound like damning with faint praise—"interesting”—but I don’t mean it that way, at all. To me a piece that both moves and, simultaneously makes me wonder, “How did he do that? What’s happening here?” is great. Curiosity is a positive emotion for me.

Norbert Palej provides the three-part title track of the disc, “SEEN,” an evocative consideration of miraculous visions. My first thought was that this piece sounded very traditional, though traditional for whom I couldn’t say. It sounds largely diatonic and gentle. The accompanying notes refer to the “ecclesiastical harmonies” which fits if your associations with ecclesiastical things is calm and comforting.

Petric’s comfort in electro-acoustic work is intriguing to me as a statement on the connection between technology and music. The accordion itself is quite the technology, an immensely clever collection of simple machines—levers, valves, springs, bellows—all of which have existed for centuries. The electro-acoustic excursions here range from room-filling lushness to narrow paths bordered by threateningly spikey vegetation. It’s immersive.

This is not from the usual Free Jazz Collective world, but if you like the kind of thing that FJC likes, then there’s a more than reasonable chance you’ll like the kind of thing Joseph Petric makes.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Susana Santos Silva - an update

By Stef Gijssels

In the past few days, we've had several reviews of new Susana Santos Silva albums. 

And if we add last year's reviews, her output is substantial: with Child of Illusion on Khimaria, with Biliana Voutchkova on "Bagra", with Mats Gustafsson's NU Ensemble on "Heal" , with Kaja Draksler on "Grow", with Fred Frith on "Laying Demons To Rest", and with her solo "All The Birds And A Telephone Ringing". 

Just to complete the list for the fans, here are some more albums in different forms and formats. 

Santos Silva, Nebbia, Alonso, Bergman Quartet - Ritual Para Acercarse (Ramble Records, 2022)

This quartet was recorded live at at Fylkingen, Stockholm, Sweden, 2021, and consists of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Camila Nebbia on tenor saxophone, Hara Alonso on piano, and Elsa Bergman on double bass, another all-female band like Hearth in which Santos Silva also performed. Camila Nebbia is from Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hara Alonso is from Spain, and Elsa Bergman from Sweden. The album consists of two lengthy pieces, clocking around 20 minutes, with a short one in the middle. 

I have mixed feelings about the result. Despite the qualities of the musicians, they seem to striving to connect somehow, yet on the first piece, especially the trumpet and the sax appear to be playing on different levels, but that slightly changes with the second piece, and disappears in the third track. I guess because they move away into more free improv territory, and relinquish some of the more jazz-oriented moments in the first piece. There is lots to enjoy on this album, and I can only hope the band continues to perform. 

Apart from the digital version, there's also a limited edition of 200 copies on traditional black vinyl.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Susana Santos Silva & Alexandra Nilsson - Radio Two (Superpang, 2022)

On "Radio Two", the Portuguese artist is in the company of Swedish electronics musician Alexandra Nilsson. Like on the collaboration with Biliana Voutchkova, the music is fragile, stretched and built around one central tone, with slight variations in pitch and timbre creating a sense of movement and development. The originally intended sound of the trumpet is basically absent (with the exception on some parts of "Messier 86"), and it may have become meaningless in this context, but the actual physical activity of applying pressure to air or an instrument is still present. It might be telling that near the end, the trumpet's voice is gradually restored. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Susana Santos Silva - From The Ground Birds Are Born (Superpang, 2021)

"From The Ground Birds Are Born" consists of one long track, more than 18 minutes long. It is played on organ - I guess but you never know these days - and electronics, gradually multilayered and expanding with snippets repeating themselves and as the sound becomes denser, its individual components disappear into a massive wall in which patterns become identifiable - like in Philip Glass composition - then the tone and atmosphere shift into different parts without really altering, and develop into kaleidoscopic images. The overall effect is grand, majestic and bewildering. It is far removed from many of her other recent output. Consider it a trial into a different direction, but it works too. 

The accompanying poetry to contemplate: 

"from the ground birds are born. 
time to let them go.
or not. 
are birds free when they are born from the ground? 
can they become freedom? "

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

SSS-Q + Carlos Guedes - Becoming Space (Self-Released, 2021)

"Becoming Space" is Susana Santos Silva with Jorge Queijo on percussion, and here with Carlos Guedes on live electronics. This is the second album by the trio after the self-titled "SSS-Q + Carlos Guedes" from 2017, and the third by SSS-Q, with "Songs From My Backyard" (2013) being the first. 

The single track may not have reached the 2017 album, but it is the result of the same recording session at NYU Abu Dhabi music studios in January 2017. It starts meditatively, with flute, small percussion and undetermined sounds, almost zen-like, with subdued carefully positioned sounds in an otherwise white landscape. Gradually the sound becomes denser, the atmosphere a little more ominous, and wonderful when the trumpet gets its voice somewhere halfway. 

Like all her efforts, there is some magic to it, and regardless of the style, her musical qualities manage to create something meaningful and special. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Susana Santos Silva - Underwater Traveller (Self-Released, 2021)

The inquisitive nature of the trumpeter are easiest to notice in her personal solo recordings. Without the obligation to meet the expectations of other musicians, she goes well beyond any stylistic border. The piece is only five minutes long, but that's the advantage of digital publishing: you don't a full album to release your achievements. Despite their simple appearance, there has been significant work in the studio to develop the layers of sound, the effects, the movement and the intensity. 

Like on some of the other albums, the questions she invites us to ask are: "How can we breathe under pressured by so much light?

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Susana Santos Silva - Unearth Reality (Self-Released, 2022)

"Unearth Reality" is one of Susana Santos Silva's personal experiments with sound and timbre, very much in the same sequence as "Underwater Traveller". On the 7-minute soundscape, the listener is invited to a long stretched tone full with distorted trumpet, field recordings and processing. The dense layer shifts and changes without losing its initial longitudinal character. The music is more ambient and noise than jazz, but who cares about genres when exploring.

The questions we are invited to ask with the music are : "What is reality? Are we real? Is the world real? How do we perceive reality? How much reality can we bare? How deep can it be? How many layers does it hold? Can we unearth it? Should we?

Not sure about the answers, though. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Qonicho ah! – Qonicho ah! (Kaczynski Editions, 2022)

"Conicho Ah" is the French duo of Morgane Carnet on sax, and Blanche LaFuente on drums. The fully improvised pieces are aptly called "HiHi!", "Ho!", "Eh!" and "Hu!". Susana Santos Silva joins on trumpet for the last fourteen minute long track. 

The interaction between the two French musicians on the first three tracks is by itself worth checking the album out, and Santos Silva's trumpet makes it even better, and actually it's great that she joins to add some more variation and quality to the overall sound. 

The album is available in 30 handmade envelopes containing a sliding puzzle and a poster. 

There's also a fun video on Youtube of the French duo. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Here's To Us - Kaukasus (Hoob Records, 2022)

"Here's To Us" is a Swedish ensemble consisting of Josef Kallerdahl on double bass, Lisen Rylander Löve on tenor sax, Nils Berg on bass clarinet and flute, and Susana Santos Silva on trumpet. This is the band's sophomore album, after "Animals, Wild And Tame". 

The music is modern chamber jazz, with close polyphonic harmonies, tight arrangements and a gentle folkish atmosphere. The sound is welcoming, warm and charming.

It's interesting to hear Susana Santos Silva in a different, more mainstream and controlled context. If you're in for something less adventurous, this might be of interest. 

Fred Frith Trio - Road (Intakt, 2021)

On "Road", the first CD is a trio of Fred Frith on electric guitar and voice, Jason Hoopes on electric bass and Jordan Glenn on drums. They explores the sonic possibilities of the trio format, considering the unusual and exploratory guitar of Frith. The sound can be harsh, distorted and electronically altered, with lots of chords played in dyads or triads, rarely with real soloing. 

What concerns us here is primarily the second CD, which brings on two guests, Susana Santos Silva on tracks 8 and 11, and Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker on tracks 9 and 10. The trio with trumpet were recorded at the Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, on October 4, 2019, and the performance with Anker at the Altes Kino, Ebersberg, Germany, on October 31, 2019.

I can only say that the second CD is astonishing. The trio is in great shape, and the interaction with both the trumpet and the sax are exceptional. Both female artists lift Frith's musical vision - intense, raw, abrasive - to an even higher level, adding depth and perspective, including both emotional and exploratory power. They communicate with the same language, adapting nicely to Frith's idiosyncratic style, adding their own signature as well. It is great when strong musical characters and instrumental virtuosi manage to co-create the same language. 

You could only with more of this had been recorded - and maybe it is - and released. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Monday, February 20, 2023

Susana Santos Silva - All The Birds And A Telephone Ringing (Thanatosis, 2022)

By William Rossi

Whether with her work in Fire! Orchestra, Gustafsson's NU Ensemble, Hearth, her countless collaborations or as bandleader with her quintet and Impermanence, trumpeter and composer Susana Santos Silva seems to somehow always be involved in a lot of my favourite contemporary music lately.
It was with the release of her wonderful album "All The Rivers" that I started to really pay attention to her solo career, captivated by her lyrical, inspired and inspiring improvisations reverberating throughout Portugal's Panteão Nacional. An album where the environment she performs in plays as big a role as the notes coming out of her instrument, a fascination with her surroundings that I feel foreshadows some of the ideas she completely embraced on this new offering.

This album is a tactile, visceral tapestry of samples and field recordings accompanied (but not always) by all the different sounds she's able to bring out of her instrument. I despise the word "cinematic" in music reviews, so, since I almost caved to the temptation of using it, I'll settle with saying that this album feels like flipping through a very personal diary, just managing to glimpse at a few excerpts of what's written on it as you turn the pages. It tells a story, but it's fragmented, and though you can't quite piece it together you can definitely feel its emotional impact. 

It's amazing just how a few sound cues can instantly transport the listener to different places and times: "The Way Home", for instance, with just a few samples of creaking wood, squeaking metal and the distant sound of waves crashing puts the listener on a ship swaying in the wind, Santos Silva is removed from the scene, her trumpet just a foghorn in the distance.

The people recorded at a train station on "Always Arriving" go about their daily business, their chores, their travels without having any idea that a ghostly trumpet is echoing around the platforms, halls and tunnels of the station; Santos Silva is never the center of the pictures she paints on the album. Often separated, her playing almost always feels overdubbed (at least to me) after the fact. This means that this album is much more than environmental improvisations: overdubbing allows for more possibilities, both storytelling and music-wise, and maintains the "purity" of the field recordings as there's no risk that they be influenced by her presence. The samples aren't a gimmick and aren't window dressing, they're as important as the playing and it's they that anchor the listener to the places the music takes them. This is just speculation on my part as I can't know for sure that the playing is overdubbed, but this is what makes the most sense to me.

The only piece that radically deviates from this ethos is “As One Comes to the World", consisting of 9 minutes of Santos Silva playing her trumpet with its bell underwater, expanding her sonic palette not with samples but with the direct interaction of the instrument and the environment foreshadowed by her past work, that here reaches its logical conclusion: pure symbiosis.

"All the Birds" sounds like childhood: its gorgeous and warm drone hums along something very similar to the sound of a VHS rewinding (that I suspect might actually be Santos Silva on her trumpet), lulling the listener into a stupor for a few minutes until the drone is stripped away, leaving nothing but the distant chirping of birds and Santos Silva's understated playing, short breaths and squeals trying to imitate the noises coming from above.

"And a Telephone Ringing" is the sound of living in a city (or in my personal journey through the album, the sound of adulthood). Noises recorded in what seems to be an apartment block's stairwell, maybe an atrium or a patio, of people going by as Santos Silva's frenzied Irish flute plays the part of an ever-ringing telephone that nobody but the listener can hear and that nobody will ever pick up. This is an example of the importance of keeping the music and the field recordings separate that I alluded to earlier: had she been playing the flute in that apartment block at the time of recording the people might have stopped by to listen to the music, interacting with it and interrupting their daily routines, and the piece wouldn't have been able to tell the same story it tells now.

The album ends with "For Reasons a Human Cannot Divine", my favourite piece and the most lonesome. Santos Silva's lyrical playing I loved so much on "All the Rivers" is back, this time not accompanied by the echoes of the Panteão Nacional but rather alone in a field. You can almost feel the grass move in the wind while the birds sing above. The playing is commanding but relaxed, perfectly in sync with the sounds of nature around it. Rain starts to fall, thunder cracks, man-made noises (trains, cars, heavy machinery) begin to approach as the playing becomes more and more urgent, but in the end it all ultimately dies down, leaving nothing but the birds' singing (and maybe a telephone ringing).

By its nature, this is an album with countless possible interpretations and your experience with it and its "wordless storytelling" will surely differ from mine, but if you allow it to transport you to its meticulously painted vignettes you'll be able to write your own story that I'm sure will be as emotionally rewarding as it was for me. It's a special and personal release, yet another high mark and turning point for the career of this rising star of the free improvisation scene. Santos Silva's music is alive, ever-versatile and with innumerable possibilities ahead. I'll be listening closely and I suggest you do the same.

Listen and download from Bandcamp. (check out all the videos that accompany the music on Bandcamp)

"what a magical thing to be able to contemplate the world!
your eyes become one with what you see, 
your breath merges with the breath of the wind, 
your skin is not anymore your skin but the skin of what you touch, 
what you hear is what you are,
i breathe in what is there and when i breathe out i give myself as I am". 
(Susana Santos Silva)

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Fred Frith & Susana Silva Santos - Laying Demons to Rest (RogueArt, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

After listening to this album over and over you may be assured that its enigmatic, rare beauty, magical spells and suggestive, emotional power can lay all kinds of demons to rest. This duo was recorded live during Festival Météo at Motoku in Mulhouse, France in august 2021 but Fred Frith and Susana Silva Santos collaborated before when the Portuguese trumpeter joined Frith trio tours in Brazil in 2018 and in the United States East Coast and Europe in 2019 (documented in Road, Intakt, 2021). 

Another collaborator of Frith, British composer Tim Hodgkinson, who co-founded with Frith the legendary British prog-rock band Henry cow and continued to collaborate with him throughout the years, suggests in his poetic liner notes that the process of laying demons to rest is inherent to free improvisation, and especially in Frith and Santos performance: 

“sometimes, improvisation 

at other times, something else, but what?  

perhaps not something else but someone else, a third person, another kind of responsibility

not just the play of audible presences, but the facing towards an absent presence

that was summoned by the way of playing.

is it this, a demon first summoned and then laid to rest

returned to the beyond

as god at the end of ritual?

or are these the demons of improvisation, of insatiable relationship

of the unending thirst for detail and consequence…”

Frith and Santos are idiosyncratic sonic explorers, or sonic painters and poets equipped with rich palettes of sounds, sketching possible, intimate and introspective rituals for exorcizing all our demons and healing with imaginative sounds. As Hodgkinson writes, their evocative sounds and vulnerable, textures moods and feelings “fields further armies of ambiguity, Blake wrestling with Freud…” The music flows naturally on its own accord, alternating between delicate, tense and sensual dramas, allowing both Frith and Santos to feel lost in the intensity of their interaction, and then find and embrace each other again, feeding and inspiring each other with playful ideas and resume their spirited dance together. The improvisation becomes a mean to reach a higher and deeper consciousness of oneself and of Fred and Santos as an exquisite, almost telepathic entity.  

“we enter a sphere of evocation where sounds are

messages of movement whose agency is loose,

the ear enacts the scrubbing of a hand or realises the pursing of a lip

as if they were ours (not quite)

a trumpet may stand for a guitar that stands for a previous trumpet that lived and died in the previous second that was an age ago but had stood for a feeling we had had, each moment casting a spell on the next inside Fred and Susana messages reach fingers or lips: inside us they form webs and accumulate into secret paragraphs the gold we carry away”, concludes Hodgkinson. 

This magical ritual lasts only 42 minutes but offers healthy doses of sublime beauty and cathartic promise about the healing power of music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Pandelis Karayorgis Trio - The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project (Driff Records, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

In 2020 Matthew Shipp wrote a provocative article identifying Black Mystery School Pianists, a series of musicians with a distinct sonic/rhythmic identity that would distinguish them from mainstream jazz pianists. At times I find his discussion a little vague, in terms of whom he includes fully, those partially and those he excludes, but he’s consistently adamant that it can’t be taught in a jazz school. While one might debate who’s in and who’s out, whether halfway or otherwise, it’s an important distinction, even going so far as to include a single Caucasian pianist in the fold, Ran Blake. Consider those he includes—a school that begins with Thelonious Monk then proceeds with such immediate associates as Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols, then proceeds with Randy Weston, Cecil Taylor and Mal Waldron to Hassan Ibn Ali and Andrew Hill then on to Sun Ra and Horace Tapscott. It’s a fascinating stream and it suggests much of Shipp’s own ancestral line.

Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis’s exploration of a significant component of that tradition was immediately inspired by the 2021 appearance of Metaphysics (Omnivore) an unreleased 1965 Atlantic recording by Hassan Ibn Ali, the brilliant and largely unknown Philadelphia musician who had worked on his harmonic and modal explorations with John Coltrane and who had a profound influence on McCoy Tyner’s style formation and vocabulary. The result is this hour-long CD by Karayorgis and his frequent associates, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Luther Gray. The repertoire alternates Karayorgis’s transcriptions of four of Hasaan’s Metaphysics pieces along with three compositions from Elmo Hope’s 1953-54 recordings and six of Monk’s classic works. The group of three follows the association of Monk and Hope and Hope’s influence on Hasaan.

There’s no easy way to wind one’s path through any of these composers’ works. Monk, for example, built pieces out of a collection of eccentricities that just happened to combine into works of genius. To some extent, the others followed his example in developing their own methodologies. Here Karayorgis manages to be both true to the works and to himself, managing smooth transit through craggy passages without tripping over outcrops or chiseling at sharp edges. There’s a technical brilliance fully in service to the music, embracing, opening and expanding it in a way that is true to the distinct identities of the works as well as their composers, but Karyorgis never veers into mere imitation. In a few instances McBride and Gray take the opening chorus, McBride’s powerful lower-register patterns (reminiscent here of Monk’s bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, another recently rediscovered major figure) at once emphasizing the oblique harmonies and slightly skewed propulsions of the material, the latter playfully declared as well in Gray’s rich elaboration of multiple states of time.

Ten studio recordings bracket three live recordings from The Lilypad in Cambridge, Massachusetts – Hope’s “Abdullah”, Monk’s “Evidence”, Hasaan’s “El Hasaan” – and they seem especially buoyant, playful complexities that transcend their composers’ frequent personal difficulties. Further on, Hasaan’s very Monk-like “Epitome” and his “Viceroy” (somehow at once swinging and elliptical with a fine solo by McBride that levitates into his upper register) surround Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle”, a piece I can’t separate from Coltrane’s wondrous 1956 performance and which here somehow ties neatly to Hasaan’s association with Coltrane and Tyner. These ties are, by the way, made explicit in a 2021 2-CD set of Hasaan’s assorted unreleased recordings, Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings (Omnivore), a collection that effectively adds an essential figure to the history of jazz piano.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Resonant Artists – A New Force in Improvised Music

By Sammy Stein

Phil Raskin is a musician on a mission - to reach out to others, demonstrating the power of music and creating a positive force.

Raskin’s recent album Satya, named after the second Yoga precept of living in truthfulness, has received wide acclaim and is released on Raskin’s newly founded label, Resonant Artists.

Raskin’s musical connections read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of improvised and other genres. Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Scott Lee, Skip Hadden, Michael Bocian, are just some of the incredible line-up Raskin has worked alongside. Raskin is also an experienced business consultant using technology to help businesses tackle complex challenges. Combining his musical experience and working knowledge of business made creating a record label a natural development ad ne which fulfils Raskin’s desire to promote positivity.

Resonant artists are described as ‘a digital platform for the release of expansive improvisational music by internationally acclaimed as well as emerging artists. The mission is to offer their exceptional gifts of music so they may continue to resonate with the world, lifting and opening the spirits, hearts, and minds of all who listen.

I decided to ask Raskin about his motivation, what drives him and his future vision for the label.

SS=Sammy Stein

PR= Phil Raskin

SS- Why did you decide to create the label and how did the idea for 'Resonant Artists' come about?

PR- I have worked as a producer for more than 3 decades. In that time, I’ve had the good fortune to work with incredible artists across multiple musical genres from around the globe. When the pandemic hit, I used the time in quarantine to begin to revisit tapes I’ve had in storage for years. I discovered amazing gems including rare captures of live performances from Bill DeArango and Skip Hadden. These performances were so compelling that I felt I had a responsibility to find a way to share them with the world. I discussed this idea with Skip, and he agreed. I was helped along the way by Malcolm Cecil (Grammy award-winning producer of Stevie Wonder) on the restoration of the tapes. My Godson, Jason Berk, an immensely talented musician in his own right, had been issuing his own albums on Band Camp quite successfully. He helped to take me step by step through the process to get things started. The first release, Live At The Willow, featuring Skip, Bill Frisell, Michael Bocian, and Ratzo Harris, created quite a buzz in the music community. Seeing that reaction, I put things into motion to add more releases. Frank Doblekar and I had been working on our own album (with the help of Joe Lovano) and given his endorsement, felt the added motivation to move forward. With each album, we began to build momentum and a small but dedicated following. I’m hoping to build on that from here.

SS- Is there an ethos behind the label?

PR- Resonant Artists is a platform for the release of expansive improvisational music by internationally acclaimed as well as emerging artists. The mission of Resonant Artists is to offer their exceptional gifts of music so they may continue to Resonate with the World; lifting and opening the spirits, hearts and minds of all who listen.

SS- I understand from our recent conversations that this is not so much about creating income because the musicians you work with already have established fan bases, but you support charities. Can you explain a little more about this work?

PR - All the artists on the label to date have achieved varying degrees of success in their careers. That said, music is a tough business, and the name of the game now for established, as well as emerging artists is to gain as much exposure as possible for their art. I want to do everything I can to aid in that effort to the greatest extent possible. The current market for commercial success in music distribution is heavily weighted toward pop culture. Financial reward is due largely to endorsements which can then roll into support of live performances. Jazz and improvisational music can cross over into this financial model only in rare instances. Those musicians that can make their living from their art are relegated to pitching for endorsements, hopefully breaking into the festival market to gain exposure. They are required to travel constantly. Many supplement their earnings teaching in universities and conservatories splitting their off time from performance to travel there.

The start of the war in Ukraine coincided with the founding of the label. These events have been devastating for me as I have family ties to the region. As our artists are not exclusively earning from the releases, when I approached them to contribute to World Central Kitchen in support of their efforts in Ukraine, a charity I have personally supported since its inception, helping the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017, they all enthusiastically agreed. I am honoured to contribute to WCK on their behalf and hope to expand on those efforts in the future.

SS- Do you see the label supporting upcoming and newer musicians?

PR- Nothing makes me happier than to help upcoming and newer musicians gain exposure for their art. I am constantly inspired by the depth and breadth of talent that is out there. I am eternally grateful to Skip Hadden, who over his 30-year-plus career at Berklee, has continually sent me music from former and current students that is amazing. No doubt great things are in store for the future.

SS - Where would you like the label to be in two years or five years' time?

PR - The goal is to grow the catalogue. When I released the Satya record, I sent it to Richard Scheinen who writes for SF Jazz. He gave the album 5 stars and described it as “nourishing”. He thanked me for the sense of calm that he felt after listening. That brings to mind a quote from Terence Blanchard; “Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.” If one track from any release, achieves that end, with just one person, each day, we’ve achieved success.

SS -If you could sum up your hopes and dreams for the label in a short paragraph, what might this look like?

PR - To be honest, I am quite in awe of the way in which the music on the label is impacting listeners. I can monitor the Band Camp analytics and see that someone, somewhere in the world, is listening to one or more of our artists every day. The numbers are constant too. There is music on the label that has provided inspiration for me in ways that are hard to put into words. When I listen to The Bill DeArango Trio album, it transports me back to my time in Cleveland at the Smiling Dog Saloon. Just like I was hearing it for the first time. Then, I could barely comprehend what I was listening to. I just knew that it was furiously real. So very deep in its authenticity. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have lived that experience, and to have been mentored by the musicians there, who helped shape my fledgling talent in such a way as to allow me to impact others in a positive way. To help to spread positive energy in the universe. The label is a way for me to say thank you. To my forebears, to my contemporaries, and my collaborators. And most importantly to the listeners. May our music resonate with you boldly and help to serve your life for the better.

Have a listen on Bandcamp.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Avram Fefer Quartet - Juba Lee (Clean Feed, 2022)

By Kenneth Blanchard

Judging from his disography, Avram Fefer has been recording for two decades. Fefer plays tenor and alto saxophones and bass clarinet. In 2009 he recorded Ritual with Eric Revis on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Marc Ribot brings his electric guitar to the party on Juba Lee.

There is a reason why the saxophone is so dominant in jazz. On the one hand, it seems to be capable of the kind of precision one demand in the manufacture of aircraft. The shape of this sheet of sound must be perfect down to the subatomic level. On the other, it needs the slow, emotional depth of a film noir soundtrack.

Avram Fefer traverses that range in Juba Lee. “Showtime” raises the curtain in medias res. Lots of energy and the entire quartet orbiting the sax. It reminds me a lot of my favorite David Murray albums.

The second cut begins with a rhythmic chant, laying one level of sediment atop another. At one point, the sax grates out into an electric sounding vibe. One is descending into the burial chamber. Then the beautiful, cautious chanting returns and builds into a warble of passion. The simple pattern repeated allows the song to dig deep into my afternoon. Revis should have been paid extra for this one.

“Sky Lake” begins with a conversation between sax and guitar. When the two join, it has a royal proclamation feel about it. The melody takes a new direction, and the sax stutters, saying something by pretending to say something. Everything is riding on the bass, but I can’t say enough here about Taylor’s drumming.

When the guitar is playing chords it adds pastel colors that blend in perfectly with the traditional trio sound. When he solos, it’s like Frank Zappa has cut in. Yet there is no dissonance or surprise in this. The title cut opens Ribot opens with a velvety sound. After Fefer solos a bit, the guitar goes sci-fi.

“Brother Ibrahim” has a jaunty feel, like riding a bike parallel to the beach. “Love is in the air” has a mournful theme with the guitar creating a heroic, almost royal background. “Gemini Time” has the best interplay between the guitar and bass, followed by a delicious bass solo near the end.

The best sonic and emotional texture will be found on the penultimate cut: “Say you’re sorry.” It is a slow winding out of a wounded heart. Soft acoustic guitar inaugurates the final piece, followed by an astonishing range of emotional signatures from the bass clarinet. It is a lovely duet that painted the view out my study window in rich colors.

You don’t want to miss this one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Barry Guy & The London Jazz Composers Orchestra - Harmos-Krakow (Not Two Records, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels, Eyal Hareuveni, Gary Chapin & Martin Schray

We're in for our second CD box by Barry Guy, this time containing 6 CDs, recorded at Alchemia Club in Kraków, Poland on March 6th, 2020, and at Manggha Hall in Kraków on March 7th & March 8th 2020.

The London Jazz Composers Orchestra refers to London as a European-international musical capital and to jazz only as a reference point for more free, challenging music. It is the British answer to the Jazz Composers Orchestra created by Michael Mantler and Cecil Taylor in the US with possibly all free jazz luminaries of the late 60s and early 70s.

Like Guy’s meeting With Friends two years before in the same Alchemia Club in Kraków, the small formations’ live improvisations before an appreciative audience serve as an aperitif for the upcoming orchestral compositions of Guy’s “Flow” and “Harmos-Kraków”.

All improvisations are by members of the "London Jazz Composers Orchestra", first in smaller ensembles, with the grand finale on the sixth CD, offering a rendition of Guy's composition "Harmos". It is the Orchestra's 13th album since 1972.

CD1 - March 6th 2020, Alchemia Club

The first CD starts with a quartet consisting of Barry Guy on bass, Lucas Niggli on drums, Simon Picard on tenor sax, and Michael Nieseman on alto. After some initial explorations, the music finds a common level of interaction, calm at first, subdued and intimate. The two saxes take the lead role, allowed to shine by the strong rhythm section, and wonderfully falling in an almost unison ending. The second piece is an eight minute duet between Julius Gabriel on baritone and Henry Lowther on trumpet. For me, it is a discovery to hear these two musicians who have rarely released as leaders. Their dialogue is friendly and warm, and halfway Gabriel increases the intensity of the interaction. The third piece is again a quartet, clocking at 23 minutes by Andreas Tschopp and Conrad Bauer on trombones, Richard Laughlin on trumpet, and Marc Unternährer on tuba. The horn quartet takes the listener on a journey through dissonance, harmonies, moments of calm, and a rhythmic vamp near the end, organised by Unternährer. The CD is an excellent introduction to some of the members of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra who are less known and less recorded at least. (Stef Gijssels)

CD2 - March 6th 2020, Alchemia Club

The second CD also brings three ensembles, the first one with Torben Snekkestad on sax, Agustí Fernández on piano, and Barry Guy on bass. The initial dialogue between the bass and the sax is fierce, to say the least. The piano soothens things a bit, yet the overall atmosphere remains ominous and dark.
This is followed by a duet between Allan Tomlison on trombone and Phil Wachsmann on violin. Even if at first sight the combination of the heavy horn and the light string instrument might seem odd, both musicians make it an entertaining listen. The CD ends with a long quartet between Jürg Wickihalder on alto, Lucas Niggli on percussion, Bruno Chevillon on cello and Martin Eberle on trumpet. It is one of the most uptempo and joyful pieces you will find on the album, brilliantly propulsed forward by Niggli and Chevillon. There are moments of fun, of exhiliration and brutal intensity. A wonderful closer to the second CD, and with understandable applause by the enthusiastic audience. (Stef Gijssels)

CD3 - March 7th 2020, Manggha Hall

The quintet of trumpeter Henry Lowther, who played in previous formations of the Orchestra, German baritone sax player Julius Gabriel, who played in the Blue Shroud Band, Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández, French double bass player Bruno Chevillon, who played before with Guy in a trio with Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove, and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli, a frequent collaborator of Guy, begin with an extended, urgent and muscular, free jazz improvisation that constantly shapeshifts its dynamics, but with Lowther taking the lead most of the time. The trio of Chevillon, Gabriel and Swiss tubaist Marc Unternähre in his first Guy’s project, explores patiently and gently soft, deep tones. This disc ends with the chamber trio of German alto sax player Michael Niesemann, Fernández and violinist Phil Wachsmann, all long-standing collaborators of Guy. This extended improvisation begins with a series of beautiful, lyrical melodies but later opts for more open, impressionist and even abstract dynamics. (Eyal Hareuveni)

CD4 - March 7th 2020, Manggha Hall

The fourth disc begins with extended improvisation of the reeds and brass quintet of Norwegian sax player and trumpeter Torben Snekkestad, American trumpeter Rich Laughlin, German trombonist Konard Bauer and trombonist Alan Tomlinson, all played with the Orchestra before, and Austrian trumpeter Martin Eberle in his first Guy’s project, sketching at first a fragile and ethereal drone piece that slowly and methodically expands its power and volume, employing an impressive array of extended breathing techniques while exploring nuance, lyrical ideas. It is followed by a powerful and intense free jazz improvisation of a sextet of tenor sax player Simon Picard, Swiss alto sax player Jürg Wickihalder and trombonist Andreas Tschopp, Niggli, all played before with the Orchestra, and French double bass player Bruno Chevillon and Guy himself. Again, this formation investigates orchestral possibilities with impressive command, and risk-taking but with great focus and driving rhythmic force, testifying to Guy’s excellent choice of improvisers who can realize his complex but always inspiring musical visions. (Eyal Hareuveni)

CD5 - March 8th 2020, Manggha Hall

Disc 5 contains two tracks, Flow II (17:18) and Flow I (24:12), in that order. Each has an arc to it and each demonstrates one of the qualities I love most about this outfit: it's ability to create space and small separate sound worlds, and to resist the urge to play everything all at once, because you can.

Flow II starts in waking up space. Bowed strings on their own for about seven minutes. They fade away and a baritone sax (pretty sure) plays a rattle-y drone-ish thing that becomes ground for other reeds. Different timbres get their solos, and layers enter upon layers until finally they are, in fact, playing everything all at once and it is a well-earned joy. It's a disciplined piece, this. Slowly it turns, step by step.

Flow I lives with more groove, which is fun in itself but also a great foil for the autre. The central moments are a cymbal-less drum solo that puts out an abundance of creative ideas that are answered by everyone else throughout the piece. (By Gary Chapin)

CD6 - March 8th 2020, Manggha Hall

The first time I heard Harmos was at the 2008 Schaffhausen Jazz Festival. It was one of the rare times that Barry Guy was able to get the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) together to rehearse and perform. When he started the ensemble in the early 1970s the times for such orchestras and such music were definitely better. In an interview he told the German daily “taz“ that the British Council used to send such large formations to far-flung countries to counter the bad post-colonial image of the Empire with something positive as jazz. In the meantime, however, the organizational effort has become too great and too expensive, he said. This is literally a pity for everyone, because that’s the reason why we can hear compositions like Harmos, which can be called Guy’s magnum opus without any doubt, only very rarely. The first version of the piece was recorded in April 1989, just before the LJCO’s 20th anniversary, in Zurich and was first released later that year. There might have been more performances, the ones I’m aware of took place at the Berlin JazzFest in 1998, another ten years later at the aforementioned Schaffhausen Jazz Festival, and in 2018 at Vienna’s Porgy and Bess club. Now Barry Guy has recorded it again with a much different line-up in Kraków.

Whereas in 1989 the orchestra was a Who’s Who of the British improviser scene, today it’s a collection of first-rate European musicians, with five from Switzerland alone, Guy’s place of residence. Of the original lineup, only Simon Picard (sax), Alan Tomlinson (tb), Henry Lowther (tp), Phil Wachsmann (v) and Guy himself are still with the group. What is more, he has added a tuba (Marc Unternährer) and a second bass (Bruno Chevillon).

Harmos itself has become a classic of avant-garde big band jazz. German jazz critic Bert Noglik called it “a feast, a celebration, a great chant“. Whoever heard the piece would never forget it. I felt the same way after the Schaffhausen concert, and even 14 years later the piece has lost none of its fascination, even if the structure is the same as in the 2022 version: The start with its abrupt, whiplash-like chords that structure the opening improvisation of the two trombones. The hint of the great theme superimposed over the two trombones. How it slowly ebbs away. Light as a feather, a saxophone soars up. It continues to spin the melody, reminiscent of Iberian folk songs. Finally, the full orchestra enters on this melody and the saxophones drop out. The structure is almost imperceptibly turned upside down. Then, after ten minutes, a break occurs. A kind of hunting music in the style of Richard Wagner is heard. In no other piece by the LJCO Barry Guy’s classical musical socialization is more evident. At the same time, a difference to the original becomes apparent in this version, because with the help of the muffler the trumpet sounds like a wah-wah guitar. The piece then continues as if at a gallop, the orchestra rushing mercilessly forward to almost sink into a maelstrom of collective improvisation before the intermediate theme is taken up again.

The final part of the piece is then introduced by a piano trio covering Guy’s romantic side. But the harmony is short-lived, as a crazy, completely free improvisation forms the final climax. This climax is again and again attacked by tutti parts of the orchestra, which keeps interspersing the main theme.

Ultimately, there’s an almost hypnotic effect. Harmos is a massive anthem in which free improvisations are layered over large orchestral melodic arcs. “My music is about the struggle for survival, and you have to feel that," Barry Guy said about his piece. As a kind of manifesto, it clarifies Barry Guy’s idea of composing: Structure and improvisation are set in tension with each other, wild solo and duo parts are put against the backdrop of the expressive, hymn-like melodic thematic material, which in its variations shapes the whole piece like a kind of heartbeat. Even today, after 33 years, Harmos is still a masterpiece. (By Martin Schray)