Click here to [close]

Monday, July 31, 2023

João Almeida, Rodrigo Pinheiro & Vasco Furtado - Linae (Phonogram Unit, 2023) *****

By Stef Gijssels

Young Portuguese trumpeter João Almeida started his professional career by releasing a solo trumpet album (Solo Sessions 1-III), in both physical and digital format. They were exercises in technique, demonstrations of his incredible skills, his creativity in tonal explorations, his acrobatics but also the mastery of his instrument as an extension of his own self. Other noteworthy albums and collaborations are 'Garfo", "Hyper.Object", André Carvalho's "Lost In Translation", and with the trio "Peachfuzz" last year. 

We find him back now in the company of Rodrigo Pinheiro, one of my favourite pianists of the last years, whose RED Trio and other colloborations cannot be recommended enough, and with Vasco Furtado on drums, also one of the in-demand Portuguese drummers of the moment. 

"Linea" is an incredibly strong album, one that you can listen hundreds of time without getting bored (I'm not yet there, but close enough I think). The playing of all three musicians is beyond excellent, but I think the biggest challenge and success is Pinheiro's piano-playing, who manages - as the only harmonic instrument - to provide the solid foundation for the trumpet and the drums to excel in their art by moving all in the same direction without any guardrails and in total freedom. The trio journeys through very contrasting territories: highly energetic and dynamic, quiet and meditative, even tender moments, agitated and persistent, intense and gentle. 

João Almeida truly shines in this environment. His brilliant technique and musical ideas come to full fruition here, as is his versatility to move between completely free playing and developing repetitive phrases that sometimes slowly develop into themes that can evaporate as fast as they arise. Furtado's playing amplifies the incredible intensity of the music, by accentuating, driving forward without clear rhythmic patterns yet with strong pulse. 

The music is fresh and passionate, full of variation and creativity. 

I don't think I'll ever tire of listening to it. I'm sure you won't either. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Céline Voccia: Energetic Dissonance and Contemplative Restraint

Celine Voccia, a French pianist currently living and working in Berlin, couples her classical training with free jazz edge through energetic and engaging improvisation. In the past half year or so, Voccia's discography has expanded rewardingly for the free jazz and improvisational music fan. Here are some thoughts on a few recent recording...

Céline Voccia & Silke Eberhard - Wild Knots (Relative Pitch, 2023) *****

A generous entanglement of twisting saxophone and piano melodies forms Wild Knots, a duo recording from the Voccia and one of Berlin's leading saxophonists, Silke Eberhard. Between the two, the comparisons to other musicians - from Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Stan Getz to Cecil Taylor and Olivier Messiaen seem to cover the free jazz and avant-garde composer spectrum. However, it is no hyperbole, from Eberhard, one hears an unfettered voice that can be airy and melodic as well as sharp and incisive, and Voccia is as likely to pluck the strings from inside the piano as she is to lay down a poignant or unnerving chord fragment.

Wild Knots opens with the aptly titled 'Enthusiasm,' which from the opening moments of Eberhardt's ebullient melodic acrobatics and Voccia's split second reactions, the rapport is obvious. The musical conversation ebbs and flows, their musical ideas so fluid and sympathetic that one could imagine them just as well reading from a wildly notated composition. The follow up, 'Indecision,' begins with a bit of high register piano work and questioning swirls of notes from the saxophone. The tune, while never really settling, stabilizes into minimalist interactions between Voccia extracting vibrations from within the piano and Eberhard extending her playing to the clicking of her keys and barely-there notes. As the albums continues it is at turns contemplative and excited. For example, track five, 'Renaissance,' begins austerely with a set of spacious chords and an arc of notes from the sax, then it catches subtly catches first until it is a blaze of staccato stabs at the keys and excited melodic snippets, until coming to a sudden end. The follow-up, 'Meloncholy,' has a yearning feel, Voccia's tonal clusters are both dissonant and tender, while Eberhard finds a lovely, expressive elongated tones to match. The final track 'For Uli' is a neat summary of all that has come before, where towards the end the two work up to a pinnacle that is as fraught with tension as it is energetic.

Wild Knots is a lovely and dynamic album. It is full of spontaneous melodies that could just as well been thoughtfully composed and an overall inspiring listen.

Céline Voccia Trio - Abîme (Jazzwerkstatt, 2023)

With Berlin mainstays bassist Jan Roder and drummer Michael Griener, Voccia has found a pair of sympathetic colleagues who are able to effortlessly support her expansive musical ideas. It is also sort of no surprise, the versatile bassist and drummer are anchors of the Berlin free jazz scene, playing with both the legends, including Alexander von Schlippenbach and the late Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky, as well as current stalwarts like Silke Eberhard, Rudi Mahall, Axel Dörner, and many more. Voccia fits right in with playful atonalness, charismatic drive and startling flexibility.

From the first few 'bars' of Ravin, the trio's compatibility is obvious. The pianist starts with a set of quick melodic snippets while Roder jumps right in with a solid, supportive line. Griener adds unpredictable - but reliable - percussive accompaniment. The following 'Miroirs Envolés' offers moments of austere melody and cradling rhythm section work before building to a heart pounding crescendo. The third track, 'Lamentations,' gets exploratory. Bowed bass, trickling notes from piano, and far away rumbles from the drums, however, comes quickly together. Swooping bass lines connect with dense chords and a flowing rhythmic pulse. Greiner added textures provide a little bit of relief - but not too much - from the tension between the bass and piano. Then, 'Neant' begins with a chilling set of chord tones, played sharply and contrastingly along with plunges into the instrument's lowest octaves. This thrilling introduction then gives way to a spattering of percussion and probing bass work as splashes of notes festoon the sonic space with unusual impact. The remaining tracks serve as reinforcement of the ideas, adding additional moments of energetic dissonance and contemplative restraint.

Abime is a captivating debut recording from this trio.

Celine Voccia, Anna Kaluza, Matthias Bauer - ACM Trio (AUT, 2022)

This trio recording from the tail end of 2022 is a trove of inspired playing and complex listening, however, it also 'goes down' easy. Alto saxophonist Anna Kaluza's cool, edgy lines give Voccia a lot to work with and around, while bassist Matthias Bauer's big, enveloping sound provides ample support for sonic exploration.

The tracks are titled 'Part 1' through 'Part 9,' ranging from three to nine minutes, each one with its own unique character. 'Part 1' begins with a bird call from Kaluza, followed by Voccia placing some perfectly formed chords in between the following melodic snippets. Bauer drops some resonant notes as the track builds up in intensity. Half-way through the five minute track, the approach has solidified as Kaluza's packed lines are punctuated with similar bleats to the opening moments as Voccia and Bauer ratchet up the energy. In 'Part 2,' Kaluza is again leading the way with some wide intervallic leaps and extended melodic ideas, while Bauer is moving quickly over the finger board in an abstract walk. Voccia's accompaniment is precise and effective as she and Kaluza thrust and parry.

As attractive the propulsive motion of the first two tracks is, the exploratory nature of 'Part 3' is truly beguiling. Bauer draws out harmonics and textures from his strings and Kaluza is aflutter throughout her instrument's range. Voccia seems to not be there at all, until you realize that after the tinkle of tones at the start of the track, she's playing the insides of the piano filling in space with light percussive clatter. Voccia returns in full on the next track, playing a deliberate and harmonically rich solo introduction for several minutes before the others jump in.

While each track is worth examination, it could also be simply said, ACM is a fantastic work of both group and individual improvisation.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Zoh Amba- O Life, O Light Vol 2 (577 Records, 2023)

By Martin Schray

Half a year ago I would have bet on Zoh Amba becoming the next superstar of jazz. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The saxophonist from Tennessee is just 22 years old and since moving to New York in 2021, she has already played with everyone of distinction (e.g. John Zorn, Vijay Iyer or William Parker, to name just a few). Her mentor is no other than David Murray. Her last albums, O Life, O Light Vol 1 and Bhakti, were simply stunning, the latter in particular an early opus magnum that captures the full range of Amba’s expressive spectrum, from fervent outbursts to wistful blues.

But there were critical voices as well. First, Downbeat claimed that she was a promising artist, but that the outstanding reviews that saw her in a lineage of Coltrane and Ayler came far too early, and an editorial in the German magazine Jazzpodium said that her success was just the result of clever marketing. One wondered where the furor in that latter article came from. In spite of this, people could hardly wait for O Life, O Light Vol. 2.

To cut a long story short, O Life, O Light Vol. 2 can leave one somewhat ambivalent, as on the whole it is less consistent than the two previously mentioned recordings. As on the first part of the project, Amba is supported by William Parker (bass, gralla) and Francisco Mela (drums). Of course, the two are a rock solid rhythm section in front of which it should be easy for Amba to take off and ascend to musical heights. But unlike Vol. 1, she doesn’t really succeed here. Especially in the second piece, “Three Flowers“, where she first plays flute in the first part, her tone and timing seem uncertain, her lines strangely uninspired. Only after an intermission, in which Parker and Mela take over and after which she switches to saxophone, does she seem to be more confident. But even though she shows what a great talent she is in this second part, the interplay with Parker and Mela does not work as nicely as on Vol. 1. Fortunately, the better piece on the album is the first one, “Dance of Bliss“. Here the three harmonize quite well after a brief period of acclimation. They are at their best when Parker reaches for the gralla and when he duels splendidly with Amba.

So it remains to be seen what happens next. Perhaps a more restrained release policy and more time to develop her sound is in order but there is no question that she is a bright new talent and one can still expect from her.

O Life, O Light Vol. 2 is available on vinyl, as a CD and a download.

You can listen to the album and buy it here:

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Yorgos Dimitriadis/ Axel Dörner/ Lori Freedman/ Andrea Parkins/ Christopher Williams - BeingFive (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Lori Freedman has the dual distinction of being Canada’s most distinguished clarinetist of both the “classical” avant-garde and the worlds of free jazz and free improvisation. Her 2019 solo CD Excess is a riveting program that includes daunting works by Richard Barrett and Brian Ferneyhough, while her improvising skills are evident in numerous associations, including the Queen Mab Trio, with violist Ig Henneman and pianist Marilyn Lerner (Réunion, Microclimat, 2017) and Amber (Amber Clean Feed, 2022), her duo with trombonist Scott Thomson who contributes the liner note to BeingFive.

The music heard on BeingFive came together during a 2022 residency in Berlin and consists of works devised by Freedman for an improvising quintet. The international group that she assembled includes Greek percussionist Yorgis Dimitriadis, German trumpeter Axel Dörner and Americans Andrea Parkins, heard here playing accordion, amplified objects and electronics, and bassist Christopher Williams.

Discussing the pieces, annotator Scott Thomson suggests that the music “reflects, not a desire to execute a conceiver-composer’s will, but a pursuit of collective discovery.” In a sense suspended between composition and improvisation, the formed and the forming, the music is both largely calm in a way that can include rare explosive bursts, meanwhile refusing to stand still in either a textural or formal sense. The opening “Eclipse” begins in the subtlest weave of instrumental voices at chamber music dynamics, then the acoustic instruments are suddenly interrupted by clouds of muffled electronic sound, this description seemingly conditioned by value judgements not to be heard in the sounds themselves or their apparent relations. An expressionist burst of clarinet brings on a sustained tremolo of arco bass, a flutter of accordion, a thin stream of trumpet, then randomized drum strokes. An occasion for introductions, perhaps the true songs of freedom and consciousness are always tuneless. A microtonal wander of clarinet and accordion is interrupted by mildly abrasive electronic noise. At the conclusion of the piece, a very quiet female voice says “… I can’t see anything”. Is this the source of that title, “Eclipse”, or an ironic comment on it? I reverse the CD. I can’t find it. Then the voice seems to appear, but it’s different, different words, further away. I go to the window. The speaker is a neighbor, nearby. BeingFive invites (and strangely rewards) a listening so concentrated it may go beyond merely including the incidental, environmental event, somehow actually to thematize it.

The longest piece, the 15-minute and central “Miniatures”, ironically, is constructed of very short, time-determined pieces, the shortest between 10 and 30 seconds then followed by longer units of between one and three minutes, a strict structural pattern that is improvised in all of its “details” and which results in some of the group’s most intense “moments”.

The final piece, “Freeze” has minimal movement, a near-drone that is compounded of continuous acoustic and electronic elements, individually, gradually, evenly, rising in volume, at one point a complex sound in which the sustained metallic shimmer of cymbals and a constant electronic whistle will become a single sound within a continuum, in part maintained by a continuous low-pitched hum, that seems to maintain a constant collective volume level, that voices rise to sustain, including intermittent hard-to-identify high pitches and an oscillating bass clarinet.

Among the creative ironies to which BeingFive (five pieces by five people) gives rise, its collective spontaneous elaborations on minimal designs invite, whether verbalized or not, the active, even intense, compositional participation of the listener.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Rachel Eckroth – One (Independent, 2023)

By Matty Bannond

While big-name celebrities are grabbing the spotlight, big talents can hide in plain sight. That’s Rachel Eckroth’s trick. The pianist has spent two decades lingering out of focus on TV shows like Saturday Night Live and backing up high-profile pop acts like KT Tunstall, St. Vincent and Rufus Wainright. But Eckroth’s recent solo album One showcases her own star quality as an improviser and composer.

The gifted pianist is not exactly an industry secret. Her 2021 album The Garden was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category and she has released around ten records as leader or co-leader, depending how you add them up. However, One is Eckroth’s first full-length album as a soloist, following an eponymous four-track solo EP that came out in 2021. The sparse setting reveals her tireless capacity for invention across eleven tracks. The improvisations feel composed. The compositions feel improvised. It’s an intriguing and charismatic record.

The Chopin-infused opening of ‘Downstream, Upstream’ broadens out into a fragmented, hesitant melodic exploration. Typically, Eckroth lets chords or phrases hang in the air like an unfinished thought. Listeners are left dangling on the precipice of the next movement. Such patient solo playing adds a gravitational pull to each pattern. Eckroth uses her vast mental storehouse of styles, syntaxes and segues to keep tugging the tunes forward when they settle.

‘Miniscule’ is the shortest track. Staccato pulses create an unhurried-but-hurrying atmosphere. The album’s longest track is Eckroth’s free interpretation of Duke Ellington’s ‘Prelude to a Kiss’. It’s an insightful opportunity to observe the pianist’s mind climbing the keyboard’s mountaintops, hovering, then hurtling down to the valleys.

Solo albums can leave an artist exposed and short of ideas, but Rachel Eckroth’s playing on One demonstrates patient power and expressive expertise. Pretty shapes run up against lopsided patterns, and there is an irresistible sense of propulsion throughout. In sharp focus and center stage, Eckroth’s big talent has nowhere to hide. Even in plain sight.

The album is available for streaming and digital download here .

Monday, July 24, 2023

Euphorium_Freakestra - Free Acoustic Supergroup (Euphorium Records, 2022)

By Martin Schray

Oliver Schwerdt’s Euphorium label presents itself on its bandcamp website as a platform for Contemporary Improvised Music, Free Jazz and DADA. Free Acoustic Supergroup is a double quartet like Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz project and consists of Urs Leimgruber and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (saxophones), Axel Dörner and Wadada Leo Smith (trumpets), Barre Phillips and Michael Haves (basses) as well as Christian Lillinger and Günter Baby Sommer (drums). The octet circulates around Oliver Schwerdt’s piano and Friedrich Kettlitz’s lyrics and lets the mentioned elements collide. The whole thing is not only a clash of genres, it’s also a clash of musical generations. After a performance at the Leipziger Jazztage on August 29, 2009 at the Opernhaus, the band had another the day after at Club naTo, which can be heard on this recording. So chronologically, the recording can be placed between Freakestra’s debut Ðal Ngai (2004) and Grande Casino (2018).

As to the music, the influence of Cecil Taylor on the ensemble’s imagination and structural philosophy is clearly evident on Free Acoustic Supergroup . Similar to the way the great master repeatedly interspersed poetry in his performances, Schwerdt has structured this concert with five Dadaist text miniatures that, typical of the art form, take traditional vocabulary and conventional semantics ad absurdum by satirically exaggerating the texts, especially through the use of neologisms. The musical opener “Spridiriger Feuertunkel, Tafft!“ (the titles are also in the Dadaist tradition) then begins with a classic Taylor chord, and when the recently deceased Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky enters, one literally believes to be on a Taylor Unit album from the late 1960s. Then, in the course of the concert, there is a lot of work with contrasts, not only of the already mentioned genres and the playing attitudes of the two generations of musicians. Especially the clash of density and loosening up, which the group achieves mainly by splitting up into smaller ensembles, is striking. Pieces like “Graben jetzt!, alle auf nach Stoirihondur, neun kleine Feten geh’n" are like busy anthills, where everything seems to be going wildly, but which are highly structured at the same time. This is contrasted, for example, by the trumpet duet “Chiclin Berago“ and the immediately following bass duo “Langer Brueder Feitendarm?“ before everything is brought together in “End of the Night, Enlightened Days beyond (The Golden Trio's Todeshymne)“. Quietly, the musicians grope their way into this final piece (though the term “piece“ is misleading, as it’s a complete performance that then seems to have been arbitrarily divided into pieces later on) until the horns emerge from the background, either offering solos of near-classical jazz beauty (Smith) or deconstructing the composition in an almost brutal way (Dörner).

All in all, Free Acoustic Supergroup is a very nice, unusual album that will work for fans of old FMP recordings as well as lovers of sound exploration.

Euphorium_Freakestra’s Free Acoustic Supergroup is available as a double CD and as a download.

You can listen to the album and buy it here:


Saturday, July 22, 2023

Sven-Åke Johansson: Two on Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu

By Nick Metzger

Sven-Åke joins the ranks of the octogenarians this year and the reservoir of this visionary’s creativity has proven to be an exceptionally deep one. He’s released a number of excellent albums over the past year, composed of both new and archival material, and as can always be expected from Johansson there is plenty of variety. Last year I reviewed his trio with Thomas Ankersmit and Werner Dafeldecker “Ny Musik'' which is about as different from these albums as you can get, and that diversity is one of the things I like the most about Johannson’s music - that you can listen to all sorts of unique musical concepts within a single artist’s discography. This write up addresses two releases on the Luxembourg-based Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu, one from very late last year and one from this year. For posterity, Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu are an independent film and music production company started in 2012 by Antoine Prum shortly after he released his acclaimed Sunny Murray documentary “Sunny’s time now”. The label has been extremely supportive of Johansson (to our eternal thanks) with Prum featuring him in his 2017 documentary “Blue for a moment” as well as releasing numerous albums from Sven-Åke and his like minded colleagues over the past several years.

Sven-Åke Johansson, Pierre Borel, Axel Dörner, Joel Grip, & Simon Sieger - Stumps (Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu, 2022) *****


On this fantastic album Johansson is joined by saxophonist Pierre Borel, trumpeter Axel Dörner, bassist Joel Grip, and pianist Simon Sieger on what he proclaims to be his “magnum opus for small ensembles.” With such a declaration from a man who has been involved in some truly legendary small ensembles it definitely caught my attention. The album is available in digital format or, for those that desire a physical object, it is available as a limited edition rubber disc complete with a play hole so that you can load it onto your turntable. There is no music on the rubber disk but it includes a QR code for the digital files. Johansson notes that this is because of the queues and expenses of releasing vinyl editions now that it’s fashionable again. It also slyly addresses the perceived lack of substance associated with digital files and the desire for some, to purchase a tangible object (even if they don’t listen to it). Since people do most of their listening digitally these days - and I’m as guilty as the next - why go through all the trouble of producing a playable product when a rubber disc can serve the same purpose and avoid redundancy?

For each track the ‘Stumps’ theme is repeated four times, forward then backward. The pieces expand from there and maintain a knotty, tight, and choppy aesthetic that couples nicely with Johannson’s swinging ice flows. The theme is effortlessly catchy without seeming to be on first listen, even with it being modified slightly every time it’s played. It will return to you at a later time. The improvisations are measured and skillful as you can surmise from the players involved here. By measured I mean there isn’t any over-the-top free blowing, but the horns still make some pretty nasty sounds. The overall strategy is masked to some degree by the more adventurous sections but it retains a semi-structured feel without being rigid. Any strategy would appear to concern the use of simple patterns and repetition as a jump off for the tight and sparse improvisation, family to his trio with Bertrand Denzler and Joel Grip perhaps, but this quintet is really a separate entity all together - obviously - with a different cast and a more expansive sound. Brilliant solos and improvisations from a group of master musicians, it’s an excellent album that I’ve been returning to again and again since its late 2022 release. Buy the rubber disc or don’t but the music is essential listening, very highly recommended.


Rüdiger Carl & Sven-Åke Johansson - Fläche und Figur, 14 Duos für Akkordeon und Drumsets (Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu, 2023) 

Here we get a heavy whiff of a well established duo - Sven-Åke with his like-minded mischief monger, the truly enlightened composer and multiinstrumentalist Rüdiger Carl. These two have been at it since 1968 in groups as diverse as Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett, Night and Day, NMUI, and Hudson Riv as well as their own established duo work on terrific albums such as “Fünfunddreissigvierzig” and “Djungelmusik med sång”. Prum documented a 2010 farewell concert put on by Künstlerhaus Bethanien, in which the duo performs in the main chapel of a former deaconess hospital in his film “Tschüss Bethanien”. Other releases by the pair are 2011’s “d’accord” and 2020’s “Råka I-VI” - both excellent albums, both recorded in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. So it’s been a while since they’ve released some brand-spanking-new material like this, just to put it into perspective. “Fläche und Figur” (Surface and Figure) was recorded in 2021 at Johansson’s studio in Berlin, with Carl on accordion and Sven-Åke on percussion.

Like a lot of the music Carl and Johansson create together this is a playful mix of folk and free improvisation. None of the tracks are named, just assigned alpha-numerics to mark their sequence on the records. Despite the lack of titles these tracks are pretty distinct and diverse in their makeup considering only two instruments are in play here. Some of the tracks search and probe through brambles of jagged sound and staccato phrasing until a spark catches and bedlam ensues. Some use folk melodies as a jump-off for free play and some exhibit sounds that you wouldn’t expect from these instruments at all. Under-riding all of the music is the duo’s impressive command of their sound. It’s especially rewarding when Johansson gets his swing going beneath the tumult and Carl latches into a lock step. On other pieces Carl plays percussively on the accordion while Johansson rubs out spectacular sounds from his set of traps. It’s a wonderful collection of music from two long-term colleagues whose legendary work continues to march forward.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Christopher Butterfield – Souvenir (Redshift Records, 2023)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Reviewing, and listening of course as those two go together, music from large ensembles always presents critical and difficult issues for my minimal technical knowledge on music. This puzzle becomes even more challenging when it comes to composed music, which, many times but not always, demands a different point of view than improvised music. For example, there’s always, at least for me, the question (that comes directly from the practice of improvisation), of how much of themselves have the musicians put in the recorded music and the amount of freedom they had from the composer. To avoid any misunderstandings, I strongly believe that there’s no “better” way to play music, only fruitful diversity in different musical contexts.

This great CD spans almost three decades on composer’s Christopher Butler work and seems like a retrospective. All four pieces (more than an hour of music) were written between 1995 and 2013 and were performed, given a fresh take, in the spring of 2022 by the Aventa Ansemble, conducted by Bill Linwood.

The Aventa Ensemble comprised by twenty one musicians for Souvenir approached the material with the humble gaze of minimalism (another question, again: how much of all this is credited to the conductor?), with the vibraphone of Rick Sacks, as the solo player, playing a greatly significant role. All four pieces present a cosmic soundworld that even though derives from the same mind, is absolutely different from one to another.

I found a, totally joyful, tendency to base the music, something like a foundation of sorts, on percussion and the droney timbres of reed instruments. Repetitiveness, like in the fourth and final track called Port Bou, adds a playful alternative to the many times “serious” character of much modern composition. I find this playfulness one of the key elements I like about Souvenir. To be honest, for many of us who have dwelt deep into what I call “don’t take myself seriously” ethos of many improvisers, the seriousness in music can feel like a burden.

But not this time, not with Souvenir. I cannot tell if it was Butterfield’s intention but, after some listening, found myself totally lost in the aforementioned playfulness of Souvenir. I consider this its main advantage, very important when you desire to come back and listen again. We are overloaded, saturated with serious information nowadays.

Music is a non-verbal strong language that focuses on feelings. When listening to new music, I always try to remind me this and how much success, this new music, brings on this field for me. Souvenir directed an enormous amount of feelings through its repeated listening.

Give it a try, definitely, here:


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Sarah-Jane Summers - Echo Stane (Another Timbre, 2023)


By Eyal Hareuveni

Sarah-Jane Summers is a Scottish violinist-violist-Hardanger fiddler who is based in Oslo, Norway, married to Finnish guitarist Juhani Silvola, and both Summers and Silvola's music stretch from traditional Scottish and Nordic folk to more experimental work.

Echo Stane (a Scottish term for a black, hard stone, full of holes, common in meadows and bogs… Their cavities make them of a sound-returning nature) feature Summers’ nine free improvised solos for the Hardanger fiddle, the fiddle with four more sympathetic strings, associated with Norwegian folk music. Summers released an experimental solo album before, VIRR (Eight, Nerve Audio, 2017), where she improvised on violin and viola.

Summers says that she wanted to experiment with the Hardanger fiddle because “not all emotions can be expressed equally well” within traditional folk music. She entered the studio with absolutely no plan but to play the Hardanger fiddle. She fully explored the resonating timbres of the Hardanger fiddle and suggests distinct and highly expressive, sound-oriented and untimely textures.

Some of these improvised pieces like the opening piece, “Airtan”, and later “Shadow Half”, the title piece, “The King’s Weather” and the last one “Eftergang” (all titles are Scottish colorful terms for nature phenomena) already have compositional narratives, rely on instant, mysterious melodies and clearly reference traditional folk music. But Summers balances these pieces with more adventurous ones like “The Feeding Storm”, “Upson”, “Mirrie Dancers” or “Mirk Monanday” which are more abstract but with strong, immediate emotional impact. These pieces are introspective sonic meditations that employ a specific pitch-based approach and are free-associative and often offer intriguing cinematic visions or bring to mind the syntax of electronic music, with its internal development and decay of sound. Listening to these suggestive, beautiful pieces without knowing much about Summers’ work or what instrument she is playing may lead you to the conclusion that you are listening to an experimental, contemporary chamber ensemble.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Astroturf Noise – Blazing/Freezing (577 Records, 2023)

By Matty Bannond

Very few bands are attacking the free-improvised-avant-bluegrass-electronics niche right now. Astroturf Noise are taking their second jab at it, following their self-titled 2020 album . Blazing/Freezing mingles American roots music with punky jazz, EDM and noise. It’s brave. It’s free. And it’s rolling towards a new frontier.

The project features Sam Day Harmet (mandolin/effects), Sana Nagano (violin/effects) and Zach Swanson (upright bass). Three guests mosey on down to join them in the studio: Susan Alcorn (pedal steel), Stash Wyslouch (guitar) and Walter Thompson (piano). Against a backdrop of climate change, political chaos and transformative tech, they aim to make sense of an anxious and strange America.

'Tennessee Blazes' gets this surreal pickup truck’s engine revving. Samples give way to a dancey electronic beat. The mandolin plucks a downward-spiraling pattern. Squeaking fingers scratch up and down violin strings. The simple rhythm collapses and a spacey passage of noise opens up. The listener wonders what might be lurking behind the next station post. A truly hectic start.

Alcorn’s first appearance comes on the second track, 'Brack Water Waltz.' It’s an off-kilter piece in 3/4, mandolin limping as if concealing a heavy blunt object and violin skittering around nervously. A pedal steel solo croons and swoons over zinging background effects. The band conjures the disconcerting, stomach-twinging sensation viewers feel when a child appears on screen in a horror movie.

'Dying Mechanical Banjo Pt. 1 and Pt. 2,' respectively, take the listener furthest away from the bluegrass homestead. Scrambling samples and electronic pulses meet metallic clanging. Nostalgia has crumbled. Heavy industry has arrived. It’s time for a new deal.

Blazing/Freezing paints familiar sonic patterns, then warps them under twisted lenses and spins them in a digital kaleidoscope. Beneath the tension, Astroturf Noise communicates a warm spirit of playfulness and a deep-down optimism about the possibilities of the future. It’s brave. It’s free. And it’s packed with a wagon-load of pioneer spirit, pardner.

The album is available on CD and as a digital download here .

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Art Ensemble Of Chicago - The Sixth Decade: From Paris To Paris (Live At Sons D’Hiver) (RogueArt, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Three years ago, Art Ensemble of Chicago released We Are On the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration , a double-album that didn’t quite live up to many reviewers’ expectations (personally, I loved it, but perhaps it doesn’t fit as neatly into the AEOC legacy as was anticipated). We Are On the Edge was “dedicated to Lester Bowie, Shaku Joseph Jarman, and Malachi Favors Maghostut” and celebrated 50 years of the AEOC, one of the most accomplished and transformative creative, collaborative endeavors in perhaps the past 100 years (I don’t think I’m overstating my case here, the influence of the Art Ensemble continues unabated).

Part of what made/makes the Art Ensemble so important is the individual artists’ resistance to stasis. To say, “the Art Ensemble sound” might mean different things to different listeners. For some, it’s going to be rolling percussion and small instruments. For others, it recalls the occasionally clashing aesthetics of its founders, miraculously harmonious. And if the story of the Art Ensemble of Chicago can be told in a series of double live albums, the growth and extension of those aesthetics can be traced over the titular six decades. Starting with Live In Paris, and leading to Urban Bushmen (all-time high point?), Zero Sun No Point (Dedicated To Mynona & Sun Ra) , Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City — Live At Iridium, and now The Sixth Decade: From Paris To Paris. If these albums tell the story of the Art Ensemble, then the story they tell is personal, complex, aspirational, demanding, and thrilling.

Beginning with their earliest albums, the Art Ensemble often felt as if they were skating together on a single blade, piled up and carrying each other, possibly while juggling flaming torches. You had the feeling that the music was held together through momentum and force of will. Gradually, however, stunning relationships between the musicians brought into focus a lovely architecture of communal elements. As David Menestres wrote, in his review of Paul Steinbeck’s Message To Our Folks , “It is this organization, the democratizing of decision making, the pooling of resources, and the dedication to the collective that enabled the Art Ensemble to work and grow for decades. Despite this collective mindset, the musicians never gave up their individual autonomy. The supremacy of the individual to be able to express themselves through music, costume, make up, theatrics, or any other means, while still working within the group, is a large part of why the Art Ensemble has stayed consistently creative for so long.”

Just going by the albums listed above, Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City was a major pivot for the group, the first double-live album following the ascensions of Bowie and Maghostut. This ended up being Jarman’s final recording with the group, and it’s a really nice, if somewhat restrained, album. Bowie’s departure took more from the Art Ensemble than we may have even thought, at the time. In hindsight, revisiting Urban Bushmen for example, a track like “New York Is Full of Lonely People” cuts through the middle of the set. In a way, now, that role has been offloaded to the next generation, artists like Dudù Kouaté, who contributes two compositions to The Sixth Decade. This is crucial because it’s the multiplicity of voices that helped define the Art Ensemble from its inception.

Recorded two years after We Are On the Edge, the group performing on The Sixth Decade feels much more comfortable and looser. The lineup is incredible: Mitchell on sopranino and alto saxes; Moye on drums and percussion; Moor Mother on spoken word; Roco Córdova and Erina Newkirk on vocals; Nicole Mitchell on flutes and piccolo; Hugh Ragin on trumpet, flugelhorn and Thai bells; Simon Sieger on trombone and tuba; Jean Cook on violin; Eddy Kwon on viola; Tomeka Reid on cello; Brett Carson on piano; Silvia Bolognesi, Junius Paul, and Jaribu Shahid on bass; Kouaté, Enoch Williamson, Babu Atiba, and Doussou Touré on percussion; all under the direction of Steed Cowart. If the music was only fine, it would be a monumental achievement. The music is, in my opinion, really excellent.

With Cowart onboard and with Mitchell and Moye now the dominant compositional voices, there is a marked shift in the Art Ensemble’s tonal identity. Cowart directed Mitchell’s albums Littlefield Concert Hall Mills College March 19-20, 2018 and Discussions. And the set opening, “Leola,” comes from Mitchell’s Note Factory book, with the follow-up “Cards,” which dates back to the 1970s. And so the first half, misleadingly, would seem to indicate this is something of a Mitchell set. Arguably, even these few compositions are far from an album like Bells for the South Side—Mitchell really stretches himself and the ensemble, and the accumulation of voices, winds, and strings works exceedingly well in the mix. Ragin blasts a long note at the beginning of “Introduction to Cards,” before leaning into one of Art Ensemble’s most powerful instruments: silence. It’s one Jarman and Moye, in particular, used to great effect throughout their careers. Silence opens the space around the musician, and in the context of the Art Ensemble, seems to expand the circle of participation to include the audience. We become one in those moments. Mitchell follows with a searing solo, the entire stretch a beguiling and compelling performance. It’s the kind of high-wire improvisation that may have been missing from the previous set.

With four additional percussionists, you can feel Moye as a second music director. On Kouaté’s “Ritual ‘Great Black Music,’” the stage opens up for all five percussionists to perform as a chamber unit, leading to “Kumpa/Stormy Weather,” which blends a dozen concepts and voices, Moor Mother’s spoken word interlaced with Kouaté’s singing. Again, the Art Ensemble moves in a few occasionally contrasting directions, which renews the unpredictability that came to define the group in the ’70s and ’80s. If there is less, overall, of the outsider element in the music—nothing like the way Jarman and Maghostut kept things on the edge, so to speak—that’s been somewhat the case since around the mid-’90s, when the Art Ensemble became more of an institution. And, maybe that’s a good thing. Nobody’s shooting starter pistols at the audience anymore, sure, but as Córdova sings on “Funky AECO,” “Please don’t stop the music.”

Friday, July 14, 2023

Luis Lopes: Mingling Control and Chance

Luís Lopes - Lisbon Paris: Stereo Noise Solo (Shhpuma, 2023)

Luís Lopes Abyss Mirrors - Echoisms (Clean Feed, 2023) 

By Stuart Broomer

Guitarist Luís Lopes has covered a spectrum of formats, from solo forms to large ensembles, from wholly improvised work to composition-driven music. Among prominent Lisboan musicians, he may be the one involved in the most diverse projects. He frequently participates in Ernesto Rodrigues’ large free improvising ensembles (often released on Creative Sources), and he leads small ensembles as distinct as Humanization 4-tet, the free-jazz-with-roots-funk-band with Rodrigo Amado and the Gonzalez brothers, and the Lisbon-Berlin Trio and Quartet, hard-edged ensembles working through Lopes’ complex compositions with Christian Lillinger, Robert Landfermann and Rodrigo Pinheiro. These two recent CDs highlight the poles of his expression, his solo noise guitar and his occasional adventures in large ensemble leadership.

It may be as a solo guitarist that Lopes travels furthest, ranging from the dream-like introspective recordings of his Love series (playing clean electric guitar on Love Song and Love Song: Post Ruins [the latter a work of sustained brilliance] and nylon-string acoustic on Emmentes, all on Clean Feed) to the hard-core feedback first heard on record on Noise Solo at ZDB Lisbon (LPZ). He returns to that approach on Lisbon-Paris, pressing the technique still further on two solo improvisations, each near-20 minutes in length.

According to a note on the Bandcamp site, “The music … was played with a 1968 Gibson ES-340 guitar… connected in stereo to serve a two-channel circuit, two voices, each [through] a chosen sequence of analogue pedals that attach to two tube amplifiers at maximum volume.” The result creates a remarkably fluid, controllable and complex feedback environment, regularly suggesting distinctly contrapuntal textures, with sustained wails against rhythmic punctuation, for instance, and with pauses of controlled and genuine silence. That will suggest an experimental complexity, which, insistently present, aligned with a strong shamanic component, the connectivity of the dervish’s mathematics and the physicist’s spell, at once mad and calmly refractive, at once both the creation of, and invitation to, ecstatic trance, for performer and listener, a complement to some of Keiji Haino’s work. The resultant work suggests not a solo but a feedback band, a mingling of control and chance (Lopes’ techniques extend to bumping the guitar across the floor like a rediscovered pogo stick) that stretches from collision to symphony. “Paris” makes particularly effective use of silence, creating a kind of language shaped by interruption.

Lopes is also no stranger to larger improvising ensembles. In 2015 (released 2018), he was part of Lisbon Freedom Unit, the nine-member ensemble responsible for Praise of Our Folly, with Lopes producing and mixing two days’ recordings of improvised music into a brilliant four-part suite. Other than Lopes, only Bruno Parrinha, here playing alto and soprano saxophones, appeared on the earlier piece. Recorded seven years after Praise of Our Folly, the tentet of Echoisms represents a very different instrumental balance, veering to both more electronics and amplification while also including a string trio. Flak is here playing electric guitar as well as Lopes; the bass, played here by Felipe Zenicola, is sometimes very electric; two musicians, Jari Marjamaki and Travassos, are credited with electronics; two tenor saxophonists are replaced by one, Yedo Gibson, who also plays alto and soprano. Where there was once a cello, there is now Helena Espvall’s cello, Maria da Rocha’s violin and Ernesto Rodrigues’ viola.

The strong roots in free jazz apparent in Praise of Our Folly are generally exchanged for greater sonic variety, filled with sharp contrasts, and a certain randomness that comes from broader distinctions among instruments’ timbres and the abstraction of the electronics. Lopes is credited with direction, which I’ll assume includes editing, and shares mixing (no easy task when dealing with ten instruments playing freely and ranging in volume from viola to tenor saxophone and electric guitars) with Flak. Echoism comes in seven movements. The work is continuously interesting with the sections – two saxophonists, two electronic musicians, three electric strings; a bowed string trio – often moving like walls of sound. For this listener, the finest moments are those when the various voices are most evenly balanced, in the brief “Echoism I” (five minutes), or when they rise and fall, each musician making distinctive points at various moments in the work and in the extended final movement, “Echoism VII” (17 minutes), a beautiful dispersal of voices that includes subtly lyrical passages from the guitarists, with flashes of every instrument coming to the fore.

Yedo Gibson frequently assumes the foreground with mixed results. Sometimes it’s a mannered distraction, but his best moment, both distinctive and powerful, comes with the sustained and concentrated wail of circular breathing at the beginning of “Echoism VI”, before the collective creative expression takes over.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Ian Dogole – Quinta Essentia (Global Fusion Music, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

Ian Dogole is from Philadelphia – but his musical passions unfurl far beyond the City of Brotherly Love. Early inspiration from Philly luminaries like Sun Ra and John Coltrane led the percussionist to explore traditions and instruments from across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. His latest album, Quinta Essentia, is an uplifting tale of wide-ranging sonic adventure.

Seven musicians adopt fresh constellations for each track. Dogole’s contributions are spread across thirteen instruments. Richard Howell and Sheldon Brown take turns with tenor and soprano saxophones, while Howell also sings and Brown unpacks his bass clarinet. Fred Randolph features on double bass, with Frank Martin on piano and synthesizer. And the album also includes Henry Hung on trumpet, Moses Sedler on cello and Yassir Chadly on vocals and gimbri.

A couple of tracks serve up fairly standard contemporary jazz fare. A quintet huddles around a fanfaring melodic statement for the opening track, Togo. There’s a pink-panther-ish undercurrent for 'Reflections by the Bay Window.' These straight-ahead moments are suffused with a strong magnetic charm thanks to the tightly double-helixed intertwining of Dogole’s percussion and Randolph’s bass.

'Svoboda' is stripped down to just cello and kalimba – a finger-plucked instrument with a wooden soundboard and metal keys that originates in Southern Africa. The track has a stop-start feeling, with bowed long notes and fitful bubbling from the kalimba. It feels loaded with top-of-the-hill gravity, peaceful yet precarious and threatening to roll over the edge.

Yassir Chadly carries the sound in another direction for 'Nubian Dreams.' The Moroccan-American’s rich voice dances over the deep, contemplative sound of his gimbri – a three stringed, skin-covered bass-plucked lute from North Africa. Perhaps the freest improvisation can be found on 'Quince y Quatro,' where Howell explores open spaces above the sound of Dogole’s sundrum, a circular and tunable marimba made of wood that is derived from the Cora, Mbira and balafon.

The inventive spirit of Dogole’s percussion gives the album a joyous and self-surprised feeling. Quinta Essentia provides a bright, unpredictable and cross-cultural experience. Its diversity of contributors, instruments and ideas transports listeners around the globe – via the birthplace of cheese-steaks and Rocky Balboa. Go Birds.

The album is available as a digital download here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

GEORGE - Letters to George (Out of Your Head Records, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

In late 2021, drummer John Hollenbeck put online what he then called PROOF OF CONCEPT—a quartet with Hollenbeck, Anna Webber, Chiquitamagic, and Aurora Nealand—with the description, “This piece was remotely recorded as a way to say, ‘We can do this and it will be awesome!’” I happened to catch GEORGE live this spring, and awesome is an understatement.

Letters To George opens with “Earthworker,” which calls back (purposely or not) to Jim Black’s first AlasNoAxis album. Hollenbeck’s brisk beat and Chiquitamagic’s bass synth kick off with a dazzling, funky groove. The band locks in with Nealand and Webber joining on melody, and everything cruises from there. The compositions display all the layering and interwoven elements of Hollenbeck’s other projects, showing how well he can pivot from big band arrangements to small groups, retaining the components that still mark these as Hollenbeckian—Hollenbeckesque?

Towards the end of GEORGE’s odes to Georges comes “Floyd,” a deep, mournful tribute to George Floyd. Hollenbeck opens with a powerfully evocative (there are no other words for it) drum solo, leading to Webber’s keening saxophone. The words “my heart hurt” are repeated by different voices, different intonations, a sentiment that cuts deep. It’s like a thesis statement, a reminder that fun and funky can also be serious and bold.

If there’s a post-pandemic message to be heard here, it’s in the effortlessness of the quartet’s collaboration. Webber and Nealand brilliantly play off each other on the ping-pong melody of “Clinton.” Over the sliding rhythm of “Washington Carver,” Webber’s flute takes center stage, but she’s buttressed by Nealand and Chiquitamagic’s rich synths. Letters To George closes with the brilliant “Iceman,” which seems to channel John Adams with its perpetual motion design. There’s a fantastic video for this one that leans into the bright-colored aesthetic that flows through the music. Dogs, ice cream, jumping jacks, boxing, yoga, air sax, like the songs themselves, the players are in constant flux throughout, handing off props and smiling and laughing together. In fact, when I saw them here in L.A., the band set up in a line, where they could all see each other clearly, and again there were smiles all around. That underscored how GEORGE functions as a collaborative effort and a fundamentally Hollenbeckish message that we’re all in this together.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky (1933 – 2023)

Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky. Photo by Herbert Weisrock.

By Martin Schray

When the legendary saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky had to undergo several surgeries in 2017, his fans were afraid that he wouldn’t be able to play anymore. Although he was recovering according to his wife, singer Uschi Brüning, he was not in good shape. For many years he was having problems with his hip, which is why he had to use a walking stick, during concerts he even had to sit. Now, after long illness, the doyen of East German free jazz has sadly passed away.

Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky was one of the founding fathers of free jazz in the former German Democratic Republic, the one with the longest history. Since 1957 he worked as a musician in different formations although - in contrast to most of the GDR musicians - Petrowsky was self-taught (in order to get a permission to play gigs in the GDR one usually had to graduate from a music school). He made his first excursions into free jazz in the 1960s with his band Studio IV, and in the Seventies he co-founded Synopsis (with Ulrich Gumpert on piano, Günter “Baby“ Sommer on drums and Conny Bauer on trombone) and recorded Auf der Elbe schwimmt ein rosa Krokodil (FMP/Intakt), one of the standout East-German free jazz albums. In general, the collaboration with Western German musicians and the FMP label were excellent which resulted in the release of seminal albums like Selbdritt and Selbviert (with bassist Klaus Koch and trumpeter Heinz Becker, the latter also with Günter Sommer on drums). In addition, he was a long-standing member of Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra. After the fall of the wall, Petrowsky worked in various formations, with Uschi Brüning (their duos Das Neue Usel and Features of Usel are also outstanding), with drummer Michael Griener, as part of the group Ruf Der Heimat and many others.

What made Petrowsky so special was the fact that he couldn’t be pigeon-holed, the integration of various elements was typical of his style: He could breathe fire like Peter Brötzmann but he could also “sing“ and swing, with phrasing and timbre that could change radically, as circumstances require. Ornette Coleman and Charlie Parker were obvious influences, as well as German folk songs: he always considered himself a traditionalist. The German author Ekkehard Jost described his playing as “unique, although his sound cannot be categorized easily, his flexibility being his most important parameter“. “Selb-Dritt“ on Selbviertmight be considered a typical Petrowsky piece, as well as “Usel’s Bird“ on Features of Usel.

At the end of his career he reached new heights with the help of musicians that could be his sons and grandsons. The New Old Luten Quintet, a super group instigated by pianist Oliver Schwerdt, including two bassists (John Edwards and Robert Landfermann) and drummer Christian Lillinger, was a prime example of collective improvisations, rhythmic and harmonic variety, the assimilation of traditional elements, and Petrowsky’s solos as the icing on the cake. Robert Landfermann once told me that - after an awesome gig - Petrowsky stated with a mischievous smile: “We have played some decent music, haven’t we?“ As if they had played a polka on a local fair.

I saw Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky twice, once with the famous Zentralquartett (actually Synopsis, but after the first two albums they changed their name) in Stuttgart in 2012 and as a member of the Globe Unity Orchestra in Hamburg in 2014. His solos were the highlights of both gigs, it was breathtaking to see a man who was obviously not in the best health condition playing such exciting music. It’s just sad to know that he’s not around anymore. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife and his family.

If you want to get an impression what a great musician “Luten" Petrowsky was check out Selbviert and Selbdritt on the destination:out store website.

Watch him with Ruf der Heimat at a concert in Berlin 2015:

Steffen Roth's Musical World

Last year, I was introduced to the music of Steffen Roth, a drummer, composer, and organizer based in Leipzig, Germany, at the now (sadly) defunct Au Topsi Pohl in Berlin. A little while later, I attended his Potentiale Festival in the middle of the German countryside, and among some excellent performances, I had the chance to hear Roth with two long-standing collaborators from Leipzig, woodwindist Bruno Angeloni and bassist Stephan Deller. Their short set was a "bonus" at the spontaneous concert stage, and for me, a highlight of the festival. This past spring, the trio was an official part of the Jazzwerkstatt Peitz 50th, and again, their set was a bright spot on an already well illuminated program. Between these points in my musical timeline, Roth and Angeloni have released two recordings - one with the electronics work of Alwin Weber and the other with with Deller.

Prozessor - NPBI (Anna Ott, 2022)


The description of NPBI on its Bandcamp site states "noise and pulse based improvisation by Alwin Weber - Electronics, Bruno Angeloni - Saxophone and Steffen Roth - Drums," and yes, it is exactly this and some more. The music is both aggressive, they push their instruments to their outer extremes, but it is also deeply communicative, in so much as they do not step on each other's musical toes as they weave a complex tapestry of sounds.

Weber, a sound artist and electronic musician, plays a prominent role in the music of Prozessor. His samples form an important part of the NPBI's first track 'Studio Trip #1,' a nearly 30 minute improvisation. The words and sounds that are sampled, about making the world a better place and overcoming and inspiring (though the context seems to be rather tongue and cheek) as well as early 80's computer game sounds, play repeatedly and provide a touch point for the others to both react to and sometimes completely ignore. Later in the track, Weber is reprocessing the instruments and adding deep tonal textures to the sound. During 'Studio Trip #2,' Weber seems to be adding a treatment to Angeloni's sax, giving it a buzzing bee effect, while also adding glitchy accompaniment to the roiling improvisation. Angeloni provides energetic, tireless playing as he switches between melodic ideas and fractalized comping, while Roth is a central component adding both an energetic as well as supportive pulse.

While I am listening on a digital file from Bandcamp, the physical version is out on tape and the "Studio Trips" all hail from a studio recording, while the second tape entitled "Live Excerpts" are live tracks from the 2021 Jazztage Leipzig festival. "Live Excerpts - N," the longest track at 15 minutes 40 seconds, while containing the some of the same samples as "Studio Trip #1," starts out much differently with Angeloni's bass clarinet playing at the fore, rather than the electronics and drums, which instead create a sonic bedding. The sonic quality of these tapes is more muted than the studio recordings, which provides a more buffered approach to hearing the music - some of the sharpness of the electronics is dulled and fits closer with the acoustic instruments, helping to reveal more layers to the playing.

To my ears, NPBI is the type of electronic/jazz recording that can help bridge the gap for the listeners who may otherwise hold electronics at a distance. The trio convincingly blends the electronic and acoustic components together in a cohesive and captivating way.


MOTUSNEU - Opsedale (Boomslang Records, 2023)

Opsedale is the album I had been waiting for since the Potentiale Festival. MOTUSNUE is the all acoustic trio of Roth and Angeloni with bassist Deller. Revisiting my lines from my previoius two encounters with the group, I see that I already used up a good number of adjectives.
"Angeloni, on alto sax, dazzled with an unending array of fractured lines and Deller was a dynamic instigator. Roth added a concentrated energy that guided the group through this unexpected highlight." (Potentiale)
"Quickly however, the blazing melodic shards from Angeloni and telepathic reciprocation from Roth and Deller re-oriented us. The trio's persistent sound rose and fell as Roth seamlessly switched between roiling pulse and energetic thrust." (Petiz 50)
I'll try to avoid these words again, but it is difficult, the dominant approach of the trio is one of telepathic reciprocation, fractured atonal lines and dynamic instigation. It is also, however, important to note that the group can also work on a more sensitive level. For this, let us jump into the latter half of the recording. On 'Observing the Past', Angeloni is on bass clarinet and his playing captures the best of the instrument, the deep, woodsy timbres and its dynamic range. Roth is receptive and conversant with the woodwind, reacting to the melodic wisps and rhythmic impulses, while Deller can be heard adding both supportive as well as textural elements to the mix. The piece is not what may be described as "exploratory," meaning the group is testing out ideas before locking in on a direction, but rather it is dedicatedly abstract and probing with purposeful ebb and flow.

A contrast can be found in the opening track, 'Albatross', which - for lack of better words - can be described with the adjectives fractured, dynamic and instigatory. First there is Angeloni on alto sax, squeezing out prisms of sound, from which the others then reflect their sounds off the many sharp angles. Deller's bass lines are deep and continuous, while Roth constrains himself to the core of his drum kit, providing undulating waves of sound. As the track progresses, it becomes clear that not one instrument is in the lead, rather they are pushing, reacting, and instigating each other to a fitful ending. The next track, 'Leben in Riss', doubles down on the fractures and amps up the intensity. 'Broken Wave' begins as a bit of showcase for Deller who generates a glitchy drone that the others add their own rhythmic and atonal tinctures.

Throughout Opsedale, the musical camaraderie is visceral and the musical tension is high, making for a lively and demanding recording rich with musical rewards. 

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Kelsey Mines - Look Like (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Gregg Miller

With liner notes featuring a personal letter from Joëlle Léandre—quite an endorsement!—Contrabass player Kelsey Mines’ first solo record is an exciting adventure. It’s a personal document, an intimate encounter with her practice, a sound diary. Mines vocalizes throughout—not as a trained singer, but as a bassist allowing her voice to trail in and out of bass lines, intoning, tracing, at times sounding out words exploring their variety of timbre. Mines uses both the bass and her voice as source for found-sounds.

Throughout the recording, the musical pathways evolve and move. Ideas arise, and go places. The repetitions are considered choices each time. Nothing here is given in advance or taken for granted. One of the most admirable qualities of the recording is its chance-taking. So much of what we’re conditioned to hear and affirm is studio-polished, answering to a conception of perfection which turns against the unruly reality of experience with a demeaning squint, refusing the open encounter. Mines’ record feels unashamed and true. A genuine encounter with the possibilities of the upright bass. It’s a punk aesthetic, though not angry young man punk; more in the way of a practicing artist trying out all the colors, line types, and densities, seeing what works. The laborer’s craft. Honest expression over polish. Open studio day; we’re invited in.

Mines’ practice incorporates the vocalizing teaching from Odeya Nini’s “Free the Voice” workshops. (You can hear Nini’s stunningly beautiful and original improvised vocalizations here and here). “It’s not even about singing,” Mines explains. “It’s about sound, envisioning the sound as it comes out: manifest it, use the body and movement to connect to it, to ground it. . . . I would ask myself: ‘What am I afraid of? Let me do that thing.’ Why is it so scary? Okay, I should do it. We have a lot of fear around our voices, and the sounds that we make. We’re taught: we can only sing if it sounds ‘good.’”

Mines continues: “There’s a lot of judgement placed on people’s voices, and that’s terrible! When we’re kids we just want to sing, we want to dance, to move, to drum. That just gets trained out of us. When I’m formulating words, it’s uncomfortable, actually. If you’re vocalizing and you start saying a word, all of a sudden there’s something recognizable, so it can pull you out of that headspace of [sound as such], someone’s going to pull meaning from this, but I’m not going to shy away from it. [During sound checks, I insist:] Make sure the voice is not overpowering the bass. [The bass] is my comfort zone, so how can I do the thing that’s scarier?”

I pursue this a bit, and ask: What about this thing with fear and honesty? She laughs. “I don’t know, I’m pretty obsessed with that. I just want to give everybody else permission to not be perfect all the time. What do I have to share? During the pandemic I was playing by myself so much, I got very internal. Had some realizations about what makes art. It’s not what I used to think it was. The structures we have suck the joy out of music. It doesn’t have to be this polished thing."

I reviewed Mines’ earlier contribution on Here to Play (s/r, 2019), a great trio record with Neil Welch (ts) and Gregg Keplinger (d)). On Here to Play Mines' sound struck me as reminiscent of the hulking Dominic Duval (long-time collaborator with Joe McPhee). On Look Like, the forward confidence of Mines’ bow and finger work continues. The addition of her vocalizations changes the character completely of what’s on offer. We are privy to an internal dialogue. Mines’ vocalizations brings out the acoustical/natural sound of the bass, and the bass completes the voice. The most intriguing moments are when my ear/brain forgets or can’t discern which is which. At that point the musical cyborg manifests in sound neither accompanied nor augmented.

Mines received Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Emerging Artist Award in 2019. Now that the music scene is opening back up (after Covid shut-downs), Mines is in high demand. She is a major and positive force in the Seattle music world.

You can find Look Like on Bandcamp. If you love Look Like, you will want to listen to at least the first track of To actually create everywhere, also from 2022. The first piece is 16 and a half minutes of solo bass with vocalization, as strong and direct as anything on Look Like, and recorded in the same sessions as Look Like. (The other two tracks (29 minutes) fall under the heading of experimental chamber music: Trombone, bassoon, clarinet, bass, percussion, and some spoken word poetry written by Em Nitz-Ritter (“the unwieldy volume of my own voice”).)

For more of Mines’ work, see her websit.

Also worth seeking out is Mines’ contribution to the Wayward “In Limbo” Series, an incredible collection of 134 recordings (freely available on Soundcloud) commissioned by Steve Peters of the Wayward Music Series in Seattle. All contributions to "In Limbo" were recorded during lock-down and together represent the best free improvisers in Seattle. Mines’ recording is here.