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Saturday, April 29, 2023

Richard Koloda - Holy Ghost: The Life & Death of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler (Jawbone Press, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

His name is Albert Ayler. His influence on modern and free jazz, globally, can possibly not be overstated. Probably the most obvious influences are seen in saxophonists like Amado, Brötzmann, Gayle, Gustafsson, Mateen, Murray, Rasmussen, Rempis, Vandermark, Ware, and Zorn, and guitarists like Chadbourne, Eisenberg, Lopes, Ribot, and Sharrock. His life, however, remains somewhat blurred by a mythology that has grown, and warped, fed by well-intentioned supposition and poetic embellishment.

What Koloda has accomplished is a major milestone in our collective study and understanding of Ayler’s life and music: this is the first substantial, detailed, and heavily researched volume to be published in English. To date, Franck Médioni’s oral history Albert Ayler: Témoignages Sur Un Holy Ghost has not yet been translated from French. Recently, Peter Niklas Wilson’s Spirits Rejoice: Albert Ayler und seine Botschaft did finally get translated from German to English in 2022, and it’s a welcome companion to Koloda’s book. Yet, Holy Ghost is, one hopes, just the beginning of what’s to come. For starters, nothing quite matches the in-depth research that brings Ayler’s life story into relief.

Over decades, Koloda befriended and interviews dozens of primary sources. Most notable, undeniably, are Ayler’s family, especially his brother Donald. As anyone who knows Ayler’s music would understand, this is probably as close as we can get to hearing from Albert himself; Donald performed with Ayler, wrote several of the key compositions that comprised the sound and style of the quartet and quintet, and remained close with his brother throughout his entire life. Through the words of family, friends, and fellow musicians, the fuzziness of the Ayler mythology gradually fades, and, like fog clearing to reveal a walking path, leaves behind it a truer story of, well, just a man. Granted, a man with radical ideas of jazz composition and improvisation, but a man nonetheless.

Among the early myths that disperse is the idea that Ayler arrived in New York unknown and more or less fully formed. Koloda writes a substanial amount of detail about Ayler’s time in the army, including several anecdotes about gigs and memories from other musicians whom he sat in with. He seemed to have left a strong impression on everyone, so that by the time he arrived in New York, there were already people who knew of and talked about this new saxophonist on the scene.

We also learn a lot more about Cleveland, about Donald and his path to the trumpet and to playing with Albert. And, crucially, Koloda spends multiple chapters with a number of players and writers retracing a detailed path Albert took from early blowing sessions to his landmark trio, to the transformative quintet that helped realize his grand vision: Albert and Donald on horns, Michel Samson on violin, first Mutawef Shaheed and Lewis Worrell on bass with Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, later replaced by Bill Folwell and Beaver Harris on the European tour. To me, this is the quintessential Ayler period, even more valuable than the 1964 sessions with Don Cherry, Gary Peacock, and Sunny Murray. By the 1966 quintet—heard on Slug’s Saloon, Holy Ghost: Rare and Unissued Recordings, and the recent ezz-thetics reissues Lost Performances 1966 Revisited, La Cave Live Cleveland 1966 Revisited, and Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm Revisited—Ayler had put together a beast of a band, everyone tuned into the collective churn and universal hum. All the classics, “Bells,” “Ghosts,” “Our Prayer,” “Truth Is Marching In,” “Prophet,” “Spirits Rejoice,” get multiple readings, turned inside out, and even pass through one another, snippets of themes recurring in the midst of other themes, echoing in solos, rising just enough to hint before getting dropped for other themes and ideas. This group’s facility with the universal concepts demonstrates a deep commitment to Ayler’s vision. And yet, Koloda doesn’t allow himself, or the reader, to lapse into a rhapsodic trance reliving these moments. The chapter that kicks off this middle section, “La Cave,” opens with Sunny Murray learning he’d been fired from Ayler’s band upon seeing his replacement onstage. As the chapter goes on, Charles Tyler quits the band, Samson and/or Donald Ayler struggle with the music, and Ayler experiences intense visions of UFOs. On the eve of the European tour, everything is slightly fractured and cracks in the band, and in Ayler himself, are clearly showing. And yet, as Koloda documents, the press has, by this time, turned in favor of Ayler. His music and his band’s performances get positive reviews in every city, some critics having given poor reviews in the past reconsider their position.

Later, in his chapters on Albert’s relationship with Mary Parks, Koloda quotes from and picks up a crucial point made by Val Wilmer: that a great deal of the pushback against Mary was rooted in sexism, criticism of her role in Ayler’s late-stage music a sort of cover for men’s bias. Following last year’s incredible Revelations, these chapters build on that set’s demonstration of the late group’s strength. Listening to those concerts while reading and re-reading these chapters brings the past to thrilling life, but it also casts Ayler’s relationship with Parks in complex light. Ayler had not properly divorced his wife and had left his child to be with Parks, and she held a power over him that heavily influenced his later, lesser albums. Throughout, Koloda recounts Ayler’s increasingly disturbed mental state.

In the end, there are no easy answers, there is no neatly tied bow to bring it all together. There is, however, Albert Ayler, with all his brilliance, self-mythologizing, depression, and desperation. He believed in his role as Coltrane’s successor, he seemed destined to struggle in his lifelong mission to spread spirituality through his music. As with many recent releases, Koloda’s book tells Ayler’s story through Albert, Donald, and the many musicians they shared both stage and studio with, and through their voices, becomes an indispensable part of Ayler’s legacy.

Order directly from Jawbone Press

Friday, April 28, 2023

Bertrand Denzler/Jason Kahn – Translations (Potlatch, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

This CD was released during the last days of 2022 and captures live, from one year before in Paris, two important figures of today’s electroacoustic improvisation. Bertrand Denzler might have made a name as an improviser closer to jazz based musics (playing the tenor saxophone makes it always easier to get labeled), but his choices during the past years place under the moniker, which is another label I admit it, of electroacoustic improvisation. Jason Kahn, born and raised in the United States but for a long time now living in Europe, always presents works that are far more flexible and audibly playful compared to the stagnation of any experimental “school”.

As I’m always interested in the use of titles, I tried really hard to pin down the choice for titling this CD. I failed. At the beginning I thought that this would be their verbal way of translating (sic) their different choices in playing and how those form a unique understanding that runs through the entire length of the CD – just over half an hour that is. This thought persisted in my mind as, at some point, realized that Denzler uses, or utilizes as a technician, the timbres of the sax, it’s droney nature, to accompany the electronic sounds that Kahn produces. I was never sure if this was a translation, one that always leaves room for mistakes and minor audio accidents or a funny way to ensure that the listener will try to realize that their interaction is impeccable, always on the forefront of what you are listening.

You may have realized by now that I enjoyed this CD. I should have noted that I really respect artists like Bertrand Denzler who tries to get rid his instrument’s burden (call it tradition) and totally baptize it as something fresh and new. In this gradual, I believe, transition, Jason Kahn is ideal as he navigates willingly and blindly –now that’s a guess that I feel strong about it…- through the uncertain paths his use of electronics follow.

The abstract nature of their music presented on this cd as a live version in real time plus the duo formation (always a preference for me) seems like the dialogue John Stevens was writing about in the liner notes of SME’s mid-70’s masterpiece, Face to Face, when he was describing his and Trevor Watts playing: like two friends who sit face to face, casually talking about trivial stuff, laughing, arguing and whatever else comes to mind. I really would like to write “free improvisation at its best” but since this would be another crude labeling, I’ll say that Translations is great free music. 

Listen and buy here:


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Evan Parker "X-Jazz Ensemble" - A Schist Story (JACC, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

In August 2012, Evan Parker conducted a week-long improvisation workshop at Casa da Cultura da Sertã in the schist village region of Portugal. Joining Parker were 17 musicians, some already firmly established in Portuguese and European free jazz and improvised music circles, others emerging and some neophytes. Each day they were immersed in the principles and practice of large-scale collective improvisation. Each night various assemblies from the collective would perform in neighbouring villages. At the end of the week, the musicians played as an ensemble, Parker playing saxophone and signalling. One imagines from listening to the results that there might have been intense interaction during the sessions among musicians of like instruments, as strong and empathetic contingents of string and reed and percussion groupings emerge from within the band.

Evan Parker has a special place in improvised music, including among large ensembles. He participated in early expansions of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. He was a charter member of Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra; he had long been an explorer of combining acoustic improvisation with various forms of signal processing, bringing a very large version of his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble to Lisbon in 2010. Parker has been a central figure in myriad forms of improvised music, from his mid ’60s work with John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble to the recent Trans-Atlantic Trance Map that linked improvisers in Faversham, UK (Parker, Matt Wright, Pat Thomas, Alex Ward, Robert Jarvis, Hannah Marshall, and Peter Evans) and Brooklyn, New York (Ned Rothenberg, Craig Taborn, Ikue Mori, Sylvie Courvoisier, Mat Maneri and Sam Pluta).

Parker is not simply a significant practitioner of improvised music, he’s also a key spokesperson for its essential underlying values. In his liner note to A Schist Story, Rui Eduardo Paes writes:

Following the British saxophonist’s libertarian principles, it was also an experiment concerning social interactions ruled exclusevily by the values of equality and freedom. Those are the coordinates of a much desired future alternative society and were lived by this group of individuals as an inner change, even a micro-revolution, in terms of a way of being with others and of personnal, non-egotistic, behaviour.

Parker repeated his recommendations every day: don’t put yourself in front of your partners, play only when you have something important to add, give space to the other contributed sounds, don’t force anything, let it flow. Change directions only when things are getting undefined – this isn’t about you, but about the collective. Of course, the temptation was to do otherwise. Much of improvised music, in its evolution, turned a show of technical or expressive capacities, and those contradictions often emerged. When it happened, Parker stopped everything, to begin again, and again. Be subtle, give non-invasive lines that everybody can relate to intuitevily. Don’t think to much, be attentive, listen. Listening is a priority. If you’re a horn player, or a percussionist, put yourself at the level of the less vibrant instruments, strings for instance. Watch out the volumes and the dynamics. Use only the necessary notes, not more and not less – you’re a little part of a global construction, act in correspondance, but do it with the conscience that you’re a fundamental piece of the all.

It’s one of those large ensemble performances that alway leaves this writer wishing it were a video for accuracy of identification. I’ll confess that I hate to be wrong, but there’s barely a false step anywhere in this music.

The 45-minute work realized on the final evening stands as tribute to the work of Parker and the ensemble. Organized episodically, the opening moments belong to the strings, with violist João Camões initially leading with cellist Miguel Mira playing pizzicato and harpist Angelica Salvi plucking bright flurries with Marcelo dos Reis contributing subtle acoustic guitar. Mira’s assumption of the lead eventually brings in trumpeter Luís Vicente, the soul of empathy, using a Harmon mute and gradually expanding his short melodic phrases into a lead.

A short pauses introduces an extended passage that will bring the rest of the orchestra into the continum. There’s an abstract dialogue of electronics (Miguel Carvalhais and Travassos) with some percussion, with an entry of electric guitar (Luís Lopes or Gonçalo Falcão), luminously light until the saxophones enter: Rodrigo Amado, João Martins and Pedro Sousa. The passage ends with a brief focus on a strongly patterned tenor saxophone lead with lightly accompanying bass (Hugo Antunes and/or José Miguel), drums and cello. It might well be a brief interlude by Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio with Mira and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini (then it might not be, drummers João Lobo and João Pais Filipe were also present).

At the 30-minute mark, after another brief lull, a soprano saxophone enters with a just-gently-contorted pitch bend in his line, moving on to longer and more liberated phrases, a brief, dramatic moment that might serve as a focal point for the music to come (I strongly suspect it’s Evan Parker on a particularly oracular shafir-sort-of-day).

While Lisbon has a long history of significant large-scale collective improvisation centred around Ernesto Rodrigues and the Creative Source label, including serveral of these musicians, this is clearly a special moment for Portuguese free jazz and for the musicians involved. The CD is accompanied by a facsimile of a comic-book history of the event that appeared at the time. It’s an apt commemoration of a unique gathering.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily - Love in Exile (Verve, 2023)

By Martin Schray

These three musicians would not really need to do this project together, because they are already are some of the most celebrated singers, pianists and session musicians, respectively, in different music scenes. The class of the three is undoubtedly recognized, which is why it’s right to call their joint venture a supergroup. These are the facts: vocalist Arooj Aftab became the first Pakistani artist to be awarded a Grammy (for the track “Mohabbat“ from her critically acclaimed album Vulture Prince) for "Best Global Music Performance." Vijay Iyer (piano, synthesizer) is one of today’s most influential jazz musicians, and Shahzad Ismaily (bass, Moog synthesizer) is famous for his sensitivity and technical brilliance, which he has proved as a session musician for Lou Reed (among others) and as a member of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog. Five years ago the three came together onstage in New York City, in order to perform freely, which isn’t in itself absolutely unusual. But the result of this rather unlikely concert was surprisingly good, there was a certain musical connection. “I don’t know what just happened”, Iyer said after the gig. “But we should do it again.” The result is Love in Exile.

On the first track of the album, “To Remain/To Return“, synth textures simmer away, far away a bass drones gloomily. Piano chords and single notes drift around like ice floes. Only after about three minutes does Aftab’s distinctive voice set in almost shyly. Even though many of the song titles are in English, she sings entirely in Urdu, which ensures that what matters here for listeners in the Western world is not what she sings, but how she sings. Aftab borrows Urdu verses, re-arranging them in the tradition of the Qawwali singing style. As a result, these lines are a kind of instrument in their own right and her voice becomes more powerful and dominant as the album progresses. However, she is always part of the whole. Vijay Iyer, probably being the most exciting jazz pianist at the moment, often holds back very nobly and intersperses riffs, thematic set pieces and small improvisations very purposefully. This is most evident on “Shadow Forces“, which is based on four ascending piano notes that are built up into chords, augmented by a bass accompaniment, and finally very restrainedly supplemented by small ornaments. After five minutes, however, Ismaily and Iyer throw everything overboard and turn in a different direction, improvising for the remaining ten minutes. Aftab is smart enough to take herself completely out of it here. She also joins Iyer and Ismaily late in the following track, “Sajni“, only to soar in “Sharabi“ a bit later. The track, which in variations has become something like Aftab’s signature song (on Vulture Prince it’s called “Suroor“), is a quote from a piece by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and - as she pointed out at a live performance in Cologne - , it's about unrequited love and drinking, as many of her pieces are. The wonderful drowsiness of her performance is mirrored by the somber electronics of Ismaily.

Whether Love in Exile can now be considered jazz (or even free jazz) is debatable. The music is improvised in large parts and takes the time it needs to fully unfold, like a wine that needs a lot of time to breathe to fully develop all the flavors. Thus, the album is definitely a grand gesture in subtle tones, it is floating without ecstasy.

On the surface, Love in Exile can also be misunderstood as background music, as an album that rushes past you. But with concentrated listening, new traces, sounds and details emerge all the time, seemingly tiny shifts reveal new interpretations. The fascination opens up only slowly, but then remains all the more lasting.

Love in Exile is available as a double album on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

Watch the video for “Shadow Forces“ here:

Monday, April 24, 2023

Marco Von Orelli & Sheldon Suter - Draw From The Source (ezz-thetics, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

Fans of creative sound exploration will love this album. The artists are Marco von Orelli on trumpet, cornet, prepared slide trumpet, little bells, and Sheldon Suter on drums, cymbals, prepared zithers, gong and singing bowls. The range of instruments already gives an indication of all the possible variations the music may offer. We know von Orelli and Sheldon Suter from their work with "Big Bold Back Bone" ("In Search Of The Emerging Species" and "Emerge"), and they play in various ensembles, notably on the Ezz-Thetics/HatHut label. 

The album reflects a journey from Basel in the north of Switzerland to Ticino in the south. It's a journey of wonder, of quiet and subdued impressions, a journey of external perspectives and inner transformation. The first six tracks are categorised under "Basel" and the last six under "Ticino". 

Sometimes the instruments are used with clear tones, as they are originally intended, but more often extended techniques are used that conjure up stranger and more perplexing sonic experiences. It is a journey into the unknown, and it is this prospect, this adventure that makes it fascinating. Their approach is not cheap - in the sense that noise is being created for the sake of noise being created - but well-balanced, disciplined and meaningful. I'm sure that the use of the terms "extended techniques" or "sonic exploration" are triggers for some readers to stay away from the material, yet I think they should think twice with this album. Despite its explorative nature, it is still relatively welcoming and gentle. 

The major mystery of the album is its art work, which does not look like Switzerland at all. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Watch the great promo video for this album. 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Ingrid Laubrock - The Last Quiet Place (Pyroclastic, 2023)

 By Ian Lovdahl

I’ve found that appreciating avant-garde music is more satisfying with a healthy imagination. I suppose that applies for all kinds of expression, but I think it’s safe to say that some tunes you may hear on the radio require less individual input than others; which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with low-stakes art. Yet, when it comes to freer forms of music, it helps to put a little effort into active listening and to allow your thoughts to run wild. And The Last Quiet Place, the latest album from bandleader Ingrid Laubrock, is prime listening material for the mind’s eye.

Right from the get-go, “Anticipation” reveals the expressiveness of Laubrock’s sextet. The album opens with a humble guitar chord carried by gentle strings and percussion crackling like a campfire. Its pastoral charm evokes images of western sunsets and amber waves of grain, which I find really interesting as the track soon develops into a distorted free jazz conversation between the six players. The group continues experimenting on the humorously-titled “Grammy Season”, which I hope is prescient for next year’s award ceremony. Out of all the jazz explored throughout The Last Quiet Place, “Grammy Season” sounds the most like a true free jazz jam, with all players sharing the spotlight as they bounce off each other for eight minutes. It’s a solid moment, but the best is yet to come.

Jangly guitar and a softly-pattering drum kit set an almost-alternative stage for Swift's seesaw violin on the eponymous track. "The Last Quiet Place" lives up to its name; sonically, the song sounds as if it's the sextet recorded in a vacuum, as players emerge from and fade into the formless void. Brief hushes fall over the band to await Laubrock’s searching saxophone and Formanek’s diligent double-bass, soothing the anxiety-ridden strings before they’re swallowed by silence. The band’s ability to craft dynamic soundscapes continues with “Delusions”, which kicks off with a noisy, experimental jam, somewhat zeuhl-like in its frenetic twistiness. Rainey’s clacking sticks lead the six players back into the mute wilderness where they sway with languid beauty, exhibiting characteristics of avant-garde and third stream. Seabrook’s ear-grabbing guitar reintroduces listeners to the weirdness, punctuated by blasts of sax and snare drum. “Delusions” is definitely my favorite track on the record and captures a real dynamite performance by the group that shouldn’t be missed.

Penultimate track “Afterglow” has the feel of a dirge-like interlude, as lamenting violin and cello guide an ambling procession. Eventually, Laubrock’s sax interjects, along with amplifier groans and introverted drums. Explosive guitarwork and dramatic strings feature heavily in the lengthy conclusion “Chant II”, an unpredictable standout. Laubrock’s sextet slowly ascends from the silence, plateaus with free and fiery intensity, then descends into dissonant depths, repeating a warping pattern until the quiet takes over completely. A very satisfying and cinematic finish to a relentlessly imaginative album, Laubrock’s most recent effort is as brilliant as it is creative.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Tim Berne/Hank Roberts/Aurora Nealand - Oceans And (Intakt, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

Every time Tim Berne brings his work to a new timbre or ensemble, it makes you stop and examine. “Something is going on here. Something new.” This is literally true, of course, but really what’s going on is that the new timbral elements or ensemble configuration allows you to see a new angle of Berne’s work. Berne’s work contains Whitmanesque “multitudes,” and it’s a joy to still be discovering these.

Oceans And brings Aurora Nealand into Berne’s orbit, not for the first time, but this one feels like a big deal. Nealand plays accordion and bass clarinet, and vocalizes. And she, of course, is not at all new at this. She’s done amazing work. And I am unusually fascinated by the accordion, and its idiomatic deployment (bellows swells, preternatural legato, mechanistic fluidity) genuinely feels like SOMETHING NEW in this context.

And, with something new, something old—Berne’s nearly 40 year (yikes!) partnership with Hank Roberts. Always a reason to celebrate when these two play together. The voices of Berne’s alto, Roberts’ cello, and Nealand’s accordion blend almost alchemically. In the absence of rhythm instruments you have volumes and areas, not just points and lines. Nealand’s contributions on bass clarinet and voice are equally evocative.

Overlapping, shifting longtones feel like abstract Venn diagrams laid out in close harmony. These are doleful landscapes, disquieting and lacking urgency. It’s unlike any other EBV (extended Berne ‘verse) music I’ve heard, though if I were to reach back to an analog, it would be 2008’s (duck) by Buffalo Collision (Berne and Roberts, along with Dave King and Ethan Iverson). That one, also, is a fantastic, abstract, wonderfully bittersweet set of music.

What’s so striking about Oceans And is, I think, the humanness of it all. Roberts has long been a master at shaping the envelope of his sound to tell organic stories, as has Berne. There are sections where they “speak” to each other with tenderness. I don’t hear any wryness or irony here. Nealand’s contribution to the conversation is uncanny and beautiful.

Something new is happening here.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Paul Flaherty/ Zach Rowden - As Far as Death (Family Vineyard, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

It’s not easy for a free jazz duo to make a lasting impression with a 3’44” track, but veteran saxophonist Paul Flaherty and recently arrived bassist Zach Rowden do just that with “The Question Drops”, the opening track of this LP. Rowden is playing arco from the outset of the track, immediately erecting a wall of particulate grit in an updraft amid surging harmonics, recalling those very few acoustic bassists capable of bowed mayhem ( e.g., Joëlle Léandre, Joshua Abrams [the latter on Excavations 1 on Feeding Tube]) , and it’s an ideal fit with Flaherty, here on tenor, one of the great exponents of the spiritualized energy school of saxophonists, from Albert Ayler and Frank Wright forward. Flaherty’s urgent, whistling highs mingle with Rowden’s similar upper register, the two locked onto the same impulse. By the time the Connecticut duo have reached the conclusion of “The Question…” everything has shifted to sweet fluting harmonics.

“Under The Tough Acid” shifts the focus, with Flaherty turning to alto and an initially sweet tone playing circulating harmonics. “Fire in Smoke”, on tenor, drops to ballad tempo on the verge of dirge for a profound lament, initially in a hymn-like mode reaching directly back to Ayler. As startling as the fraternity of Flaherty and Rowden’s sounds is at tempo, here it becomes even more acute, with the two virtually tuning together on stratospheric highs. There’s a passage in which Flaherty seems to be playing only his mouthpiece, creating a high wailing lament. “Foot Stone” concludes the side with serenely reflective alto playing, again highlighted by the spontaneous “tuning in” that the two practice, at times finding moments of tonal and rhythmic unity that suggest an impossible score.

Those varied reflective depths serve as prelude to the second side of the LP, the monumental “Thrown Shadows”, a 20-minute Jeremiad - elegy, lament, testament, cry - that finds Flaherty plumbing every depth that his tenor and its traditions might possess. There’s one astonishing moment early on when he plays a gradually ascending, grinding, struggling, chromatic scale, Rowden ascending with him in swirling lockstep, and it might be the greatest available musical parallel to the myth of Sisyphus. Around 14’30”, Flaherty brings it down to a whisper, there’s a brief pause, and then Rowden embarks on a solo that finds levels of low-register arco and subtle harmonic overlays that ultimately suggest a choir of basses tuning in and out between consonance and dissonance, suggesting at times an airplane engine droning in a dark sky, yet sounding, too, like Buddhist temple chanting. When Flaherty re-enters, it’s with the thickest tenor sound one might ever hear, supplying the lament with ever-greater intensity until, in the final seconds, he emits a few isolated, almost inaudible, whistling cries, concluding a work of unique power.

There are other recordings of improvised music with comparable levels of empathetic listening and emotional intensity. If one were to exceed this, I’m not sure I could make the distinction.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Freejazzblog On Air - Tonight on SWR2 (Germany)


Martin Schray teams up one more time tonight with radio host Julia Neupert to listen to and discuss free jazz on Germany's NWR2.

The topic under consideration is the influential New York City based free jazz and improvised music label Relative Pitch. Martin and Julia will be playing tracks from recent releases by Fred Moten, Brandon Lopez and Gerald Cleaver; Biliana Voiutchkova & Michael Zerang; Liz Albee and many more. 

If you want to do a little digging of your own before listening, click here for a list of articles and reviews related to Relative Pitch on the Free Jazz Blog

The episode aired April 19th, at 9:05 p.m. (German time) on SWR 2. 

An archive of the program is now available for listening for one week.
Don't miss it.


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Amidea Clotet – Trasluz (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

Most art explores feelings. Some art explores feel. Amidea Clotet uses an electric guitar and amplifier to probe the listener’s ear canal for 43 minutes on Trasluz, provoking a curious array of sensations. The improvised performance shines a bright spotlight on the machinery and mechanisms of the instrument – but with the human artist’s shadowy outline always perceptible in the footlights.

Clotet is an electric guitarist and improviser from Barcelona. Trasluz features seven improvisations where she uses a variety of objects and devices to explore the textural possibilities of the electric guitar as a source for sound amplification. It is her debut album as a soloist and follows a duo record with pianist Agustí Fernández called Spontaneous Combustions, released in 2021.

“A boca de fosc” gets things started with a bowing, saw-toothed sound. Each movement across the strings generates jagged-edged vibrations. Whistling strokes evoke one sharpened blade sweeping along the knife-edge of another. There are fizzing moments, something almost itchy. But pauses and changing methods ensure constant awareness of the artist making real-time decisions.

A sense of hurry and hectic shapes the listening experience on “No ni ná”. There is a popcorn-ish, bubble-wrap texture here. It’s bumpy. Strings get a handful of opportunities to twang in the gaps, reminding listeners that these unfamiliar noises are emerging from the familiar shape of a guitar.

Powerful molars are crunching dinosaur bones on “El que no es diu”. The sound travels along the jaw, while neck muscles shiver and the back of the head tingles. A beast is trapped in this machine.

Trasluz is an album that reaches out through the speakers, grips the listener and challenges them to turn strange auditory stimuli into information. With her various tools and toys, Amidea Clotet performs a visceral and tactile experiment via the mechanical body of her guitar. The machine dominates the sound, sure. But the human actions, taken in the moment, are in the listeners mind and on their skin and in their ear canal for every nanosecond.

The album is available on CD and digital download here.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Luís Vicente 4tet - House in the Valley (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

This new album by the Luis Vicente 4Tet is a fascinating return to the line-up and musical approach of the free jazz from the 60s and 70s. The album consists of two long tracks, one of 25 minutes, the other 42, that mainly consist of improvised explorations but anchored around agreed themes that are barely present, yet give the music a coordinated and strongly rooted feeling. Think of the music of Ornette Coleman of the mid-60s or even Don Cherry's music with "Symphony For Improvisors", of which one of the themes on this album is remeniscent of Cherry's "Mopti" (just like a theme on the first track created vague memories of Michael Blake's "Mekong", please check it out if you don't know this). These are just references to illustrate the quality and the beauty of the themes.

The band consists of Luís Vicente on trumpet, John Dikeman on tenor saxophone, Luke Stewart on double bass, and Onno Govaert on drums. The nature of the music is not comparable to the similiar line-up of "Goes Without Saying But It's Got To Be Said" (2020) with the rhythm section of William Parker and Hamid Drake, but of the same quality.

Vicente's composed themes are excellent: compelling, sweeping, grand, moments for the four musicians to reconvene and take a fresh take on the music with a different perspective. The themes do not actually return. They're played once, and the quartet then improvises to the next theme, as if they are anchor points the band collectively moves towards, only to move away again to the next anchor point. 

The album opens with "Anahata", which also figures on "Chanting In The Name Of". The second track starts with "Luisa's Laugh", inspired and dedicated by Vicente's three year old daughter.

The playing itself varies between moments of raw exuberance and gentle sensitivity, with periods of searching sounds, unpredictable yet always fascinating, with Dikeman's raspy sound contrasting with the fluidity of Vicente's  trumpet, both taking equal presence and novel ideas during the improvisations, as is the case with the incredibly inventive rhythm section of Stewart and Govaert, who sense the music and co-create at the same level as the horns. 

The album was recorded live at the 16th Century church Igreja do Espírito Santo, Caldas da Rainha, Portugal on the 19th July 2021. 

The music is unassuming, there is no other agenda than to play great music and to enjoy the quality and surprise of collective improvisation converging and diverging into beautiful unison themes. 

Highly recommended!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

The spirit of Ornette Coleman is even more present in this video, called "Ornette Surrounds". 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

SBATAX - Spires (Umlaut, 2023)

There isn’t much that I enjoy more than a really good sax/drums duo, and on “Spires” we get another terrific paradigm from Bertrand Denzler and Antonin Gerbal, now officially recording under the name SBATAX. This was also the title of their previous duo release in 2020, an album we enjoyed so much that it got reviewed by three of us and also featured in our year end lists. This is their third release as a duo - including their 2020 release as well as 2015’s  Heretofore - and Spires tracks nicely along the arc they set up with those albums, which is to say in the direction of a persistent and quickening dynamism. Aside from the squall they conjure, it’s that feel of trajectory to their work that makes them so compelling for me. There’s always a sense of something unresolved, something they’re striving towards within the tight frameworks they attend to. They consistently propose engaging solutions to their riddles, but the search never feels fully satisfied - nor is it ever fruitless, simply ongoing. It certainly isn’t due to a lack of effort. As on their prior release the duo absolutely burns down the house, delivering an impressively physical and engaging performance that is again both visceral and cerebral.

I’ll note that this is also the first recording by the duo with multiple tracks, this time they split the work into two roughly twenty minute sections called “Spires” and “Azimuths”. Given the intensity of the music, it is nice to have the option of a short reprieve if so desired, but these definitely feel like two halves of a whole. The two tracks are distinct white knuckle affairs - the former builds up a skronking intensity and the latter whips its phrases and rhythms into whirling vortices of sound. Gerbal keeps things going with light, rolling, busy rhythms. Denzler utilizes all the subtlety of a freight train, i.e. immediate high energy. He sketches out simple patterns that are then repeated several times, each with subtle differences in dynamics and/or phrasing. I’m reminded of someone with a ring full of keys trying to escape a rapidly burning building. Each key is tried several times before switching to a new one. Each attempt is more frantic than the one prior. Gerbal is non-stop motion and Denzler likewise takes very few pauses, which results in an acute sense of urgency. The sax mostly sounds in a low, honking register against the crisp, tight percussion and the duo excels at maintaining balance and finding the timbral sweet spot. There are definitely moments of skronk but they never lose control of the proceedings and the power is always focused where they want it to be. It’s another excellent release from a really intriguing duo.

Like their previous albums it took me several listens to really get a good feel for what the music is doing because it’s a such a whirlwind, and the totality is a lot heavier than the visceral thrill of its white hot flow - so I had to be sure not to miss the forest for the trees. Denzler and Gerbal both collectively and separately continue to produce some of the best music in the modern avant-garde, evidenced by their duo releases as well as their many, sometimes overlapping, projects. On that note Confront just this year released another of Denzler’s compositions called “ Low Strings ” and Gerbal’s أحمد [Ahmed] dropped an excellent new 7” late last year. Buy both and listen to them while we wait for their next Protocluster release.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Fire! Orchestra - Echoes (Rune Grammofon, 2023)

By Martin Schray

I remember when I heard Fire! Orchestra’s debut Exit ten years ago. How it blew me away with its melange of funk, soul, prog rock and free jazz. What’s been more, over the years they managed to surprise me with every of the following albums. Enter was Exit taken to the extreme, even more accessible, funkier, more soulful, more hippie-esque, more psychedelic. Second Exit, a live version of the debut, focused on an increased use of electronics and guitar, while Ritual was the combination of soulfulness and prog rock elements (or: the first Fire! Orchestra albums in a nutshell). Then, Arrival introduced a string quartet and reduced the line-up at the expense of the reeds and Actions opened a completely new field: it was a cover version of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra”.

So one could be curious what Mats Gustafsson (saxes, electronics), Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums) would come up with for Echoes. The answer is, it’s a step back to the roots, but taking into consideration everything that has happened in between. Already the opening track “ECHOES: I See Your Eye, Part 1“ sounds like a throwback to the first albums: the heavy minor chords, the soulfulness, the hypnotic grooves - it’s as if the band has really missed it. Yet, the horns are missing at first, instead there are strings and a piano that sound like Manfred Mann's Earthband version of “Spirits in the Night“ and Fire! Orchestra’s very own “Enter, Part 4“. The song drags along until Gustafsson’s saxophone literally tears it apart like silk. But soon the mood lightens in the next track: Over a Latin rhythm that - typically Fire! - is pulled through in brutal constancy, wind instruments are allowed to solo, the strings offer huge textures that are slightly angular. “ECHOES: To gather it all. Once“ brings back Mariam Wallentin, whose voice together with Sofia Jernberg’s crucially shaped the sound of the first Fire! Orchestra albums. For fifteen minutes, she daydreams with an almost unimaginable delicacy over another characteristic Fire! riff that swells and ebbs, only once relieved by a trombone solo. Her voice trembles, she whispers and just breathes the lyrics into our ears. It’s music as if everyone had an enormous hangover to deal with, as if there was an unprecedented melancholy to be processed. Then, just when you have settled into this melancholy, a short piece of atonal spherical music snaps you out of your comfort.

Basically, this is the structure of Echoes: the album consists of seven self-titled parts, all of which have subtitles and are more than nine minutes long (with the exception of the closing track). Interspersed among these pieces are miniatures that are less accessible and more musically daring. Here you can find wild free jazz parts, elements of Arabian music combined with a horror organ and a string quartet, percussion interludes, etc. However, the most important thing is that the key tracks are killers without any exception. “ECHOES: Lost Eyes in Dying Hand“ features David Sandström (the drummer of the hardcore band The Refused) and Joe McPhee on vocals and draws on the band’s history again, though this time it sounds like an orchestrated piece from Fire!’s epochal She Sleeps, She Sleeps album, and this time the assembled horn section is used. The track highlights a long vibraphone solo, which - like Wallentin’s vocals in the previous core track, distract the listener. However, the improvised outbreaks of the horns are of such a brutal energy that they seem to blow the composition apart (especially at the end). But the piece is held together by the theme to which the band returns again and again. At the center of Echoes, the piece is the highlight of an extraordinary album.

“ECHOES: A Lost Farewell“ is then based on an airy bassline and an oriental string theme that is picked up and expanded by the horns. Gustafsson’s love of Sun Ra’s music is evident here. The way the piece keeps spilling out and how it is re-captured by the band is a sheer joy to hear. “ECHOES: Cola Bona Menino“ is then a hodgepodge of different ingredients: everyone seems to be allowed to show themselves once here, which seems to be visibly great fun for the band.

The album is bookended by “ECHOES: I See Your Eye, Part 2“, and takes up the motif of the first piece of the album again. It also features the great Joe McPhee on tenor sax and vocals again, rapping a tribute to one of the “late, great finger wigglers”, a man whose wiggling can do magic (it was so magical that even Elvis let the man in into Graceland), actually a symbol for jazz musicians. With it’s irresistible groove this is a perfect closure for the album.

Echoes might be Fire! Orchestra’s most ambitious work so far as well as it presents their largest line-up, counting a cast of no less than 43 members. It’s a two-hour work of epic dimensions: full of energy, violence and beauty; historical musical awareness, outstanding musicianship, otherworldly free jazz, beauty, improvisational and compositional daring, sheer fun and more. Simply another masterpiece.

Echoes is available on vinyl (a three LP set) and as a double CD. You can order it directly from the label:

You can listen to “I See Your Eye, Part 1“ here:

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Bill Orcutt - Jump on it (Palilalia, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

Ten years have passed from The History Of Everyone, the last acoustic studio recording released by Bill Orcutt. In this span of time there have been a couple of episodes where electric and acoustic mixed (Why Four String?, 2017) and a live session recorded in 2015 but released in 2020 (Reasons Why I Am Great). All of these are in the wake of the great American songbook, traditional and standards that Bill Orcutt played, deconstructed, made pass through the cut up machine of his four string guitar often coupled with his singing/ muttering voice in the background. Of course these ten years have also seen the electric Orcutt with a work following the same line of American Songbook (Bill Orcutt, 2017), two works with Chris Corsano, and then a return to original composition in Odds Against Tomorrow (2019) and Music for Four Guitars (2022). Now this record goes back to acoustic and discloses ten original compositions.

That is enough history - now, what about the music?

Tom Carter's description inform us that “Jump On It is a collection of canonical, mature acoustic guitar soli to contrast against the fractured downtown conceits of previous acoustic releases” and that’s what it is. The sound is full of reverb, the pieces quite short and with a tendency for lyricism. It may remind of some of John Fahey records like the Voice Of The Turtle or The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death but more in the intention than in the practice and even when the music is denser as in 'New Gems' or 'In A Column Of Air,' there is almost no angularity and it all flows with an evocative quality. Moreover, the background voice has disappeared and we are left with just some sparse breath and music. And music is constructed around cellular structures connected by run of notes, reverb and silence showing a close relationship with the ideas developed in Music For Four Guitars (as it is also pointed out in the description notes). The opening track is titled 'What Do You Do With Memory' and this may be a key to what this record is about: memory in some of its different meanings, as recollection if you are more Wordsworthian, as data storage if you are more inclined to computer science or just memory of great American guitar music, and after having visited many popular songs through the years, this is his personal contribution to the songbook .

Anyway, my impression is that these ten pieces offer us another side of Bill Orcutt's guitar style, one that ponders each note with grace and irony - it's a good way to spend half an hour. Mesmerizing.

You can listen and download in on Bandcamp

or buy the CD or the LP on

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Feldman, Daisy, Rempis - Sirocco (Aerophonic, 2023)

Mark Feldman – violin
Dave Rempis – alto/tenor/baritone saxophone
Tim Daisy – drums

A Sirocco is a hot wind blowing up from Libya toward Italy. I find it fascinating that a hot wind has a return address. It is also a movie set in Damascus, starring Humphrey Bogart who “meets destiny in a low-cut gown.” I am pretty sure the musicians had the first in mind. The second seemed to me to echo as I listened to this exquisite album. Every bit of Sirocco reminds me of a vast current moving from far away into my corner of the conscious world. To feel a hot, dry wind is to feel a thousand miles of strange geography on the surface of your skin.

The first two minutes of the first movement (OSTRO) oriented me toward the direction of the wind. It was the kind of spooky that is most intense because it is subtle and puzzling. Ostro is a southerly wind. The almost insect-like whistle-whine is eerie; it must be telling me something important! At just shy of the third minute, the violin drops down and the drums enter the conversation. Still the buzzing, and then the rapid warble increases as the instruments dig in and, one bit at a time, build up an edifice of evocative lines and surfaces.

At seven minutes in (a quarter of the first piece) we first hear a subtle pitter pat from the percussion that teases, reminiscent of water on rocks but revealing only that dry wind on the tent strings. Most of the first movement is given to solos by horn or violin that move in a vast space created by the percussion. Occasionally horn and strings encircle the listener as the drumbeat carries the two along that geography.

The second movement (BORA), like the first, is about twenty-eight minutes. Bora is another dry northeasterly wind, this one a cold blast on the Adriatic. Here a touch more narrative is detectable, bits you could hum along to, and even a little Hollywood romance in the violin lines. Don’t worry, the insect hum of the wind, the ripple of the air current over rough percussive ground, is always there. I think I liked the second movement better, but only because the first prepared me for it. This trio has mastered the art of preparing the ground.

I’ve had an ear out for Dave Rempis for some time. I can recommend The Covid Tapes, with Tomeka Reid, Joshua Abrams, Tim Daisy, Tyler Damon. I noticed Feldman on recordings with Ivo Perelman and Susan Alcorn. For Tim Daisy, check out this YouTube clip .

Monday, April 10, 2023

John Zorn-Bagatelles Vols 9 - 12 (Tzadik 2023)

By Gary Chapin

In his third Bagatelles studio set, John Zorn gives us a set of four CDs focused on guitar, much the way the second set focused on piano. Matt Hollenberg and Daniel Ephraim Kennedy (of Cleric, playing volume 12) gave an interview about working with Zorn a few years back on the Masada project, The Book of Beriah. He explained Zorn’s rules, and it feels like they might have some bearing on the Bagatelles process.

Daniel : [Zorn] has a kind of rule that you have to set the idea the way he wrote it just once in the tune, but then you can develop from there.

Matt : There were a couple of arrangements we made where we did his thing in the middle or something and we kind of made our own weird intro. Because if you just write what he wrote down, there’s maybe thirty seconds to a minute, tops.

The guitar genres go all over the place in terms of approach and the set is a great object lesson/reminder of how broadly the guitar inhabits that downtown music aesthetic.

Volume 9 features the trio Azmodeus—Marc Ribot, guitar; Trevor Dunn, bass; Kenny Grohowski, drums—a cooperative trio, but it is really Ribot’s opportunity to spread and our opportunity to bask in it. The general tone of things is built on a ground of rock-ish, surf-ish delights, with Grohowski playing a driving, abundant kit. I can imagine Zorn sitting there conducting this, “Move! Move! Move!” Noise is never that far away, and thank God for that.

In a profoundly effective act of programming, Zorn puts Julian Lage and Gyan Riley into the Volume 10 slot. The acoustic guitar duo uses classical techniques to produce an hour that is intense and sublime. I imagine the process, Lage and Riley, given 32 bars of melody and figuring out, “What are we going to do with this?” It’s knotty music, with turns and roundabouts, complex and immersive.

The Jim Black Quartet—with Black on drums, Jonathan Goldberger and Keisuke Matsuno on guitar, and Simon Jermyn on bass—is the “jazziest” of the four volumes, primarily because Black’s drums seem as melodically motivated as rhythm. It is striking how in this “guitar” set, the drums are so determinate. Even in the Lage/Riley set, the absence of drums is a presence. For the Black quartet, the two guitars are in separate channels. On headphones the sense of overlapping dialogue is powerful.

Finally, Volume 12, features the aforementioned Cleric doing their hardcore overwhelm. These apparently divergent genres being phenomenologically related is an argument that has defined Zorn’s career, and the fact that in Clerics work, you can hear the germ of the Bagatelle surrounded by the emergence of the performers is just another piece of evidence.

The real joy of sorting the tune from the arrangements—which I admit is my own side-obsession—could only happen if we heard two or more bands playing the same tunes. Zorn frustrates this nerdy desire of mine. So far, every tune on the set is played only once. Which makes sense if Zorn since wants to hear all the Bagatelles realized. And also, so do I. I want to hear every single one of these 300 gems.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Kidd Jordan (1935 - 2023)

Edward "Kidd"Jordan (photo by Peter Gannushkin)
By Martin Schray

Edward “Kidd“ Jordan was not only an outstanding musician, he was also a great entertainer. During his performances in the last years, e.g. at the Vision Festival, he joked that he only had very few gigs per year and therefore he had to give all the more. Which he then did. At a concert with Dave Burrell, James Brandon Lewis, William Parker and Andrew Cyrille he blew with Lewis until he almost fell over. He leaned against the piano, took a few deep breaths, and went on even wilder. Then he enjoyed the standing ovations of the audience and shook hands with anyone who wanted to have them. It was a rock star moment. Now the great saxophonist and clarinettist has passed away.

Kidd Jordan was born in Crowley/Louisiana and moved to New Orleans in 1955, a city his name will always be associated with. From 1974 to 2006 he taught at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he became a renowned jazz educator teaching the Marsalis brothers and Terence Blanchard, among others. He has also worked with a wide variety of artists from various musical fields ranging from R&B to free jazz, including Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, as well as Ornette Coleman, Peter Kowald, Sunny Murray, and Archie Shepp. As a session musician he played in Hal Willner's Lost in the Stars Brecht/Weill project in Mark Bingham's band, on R.E.M.'s Out of Time and Professor Longhair's Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge. How much the musical scene loved him can be seen at the fact that he was honoured with the first concert at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center as it opened on December 15, 2014. He also appeared in an episode of David Simon's outstanding New Orleans series Treme.

But Jordan has also always had a passion for free jazz, appearing on The Improvisational Arts Quintet's No Compromise! New New Orleans Music (1983), for example. His career as a leader, however, only really got underway in the late 1980s and 1990s and is inseparably linked to the names Joel Futterman (piano) and Alvin Fielder (drums). Fielder and Jordan have started playing together in the 1970s and have performed with Futterman in various configurations since the mid-1990s. It was Fielder who once told Jordan: “We ain’t gonna play no more tunes. We’re just gonna go on the bandstand and start playing.“ It was Jordan’s musical secret that he wasn’t improvising but rather “playing with the drums”, as he called it.

At the end of his career Kidd Jordan became a wonderful voice of the free jazz scene, he released excellent albums. My favorite ones are Palm of Soul (Aum Fidelity, 2006) with William Parker and Hamid Drake and Trio and Duo in New Orleans (NoBusiness, 2013) with Peter Kowald and Alvin Fielder. Also worth mentioning are 2 Days in April (Eremite, 2000) with Fred Anderson, William Parker and Hamid Drake and finally Live at Tampere Jazz Happening 2000 (Charles Lester Music, 2004), again with his long-term companions Futtermann and Fielder, a true free jazz rush.

In a short break between two pieces at the Vision Festival in 2018 Jordan told the story that he got his nickname being the youngest player among the older, more experienced ones and that he found it somehow strange that he was on stage with all these younger cats, 83 years old. And that he was still the “Kidd“. Now the “Kidd“ has left the stage for good. Hopefully, there will be a great second line for him in New Orleans.

Watch Kidd Jordan in a marvelous duo set with Andrew Cyrille at the Vision Festival 2019:

Brötzmann / Leigh / Lonberg-Holm - Brötz 80th at ADA 2021: Naked Nudes (Trost, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

Peter Brötzmann often begins his live sets with a sax roar, marking that the unbeatable and uncompromising musician he is still calling the shots. But Naked Nudes, his sixth album with pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh and the first one to document this duo with another musician, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (though this duo performed before with Keiji Haino and Toshinori Kondo), offers a more lyrical and reserved version of Brötzmann.

Naked Nudes was recorded at ADA cultural center in Brötzmann’s hometown Wuppertal as part of his three-night 80th birthday concerts in August 2021, after almost two years of inactivity and forced isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. Lonberg-Holm is a long-standing collaborator of Brötzmann and began to play with him in his Chicago Tentet, later in the ADA trio and he also recorded three duo albums with Brötzmann. The release of Naked Nudes coincides with Brötzmann’s 82nd birthday.

Brötzmann opens this live session with the 28-minute title piece, singing gently the theme and establishing intimate and almost chamber interplay with Leigh and Lonberg-Holm that stress the bluesy, mournful atmosphere of this naked theme. Slowly, the raw and distorted, effects-laden cello of Lonberg-Holm and the sustained-resonating lines of Leigh slowly push Brötzmann to the front, but he still opts for a tender and elegiac tone, yet clearly, an intense and powerful one, while meditating in his own special way on the emotional theme.

The following, shorter pieces “Flower Flaps” and “Johnny Anaconda” offer Brötzmann in his familiar, powerful mode. But now Brötzmann leaves more space for Leigh and Lonberg-Holm to create the intense dynamics and cuts their drone-like playing with sharp cries on “Flowe Flaps” or gentle balladic ideas on “Johnny Anaconda”.

Naked Nudes documents an unusual performance that still echoes the weight of the moment, and one that makes you wish that you were there with this great trio.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Augusto Pirodda Septet – The Monkey and The Monk (El Negocito Records, 2023)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

It is almost impossible to say that you enjoy every release from any label’s catalogue. Of course there are preferences based on a billion personal and subjective aspects, but for me the main reason to like, or not, a label is the diversity of its catalogue. This is the case of Belgian El Negocito. I can definitely say that not all of its releases work for me but, at the same time, there is no such thing as a definitive “sound” coming from the label. Play any of its cd’s or LP’s and you could never tell. In today’s oversaturation of mannerism and the burden of mythologized (in order to sell more) “traditions” this is so refreshing.

This first recording of the septet by pianist Augusto Pirodda (a “concerto for jazz septet in three movements” as it is sub-titled) has its core on jazz, reminding a bit Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra with a much more minimal approach, but with the use of electronics and a modern, avant-garde even, approach to composition, poses more questions than the answers given by any jazz based ensemble.

Apart from Pirodda, Ben Sluijs is on alto sax and alto flute, Lynn Cassiers on voice and electronics, Sam Comerford on tenor, bass sax and clarinet, Laurent Blondiau on trumpet and flugelhorn, Manolo Cabras on bass and Marek Patrman on drums. This pan-European ensemble moves through jazz’s many branches in almost an hour of music. The sounds are always fragile but also totally agile and flexible. Moving from duos and trios up to small snippets of the septet’s full blown attack, each player has the room to come forth but also dissolve his or her sound into the collective mind of the septet.

All of them seem seeped in jazz traditions but they very clearly, and easily, escape the grey zone which is also the comfort zone for jazz aficionados. As I mentioned earlier there are no easy ways to find out what comes next, apart from close listening with open ears. We definitely do not need another recording that just follows the manual of a “good” jazz recording.

Even when you hear a duo coming forth or when the septet is playing in unison, the focus is on the collective sound of their music. The music is energetic and vibrant, one of those recordings that make you want to listen more. It is no exaggeration to comment that this is something new with old materials. I found it really hard to pin down what elements brought to the music by Pirodda himself and which ones came from the other musicians. This non-hierarchical feeling traverses through all three tracks of the cd.


Thursday, April 6, 2023

Filippo Abrate, Thomas Canna (12631 12 15421) – Kumbu-tse (MUPE, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

Kumbu-tse is an album made by two percussionists Filippo Abrate and Thomas Canna (who also plays modular synths) that do not like to show off, the tracks are all incredibly quiet and yet consistent with a constant flow and articulated rhythms. While the title makes reference to the first Himalayan peak west of Everest whose direct route is still unclimbed thus becoming a symbol of discovery and of goals to be achieved; name of their duo project :“142631 12 15421” surely needs some explanation.

Filippo Abrate says : “this code is the transposition of the alchemic motto “ambula ab intra” (walk/move from inside) made using the Chaldean numerology and refers to the effort of inner transformation that both Tomas (Canna) and I are carrying on”.

It is worth noting that according to the Chaldean numerology the whole universe in made of vibrations and each and every element in the universe produces its own frequency, so paraphrasing the Bard: music is such stuff as the universe is made on.

All of the music in this work has been thought for a percussion duo and then morphed to by the cooperation with Paolo Porta on the tenor sax.

In its final shape, it is framed by two symmetric pieces: Canto – Opening that makes you feel like arriving at a Tibetan monastery during a celebration: gongs and drones that slowly take the front stage dissolving into cosmic noises and Canto – Ending where again gongs and electronic drones tells you that the ceremony started some 35 minutes ago is about to end. Bells and gongs and hisses and a murmuring drone and silence.

In the middle a lot is happening; the pieces where the Porta plays ( FS 15/19; Improvisation 1, Transition, Implementation) are characterized by the lyrical voice of the sax which often seems to float on fragmented lines of percussions creating aery counterpoints. The two central duo pieces (Turbines and 142631 12 15421), are marked by a relevant presence of metallic percussions; as Abrate says “ we are fascinated by the sound and the rhythms of the gamelan orchestras and our sonic research often moves in that direction.”

The whole of this album testify an original way to think about percussions and produces a pleasant set of music.

Kumbu-tse is released by MUPE a small independent label created by Filippo Abrate himself and his friend Marco Belfiore (upright bass player) to try to develop an ecosystem around their work and their spiritual vision and to promote creative music. Considering the time and the space we are living in, this is something that deserves reporting.

Available to listen and download on bandcamp

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

FUSK - Absurd Enthusiasm (Why Play Jazz, 2022)


Any recording by FUSK is great combination of snappy melodies and free-jazz excursions, humor and wisdom. The quartet, which sprang forth from the compositional mind of drummer Kasper Tom Christiansen over a decade ago, features Tomasz Dąbrowski's tasteful trumpet, Andreas Lang's ebullient bass, and Rudi Mahall's brash and buoyant bass and Bb clarinet. Their latest recording, Absurd Enthusiasm, is a trove of intricate composition and exciting improvisation.

The music, while composed, is simultaneously spontaneous, thriving off non-stop creative interplay. Lang's bass lines climb and dive, Dabrowski's trumpet sails effortless through the musical hills and valleys, tracing the unpredictable bends in Christiansen's rhythmic flow. Then there is Mahall, whose playing introduces a crafty and unpredictable element of surprise and delight. The quartet knows how to play off of each other's strengths and make for an ever fresh and adventurous listen.

The standout tracks are manifold, beginning with the opening 'Super Kaspar' - which happens to be the title of their well received 2013 release - and here is a be-bop like flash of energy. Starting with a syncopated, tandem melody over a snappy drum and bass, the tune weaves in and out of the melodic head into concise solos. The follow up, 'Herbst Delights'  is a counter-balance, it begins with wide intervals and dissonant harmonies that tumble around each other, slowly coming together into a cohesive melodic exchange. 'Noise of Time' is a tension filled piece that sees Kaspar and Lang holding the rhythm back as Dabrowski and Mahall play probing atonal melodies. The gentle mayhem of 'Bacteria,' in which each member plays their own ideas, somehow still locks together, while the pulse remains a bit slippery. On 'So Ein Kaspar,' after intense undulations from Mahall's bass clarinet, Dabrowski delivers a ear-catching solo that leads the quirky composition to an end. The album ends with 'Need for Tweed' which begins with gentle 'jazzy' brush pattern from Christiansen, a walking line from Lang and then a syncopated melody from the horns. One can even hear wispy quotes of classic heads as the tune pleasantly closes out the recording.

Expert musicianship and a lively twisting of musical ideas around the solid song sketches provided by Christiansen make for a great listen. Absurd Enthusiasm is an enthusiastic and rich addition to FUSK's growing discography and a great addition to any music collection.