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Friday, June 30, 2023

Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim - Starling (sr, 2023)


By Gary Chapin

First impressions of Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim’s debut, Starling: this is textural, improvised music. It sounds post-impressionistic, elegiac. “Soaring” says the liner notes. It has an unashamed sentimentality (or sentiment) and melancholy. There are sections of dissonance and clash, but mostly it takes its lead from the starlings of the title. Flying in murmurations starlings seem both natural and organized (self-organized). Murmurations have two rules, don’t get too close to each other and don’t get too far away. Lim’s trio has a few more rules than that (e.g., long tones!) but not many more, and it seems just as natural.

Starlingfeatures a trio of herself on violin, Alfredo Colón, EWI/soprano saxophone, and Kalia Vandever, trombone/fx, an ensemble that manages to mix textures and ranges that turns a relatively spare chamber group into a rich sonic source. Lim comes to improvisation via classical and chamber music and you can hear that in the language she speaks in these pieces.

The trio pieces have the three musicians setting space and tone with a few motions and then building more textures on that. It’s all ensemble playing, in the sense that there never seems to be a solo/accompaniment hierarchy happening. The third track, “Drawing Out,” starts with a sax minimalism that I want to say is in one, the violin stacks long high long tones on top of that, then the trombone adds more. Soon there is wandering, with the role of repetitive foundation being passed between them. They are listening intently to each other.

Mixed into the trio is one solo piece per player, giving us a sense of how the individuals and the group relate to each other. Kalia Vandever’s “Passing By” features her trombone interacting with her fx. Like playing into a clever echo canyon and having it answer your questions. Lim’s “Going Through (Molto Agitato)” is a very violinistic violin piece with burrs, double stops and chromatic slides. Colón’s “Quick Flight” almost sounds oboe-istic for its 53 seconds of light, Puckish extravagance.

“As It All Goes By” closes the set where it began, leaning on the strengths of the trio. These are expanses, not cascades. Sunrises, not supernovas. Tension tension—release. It’s the soundtrack for a film I want to see because I know it will improve my quality of life. There it is: Starlings improves my quality of life.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The End - Why Do You Mourn (Trost Records, 2023)

By Martin Schray

It starts with a Black Sabbath riff, and you’ll love it right away. Immediately you think of Fire!’s She Sleeps, She Sleeps, but of course The End is a different band. After two albums on Rare Noise, this powerhouse consisting of Sofia Jernberg (vocals), Kjetil Moster (clarinet and tenor sax), Mats Gustafsson (flutes, baritone sax and electronics), Anders Hana (baritone and bass guitar) and Borge Fjordheim (drums) has landed on the Austrian Trost label with their third album. Little has changed in the sound, but there are some significant differences as to references and compositional structures. Compared to their debut Svårmod Och Vemod Är Värdesinnen, for example, Why Do You Mourn is clearer and more focused. There are fewer sprawling noise passages, the earlier funk influence is almost non-existent, instead there are extended excursions into classic British folk. “Snow“, the first track of the album offers exemplarily everything the album has to offer: Quasi divided into two parts it starts with slow Doom Metal (the above mentioned Black Sabbath riff), over which Jernberg’s vocals and the two saxophones swing into absurd heights, before the track is completely stopped and suddenly becomes a tender folk piece somewhere between Fairport Convention and Joanna Newsom.

Also, on the rest of the album the band combines free jazz, traditionals and hard rock with Jernberg’s ethereal voice to create one hell of a boiling soundscape of dynamics, intensity and weirdness. It’s interesting to see how an alpha dog like Mats Gustafsson fits into a band context and realizes that everything has to revolve around Sofia Jernberg’s voice - her timbre, her timing, her sound and her technical diversity. Because that’s where the emotional depth of the music comes from.

Nowhere can you hear it better than on The End’s cover version of Rigmor Gustafsson’s “Winter Doesn’t End“, in the original an oily, germ-free jazz ballad, in which music and the somber content of the lyrics have almost nothing to do with each other. Jernberg radically reinterprets the song; she brings out the ominous nature of the text, the emotional despair. The arrangement is barren like the landscape in the song, the pitch shrill, the flute atonal. All beauty and warmth have left the world, leaving behind mere emptiness in men. That which is commonly associated with Scandinavian jazz, the floating ECM sound that has degenerated into a cliché (there are great ECM albums, don’t get me wrong), to which one likes to drink an expensive Chablis in posh jazz clubs, is radically thrown overboard here.

However, if you think this is the highlight of the album, you’re wrong. That’s “Whose Face“, a track that - with its theme, its force and its power - is most reminiscent of The Thing and Fire! but which quickly evolves into a folk-rock monster. “Inside my head / a common room / a common place / a common tune,“ Jernberg sings - repeating it again and again. This is music as necromancy, a psychedelic nightmare in which Gustafsson does what most of his fans love him for: blasting out merciless, brutal saxophone riffs and galloping away recklessly until the reins are stretched to breaking point.

The album? A killer. But what else did you expect.

The End’s Why Do You Mourn is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to the album and buy it here:

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Temple of Enthusiasm – Temple of Enthusiasm: The Bridge Sessions 14 (The Bridge, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

Temple of Enthusiasm is a recent release from the Franco-American cooperative, The Bridge. It features a uniquely configured ensemble - Marvin Tate (voice, poetry), Gerrit Hatcher (tenor saxophone), Erwan Keravec (bagpipes), Gaspar Claus (cello, electronics) and Lia Kohl (cello) - and consists of a single 40-minute track, ' Missing Stairs.'

'Missing Stairs' begins with an extended droning cello intro. Five-and-a-half minutes in a spirited voice breaks in, shouting on loop “Pack your bags and get the fuck out of here,” then, in a nod to Sun Ra, “It’s after the end of the world. Don’t they know that yet.” Soon after, Tate, the vocalist here, turns more terrestrial and, presumably in a nod to the late Lorretta Lynn’s The End of the World, chants “I wake up in the morning and I wonder why.” Tate continues pulling phrases from here and there, much of which I am sure I am missing. But, that very fleetingness, the caught and missed references, reflects the hinted and fragmented melodies that float in and out of perception. Some sound so familiar, but do not linger long enough to place them.

Most unfamiliar, yet also so fitting, are Keravec’s bagpipes. Sometimes they blend, often enough into Hatcher’s sax-lines. They truly come into their own, however, when layered atop Claus’ synthesized organ hums. This shows its real strength not just in its crescendos, but in the milder moments, such as that around 9:30 in, when these ringing layers and Kohl’s and Claus’s cellos fall into an organ-like drone over which Tate speaks, “I wake up in the morning and you’re not there/I hear your voice calling from another dimensions/Be Brave/Be Vulnerable/Be Foolish/Be You.” I am not sure what Tate is referencing here, or imagining, but it at least speaks of loss, survival and perseverance. And it is surprisingly and plangently effective for music like this. Eleven minutes in Hatcher starts to stride, playing a smokey tenor, over a calm, repeating walking cello melody. Then come high pitched sirens and scratchy strings. Tate continues reciting his alternately lamentatious and affirming Sprechgesang/street-preacher-shout homily, constantly riffing on borrowed phrases (“to be young gifted and black/that’s where it’s at/and that’s a fact,” “soul power/power to the people/power to the movement,” “Give me that old time religion…that’s good enough for me,”) in a manner that sounds both deliberate and free associative. This does not sound like hip-hop, but that style of verbal assemblage still comes through. Through it all, Hatcher’s sax, Keravec’s quavering bagpipes, Claus (whose electronics swell at the 20-minute crescendo) and Kohl’s wailing cello are relentless in their soundmaking. Although much of Missing Stairs plays with drones, the complementary cellos and Hatcher’s sax puncture the fog and periodically pull the piece in softer, chamber-styled directions.

There is so much to unpack in this recording. It demands repeated listens. And, taken with some other recent releases - Fred Moten, Brandon López and Gerald Cleaver’s Moten/Lopez/Cleaver from last year and anything Irreversible Entanglements has put out – one gets the sense a Black Arts resurgence is under way, wherein poetry collides with free jazz (might I add, with bagpipes!), spitting trenchant social commentary, disjointed reflections on consumerist and popular media cultures and an almost postmodern cut-and-paste recontextualization of older forms and snippets that breathe new life into them, a life that reflects our accelerated, soundbite, uncertain modernity. As Tate proposes about 32-minutes in, in one of the peaks, “You never know happiness/you never know the person sitting right next to you/You never know/But it’s alright/Everything, everything gonna be alright…All you gotta do is keep on believing.” Believe in what? He does not say, as his narration spills over into a courtroom scenario, per Tate, in defense of “a victim of circumstances…a victim of accumulated bullshit.” But maybe there is something to that faith in art and some sort of temporal justice down the line. Who knows? No I. I do know, however, that this is a powerful and timely recording of a hell of a live performance.

Temple of Enthusiasmis available as a CD and download on Bandcamp:  

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

hÄK / Danzeisen - hÄK / Danzeisen (Karlrecords, 2023)

By William Rossi

I decided to pick up this album for two main reasons: the Karlrecords line-up is usually right up my alley and I was captivated by the photo chosen as the album cover, and I have to say that sometimes it's good to judge a book by its cover. The instrumental palette on this release is pretty peculiar: just drums and electronics, with the added kicker that some elements and parameters of hÄK's electronic setup are controlled by Danzeisen's kit through the use of triggers and sensors, creating some sort of hybrid human-machine instrument. 

I've always loved duos with just drums and another instrument, be it modern releases like the great collaborations between Chris Corsano and Mette Rasmussen or, going back to the classics, the wonderful Interstellar Space by none other than Coltrane and Rashied Ali, one of my favourite and most listened to albums in his discography. 
On the part of the melodic instrumentalist, I think missing a harmonic foundation forces them to think outside the box, giving them more freedom but also forcing them to make every single note count, it's a huge undertaking and few people are able to pull it off but when they do the result is an intimate performance where the voices and intentions of both musicians are loud, clear and, in some sense, raw, which can be difficult for some people to digest.

One would think that any instrument other than synths would be preferable to be the counterpoint to live drums, as synths can often be stiff, working with clocks, sequencers, arpeggiators, and can limit a drummer's possibilities substantially. Their particular approach, however, fixes all of these limitations, allowing for something that's actually very lively and free, with the added bonus of having the instruments so intertwined that two operate at perfect synchronicity: every crash hit after a pause hits harder since it's always partnered with a response from the electronics, when the kick slows down so do the electronics, when the drums get more intense so do the electronics, instantly and without having to re-adjust the way a human would.

I never felt while listening to this album that the music was cold or mechanical or constricted by the choice of instrumentation; it can be, however, quite harsh and alien at times and it could be a little too out-there for some, which is why the two musicians smartly chose to ease the listener into their sonic world by putting the two more physical tracks on the first half of the album. Even if the glassy bleeps or the electronic swarm of noisy electronics are not your cup of tea you'll find enjoyment in the tribal rhythms and the propulsive energy of "Aufwärts" and "Kurve (parts 1 and 2)", the perfect backdrop for a dystopian cyberpunk disco. 

After a while the non-musicality of the synths will start to make sense to you as you get accustomed to their internal logic and they will sound as natural to you as a saxophone or a trumpet would.

The third track "Abwärts" marks the beginning of the second, more abstract half, of the album: gone are the attempts at a constant beat, preferring constant tempo changes, abrupt stops followed by punky drum explosions as the modular synthesizer screams and squeals, eschewing all melody in an unrelenting attack on the listener that's utterly unpredictable from its busy start, to its weirdly soothing middle section and its explosive finale; the highlight of the entire release. 
The last track "Ungerade" is the logical conclusion to the madness, forgoing even the vitality of the tom-heavy drum rolls, at least for a while, and giving the spotlight to the arrhythmic alien sounds of the electronics, their high-pitched ringing and deep bass with subtle rises and drops in tension punctuated by fluid and elusive drumming, gently taking the listener to the end of the album's journey.

The music on this release inhabits some sort of musical no man's land: too free and not danceable enough for electronic music fans and not traditional-sounding enough for hardline free jazz fans; but we must never forget that the records and sound we put in such high regard today, be it Ornette Coleman or Peter Brötzman, were initially frowned upon by the so called "jazz purists". Stagnation is the death of art and this album brings something new to the table that I hope the duo will continue to build upon and that will inspire other musicians to put their own spin to this sound and way of playing. I'll be listening closely.

Available on vinyl and digital from Karlrecords

Monday, June 26, 2023

Aki Takase & Alexander von Schlippenbach - Four Hands Piano Pieces (Trost, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Berlin-based master pianists Aki Takase (75) and Alexander von Schlippenbach (85) are two of the most distinguished composers-improvisers of our time, and also partners in life and in music. They are playing together as a duo for about thirty years (and also in many other formats) and their first piano duet album Live in Berlin 93/94 was released by the legendary label FMP in 1995. Listening to their new piano duet, Four Hands Piano Pieces, recorded in September 2021, it is clear that Takase and von Schlippenbach enjoy and appreciate good arguments in music as in life, but, obviously, know how to settle heated arguments.

Von Schlippenbach describes the duo dynamics in a typical economic language: “'During the first attempts to improvise with four hands on the piano, it soon became clear that playing together without any conceptual guidelines - of whatever kind - can quickly lead to unwanted tautologies or even pleonasms. On the other hand, it is quite possible that with longer experience in practice, something useful will emerge. The present pieces, which were composed over a period of thirty years meet these criteria in different ways”.

Well, Four Hands Piano Pieces proves that much more than “something useful” emerged from this idiosyncratic duo. You can hear in Takase and von Schlippenbach’s visiting with two grand pianos almost the whole musical history of the 20th and the 21st century, from the meticulously composed to the free improvised and everything in between. The short, 11 pieces last only 38 minutes but encompass a rich world of compositional and free (or as von Schlippenbach says: pure) improvisation strategies, and from what von Schlippenbach calls “sporty, acrobatic gymnastics”, through tense collisions of cluster sequences, composed and improvised arguments and quarrels, grotesque dance and self-parody. And one playful cover of German composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s "Allegro Agitato" which was composed for a radio play for Elias Canetti's "Die Befristeten".

Takase and von Schlippenbach take the listener for a wild ride, cerebral and thoughtful but also engaging and insightful. There are very few musicians who can offer such a wise and profound spectrum of music.


Watch here:

Saturday, June 24, 2023

More Soul and Fire

By Lee Rice Epstein

Another in a loose, completely unpredictable series of round-ups, featuring three more albums of high-wire, fiery music that falls somewhere in the wide and expansive realm of this blog’s readership’s listening habits. (See the first Soul and Fire round-up here)

Editrix - Editrix II: Editrix Goes To Hell (Exploding In Sound Records, 2022)

Editrix is a sharp-edged, hooky trio with guitarist (and blog-fan-fave) Wendy Eisenberg, bassist Steve Cameron, and drummer Josh Daniel. The second album from Editrix sends the band to hell in name only, the music is as fun as the debut, if not more so. Eisenberg’s guitar shimmers on the opening title track, like a spiky remnant lifted from eight tracks of shoegaze noise. As they sing, “Don’t stop, don’t look away, I’ll run away from you,” Cameron and Daniel lay down a sinewy punk groove that immediately pivots to metal madness on “The Hunt.” The songs are catchy as, well, hell? “Queering Ska” mashes up a ska-punk backbeat with Eisenberg’s pointed, melancholy lyrics, while “Two Questions” is a dub-inflected headbanger. One of many of the album’s highlights, “I Can Hear It” rises and falls in crashing waves, Cameron surfing right through alongside Eisenberg. Where, on previous albums, the rising and falling melodic lines from guitar and bass hinted at Eisenberg’s jazz bona fides, their Editrix compositions thrash and romp unexpectedly.

Ahleuchatistas - Expansion (Riverworm Records, 2022)

Ahleuchatistas is a trio, sometimes duo, that’s been going so long it’s probably old enough to drink by now. Most recently, guitarist Shane Parish pulled together a trio with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Danny Piechocki. Ahleuchatistas has long occupied an intersection of arch wit, punchy drums, and swinging up-tempo guitar that, to reference one track, keeps on giving. After Parish spent some time with this band as a duo, Dunn and Piechocki are brilliant additions to the Ahleuchatistas extended family. Titles like “Megamegalopolis” and “End Times Careerism” give an idea of the sense of humor, and both also feature Parish laying down remarkably layered riffs that play delightedly off of Dunn’s mind-blowing bass lines. For the impatient listener, the trio rarely (if ever) stop moving; for the patient listener, the hallmarks of Parish’s other albums are present and accounted for: folk and blues colliding with punk and classical. And where is the jazz, per se? Well, what’s not jazz about it, says I.

 The group is on tour in June to support Expansion...

Max Kutner - High Flavors (self-released, 2022)

Max Kutner is something like a guitarist-plus on High Flavors, an album recorded just around the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic with trumpet player Eli Asher, saxophonist Michael Eaton, bassist Kurt Kotheimer, and drummer Colin Hinton. As usual for Kutner, the music pulls from his deep well of jazz, synth funk, and prog rock, with a warm humor that shaves away any pretense associated with those genres (for the purposes of this review, assume genre is a thing—for the purposes of enjoyment, there is no genre only music). Throughout the album, layers of overdubs and samples slot in and out of the tracks (with, as the liner notes mention, “A High Point of Low Culture” highlighting Kutner’s grandfather on saxophone). Around the halfway mark of opener “Deramping,” Kutner, Asher, and Eaton start in on collectively melting faces. The group has more surface jazz markers than Editrix or Ahleuchatistas, occasionally dropping into all-out swing or gutbucket blues territory. Like Eisenberg and Parish, Kutner has a kind of infectious, fearless joy that comes blazingly through.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Peter Brötzmann (1941 - 2023)

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

There are many anecdotes from Peter Brötzmann’s life. How groundbreaking he was is shown by an event that’s hardly imaginable from today’s perspective. On a Friday afternoon in 1967, seven gentlemen were sitting around a table in a TV studio of the WDR (Germany's largest public broadcasting corporation) discussing free jazz. The witness for the prosecution was Klaus Doldinger (the saxophonist who later composed the film music for “The Boat“) with his band, the defendant was Brötzmann, one of the apologists of this new thing. Both protagonists - Brötzmann played with Peter Kowald on bass and Aldo Romano on drums - had to answer to the panel of critics. At one point Brötzmann was asked if he could play jazz standards. He could, Brötzmann said, but he didn’t want to. His statement was incredibly cool and left the others almost speechless. This revolutionary attitude shaped his entire musical life; he simply didn’t care what others think.

This episode also showed the enigmatic aura he was always surrounded with, a dark, sullen iridescence that is difficult to put into words. On the one hand, his charismatic appearance made him an icon during his lifetime. On the other hand, Brötzmann met such veneration with skeptical, almost contemptuous equanimity. At a gig in Pforzheim, when the organizer was announcing him and reminded him of the blissful times in the jazz club there in the 1960s, he simply snapped, “Oh, why don’t you just stop it!“ and began to play.

A main reason for the development of his musical style might have been the fact that he was an autodidact. At 16, he played the clarinet in a Dixieland band in his hometown of Remscheid. He switched to the tenor saxophone when the group began to explore swing and bebop later on. In 1959 he moved to nearby Wuppertal to study painting and commercial art. There he met Fluxus artist Nam June Paik, who was highly influential for his artistic philosophy. “I realized that in jazz, too, we had to break through the well-rehearsed conventions and clichés if we wanted to proceed“, he told journalist Bert Noglik in an interview. In Wuppertal he met the bassist Peter Kowald, a soul mate as far as music was concerned. Together with him and with drummer Sven-Åke Johansson he formed his first trio, which recorded For Adolphe Sax (BRÖ, 1967), a big bang for freely improvised music in what was then West Germany. There was neither a tonal center nor any periodic rhythm, compositional approaches were dispensed with. A shock for many listeners to this day.

Surprisingly, however, there was a certain success, which resulted in invitations to the Jazzfest in Frankfurt, for example. Yet, there was also an enormous uproar, although the trio was only allowed to play for 15 minutes. The good thing was that the gig led to a relationship with German concert impresario Fritz Rau, who supported the Machine Gun Octet in 1968, whose recording at the Lila Eule in Bremen has become one of the most important free jazz albums of all time. Brötzmann’s trio with drummer Han Bennink and pianist Fred Van Hove emerged from that octet, a first super group of European free jazz (although Brötzmann never liked that term). The band lasted until 1975 (as to recordings).

The following years saw a meandering Brötzmann, with no steady band until he decided to try something new again: He crossed another border and turned to rock. Last Exit, a band consisting of him, Sonny Sharrock (guitar), Bill Laswell (bass) and Ronald Shannon Jackson), was a fascinating bastard of improvised music and free rock, unheard at their time. What was more, he eventually gained the respect of the U.S. scene, which had long regarded the European free jazz musicians with suspicion. In the 1990s, he played frequently with what was arguably the world’s best rhythm section at that time: William Parker (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums). Augmented by Brötzmann’s friend Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, Die Like A Dog was born, a quartet echoing the ideas of Albert Ayler’s music.

Finally (and with the help of Ken Vandermark), Brötzmann experienced the ultimate push to become the great elder statesman of free jazz when he docked on the Chicago scene - a match made in heaven. His European-American tentet (which was sometimes even expanded) lasted almost 15 years. It was an incredible achievement to keep a large formation like this together for such a long time. He ended it almost out of the blue. In a letter he wrote: “In 2011 with the weekends in London and Wuppertal we have reached the peak of what is possible in improvisation and communication with an immense input from all of us. For my taste it is better to stop on the peak and look around than gliding down in the mediocre fields of 'nothing more to say' bands.“ Typical Brötzmann.

In terms of health, his last years were often a rollercoaster ride. He suffered from what is sometimes called “glassblower’s disease“. The increased pressure on the lungs had damaged the respiratory tract in the long run and especially the exhalation became difficult. It was a miracle that Brötzmann was still able to play for so long, even if one could see his efforts.

It’s almost impossible to give a limited selection of recommendations from over 600 albums Peter Brötzmann has played on. The aforementioned For Adolphe Sax is certainly a milestone (but perhaps music-wise not among his best recordings). But Machine Gun (BRÖ, 1968), his octet release, has changed European music and is a must have. Then there’s his sextet/quartet album Nipples (Calig, 1969) with Buschi Niebergall (bass), Han Bennink (drums) and Fred van Hove plus Evan Parker (sax) and Derek Bailey (guitar), another early gem of European free jazz. His trio with Bennink and Van Hove is legendary and all the releases are just outstanding, if I had to pick one it would be their farewell album Tschüss (FMP, 1975). Possibly Brötzmann’s favourite formation was the sax-drum duo. A classic is Schwarzwaldfahrt (FMP, 1977) with Han Bennink, when they played out in the open and included nature sounds and a whole range of instruments for their music. Another one is The Dried Rat-Dog (Okka Disk, 1995) with Hamid Drake, maybe their answer to John Coltrane’s and Rashied Ali’s Interstellar Space. From his recordings with large formations Alarm (FMP, 1983), an international nonet with explosive power, is worthwhile. The best album of the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet might be 3 Nights in Oslo (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010) but all the twelve albums they recorded are sheer killers. Another tentet recording, The März Combo (FMP, 1992), is a personal favorite. It was the band he assembled to celebrate his 50th birthday. Although he wasn’t really satisfied with the result later on, it’s a great album of incredible power. The Die Like A Dog quartet is the living proof that free jazz can swing. They recorded seven albums, you can’t go wrong with their debut Fragments Of Music, Life And Times Of Albert Ayler (FMP, 1994). Last Exit’s first self-titled album (Enemy, 1986) is a great access for listeners who are not familiar with free jazz. Finally, Peter Brötzmann also set standards as to playing solo. His Münster Bern (Tubus Records, 2015) release sums up a lot of his music, it’s a late magnum opus.

An excerpt from an interview with the German journalist Karl Lippegaus possibly puts Peter Brötzmann’s credo in a nutshell: “The bands that I put together or that come about in this way don't just exist because they are all such great musicians, but because we have something to do with each other, because we correspond in this or that way. (...) It’s about life, about survival, that sounds terribly pathetic now, but I really mean it, I’m dead serious. It’s also not something you can do once in a while at some stage of your life - whether it lasts four weeks or four years. It’s a lifelong journey to figure out: how far can you go, where can you go, where are you at this moment.“

There’s no musician I’ve seen live as often as Peter Brötzmann, of no musician I own so many albums. His music changed my way of listening. The fact that he passed away means that something’s definitely missing in this world, it’s a bit as if Easter had gone for good. However, his music is eternal and it will comfort us. Today and forever.

Watch Peter Brötzmann play solo in Warsaw in 2017: 

Milford Graves, Arthur Doyle, Hugh Glover – Children of the Forest (Black Editions Archive, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Coming off their astounding 2022 release Historic Music Past Tense Future , Black Editions Archive digs even deeper into Milford Graves’ trove of recordings to present us with Children of the Forest. Featuring Arthur Doyle, Hugh Glover and Graves himself, this album was recorded at three separate sessions (in order of appearance on the album): March 11, January 24, and February 2, 1976.

The first session catches the trio in full force. Doyle wields his tenor saxophone, flute and bass clarinet (per a note from Arrington de Dionyso), Glover his klaxon and vaccine (a Haitian trumpet), in addition to various percussion, and Milford Graves his drum set. Together they produce some of the most exciting, infarction-inducing music I have heard in a long while. Part of that impression admittedly comes from this release’s historic value. Much, however, comes from its intensity. It is urgent but also celebratory, a step or two further out from John Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s Interstellar Space. (This is a trio recording, but the sound of the album merits the comparison.) And, it is fun, but also biting. Listen to the guffaws of unknown origin (klaxon? vaccine?) cutting into the dance between the flute and drum on March 11, 1976 III, or Doyle’s almost desperate howl through his sax through much of the rest of the pieces recorded in March.

The second session, recorded in January, features just Glover and Graves. These three tracks inevitably lose a little of the anguished gale that Doyle’s horn lends, but not as much as one might assume. Glover tends to play a complementary, rather than frontman, role. Still, he squeezes some curious sounds out of his tenor and bleats out some soaring scales. He also lends more space than Doyle does, which gives Graves, already louder due to the mic set-up, the spotlight.

This brings me to the final track. Recorded on February 2, this one has Graves and only Graves. It is short, but really brings his rhythmicism to the fore. Here, he has no one to respond to or bounce ideas against or steer the music in one direction or another. Rather, he presents a straight-ahead, but complex rhythm that seems to feed off its own energy. The performance lasts for 3 minutes but is so textured and polyrhythmically and repetitiously hypnotizing that it feels like it could go on indefinitely.

All in all, Children of the Forestis a raw, effusively energetic and absolutely essential contribution to each of these musicians’ catalogs. (I am less familiar with Glover but can confidently state this is and will remain among my favorites in my Graves and Doyle collections.) It is free jazz at its best, its most destructive (or deconstructive). Yet, it still proudly proclaims the influence of its two decades of predecessors. Children of the Forest is a statement that is powerful precisely because of its abstraction and its defiantly DIY (but well recorded, all things considered) origin and its bold claim to musical space. And, for all of the fuzz and the few abrupt cuts in the recording, it still sounds radical today. 


And just one more thing...

 By Gary Chapin

It feels almost naive to say that this recording is primal and chthonic. Of course, Milford Graves will be primal and chthonic. Along with Ayler, Graves is the species exemplar of "primal and chthonic," but it always comes as a shock, especially after you've been away from Graves for a while. Having the date verbalized at the beginning of each set makes these feel especially personal, like diary entries. Grave, Arthur Doyle, and Hugh Glover come at us inexorably, somehow sprinting a marathon. It is surprising that this music can exist and when you hear it--especially, as I say, after you've been away for a while--it is appropriate to say, in wonderment, "Wow, that is primal and chthonic."

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Milford Graves with Arthur Doyle & Hugh Glover – Children of the Forest (Black Editions Archive, 2023)

 By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

What someone shouldn’t do, when writing about music, maybe the number one rule, I don’t know, is to present your personal taste as something with a subjective value and truth. But there are those rare moments (that must be rare and not happening twice a month) when the music overwhelms you. Children of the Forest is most definitely one of those moments.

To cut a long story short, as you are aware of master percussionist’s (Milford Graves) story by now, is that he and Arthur Doyle share a common past. Both of them were considered too radical and too free from the musical establishment back in the day. They were given shit about it. Its funny how round the mid 1970’s Graves was already a master of his craft and not just a good drummer, an important figure in New York’s mythologized loft scene and still, he was so under-recorded. The same can be said about sax and flute player Doyle.

There are so many different small things that can be said about this release. Musical but non-musical as well. The choice of the title, Children of The Forest, a reference maybe of the urban jungle they were struggling to live in as black artists not wanting to be mainstream. The amazing, ecstatic photo of the trio by Val Wilmer –such a telling document about what happens on these recordings. The announcements, by Graves himself, of each different date (three of them, all early 1976 from January up to March) that add to the feeling of urgency about this trio and its music.

Talking about this trio: Both professor Graves (as Hugh Glover, the only one still with us, still mentions him) and Arthur Doyle have passed away, but as a trio, they made, during the same period, the seminal Bäbi, the most important free jazz statement in the post-Ayler era of jazz. Needless to say that Children of the Forest is and will be the archival release of the year, maybe the most important archival release of some time now. Many kudos must go to the people that managed to present this music to us, like Peter Kolovos and Michael Ehlers and all the people who worked on this.

Even though I consider Doyle an unsung hero of free thinking music and Glover is an original powerhouse on the sax, one cannot but comment on the commanding presence of Grave’s playing. With my limited technical knowledge and not an audio complement of the recordings around, I feel that Graves uses every little bit of percussion on the set that is visible by the album’s cover. He is a polyrhythmic octopus, channeling aggression and wisdom, ready to follow any sax blowout, bewildered by the importance of the music they are making.

Of course Children of The Forest is not Milford Graves with some sidemen. One of the factor’s that drive me enthusiastic about this music, is that all three of them are so aware of the traditions behind them and, at the same time, so willingly overpass them in order to create something new. Doyle’s tenor sax is an ecstatic force of nature, an equivalent of the trance musics of Africa. Glover, apart from the tenor saxophone, is heard on the klaxon a rather cheap and not popular on jazz recordings instrument. He also plays the vaccine, a one-note trumpet with origins from Haiti. The message is really clear I believe: make your own music out of limited resources, learn your history, and play something new. That’s exactly what those sessions on Children of the Forest offer us.

Graves incorporates several African and Cuban techniques in his playing. His drumming is both playful and flexible but also so focused and energetic. He has to be, as Doyle could fill any space with his own playing, his passion resembling the playing of another great, Albert Ayler.

Children of the Forest, this double vinyl release, renews our interest in free jazz and improvisation of the 70’s. Be it the trio tracks, the duo of Graves and Glover, or Graves soloing on the drums, this is music of transcendence and magic, a journey from the coast of West Africa to the East Coast of U.S.A. and back. It must be heard, everywhere.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Jazzdor Berlin 2023

By Paul Acquaro

The dimensions of time and space can play a decisive role in the form of a jazz festival. The typical approach is to work with time, like the traditional festival held over a compact set of dates, a long weekend in one place, a series of shows starting sometime in the evening of each date. A variation can be overlapping events at multiple locations - something that adds a bit of tension for the festival goer. The Jazzdor organization, however, has chosen the other variable for their festival, space. The festival, which has been happening since 1986 in Strasbourg, France, and since 2007 in Berlin, has in recent years been slowly expanding further across the continent, first to Dresden and now also to Budapest. At the festival's heart is the collaboration of French and German musicians, but it also casts a wider net as it offers the engaged listener a journey of both discovery and creation.

In past years, when my own schedule and the festival's Berlin edition allowed, I would attend a night or two. Perhaps drop in to see a known (to me) musician or group, but not taking in the entirety of the event. This year was different, I went diligently every night to the Kulturbrauerei located in Berlin's dynamic Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood and consciously did not allow any expectations from the names and descriptions in the program to proceed me. This was the perfect approach. There was hardly an act that did not hit some of the right buttons and if the number of CDs one picks up at the merch table is a valid KPI for judging the success of a festival, then for at least one attendee, the festival was a smashing success. Allow me to explain.

Tuesday, June 6th

O.U.R.S. Photo by Ulla C. Binder
Opening night of the festival featured two groups, one the German premier of Clément Janinet's O.U.R.S (short for the enigmatic 'Ornette Under the Repetitive Sky'), a quartet with Janinet on violin, Hugues Mayot on woodwinds, Joachim Florent on double bass and Emmanuel Scarpa on drums and vibraphone, that combines concepts from Ornette Coleman's music with the repetitive minimalist concepts of Steve Reich. The result is a slowly unfolding, churning, legato swell of music that borrows elements from post-rock as well as Coleman's suspended moods (a la 'Lonely Women'), building to dense and tense peaks. Instrument changes added new colors, such as the electric mandolin replacing the violin, or vibraphone instead of drums. On their final extended piece dedicated to Alice Coltrane, the band worked with uneasy grooves and long exploratory passages to come to the journey's end. It was the type of set that leaves you feeling like you've landed elsewhere at the end - in my case, at the merch table.

Christophe Monniot's Six Migrant Pieces. Photo by Ulla C. Binder
The Kesselhaus, a large converted industrial space and main performance hall of the Kulturbrauerei - a converted 19th century brewery complex - is quite canvernous. I had enjoyed the previous set from a balcony in the rear of the rectangular hall but after my visit to the merch table, I had squirmed up to the front row to gain a new perspective.  After a 15-minute or so pause, the premier of saxophonist Christophe Monniot's Six Migrant Pieces began. First as quintet, pianist Jozef Dumoulin started out with a slightly dissonant intro followed by the entru of Bruno Chevillon's bass and Franck Vailant's drums. Over a now forceful and driving pulse, trumpeter Aymeric Avice and saxophonist and composer Christophe Monniot delivered an urgent melody and then got quickly into heated solo exchanges. The music, based on ideas of migrations of people and culture, was captured in a modern jazz rock sound. The second tune welcomed fusion guitarist Nguyên Lê to the stage. His playing began with legato tones from his electric guitar, then to the delight of the guitar lovers out there, Lê brought the energy to a high point with his searing tone and fleet fingerings. Avice, too, was a true stand out during the set, and in a subsequent apperances with his lyrical, biting playing. The ease in which the sextet moved in and out of the songs evolving passages had roots in Weather Reports early style (which was empirically evidenced by a song being dedicated to Wayne Shorter), but one shaped by Minniot's modern melodic sensibilities and the group's strong musical personalities.

Not a bad start to the festival, which would stretch through the week.

Wednesday, June 7

Didier Ithursarry and Elodie Pasquier. Photo by Ulla C. Binder

The three events on the second day of the festival began with a duo with a more folk or classical instrumentation: Didier Ithursarry on accordion and Elodie Pasquier on Bb and bass clarinet. Throughout the set, the duo's warm, reedy timbers flowed and eddied around each other in a constant stream. The accordions gentle chords and harmonic stops provided a sumptuous background for the clarinet's sometimes dissonant melodies. When Pasquir switched to bass clarinet, she introduced a gulping groove and with Ithusarry's turn to deliver the melodic component, generated a close-knit dense energy. The musical pieces conveyed an often romantic, but also sometimes starkly modern classical approach with some blue notes interspersed. The duo had a strong, unique sound and was a expectation setter for the night. 
Olivier Lete's Ostrakind
The second group, led by bassist Olivier Lete's Ostrakind, is a trio that plays traditional instruments with wild creativity. Minimalist grooves emanate from unusual techniques - for example Lete placing small boxes on his electric bass, which he lays flat on his lap, and then plays like small hand drums, creating a thumping pulsation which Aymeric Avice, returning on trumpet(s) and drummer Toma Gouband react to and shape in thier own ways. Like, Gouband using lettuce, bananas and plants picked from the sidewalk as drum sticks (yes, his playing is very organic) and/or Avice using two trumpets at once. The kinetic bass lines and often mournfully lyrical statements from the trumpet kept the experimentalism from stripping away the musical aspects, allowing the audience to get some grip on the music. The set was something completely unexpected, and one of those events that leaves you slightly bewildered but utterly changed at the end. The trio has also just released a recording on Jazzdor's own imprint which is as beguiling as the concert. 
Sylvain Rifflet's Rebellions. Photo by Ulla C. Binder

The set length is generous for a festival, each one stretching at least an hour. Thus, the evening ended late with saxophonist Sylvain Rifflet's quartet featuring the irrepressible Jon Irabagon also on saxophone and Sebastien Boisseau on bass and Christophe Lavergne on drums. Organized around a set of famous speeches expressing rebellion at power structures and status quo, the group translated the intensity of the words into intensity of music, creating a synergy that propelled each other. Pulling on a diverse set of speeches, from the sonorous voice and erudite words of civil rights activist Paul Robeson, to the youthful and incredulous modern day speeches of Greta Thurnberg and Emma Gonzalez speaking out against modern afflictions of climate change and gun control, to the French minister Andre Malraux, who eulogized WWII resistance leader Jean Moulin, among others, provided a source of inspiration. The musicians played along with the speakers' voices, under their projected images, at first tracing the contours and cadences of their voices and then spiraling out in thier own directions. The two saxophonists played off each other, sometimes simultaneously, delivering Rifflet's empathetic melodies and their often fierce solo turns. It was a powerful show and, of course, always a pleasure to hear Irabagon letting loose. Their recording on BMC Records features Jim Black on drums, but otherwise is a faithful representation of what the group brought to the Jazdoor stage.

Thursday, June 7

Dumoulin, Malaby, Ber. Photo by Ulla C. Binder

Adding to the intercultural mix of the festival, American saxophonist Tony Malaby, along with Belgian drummer Samuel Ber and keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, who first played together at a bar in Brussels in 2015, kicked off the evening with a hushed performance of beautifully modulated analog synthesizers and reserved acoustics. The music grew slowly, bound up in tension of potential. Malaby can be a very powerful musician, pushing his saxophone to extremes, but he reserved that power for choice moments when Ber's precise drumming and Dumoulin vintage, textural tones hit certain inflection points. It was hard to anticipate when, but when they did, the music grabbed you. In between, they floated, the suspense building, ebbing and flowing leaving the audience warmed up and ready for more. 
Bonnet/Raulin/Ladd/Chevillon/Rainey. Photo by Ulla C. Binder
The evening's second set was the world premiere of Bonnet/Raulin/Ladd/Chevillon/Rainey - an unheard  combination, even - almost - to the musicians themselves, who had only a quick rehearsal the day prior. Conceived of by the festival, organizer Phillipe Ochem explained that the core of the group, guitarist Richard Bonnet and pianist Francois Raulin, started with a series of compositions written with the haiku poetry form in mind and then fused it with the lyrical prowess of Paris-based American spoken word artist and rapper Mike Ladd, along with the rhythmic force of American drummer Tom Rainey and French bassist Bruno Chevillon. A daring venture and one resulting in an absolute success. Sure, there were some parts that could probably be tightened up, but the excitement from the stage was palpable and the music flowed generously. Ladd's improvised lyrics contained childhood memories of Boston, mentions of Rikers, bikers, Nazi prison guards and much more, all spilling out rapidly over lurching rhythms and Bonnet's infectious harmolodic guitar work. When Ladd stepped back, the group balanced melodic improvisation with energetic free jazz. Ladd's heart-felt tribute to a dying friend was a touching piece worked with an austere bass line and leading to lovely tone poem like accompaniment. Too new of a band for a recording, but I'm keeping my eye/ear on it.

Musina Ebobissé's 5TET. Photo by Ulla C. Binder
Rounding out the evening was saxophonist Musina Ebobissé's 5TET with Olga Amelchenko on alto  saxophone, Povel Widestrand on piano, Igor Spalatti on double bass and Moritz  Baumgärtner on drums. The concert was also a release show for their newest CD Engrams on the Jazzdor label. With members from France, Russia, Sweden, Italy and Germany, the pan-European collective delivered sophisticated modern jazz with strong compositional elements and hints of free-playing. The interplay between Ebobissé and Amelchenko seems to form the center of the sound, with the alto often shadowing and reinforcing the tenor lines, but then breaking away and both playing impassioned solos. Their highly crafted music had a certain "ECM-vibe" to it, cool, at first, building, inner rhythms and subtle energy shifts helping bring each subsequent song a bit more intensity. An invisible string connected each of the musicians, who all reacted subtly to the others movements. Widestrand's piano playing was often quick, melodies appearing between the comping, while Baumgarten's dynamic tensions and Spalatti's swooping bass work gave the saxophonists plenty of support and space, often helping to push the whole group to reach densely constructed musical peaks.

Friday, June 8th

Takase, Sclavis, Courtois. Photo by Ulla C. Binder

The final night of the festival, before the enterprise got on the road to Dresden for a further weekend of concerts at the venerable Jazz-Tonne club, began with Berlin's own Aki Takase along with clarinetist Louis Sclavis and cellist Vincet Courtois. Starting with a percussive and decisive motif with the piano and cello hitting downbeats in tandem, Sclavis, on Bb clarinet, quickly ran up and down a scale. Then, just a suddenly as it had begun, it began again. Quick hits and then the cello and clarinet leaping into an animated duet. Then pivoting to Takase, Courtois utilising a buzzing effect with his strings, engaged in another feisty exchange with equally energetic pianist. A strong sense of classical music permeated the music, informing the improvisation as sweeping melodic blocks collided and reformed on impact. Their next tune featured a long solo passage from Sclavis that ranged from the romantic to the blues, followed by a stretch from Takase that swung from exuberant to defiant and back. Later, Sclavis, switching to bass clarinet, took the instrument to its expressive extremes as Courtois played the cello as if it were both a bass and guitar simultaneously. Then, the extended techniques kicked in with Takase bouncing ping-pong balls off the piano's inner strings, and as one would, for comic effect, secretly hope for, a ball bounced into the bell Sclavis' horn. A gently humorous, but more so, an extremely engaged, opening set.

Naïssam Jalal's Healing Rituals.Photo by Ulla C. Binder

Next, Naïssam Jalal's Healing Rituals received its German premiere, and Jalal, an avuncular and warm presence on the stage, turned at one point to the audience and explained that the previous night she had played in France to an exuberant and whooping crowd. A bit bewildered by the quiet audience in the Kesselhaus, she asked if they liked what they were hearing - to which exuberant applause and whooping ensued and a cross-cultural barrier had been broken. The music, a unique blend of Arabic folk music and western Jazz, created a beguiling synthesis of the various influences. Jalal switched effortless from flute to a wordless signing approach seamlessly, and the interlocking virtuosic playing of Clément Petit's cello and Claude Tchamitchian's double bass was often mesmerizing. Zaza Desiderio's percussion underscored all of the music, from gentle, supportive hand drumming to pulsating stick work. Gentle introductions led to rhythmic journeys which Jalal navigated with warm persuasiveness. Premiering a new recording and set of music, Healing Ritual, Jalal's new compositions are in reference to rituals around the body, nature, and play. The music from the stage did envelop the audience with its rhythmic flow and hypnotic, and sometimes insistent, melodies. Jalal herself was a centered and calm presence amidst the swirling energy of music, engaging the audience through authentic banter and her addictive multi-cultural musical melange.

Daniel Erdmann 6TET: Couple Therapy. Photo by Ulla C. Binder

The final concert of the night and the festival was the German - but residing in France - saxophonist Daniel Erdmann. A frequent collaborator of Aki Takase, tonight Erdmann led a sextet that was a creation for the festival and featured the impressive line up of Erdmann on tenor saxophone, Hélène Duret on Bb and bass clarinet, Théo Ceccaldi on violin, Vincent Courtois on cello, Robert Lucaciu on double bass and Eva Klesse drums. The name of the group, "Couples Therapy," was conceptually a play on the relationship between France and Germany, the two driving forces of the European Union, which speaks to the Jazzdor festival's central concept. 

The music started with a slow boil, Erdmann delivering short melodic snippets, then connecting and elongating them until they became a groove-based modern jazz melody. Through mounting intensity, the group generated a collective sound, and Klesse, with a formidable expression on her face, gave the music a real push. The next tune featured Duret's clarinet work and also set a bit of underlying pattern to the music, for a lack of better phrase, a "wobbly jazz" in which the locus of control seemed a bit uncertain -- perhaps linked with the therapy concept. Both string instruments had star moments as well, Courtois with classical leaning passages played with a great deal of emotion and longing, with melting voice leadings and deadly precise staccato phrases, and Ceccaldi with an intense, rock-like violin solo that brought the set to its musical climax. Erdmann, while joining in on the heads of the tunes and delivering several strong solos, often stood towards the back, a towering presence, seemingly quite pleased, observing his musical creation.

Taking everything into consideration, all of the styles, the exciting combinations of musicians, debuts of new projects, and of course an evolving assortment of goodies at the merch table, it could be a bit overwhelming. However, the generous set lengths, the breaks between them, and the generally relaxed atmosphere of the event helped it work and more importantly Jazzdor's curatorial concept provided just enough structure to encourage each act to bring a high level of craft and individuality to the stage. The end result is that I left simply as a better listener than when I started. I'm also still unwrapping those CDs and popping them into the player.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Satoko Fujii and Otomo Yoshihide – Perpetual Motion (Ayler, 2023) *****

By Nick Ostrum

I am hardly the first to be surprised by this. Perpetual Motion captures Satoko Fujii and Otomo Yoshihide in their first collaboration ever at a festival at Pitt Inn in Tokyo. These two titans of the Japanese avant-garde have been at it for decades, separately exploring the far reaches of everything from solo piano outing to orchestral free jazz to Japanoise.

Begins with spare knocking, some feedback here and squeaks there. Then come the waves of sound, a siren from Yoshihide (on guitar, here) and a rumbling from Fujii. This gives way to other distorted strums and that pesky high squeak whose origins remain imprecise. In other words, this is Yoshihide and, surprisingly, Fujii soundsculpting far outside the free jazz tradition that the latter has so convincingly made her own. That contrast between the raw feedback and relentless shredding of Yoshihide, the alternately muscular and tender piano runs of Fujii and their collected tendencies to pull everything back to the underlying understated quaver whence all these sonic possibilities erupt. Chaos emerges at various points, but it is only ever touched upon. Then, the music returns to its brittle starting point.

And it works. Fujii and Yoshihide really listen to each other. Hence, the spaciousness. And, they are responsive, not mimicking lines or harmonizing but shaping complementary aesthetic spaces, while restraining themselves (and each other) when things start to get too stormy. Although each piece has its own direction (Perpetual Motion I is much barer than Perpetual Motion III and IV), one hears these musicians pushing each other into compelling sonic terrain: Fujii comes wither her short, repeated melodic loops that inevitably break into wild runs and, in the final track, menacing low-end rumbles; Yoshihide adds his tripolar swings between heavy distortion, glistening striations and restrained string-by-string plectrum work. The divergent approaches of the two musicians insinuate themselves beautifully into one another.

I absolutely love this record. It is recorded live, and certainly has an energy to it. However, the recording is full and, without any hint of an audience, it sounds like it could be a studio effort. It will likely be both welcomed by and a challenge to anyone already into Fujii and Yoshihide’s work, who will be left, as I was, wondering,: How could Fujii and Yoshihide have waited this long to collaborate when the product is this good?

Perpetual Motionis available as a CD and download on Bandcamp: 


Monday, June 19, 2023

Thanks, Michel, for some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard…

By Stuart Broomer

When Michel Levasseur, founder, artistic and general director of FIMAV (Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville) announced this year’s line-up, he also announced that, after 39 editions, he and his wife, Joanne Vezina, the administrative director, were retiring. “Victo” is a special festival for free jazz, free improvisation and other outside musics, especially for Eastern Canada, but also for North America, with Levasseur’s global programming including Haino Keiji and Merzbow as well as John Zorn or Anthony Braxton. While we await eventual news of Levasseur’s successor with curiosity, there’s much to celebrate in his achievement.

FIMAV is an unlikely festival. It’s been through changes since it first launched in 1983, whether it’s the mix of venues, or its length, whether it’s four or five days, or its season, shifting from fall to spring. What makes it fundamentally and consistently special, though, is its unlikely and continuing combination of a relatively isolated location and its devotion to music at the edges, whether it’s free jazz and improvisation, new composed music, rock, noise or whatever melange of culture and musical theatre one might devise. It takes place in Victoriaville, a city of 47,000 set amidst woods and farmland, 150 kilometres east of Montreal. Through the years it has included Terry Riley, Evan Parker, William Parker, Marilyn Crispell, Satoko Fujii, Sonic Youth, Joëlle Léandre, Fred Frith, Sainkho Namchylak, Peter Brötzmann, Ikue Mori and Derek Bailey, just to name a few of the internationally celebrated musicians, as well as exceptional, even exotic projects from around the world.

I’ve been attending FIMAV since 1997, missing just a few installments since then, initially reviewing it for the long defunct Coda and, for many years, Musicworks, a Canadian publication that covers as broad a musical spectrum as FIMAV (many of those reviews can be found at In tribute to Michel’s vision, here’s a list of some stand-out concerts I’ve attended through the years. Levasseur has built a CD label, Victo, along with the festival, and some of these concerts are available there.

Like many devoted listeners, I occasionally imagine that I’m privileged to be attending the richest (most beautiful? most complex? most intense? Most relevant?) music going on in the world at that moment. That rare sense of heightened realization, privilege and gratitude has happened several times at FIMAV. These are performances that have inspired it. Most of them are epic single pieces of concert-length, whether the symphonies or healing ceremonies of contemporary music. These performances have in common an expansive possibility, something transformative, something beyond the quotidian. It’s a personal list, not intended to reflect the breadth of FIMAV or its best attended or most popular concerts. The festival’s website has comprehensive program lists going back to 1983. They’re very impressive.


1997: Phil Minton Quartet: Mouthfull of Ecstasy. Improvised music’s greatest singer explores Finnegans Wake with John Butcher, Veryan Weston and Roger Turner (Victo CD 041)


2000: Three concerts in a row: The late arrival of Cecil Taylor led to a night of pianistic genius, opening with the duo of pianist Paul Plimley and saxophonist John Oswald (just passing through), Marilyn Crispell and then Taylor himself (released as a three CD set, Complicité ( Victo cd074-075-076)

2001: Contest of Pleasures, the unamplified wind trio of John Butcher, Xavier Charles and Axel Dörner playing long tones and creating phantom beat patterns in a community college classroom by near-tuning.


 2003: Two concerts in a row: The combined Evan Parker Trio & Peter Brötzmann Trio (The Bishop’s Move, Victo cd093) offered 74 minutes of free jazz Armageddon. It was immediately followed, in an adjacent venue, by bassist Joëlle Léandre and electronic musician Joel Ryan creating a quietly interactive web of bass improvisations and electronic transformations.

2005: The French group Hubbub looks like a jazz quintet (two saxophones) or a funk band (a Les Paul guitar) plus piano and drums, but the saxophonists use circular breathing and the other instruments are all bowed, creating an hour-long, luminously ethereal, ever-shifting drone.

2011: Anthony Braxton’s Echo Echo Mirror House is performed here by a septet with musical instruments and MP3 players loaded with Braxton’s vast oeuvre, creating a sonic skein in which the works and associations of decades, live and Memorex, emerge in the air. Available on Victo .

2012: While the recorded version ofWadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers covered four CDs and included a string ensemble (Cuneiform), here’s it’s a compact and intense event with Smith’s Golden Quintet , including piano, bass and two drummers.

2014: Evan Parker’s ElectroAcoustic Septet is a distinctly New York version of the project mixing new arrivals and veterans alike (Victo cd127).

2015: Montreal saxophonist-composer Jean Derome is revered for the invention and wit of his large-scale projects as well as his skills as an improviser. His punning Résistances is an exploration of the 60-cycle hum of the North American power grid (Ambiances Magnétiques).

Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society creates a pulsing trance-state with percussionist Hamid Drake expanding the wealth of rhythmic detail and Lisa Alvarado’s large geometric paintings further enhancing a magical space. 

2016: Musica Elettronica Viva improvise Symphony No. 106, with Frederic Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum and Alvin Curran marking the 50 th anniversary of the group’s existence (Victo cd129)

2017: The fifth edition of Nate Wooley’s ever-expanding Seven Storey Mountain had an 11-member band, the Tilt brass octet and a narrator.