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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

KVL - Vol 2 (Astral Spirits, 2023)


By Ian Lovdahl

I know it's all the rage these days, but I can't bring myself to care too deeply about the alleged dangers of A.I. Yes, artificial intelligence is extremely interesting and the endless speculation over the years has brought plenty of entertainment, but I can't help but think that some prognosticators allow their fears to run too far off the leash. Naturally, I'll change my tune when album reviewers are replaced by robots, but until then, I'm content to sit back and observe the development of this increasingly bizarre and fascinating technology. For now, I'll take my devious electronics in my jazz, which is what Chicago trio KVL have to offer in spades on their second album Vol. 2.

Opener (and possible play on words) "Pink Void" has the warbling charm of an underwater arcade, buzzing with low-key electronics and mellow keys. An animated bass murmurs faithfully in the background while Kirshner's crisp cymbal and snare pop like kernels, meditating on the rhythm when Van Duerm's electric piano completes the trio. The pianist's fingers stumble knowingly across the keyboard, unpredictable yet stress-free. A brief feedback-like whine gives way to a soaring (almost blaring) Mellotron horn that triumphantly echoes throughout the valleys of the piece, hinting at more electronic experimentation to come later in the album. The relaxed air starts blowing sideways with gusts of confusion on "Bandwidth Prana", as the electro-piano stutter-steps out of the way of combative drums and obtuse bass. The tone squeezed out of the keys brings to mind the ambient jazz/hip-hop producer Rejoicer, as they shimmer with hazy joy seeking sunlight. Suddenly, someone turns a knob and a sharp pseudo-organ sound emits from the amplifier, soloing like a distorted Keith Emerson on top of the wavy melody. Although the music is definitely jazz, the occasional prog and ambient outbursts adds layers of complexity to the threesome's work.

The third track "Absent Crash" comes about as close to IDM as I could imagine. As the percussion flutters like a breakbeat and electronic keys interject with the steady bass, I'm instantly reminded of Squarepusher's early output; while not a one-for-one comparison, the spirit of Music Is Rotted One Note sings through these songs. Eventually, the band settles down into an organ-driven jazz trio by the back half of the piece, which leads into the fully liberated jazz excursion "Percival's Dilemma". No bones about it – for a short period, this is KVL at their most free, and it makes for a nice detour from their excellent cloudy basement jazz. Perhaps the most interesting set of tracks appear towards the end of Vol. 2as the "Interconnectivity Suite", a five-part journey through augmented reality. The first part opens with a nineties operating system jingle as warping synthetic sounds force the organic components to repeat their parts ad nauseam. Lux's bass takes over the melody in the breezy second part that leads into a daring dub interlude with a groovy drum beat. The band makes micro-adjustments to mix in disparate influences like dub and electronica without sacrificing their unique jazz trio identity; in fact, the seamless genre additions serve to build upon KVL's brand of jazz, however you'd like to categorize it. Coming together with a vengeance at the end, the group jams with progressive flair as they button up their suite with the ever-reliable soft chords of the keyboard; a dynamic end to a satisfyingly-deep record.

Easily one of my favorite new albums of 2023, KVL seriously impresses with their sophomore outing. It shouldn't be any surprise, considering the notable pedigree of the players, but this trio brings a sincerely needed voice that speaks to their idiosyncratic attitude and approach to jazz. I'm looking forward to listening to Vol. 2on vinyl soon and will definitely revisit the LP throughout the rest of the year. As music technology grows in scope, I'd like to see an A.I. try to generate an album like this; sure, a robot might be able to ape some instruments and rhythm, but I doubt it could replicate the warm-blooded verve pumping its heart out each and every second of the record.


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Matt Mitchell – Oblong Aplomb (Out of Your Head Records, 2023)

By Troy Dostert

The 2013 release of Matt Mitchell’s leader debut, Fiction (Pi Recordings, 2013), announced the arrival of a daring new presence in avant-garde jazz: a pianist whose stunning technical facility could coexist with an infectious rhythmic sensibility, creating music that was demanding and sometimes even forbidding, but not to the point of inscrutability. To pursue his vision, Mitchell needed a sympathetic drummer, one capable of navigating Mitchell’s bizarrely knotty compositions while somehow finding the occasional groove, and on Fiction that was Ches Smith, beginning a partnership that would unfold fruitfully over the subsequent decade. Smith would appear on Mitchell’s A Pouting Grimace (Pi, 2017) and Mitchell would return the favor on Smith’s Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic, 2021). But Mitchell has always had a knack for finding supremely gifted and adventurous drummers: Dan Weiss was featured on Mitchell’s Vista Accumulation (Pi, 2015) and Kate Gentile was a pivotal contributor on both A Pouting Grimace and its follow-up, Phalanx Ambassadors (2019). Indeed, so successful was Mitchell’s partnership with Gentile that they released the formidable six-disc Snark Horse (Pi) in 2021, a stunningly prodigious collection of duo recordings. Given Mitchell’s fondness for percussionists, then, it is no surprise to see him continuing the piano-drums format on his latest double-disc effort, Oblong Aplomb, where he once again partners with Gentile (on disc one) and Smith (on disc two).

Like Fiction, Oblong Aplomb has the feel of a collection of etudes, wherein Mitchell works out his ideas in conversation with his partners with a relentless tenacity, each concept explored exhaustively before moving on to the next. One gets the sense that Mitchell is engaged in this activity as much for himself as for his listeners, to push himself as far as he can go. And it’s quite a journey, as Mitchell is in unparalleled form here. Fortunately, Gentile and Smith are every bit his equal, meeting his feints and parries with plenty of deft maneuverings of their own, not to mention matching his seemingly limitless stamina. “Slarm Biffle,” the highlight of the twelve pieces with Gentile, sees Mitchell in a fearsome showdown with the drummer, whose punchy assault keeps pace with Mitchell’s tireless interrogations for almost fourteen minutes, with an oblique rhythmic logic that somehow makes sense despite its bewildering permutations. Gentile brings an incessant energy and almost locomotive momentum to many of her twelve cuts, but her subtle nuances are impressive too, as on “Blinkered Hoopla,” where she seems perpetually in the process of both establishing and undermining the piece’s rhythmic center, or the subdued “Oneiric Argot,” where she chooses to let Mitchell’s pensive ruminations take center stage, limiting herself to supplying color and texture.

Smith is just as effective, perhaps a bit more restrained than Gentile, but with craftiness and imagination galore. “The Amused,” the first of the twelve pieces with Smith, is a remarkably complex investigation, with a variety of rhythmic detours, each of which the drummer somehow negotiates in perfect sync with the pianist. And on several tracks, like “Doleful” and “Numen,” Smith’s vibes (on the former) and glockenspiel (on the latter) allow brief respites for exploring less tumultuous terrain. Yet Smith has plenty of tricks up his sleeve as well, as on “Inveiglers,” where he adroitly keeps pace with Mitchell’s fleet upper-register runs while somehow making a bit of room for a fugitive funk beat to rear its head.

It is worth stressing that these are twenty-four well-wrought compositions, tightly constructed and with an impressive precision that rewards close listening. It isn’t unbridled freedom that is being celebrated here, but rather an uncompromising intensity of musicianship—and the perfect pairing of a demanding repertoire with those clearly best suited for playing it. While it is at times an arduous listen, and a lot of music to digest, it is a credit to Mitchell and his colleagues that they are continuing to find new ways to challenge both themselves and their listeners. 

 

Monday, May 29, 2023

Bengt Frippe Nordström – Vinyl Box (Ni Vu Ni Connu, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

As a fan of Swedish saxophonist and visionary (he was the first to record Albert Ayler!) Bengt Frippe Nordström since I first heard him on Arthur Doyle and Sunny Murray’s Live at the Glenn Miller Café (Ayler Records) back in the mid-2000s, my heart began to race when I saw this release. Un- or underheard archival solo cuts from Nordström, including one apparently playing over a recording of When Will the Blues Leave? on the Ornette Coleman Quartet’s Something Else? (What a curio!) Several short contributions from Swedish admirers Anna Högberg, Isak Hedtjärn, Dror Feiler, Jörgen Adolfsson, Mats Gustafsson, and Sven-Åke Johansson? All splayed out across numerous vinyls, packaged with a book of essays, a playful Frippe Nordström (think the American department store Nordstrom’s) bag and whatever other tschotscke’s Ni Vu Ni Connu decided to throw in there? Alas, I discovered it too late, and the physical vinyl set was sold out! Still, I was able to procure a digital version.

I imagine I am speaking to the converted, here, as much as anyone else. The quality of the Nordström cuts are what you should expect. He recorded a few albums of various sound qualities, here remastered to clarify what could be clarified. And, all things considered, it sounds good. The outside contributions are especially crisp and pay due homage to Nordström’s expressionistic, yet oddly swinging sound blotches. Mostly, they stray from the saxophone, however. Sven-Åke Johansson contribution starts with a saxophone solo (I am not sure whether this is Johansson, a crisp recording of Nordström himself, or someone else), but quickly falls into a brush-stroke groove and a Johansson singing number. The other outside contributions focus on long-tones (Hedtjärn, Adolfsson), quick, biting attacks (Feiler), Nordström’s patient, awkward meldocism (Högberg) and breath whisps (Gustafsson), showing the many possibilities Nordström pursued or implied a half-century ago.

Of course, the main attractions are the original archival pieces. I am not sure they show much new about Nordström’s approach. Indeed, this sounds more representative of Nordström’s other releases than it does divergent. One hears the relentlessly spiky scales, the pointillist and gestural abstraction, the casually frayed Ayler-esque melodies. (Supposedly, many of these were inspired by the Scandinavian folk music with which Nordström would have been familiar, so the flow of inspiration might not have just been monodirectional.) Nordström may not have been among the technical saxophone titans, but he certainly was a visionary, who honed an approach and a sound all his own.

If you like Nordström’s other work or if you were intrigued by Mats Gustafsson’s 2012 homage Bengt, or even if not, give this set a listen. It has a lot to offer, and some hitherto largely unheard stories to tell.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Daunik, jazz maverick - the Daunik Lazro story

Daunik Lazro © Christine Baudillon

By David Cristol

"I really like coincidences, without knowing why. They refer to invisible filaments from which our existence is perhaps woven."

Alto, baritone and tenor saxophonist Daunik Lazro (b. 1945) can boast a rich discography of 45 albums at this date (not counting his appearances on other artists’ projects), with a high turnover of partners but also, and above all, long-term loyalties. He feels he has made too many records, yet no two albums are alike. The first under his name appeared in 1980, and his first credit dates back to 1973. The year 2023 therefore marks 50 years of his stage and recording activity.

A paradoxical worried serenity could characterize his playing. The elusive Lazro represents a unique voice in the European panorama. Not wanting to choose between jazz and improvised music, his two poles of attraction, he has never let anything stand in the way of creative freedom. The recent Neigen and Sonoris Causa stand out for their unusual instrumentation as well as the resulting sound worlds.

A keen sense of listening sees him fully at the service of any musical collective, seeking the right moment to speak, putting all ego to rest. Already a political gesture. Titles of pieces are deliberately mysterious, literary, including puns, references and homages to glorious elders.

Between 2016 and 2018 he took part in the transatlantic tours of The Bridge project, bringing together musicians from Chicago and France. Two live albums testify to this adventure which took him and long-time accomplice Joe McPhee from the City of the Winds to European festivals.

"I would be remiss to plead for consistency when, in my playing, I mix elements without rules nor respect or even knowledge: major, minor, tonal, diminished, chromatic, crooked, repulsive scales and so on. Ditto for the rhythms that I process in unstable temporal flows. Nowadays the tenor sax harasses me, I’m not sure which tense to use: to treat it in the past perfect (Coltrane) and/or in the simple past (Evan Parker), for lack of the present indicative which slips away."

Venturing into a record or a performance by Daunik Lazro is not an innocuous experience. You have to fully commit for the duration of the session. It can be intimidating, because you’re sure to tread unto unheard territory. Abandon all cues upon entering. In the end it is all about communion, between the players, and with the audience. 

 Editor's Note: the author's prompts are in bold, Daunik Lazro's answers follow in quotes.

FIRST CONCERTS

"Paris, autumn or winter 1962: John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy, the latter unknown to me and, I believe, not mentioned on the program. I didn’t understand everything that was happening. The following year, THE quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones – a major epiphany. Elvin's signature on my program.

© Stéphane Berland

A little later, I went to hear Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, and others less illustrious, and after May ‘68 the French players Michel Portal, Bernard Vitet, François Tusques… The newspapers Liberation, Charlie Hebdo (thanks to writer Delfeil de Ton) and the first Actuel helped direct me to witness the advent of the “free jazz invasion” in Paris. I attended the very first concert of the Art Ensemble of Chicago in a small theatre in Montparnasse. Standing three meters away from the wizards Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favors in full painted faces and regalia is never to be forgotten. Also the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Gibus.

In 1973, having become a musician “for real”, a thousand other concerts: Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp and many more. In Paris, free improv did not yet exist. I remember a duet of Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, in ‘75 or ’76. Captivating, but I was not yet passionate about it. Improvisation only became my main focus around 1980.

No great classical jazz concert to mention. On records, yes. My first LP was “Sidney Bechet à l'Olympia vol. 1”, a gold disc (1 million copies sold), around 1956-57 – I was 11 or 12 years old. A radio show, "For those who love jazz" every evening on the Europe 1 radio station. In the space of three years I went from Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson (on low-cost 45s from a supermarket chain) to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, the Jazz Messengers. Jazz was the WHOLE OF MUSIC to me. I dismissed Elvis Presley and white rock. As for the French yéyés [1960s popular singers modelled on US hits], not for me either: “It's not music, just songs”. I was a snob"

STUDIES

"I was a student while being a part-time supervisor or adjunct teacher, up to a postgraduate doctorate with a thesis on Claude Simon. The events of May ‘68 prompted the fundamental question: “what am I going to do with my life, do I want to be a teacher forever? ” The answer came in the form of the rental of a soprano sax in order to play My Favorite Things, and first encounters with musicians such as Evan Chandlee, Hugh Levick, Jonathan Dickinson... After "military" duty, as a teacher in civilian clothes at the Military School in Autun, I returned to the American Center where everything was happening, and that's when bassist Saheb Sarbib hired me. In the period 1974-79 I became a professional musician. Real life began."

JAZZ MESSENGERS

"The calling tune of the "For those who love jazz" daily broadcast was It's only a paper moon . A sublime theme and a killer tenor solo from Wayne Shorter. The day I heard the whole piece was a revelation: “endless” solos that told a story, eventually coming together in the final statement of the theme. Blakey's Messengers did a lot to awaken me to modern jazz. After Bechet, my second LP was "Massey Hall" by Bird, Dizzy etc. This more complicated jazz proved also somewhat popular. I was ready to revel in Ornette, Coltrane and the others. “Kind of blue” by Miles Davis was my 3rd LP."

INFLUENCES 1: ALTO SAX (± 1970-2000)

"Let’s skip quickly on my teenage prehistory where I practiced Petite fleur on a clarinet; then on my early youth on the soprano sax. The bass clarinet proves too difficult and I move to the alto at 25.

Through the influence of Ornette Coleman, I got closer to the source: Charlie Parker. Eric Dolphy remained inaccessible to my poor dexterity, he gave me food for thought however. Then Portal, Jimmy Lyons, John Tchicai, and a hundred more."

SAHEB SARBIB


"He was coming from Portugal and his first name was Jean, changed to Saheb as he hanged around Frank Wright’s quartet which stationed in Paris. Headquarters were the American Center on Boulevard Raspail where, in the spring of 1972, freed from army duty, I rushed to reunite with my friends. It is befuddling that nothing has been written about this place, where a crazy effervescence lasted for almost a decade. There were rehearsal studios available, no end of concerts, and every day we met Lacy, Braxton, Alan Silva and other “famous beginners” there. Saheb mingled with our group and quickly I was submitted to daily rehearsals, concerts and recording sessions. The album title "Evil season" refers to Sarbib’s year in the La Santé jail. He was released in the summer of ‘72 and came straight to THE Center. The Mouffetard district would be another area of activity a little while later.

My years of training under his thumb lasted from ‘73 to ’79. He was a demanding leader, composed all the tunes we had to play as well as the order of solos, although without grids – a kind of free bop. He allowed me, an unexpected gift, to play with black jazzmen, who seemed appreciative, to my amazement. And with great professionals such as Siegfried Kessler and François Jeanneau. A million thanks to him.

I made three records with him, tours, radio broadcasts… until he left for the USA in ‘78. He took me back in 79 for a long JMF tour in France, and in ’81 the “UFO” record came out on Cadence jazz records, on which Mark Whitecage and I both play alto sax.

Sarbib managed to set up a big band in New York, issued two records on Cadence, then various quartets with saxophonist Ricky Ford. And the world of jazz lost his trace in the 90s. When he returned to Portugal and France, he started a trade in antiques between Europe and the United States."

PORTUGAL

"Sarbib quartet’s "Evil Season" was, in 1973, my first appearance on record. We recorded at Jef Gilson's studio in Paris. In the summer of ‘74, after the Carnation revolution, he took me to Portugal, to the southern coast of Algarve for a vacation, then to perform a big outdoors concert in Faro and a TV show in Lisbon.

I don't remember how I met Carlos Alves de Magalaes (related to Magellan) nicknamed "Zingaro" because his colleagues (from the conservatory maybe?) thought he played the gypsy way. In 1975 he invited me for concerts with the group Plexus which he founded (together with Rui Neves) on his return from the army and the war in Angola – the “Algeria” of the Portuguese. Carlos and Rui organized a big festival in Setubal in 1979 with the cream of European and American musicians: Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Irene Schweizer, Richard Teitelbaum, Workshop de Lyon, Kent Carter, David and Sunny Murray... I played a duet with bass player Jean-Jacques Avenel. It was a financial failure because the expected audience wasn’t there.

January 1985, with temperatures between -20 and -30°C all over France, we had a handful of dates with Zingaro, bassist Jean Bolcato and George Lewis, the magnificent trombonist. To my dismay, neither a single recording nor video trace remains.

Around those years, I had gained a little repute and was able to invite Carlos in France, especially in trio with Bolcato, sometimes with Greek pianist Sakis Papadimitriou. In trio format I still maintained some tunes but when as a quartet it was total improvisation.

In 1998 the Potlatch label released “Hauts plateaux”, a live duet with Carlos, recorded three years earlier. This duo played a lot in France and Portugal. I remember a French tour of 11 dates! In 2001 we performed in quartet at the Banlieues Bleues festival. I believe and fear this to be the last time Carlos and I played together.

During my Portuguese adventures with Carlos, a passionate journalist (Rui Eduardo Paes, who attended all our concerts) gave me a long interview, which I lost, oddly titled already: "Lazro and the love / hatred of jazz”."

SIEGFRIED KESSLER

"I met him in the Sarbib quartet, playing a few concerts together, with Oliver Johnson, Lacy's drummer at the time, completing the band. I loved this pianist who played both straight bebop and free, especially on the Fender piano and the clavinet, a kind of electric harpsichord equipped with a ring modulator – Kessler used effect boxes when he played electric. With Sarbib flown to the United States, I asked Siegfried if he would join me. We did a lot of concerts either in duo or in trio with J.J Avenel, always completely improvised.

Why did we stop this duo? On the one hand we got burned at an important festival, arriving very late, Kessler in no condition to play, no time for a soundcheck, and after 20 minutes Siggy got up and left the stage for a moment. For the audience and organizers, it signalled the end of a concert that had not started, creating a semi-scandal. Michel Petrucciani was playing after us. There were other setbacks. From the mid-1980s Kessler continued to play with Archie Shepp, left the Paris area and went into exile on his sailboat moored in La Grande Motte, playing in bars alone or with little-known jazzmen"

INFLUENCES 2: BARITONE SAX (± 1990-2010)

"After 20 years on alto, I missed the bass register. The baritone gave me its majestic columns of harmonics from the fundamentals to work with. I borrowed some of the techniques that Evan Parker developed on soprano and tenor, and found my own as well.

Gerry Mulligan is not an influence, Harry Carney is one. Hamiet Bluiett (from the World Saxophone Quartet) and Jon Raskin (from the Rova sax quartet) as well. But as to the sound itself, the fluid lyricism on the instrument, the main influence is John Surman."


FRENCH JAZZ AND COLLECTIVES

"It is heartbreaking that the history of French jazz from this period is not documented. Books have appeared on (free) jazz and British, German, Dutch improvisers. While beginners like me were vaguely spotted by a few benevolent minds, the jazz establishment that was soon to give in to the call of the major labels and mainstream jazz, was eager for the “unfortunate” parenthesis of free jazz to close. In the US, the whole of jazz is considered as a continuum by many serious minds, including free improvisation, now practiced by everyone alongside a more standardized jazz. Not so in France.

What did the French a disservice, apart from the fiercely conservative establishment, was that they did not, like the English, German and Dutch, inaugurate a clean break with American jazz, around 1970, to take part in the elaboration of free music European style, but remained on the middle of the road – and so did I until 1980. At foreign festivals, only Portal was spotted and invited. His Unit with guitarist Joseph Dejean, years 74-76, remains the best period for Portal in my opinion. Dejean played with the Cohelmec, Archie Shepp, Evan Chandlee and Sarbib…

It was an era of collectives. The Workshop de Lyon (ARFI) started in 1967, the Cohelmec in 1969, the Dharma around 1970, the Marseille GRIM in 1978. Groups formed in the wake of the events of 1968, because it was necessary to join and organize in order to be able to play. Cohelmec (Jean COHen, Dominique ELbaz, the MEChali brothers) was based in Paris or thereabouts. Dharma (Jef Sicard, Jean-Luc Ponthieux…) in Annecy. These groups performed, not American free jazz per se, but original music – personal compositions – heavily influenced by Ornette, Coltrane etc. We knew and liked each other. We were the next generation after the guys born around 1935: Portal, Daniel Humair, Vitet, Jean-Louis Chautemps…"

ON SELECTED GROUPS AND ALBUMS

Outlaws in Jazz (Bleu Regard, 1994)

"Free jazz came to a low ebb in France. Instead we got some consensual or/and commercial jazz, the kind that appeals to families once a year at festivals. Producer Marie Cosenza convinced me to revive some "classic tunes" by Ornette, Ayler, Charles Tyler, the "cursed". Trumpeter Jac Berrocal and I worked for a year to make these hymns and melodies sound right in our hands. Bass player Didier Levallet accepted the challenge with his usual commitment. Marie managed to bring in legendary drummer Den(n)is Charles, who described his playing style “between Art Blakey and Ed Blackwell” . This band toured consistently, Jacques Thollot sometimes sitting in for Denis when he could not come from the US.

 

The A.H.O. ("And His Orchestra") (Bleu Regard, 1997) trio performed many concerts, joyfully. With these delightful companions, bassist Jean Bolcato and drummer Christian Rollet, we played free improvisation within defined themes. Hornet is for Ornette, of course. A good record, that could fit into the narrow box of “French jazz”. If I chose a pseudonym very early on, it is because the French framework seemed too narrow from the start. The names that made me dream were Pee Wee Russel, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach, etc. In France, jazz musicians were called Claude Luter, André Persiany, Moustache – I didn’t fantasize so much over those names."


Sonoris Causa (No Business, 2022)

"The choice of title is easy to decipher. This is a project that my friend Dominique Répécaud made possible at the Musique Action festival in Vandoeuvre; it was born of my desire of a collective improvisation with bass register instruments. There was a project of a disc at the time of the recording (2003), left aside I have forgotten why.

About two years ago a German correspondent for the blog Inconstant Sol told me that he had a tape of this concert captured from the hall, which he really liked. I find in my computer files that I listen to. The concert is incomplete. The German sends me what he has, it's good but the sound isn’t great. At Vandoeuvre, they misplaced or crushed the archives that year. Luckily Louis Michel Marion, a 1 st class bassist and a serious boy, tells me that he has a very good recording of the entire concert. Hooray! The German correspondent convinces the boss of the Lithuanian label and poof! a year and a half later, the CD comes out.

I am delighted that the “American” quintet A Pride of Lions “No Questions – No answers” ​​(Rogue Art, 2022), with Joe McPhee, Joshua Abrams, Guillaume Séguron, Chad Taylor, and Sonoris Causa got released a few months apart. They represent the gap and extent between my two aesthetic landmarks: jazz and improvisation. Sonoris is 66 minutes of ebb and flow without "dramaturgy" — unless..."




“Ecstatic Jazz” (Fou Records, 2023)

"This is the recording of a trio concert from 1982, with J.J. Avenel and Siegfried Kessler, magically unearthed. I wanted the term jazz to appear in the title for several reasons. During the period 1985-2000 roughly speaking, the term jazz was downgraded. In Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe, in the hope that young people would venture to the concert, the name "ecstatic jazz" was often used. For example, in February 2000, the day before the trio with Peter Kowald and Annick Nozati (issued on Instants Chavirés, Fou records), Kowald had invited me for a duet in Torino, where we played under the banner Ecstatic Jazz, in front of an audience of young people in a trance. They seemed to dig our music since they danced to it.

The “free jazz” label quickly proved infamous in France. The watchdogs of "real" jazz surveyed their backyard. As for “free music” or “free impro”, these notions had not yet been accepted. Anne Montaron's program on France Musique: “À l’improviste” has fortunately helped clarifying things since more than twenty years.

My image as a radical improviser is reductive. Michel Doneda or Jean-Luc Guionnet embody it much better. They don't label themselves jazz – I do."

REVIEWS

"I have been collecting for almost 50 years what was written about me. Articles have given me great happiness, taught me things about myself, the way I was perceived, etc. Others badly written, or off the mark, made me laugh or irritated me for a moment. There was a double page in Jazz Magazine by Serge Loupien, around the time I was a beginner, with the approval of Philippe Carles. A whole page in Liberation around ’78, when this newspaper was about to create the Trans-Musiques festival which only had one edition. Four years later, the same mag was assassinating free jazz and other marginal music which decidedly did not please the large audiences and were not bankable. A 3/4 page in Le Monde in ’95 by Francis Marmande, who had crossed the country to attend the first McPhee-Parker-Lazro concert.

Prominent English critics and record labels always ignored me. On the other hand, American and Canadian critics have always been watchful and extremely competent."

INFLUENCES 3: TENOR SAX (± 2010-202…)

With Joe McPhee © Ziga Koritnik

"I followed Sonny Rollins’ journey, of course, and was a big fan. But from the first Coltrane albums, from 1960 each year brought its overwhelming surprise: Africa, India, A Love Supreme... Rollins' retirement period, his return with "The bridge" was pleasant but the guitarist and drummer couldn’t compare with McCoy and Elvin. "East broadway run down" with Trane’s rhythm team (Garrison and Jones), was impressive on the other hand. Rollins’ "free jazz" period with Don Cherry is fascinating.

So many other tenors... Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Frank Wright, Albert Ayler obviously. My giant "brother" Joe McPhee. Wayne Shorter, fabulous in Miles' second quintet.

In France, I was captivated by François Jeanneau when I met him with Sarbib, he was very much in the Coltrane mould, while I was trying to find my own voice. Jean-Louis Chautemps was an admirer of Rollins and despised Coltrane. For me the choice was obvious.

In Europe, the titans Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker. Bifurcation point: the first continues the exacerbated expressionism of Ayler, while Parker, on tenor, continues the search of Coltrane, it is perfectly clear."

NEW GENERATION SAXOPHONISTS

"I enjoy listening to Melissa Aldana, a young Chilean who plays the tenor admirably, in a hard bop idiom, but why not? Camila Nebbia, between Argentina and Berlin, plays free sax and makes me happy. As well as the American Zoh Amba who blows super free. Sofia Salvo has an amazing expressionism on the baritone. Mette Rasmussen, Audrey Lauro, Cathy Heyden, Christine Abdelnour, Alexandra Grimal, Sakina Abdou – I could go on celebrating the young women who have appropriated the sax, which used to be a macho instrument.

From Boris Blanchet to Antoine Viard and Philippe Lemoine, plus many others that I don't know well, the guys are not left out."

SIX LAZRO DISCS FOR THE DESERT ISLAND

Periferia (In Situ, 1993 / Fou records reissue, 2022) with Zingaro, Papadimitriou, Bolcato – “southern” improvisation.

McPhee, Parker, Lazro (Vand’oeuvre, 1996) – major trio

Madly you (Potlatch, 2002 / Fou records reissue, 2023) with Zingaro, Joëlle Léandre, Paul Lovens-- perfect live

Qwat Neum Sixx (Amor Fati, 2009) w. Sophie Agnel, Michaël Nick, Jérôme Noetinger – perfect quartet.

Some other zongs (ayler records, 2011) – solo baritone.

Sens Radiants (Dark Tree, 2014) w. Benjamin Duboc & Didier Lasserre – perfect trio.

 

With Joe McPhee © Ziga Koritnik

Meeting & working with Daunik Lazro – by J-Kristoff Camps of the duo Kristoff K Roll


“The meeting with Daunik happened thanks to Dominique Répécaud, from the André Malraux Cultural Center in Vandoeuvre. Musically, the first time we performed together was on May 7, 1995 for the first variation of the “ Petit Bruit d’à côté du cœur du monde” , at the Musique Action festival. Daunik improvised solo between our acousmatic compositions.

For several months, we spent time together. Time to follow and record him in order to gather the sound material of the “Portrait of Daunik Lazro”, octophonic music that we produced. There have been 10 variations of this Petit Bruit [Little Noise], almost all with him. From N° 7 things changed, we improvised together.

From this variation came the Trio de petit bruit, later documented on the album “Chants du milieu” (Creative Sources, 2013).

Then Daunik brought together the quintet Actions Soniques which unfortunately could not exist beyond the recording of the CD, the guitarist Dominique Répécaud (1955-2016) having suddenly and definitively exited this plane.

The adventure continues thanks to the Quartet un peu Tendre with pianist Sophie Agnel, inaugurated for the 30th anniversary of the duo Kristoff K.Roll”.

Recent and upcoming releases

Gargorium - Sophie Agnel / Olivier Benoit / Daunik Lazro (on LP from Fou Records, 2022)

Ecstatic Jazz - Jean-Jacques Avenel / Siegfried Kessler / Daunik Lazro (on CD from Fou Records, 2023)

Standards combustion - Daunik Lazro / Benjamin Duboc / Mathieu Bec  (on CD from Dark Tree, 2023) 


 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Petra Haller & Meg Morley - Shoulders I Stand On (self, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Petra Haller is a tap dancer based in London. She studied at Escola Luthier in Barcelona, and at workshops under Jason Samuels Smith, Derick Grant, and Andrew Nemr. Haller became the first tap dancer named in Jazzwise Magazine’s ‘Rising Jazz Artists: Who to look out for in 2020’. She has performed with artists including Cleveland Watkiss, Xhosa Cole, Mark Sanders, Loz Speyer, and more. Meg Morley is a classically trained musician. Melbourne-born, London-based, Morley was awarded Distinctions by the Australian Music Examination Board for its Associate and Licentiate diplomas in piano and completed a Master of Music in classical performance, and a Postgraduate Certificate in composition. She studied jazz improvisation at the Victorian College of the Arts. Together Haller and Morley have recorded an album that is as extraordinary as it is fascinating.

Haller told me “We recorded the Album, which is our debut album as a duo, at Ocean Sound Studios in Giske, Norway. My focus is to use tap dance as a percussive instrument in jazz and improvised music and perform my music in concert settings and recordings.

Meg and I have been working together since 2019 and have played improvised concerts, this project, however, is a suite featuring both composed and improvised music.”

Because both the obvious percussive elements of tap dancing and the subtler percussive elements of the hammers on the strings of the piano blend impressively, they allow the listener a vastly different listening experience.

Jazz and tap dance, of course, go together, jazz being the original street music and tap dancing being the obvious street-ready accompaniment. I have seen tap dancers perform with jazz players in venues including Ronnie Scott’s in London.

The clarity of the tap alongside the melodies of the piano provides an intricacy and pinpoint counterpoint it is difficult to achieve were it two standard instruments rather than keys and taps (the taps being the metal parts of the tap shoes’ heel and toes).

The opening track, ‘The Call of The Birds’ is evocative, with mesmeric piano melodies creating a sense of peace and calm, interspersed halfway with tap passages from Haller whose rhythms contradict the delicacy of the piano line. ‘Thicker Than Blood’ is a crazy, multi-rhythmed conversation between the percussion of the keys and the taps. Initially, a call and response, the piece develops into a duet and then a conversation as each musician inserts rhythms, the piano able to alter notation, while the tap dancing adds changes of volume, pace, and rhythm patterns. The closing section has the tap keeping metronomic time while the piano explores melody lines, evolving into a blues pattern before the emphasis changes again into improvised, free exploration of both keys and counter-reacting tap. The final phrases are repeated patterns in a return to call and response that gradually slows from the manic to the calm. Crazily good.

‘Ascendant’ begins with fast-paced taps, which continue while the piano issues forth deep, guttural phrases, before withdrawing into quietude. The extended breaks between phrases are filled by the tap’s rhythm, at this point feeling like it has a life of its own. The strings of the piano are brought into play to create a change of atmosphere with the piano now leading, with tap following on a series of repeated rhythms, chord lines packed with changes, and rhythm patterns that seem to evolve from the ether.

‘Fearless’ is a wonderfully timed duet, with the taps creating percussive elements to accompany the piano melodies. With its waltz rhythms, this track sees both tap and piano following tuneful melodies, their interaction timed to perfection. This feels more like drums and piano. The second half then becomes something else – a journey through rhythms, chord patterns, melodies, and counterrhythms provided by the tap shoes of Haller.

‘Together We Are Stream’ is a sonic torrent of percussive elements from the taps and repeated phrases from the piano that change and develop into chord progressions and melodies. The tap is relentless and rapid, and the music tugs the listener one way and then another as each musician takes the lead.

‘Forever and A Day’ is atmospheric and there are sweeping, arcing phrases, counteracted by the clickety-clack of the tap and the almost seamless transition of rhythmic pattern changes while ‘Atlantic’ sees a change of mood with a lighter touch from both piano and tap shoes, the piano responding to the rhythms set up by the taps, before it retakes the lead, offering riffles of delicate sound, into which the taps drop intricate, sometimes forceful replies.

‘Giske’ is dark, loud, and moody, with deep piano chords, topped by gentle soft riffs of melody and shuffling, frictional taps. ‘The Sound of The Birds’ is atmospheric, at times a return to the first track but more of a development on the theme and essence.

This album is an insight into how two musicians combine to create music to complement each other. The taps here prove that there is an infinite variation in how metal can strike wood – and it depends on who is wearing the taps. Haller propagates a multitude of different sounds, from soft, delicate taps to hard thunking wallops, and finds so many variations in between. Her shift of emphasis, weight, pressure and changes, shuffles, drops, and kicks, combine to create variety and change.

The piano meantime has a greater range of notes and more control over volume and of course, there is the sustain pedal, but here are two musicians who each use the sounds at their disposal to create something special.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Cupis - ànemos (Objet-A, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

Every few years, the duo of electroacoustic composer Giovanni Verga and saxophonist Gianni Gebbia reconvene to create a new work under their name "Cupis". This is their fourth album - if we do not count the 'Cupis Remixes' from 2021 - after “Logismoi” (2018), “Avoiding the Sun”(2015), and “Prelogical Institutions” (2013). 

We've mentioned our appreciation for Gebbia's music before, especially for his very idiosyncratic sound, the quiet resolve and spiritual depth of his sonic universe, that borrows deeply from European classical and folk music to create his own quiet and gentle modern soundscapes, defying genres and expectations. 

Giovanni Verga lives and works in Berlin, but hails from Palermo, Sicily. He is a composer of electroacoustic and acousmatic music active in the fields of music, theatre and performance.
After obtaining his master's degree in Italy, he moved to Berlin where he studied at HFM Hans Eisler completing a Master of Electroacoustic Music.

The result of their collaboration is a wonderful listening experience. Verga's sinewave drones create a long and stretched sonic horizon over which Gebbia's 'soprano mutant ophicleide saxophone' soars, weeps and sings, resonating with strong reverb in a broad open space. The duo's musical aesthetic is extremely powerful: even if deeply emotional, it stays far away from any cheap sentimentalism, and at the same distance from 'new-agey' spiritualism. 

The album consists of two tracks, each around 18 minutes long. The first seems led by the saxophone, that arises almost organically out of a more basic voiceless primal sound of air blowing through a tube, a possible reference to the album's title 'Anemos' is the Greek word for 'wind', evolving into a stretched more human howling sound. The sinewaves increase in volume and the horn gradually strengthens and consolidates its initial hesitant existence. There are images of wideness, of spaciousness, desolation and silence. 

The second piece takes the sound even further, building on the first track. The space of the music contrasts with its introspective power, as if you're alone in the universe contemplating infinity. I wrongly assumed that some parts of the music were not improvised and that post-production added layers afterwards, yet I receive the confirmation that the entire album is improvised in real time, which makes the discipline, the incredible balance and pace even more exceptional, resulting in a calm intensity from beginning to end. 

Enjoy!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Henry Threadgill - The Other One (Pi Recordings, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

The Other One presents the musical component of a large multi-media piece performed and recorded at Roulette Intermedium. The piece involved “film, paintings, photographs, electronics, voice loops, and orchestral music—noted and improvised.” I’ll talk about the music, per se, in a minute, but I bring this up because, though the music is playing in my home in isolation, it was created in a sort of collaboration with those other media. I’m not sure what to make of this insight, but it’s interesting to me.

The music itself is a three movement piece entitled “Of Valence,” dedicated to Milford Graves. Threadgill conducts a twelve-piece band, and brings greatness out in the orchestra.

Movement 1, sections 1 and 2, comprise a solo piano piece that begins introspectively, and then takes on a scene setting role. Like the Narrator in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, this movement lays the ground, somehow preparing us for what’s to come, taking us through a series of flexibly temporal spaces and ending on a sequence of chords that sound like genuine affection.

The first notes of the next sections begin with two altos (I think) talking back and forth, and this moment brought to mind Jimmy Lyons. I’m not sure why. It wasn’t a direct recollection, but it provoked a memory of Lyon’s work. This happened to me a number of times through “Of Valence.” My experience of it—which I’m not saying is Threadgill’s intention—was one in which some present sounds connected me to some past sounds. For me, the present doesn’t repeat the past, but sometimes it rhymes.

The two altos are on their own for but a moment and then the orchestra kicks in full a tempo, at least for a while. Threadgill’s structures are wonderfully unpredictable. We’re launched with a rhythmic ensemble passage. The tempo retards, then the 2 cellos get into a duo conversation, everyone else pausing for a moment.

Threadgill uses timbre and orchestration the way other composers use theme and motif (although Threadgill also uses theme and motif). This cycle of mixtures and timbres creates a unified thing of the parts, like bricks held together by mortar. I would say the mortar for Threadgill is Jose Davila’s tuba and Craig Weinrib’s percussion, but I think my masonry metaphor is getting out of hand.

The 16+ minute second movement is a slow build—unsectioned—beginning with an extended meditation by the embedded string quartet. Their voices are joined by a series of winds and electronics. Eventually the pile on happens and we’re whipped into a frenzy. The movement closes gently with pizzicato, drum brushes, and breathy tenor (I think). Movement 3 starts again with the strings and a short opening, before a section of “big band,” with a charismatic alto soloing over a Threadgill field.

The NY Times called this music (when it reviewed the live premiere) “obliquely danceable.” And honestly, I don’t think I can do better, because the music does move you, physically as well as emotionally. There is a dance going on. Also shifting scenes of a walk through a city. And many conversations. The combination of the improvisers’ gifts and the inherent uncanniness of Threadgill’s writing bring to mind “the sound of surprise.” Knowing that multi-media were happening in tandem with “Of Valence,” I do wonder “what did I miss?” But the music itself is an abundance and nothing is, in fact, missing. It’s a beautiful recording.

Henry Threadgill – conductor
Alfredo Colón – alto saxophone
Noah Becker – alto saxophone, clarinet
Peyton Pleninger – tenor saxophone
Craig Weinrib – percussion, electronics
Sara Caswell – violin
Stephanie Griffin – viola
Mariel Roberts – cello
Christopher Hoffman – cello
Jose Davila – tuba
David Virelles – piano
Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon
Adam Cordero – bassoon

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Kammerflimmer Kollektief - Schemen (Karl Records, 2023)

By Martin Schray

When a band releases their eleventh album after almost 25 years, it’s a good opportunity to review their body of work. Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s first recording Mäander (released in 1999), is rather a weird downtempo album, launched by Thomas Weber (guitar, electronics), who started the project and has been the band’s mastermind until today. From their beginnings, the band has incessantly been developing their own musical vision. Their quest for a unique sound is recognizable on the sophomore album Incommunicando, and the fact that Johannes Frisch on double bass augmented the group proved that they were on a good way. With Dietrich Foth’s saxophone, the band also moved more in a free jazz direction, but without switching completely to this genre. Nevertheless, the dissipations and the blatant outbursts, which are still a trademark of the band today, were already laid out there. When they moved to the Staubgold label Heike Aumüller (harmonium, vocals) became part of the band and certain additional sound characteristics began to emerge. From 2010 onwards Aumüller, Weber and Frisch have formed the core of the band, and with Wildling they created a first masterpiece. The Kammerflimmer sound is fully matured here, a melange of Psychedelia, Free Jazz, Country Music elements and Dub Reggae. However, it’s important that the music is never about adaptation but about transformation. In a nutshell: a bastard you might call Free Form Ambient. Désarroi , their last album on Staubgold, is able to keep this level, being their freest one in the process. Their last release, There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us (Bureau B, 2018), showed the band from their darker side, but still the quality level was enormously high. The question was what else could be added to this distinctive sound on a new album.

To answer the question immediately: in spite of all the continuity, quite a bit. The liner notes mention that Kammerflimmer Kollektief are aware of the fact, that every sound that comes out of guitar, bass, harmonium, percussion and electronic equipment has already been taken into the stranglehold of meaning. And the band seems to have enough of it. So, nothing has to be explained any more, which is why they speak about schemes. “Slurred“ and “Jerky“. These are exactly the name of the first two pieces that are exemplary for the whole album. “Erstes Kapitel: verschliffen“, (First Chapter: slurred), begins with two guitar chords, which are repeated constantly like in a blues song. A bass drone lurks in the background before dissolving into a riff. Layer upon layer is then piled on top of this basic structure: drums, loops, sine generator lines, the characteristic Kammerflimmer slide guitar, noises of all kinds. Even structurally, this is a typical piece for the band. At first you recognize a straightforward tune, and you get comfortable in it. But gradually you are pulled out of that comfort, gently at first, then more and more uncompromisingly. The beat loses itself almost imperceptibly, sound traces fade away, instead atonal elements push forward. Synthesizer sounds are shot into nothingness, piano chords get lost, all kinds of electronics flicker through the area. The track drags itself to the saving shore. The longer you listen to the song, the more blurred it becomes.

Then, “Zweites Kapitel: ruckartig“, (Second Chapter: jerky), also reminds us of old Kammerflimmer pieces. Heike Aumüller’s harmonium introduces softly, but the guitar is completely fragmentary (a bit Keiji-Haino-like), it’s highly distorted, while the bass refuses any kind of steadiness, before everything is jerkily pushed into another direction, which is also desolate and atonal. The consistent stylistic element of the piece is the ebb and flow of the sounds, the volume, it works with very strong contrasts. Every even brief period of rest is immediately broken up. Certainly because of its wildness the most Free-Jazz-like piece of the album.

What follows is “Drittes Kapitel: ungesagt (dann vergessen)“, (Third Chapter: unsaid, then forgotten), actually a real hit song (if there was such a thing in this genre), which redeems us from the uncomfortableness of the second piece and spoils us with a wonderful harmonic structure - only to brutally shake it in the middle of the piece with a noise passage. The shake, however, lasts only a short time. The last chapters are then rather short, but “Sechstes Kapitel: herausgewunden“ shows once again what is also new about Schemen. Christopher “Giga“ Brunner is on drums, an old companion of the band, and he contributes a lot to a varied sound. He does this by keeping a steady groove most of the time, but shifting the emphasis of the beats, which creates an underlying tension and accounts for the ambiguities, the schemes, that form the basic theme of the album.

When you allow yourself to get involved with the interlocking sounds of the Kammerflimmer Kollektief, you recognize “a free-spirited hybrid of psychoacoustic and intuitive meandering between improv parts and loops on the one hand and a song form that only almost dissolves on the other. All of it perhaps mind-bending, always hanging between precision and freedom, but without escapism“, as Weber puts it. Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s work in the studio is influenced by legendary tape collages, as known from Can, This Heat, or Soft Machine. Weber says he works as if he’s in a trance and says he doesn’t really know what he’s doing until he finally does it. It is layered and discarded again, until it fits intuitively. The great Robert Wyatt once put it very beautifully: “Soft Machine are specialized in background noise for people scheming, seducing, revolting and teaching. Cosmically heady, unconventional to a fault.“

There’s nothing more to add. Outstanding!

Schemen is available on vinyl, CD and as a download.

You can listen to the album and buy it here:



Watch Bernd Schoch’s superb video for “Drittes Kapitel [ungesagt,dann vergessen]“:

Monday, May 22, 2023

Franz Hautzinger - Gomberg III-V - Airplay (Trost, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

The late Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo said once that "most trumpet players think that the trumpet is a musical instrument to make sound with breathing, but I found it is a musical instrument to make sounds to express Breathing”. Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger has a similar philosophy and has used the name Gomberg as an alter ego and a tool for him to "overcome his own limitations" as a trumpeter. Hauzinger began his Gomberg recordings with the milestone Gomberg (Quartertone-Trumpet Solo) (GROB, 2000) and Gomberg II >>Profile<< (Loewenhertz, 2007).

Gomberg III-V collects recordings from 2008 to 2018, in Vienna, Hautzinger's hometown, and his current home in Brest in north-western France. The 22 miniature pieces are commissioned works, created for distinct art spaces or site-related works, works for films and theatre, performance artists, writers and poets and some are musical diary notes, or, as Hautzinger calls them, references"to the breath of the souls". Hautzinger sees his solo work and especially Gomberg III-V as a “point of reflection: it can awaken a feeling that one did not know existed long ago”.

Hautzinger plays on the quartertone trumpet, augmented with electronic effects, zither, his voice and percussion. Gomberg III-V is a monumental catalog of Hauztzinger’s explorative and idiosyncratic language - a highly personal vocabulary and syntax, expressed with an array of extended breathing techniques - that reimagines and often transforms the trumpet into an alien sonic entity. His minimalist yet precise, almost otherworldly electronic sounds borrow the syntax of reductionist electronic music.

Fellow Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl, who wrote the liner notes and collaborated before with Hautzinger, describes Hautzinger as a sonic shaman and a trickster who always crosses sonic borders, radically carefree of everyday rationality, and a musician who evokes archaic memories from a time when there was not yet a distinction between the divine and the non-divine. And, indeed, Hautzinger is a fearless master of sculpting enigmatic ambient and hyper-orchestral soundscapes, with total command of effects, including noises, processed and fragmented poetic voices and subtle, futurist dance beats. These miniature pieces become more economic and austere in time but maintain a rare, elusive quality. A piece like “Anna Politkowskaja”, titled after the Russian journalist and human rights activist who was murdered in 2006, is one the most beautiful and unsettling pieces here.

Stangl asserts that Hauzinger marks the end of another Viennese musical school and the founding of its new one. Clearly, Gomberg III-V is a radically singular work and one of the most impressive trumpet albums of our times.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Magnet Festival - Wiesbaden, Germany, May 12 - 14, 2023

Magnet Festival Poster

By Paul Acquaro

At the end of the first night of the Magnet Festival in Wiesbaden, the young Estonian pianist Kirke Karja was playing a grand piano in the middle of a graffiti adorned Skatehalle. The room, a large cinderblock and concrete warehouse space converted into a multi-leveled indoor skateboarding park, sounded surprisingly good. It was reverberant but not echoing, and supported her practical and powerful playing, in which she was transforming the 20th-century German composer Paul Hindemith's “Ludus Tonalis” through improvisation. The dancing melodic lines and crashing chords actually fit quite nicely into this incongruous setting. 

Kirke Karja  © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

The Skatehalle's location is part of the Kulturpark Wiesbaden, a park-area adjacent to the main train station whose transformation from the site of a former slaughterhouse began in the mid-1990s. First, the buildings of the slaughterhouse were converted into the Kulturzentrum Schlachthof's rock club and rehearsal studios, and later, in 2008, the area around the buildings was turned into a place for the city's youth to play sports, go to concerts, skateboard, and party. Along the road running parallel to the Kulturepark is the Kreativfabrik Wiesbaden, another former industrial building converted into a creative space, housing a network of offices and groups dedicated to creating and managing cultural events in the city. It is also home to the aformentioned Skatehalle, the basement rock club Krea and a relaxed outside lounge, the Vogeltränke. Located next door is the Murnau Stiftung, an institute dedicated to preserving early German movie heritage, restoring the delicate films and making them available to the public. So, the area provided the perfect location for the newly established festival, which itself was setting out to draw people across generations, interested in experimental music, together in new ways, like, for example, the older folks sitting on the half-pipes and grooving to variations on Hindemith.

The first edition of the Magnet festival is the result of three years of planning from father and son team of Raimund Knösche and Leo Wölfel. Architect and passionate music promoter, Knösche had for many years co-produced the city's Just Music festival. With a focus on jazz and avant-garde, he ran the festival with pianist Uwe Oberg from 2004 - 2021, then in 2021, Knösche and Wölfel, a musician experienced with festival production in Berlin, teamed up to create something different with a foot in free jazz and improvisation and the other in Wölfel's world of experimental pop and electronics. The decision to remain in Wiesbaden, they felt, offered open-eared audiences an opportunity that is rare in the city.

A quick glance of the program already revealed an exciting mix of genres and artists. In fact, it was only on the last night, Sunday, with the fiery improvisations of the Luis Vincente quartet and, well, fiery improvisations of Mette Rasmussen's Tiro North, that the old school free jazz fans would have their most urgent desires fulfilled. Yet, they came out on Friday and Saturday too, and what they - and everyone else - experienced was an ear and eye opening cross-section of experimental music reaching across genres and even the idea of what it means to make music. 

Jim Hart and Evi Filippo © Cristina Marx / Photomusix
 
Elvin Brandhi & Ludwig Wandinger © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

From the opening moments of the festival, the energy and diversity of acts was palpable. Under the low ceiling of the Krea, the acoustic percussion and vibraphone duo of Berlin based Evi Filippo and UK's Jim Hart lit the dark room. It was the duo's first meeting and it generated sparks of musical innovation - a desired result of the organizers who had created such "laboratory concerts." Prior to appearing on stage, the duo had quickly worked out versions of some of their own respective compositions but let their collaborative creativity drive their inspired improvisations (plus, one simply cannot beat the sound of two vibraphones shimmering together, seemingly with levitational powers). The next night, a similar set-up led to the eviscerating sounds of electronics, percussion, and experimental vocals from Berlin's Ludwig Wandinger and UK based Elvin Brandhi, which filled the larger Kesselhaus space.


Peter Evans © Cristina Marx / Photomusix
 
Marlies Debacker

Farida Amadou © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

Another curatorial feature was a programming of solo performers who have more recently established themselves on the international improvisation scene. In addition to the aforementioned pianist Karja, there was American trumpeter Peter Evans, whose solo show was a tour-de-force of self-synergism. Playing inside the Skatehalle, atop a double sloping ramp, or what is known as a 'funbox' in Skatepark parlance, Evans evoked a M.C. Escher like displacement not of impossible staircases, but of musical planes. Using carefully interspersed notes, supported by circular breathing and a singular intensity, Evans created - with a single trumpet - layers of melody and harmony that suggested to the ear the range of an entire group. Another solo show in the Skatehalle on the last night by Cologne based pianist Marlies Debacker (who was actually a last minute replacement on the program) showcased virtuosic and imaginative new approaches to her instrument. Her performance was structured around a contrast of minimalism and maximalism, in which she created swelling waves of overtones by repetitive plucking of the strings inside the piano while playing neighboring notes on the keyboard. Concentrating on first the high end of the keyboard, when she then suddenly switched to the opposite, the contrast was jarring. The same happened when she moved to the middle of the keyboard and began playing sweeping melodic lines. The other solo performance was in the Krea, a short set of solo electric bass from Belgian musician Farida Amadou. Through rhythmic tapping and sparse melodic lines, her approach sounded like brutalist architecture, those imposing concrete shapes, startlingly arranged and unexpectedly transformed into objects of fascination and beauty.

Dan Nicholls and Lou Zon © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

Julian Sartorius with Nicholls and Zon © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

Y-OTIS © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

No festival is complete without a featured artist and at Magnet this was Dan Nicholls, a keyboardist from the UK and currently living in Berlin, performing with three very different projects showcasing his musical visions. The first was presented on Saturday early evening as a laboratory concert in the Kesselhaus following the Brandhi & Wandinger set. Here, the cavernous room was transformed via sound and video into Nicholls' living room. Or maybe it is better envisioned as a co-working space. Seated at a low table on cushions, Nicholls and Dutch video artist, Lou Zon, faced each other but were intent on their laptop screens. Typing, clicking, they programmed the environment around everyone, Nicholls with a serene mix of ambient sounds and relaxed, understated grooves, and Zon with austere imagery of nature, flowers, small waves in the sea, saturated in deep blue hues. Over the course of the set, they created a pulsating and evocative sensory environment, bound in tones and tempo. 

Later that evening, Nicholl's closed out the musical portion of the evening as the keyboardist with the group Y-Otis, led by Swedish (and also Berlin based) saxophonist Otis Sandsjo, and rounded out by Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and German drummer Tilo Weber. Combining swirling saxophone lines, fractional drum patterns, jagged basslines and expressive synth work, delivering a fluid mix of electronica, hip-hop and groove-oriented jazz, the group delivered the sold-out audience a musically sweeping and danceable experience from a promising beginning to a climatic end. Nicholl's third performance, on the last day, found him with Zon and Swiss drummer Julian Sartorius in the dark coziness of Krea. Nicholl's spacey Klaus Schulze approach from yesterday's laboratory concert was now replaced with a much edgier one, as Sartorius' sharp and propulsive drum work gave Nicholls and Zon a different set of impulses. The visuals, while still suffused in the restricted color pallets and natural imagery, were now split, flickering, and rapidly changing with the aggressive pulsations, while Nicholls' digital tones were more intense, dueting with Sartorius' precise beats.
 

Luís Vicente Quartet © Cristina Marx / Photomusix
 
Mette Rasmussen Trio North © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

The last day of the Festival was bookended by the two aforementioned free jazz sets. Portuguese trumpeter Luís Vicente, American (and current Brussels resident) saxophonist John Dikeman, American bassist Luke Stewart and Dutch drummer Onno Govaert, have come together as a conduit to the fire music of the 60s and 70s. Drawing compositional inspiration from Ornette Coleman, Ayler and others, Vicente's songs with their bifurcated melody lines served as springboards for the intense solos from himself and Dikeman. Stewart and the bass blend as one, his powerful, assured bass lines and Govaert active drumming ensured that there was never an unsupported moment. Later that night, Trondheim based saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and her Trio North, with Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Olaf Moses Olsen, quickly rekindled the free jazz fire still smouldering from the first set. The set featured Rasmussen's own compositions which often contained knotty melodies with many syncopated stops and starts, and of course featured the improvisational prowess of herself and Håker Flaten. As the songs opened up, so did the improvisation, and Olsen's years as a rock drummer lent an extra umph when the trio settled into a more straight ahead groove and entered into The Thing's musical territory.


Skylla © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

The Great Harry Hillman © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

Over the three days, there was quite a range of events. In addition listening sessions with some of artists, which proved to be a popular draw, there were also avant-pop and rock acts and, on Satuday night, DJ sets. On Friday, Skylla featured the unusual line up of UK's Ruth Goller on bass and vocals, along with Lauren Kinsell and Alice Grant both also adding vocals. Their sound was a mix of whimsical folk bound by crunchy bass solos. Friday night also featured the Swiss math rock/free improvisation/absurdist humor band, The Great Harry Hillman. At the band's core is bass clarinetist Nils Fischer whose melodic sensibilities drive bassist Samuel Huwyle and drummer Dominik Mahnig playing - or maybe that's vice-versus. David Koch's guitar provides texture and a purposely off-key solo, accompanied by a huge grin from Huwyle, underscored a mischievous undercurrent in the band's intricate music.

Still House Plants © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

Astrid Sonne & Vanessa Bedoret © Cristina Marx / Photomusix

On Saturday, also from the UK was the group Still House Plants, whose combination of Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach's anguished vocals, Finlay Clark's subversively de-tuned guitar and David Kennedy's solid drumming was able to summon some surprisingly interesting moments. Later that evening, a set presented by the Danish artist Astrid Sonne, featured her singing, electronics and violin work in a duo with violinist and guitarist Vanessa Bedoret. The combination of electronic backgrounds with Sonne's hearty vocals was often quite lovely. Saturday's concerts wrapped up at midnight and were then followed by a club night with DJ's spinning into the wee hours.

The festival also offered those who were either visiting the city for the weekend, or even the day, a chance to explore the capital city of the state of Hesse. The very walkable city features a dynamic combination of museums and galleries, a thriving network of shopping streets closed to traffic and festooned with cafes, restaurants and stores, and an impressive number of green spaces. Walking past the state museum and another now under construction (to house the postwar abstract art collection of businessman Reinhard Ernst), there is a sculpture park with the Hessian State Theatre at the end. This leads quickly to the Kurpark - a stunning English garden with the former Kurhaus. Built around 1910, the monumental building, a mixture of neo-classical architectural styles, housed the popular thermal spas. It is now home to a casino and convention center. Just a quick shuffle away is the public Kochbrunnen Platz. Here, the mineral rich, hot steaming water pours out over a volcanic shape painted by the minerals, as well as through a covered fountain. Of course, you haven't really had a taste of Wiesbaden until you take a drink of it - by the third sip it really starts opening up. There is more to discover too, like the Roman ruins and the well-stocked Plattebox record store, but for now, back to the festival.

After Mette Rasmussen Trio North's triumphant closing show on Sunday night, the audience trickled out the Kesselhaus and slowly into the mild evening weather. As the weekend had progressed, the size of the audience had grown and the average age had dropped, and now, they were all finally having a moment to reflect on the music from the evening, or maybe even all three nights. Perhaps they were thinking about the expanding definitions of improvisation and feeling excitement over new and developing forms of musical expression, or perhaps were just happy to have had enjoyed some good music. Regardless, there is now next year's edition to look forward to.