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Thursday, August 31, 2023

Izumi Kimura & Gerry Hemingway - Kairos (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

Kairos documents the second collaboration between Japanese-born, Ireland-based pianist Izumi Kimura and American, Switzerland-based master drummer, percussionist and vocalist, Gerry Hemingway, following Illuminated Silence recorded with master double bass player Barry Guy (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019. Kimura continued to work with Guy and recorded two albums for the same label in a quartet with Polish Artur Majewski and Spanish drummer Ramón López). The album was recorded in Kimura’s adopted hometown, Dublin, and in Hemingway’s adopted hometown, Luzern, in May and August 2022.

The title of the album, Kairos, the ancient Greek word for time, captures the unique and highly personal conception of Kimura and Hemingway of rhythm and time. And this conception is enhanced by the poetic description of American writer and poet Andrew Levy: “Our wish to expire resplendent with desire, the discovery of which we can not put off. To be part of unstoppable drift in time and thus operative imaginative trees becoming stars becoming space”.

Kimura and Hemingway can slow down time, almost into a stasis in the minimalist and contemplative opening piece “Dendrochronology”, and focus on suspense and the delicate, resonating timbres of the piano with the marimba and vibraphone, or the prepared piano and the drum set on the following, playful “Water Thief”. “Cloud Echoes” offers a dramatic, emotional story that enjoys a minimalist percussive pulse while the title piece focuses on a totally free and intuitive interplay, cementing the gifted and imaginative improvising skills of both musicians. Kimura and Hemingway do not just drift in time but shape and sculpt time in their imaginative, constantly shifting manners.

Hemingway’s “Day Into Night” frees time from any pattern and suggests open and sparse, echoing contours of elusive time, or an enigmatic and Sisyphean attempt to find an operative rhythmic pattern that maybe never achieved. Kimura’s brief “Chronostrata” articulates a powerful and intense, free jazz melody, and is the only piece that radiates relatively familiar dynamics. The most surprising piece here is “Rivertide”, an arrangement of the Bahaman-based, Pindar family's recording of "Take Me Over the Tide" matched with the Methodist hymn "At the River" as arranged by Charles Ives. Hemingway plays harmonica and sings beautifully and with great passion like a preacher, with Kimura, intensifies faithfully the gospel vibe.

Many wonderful and enchanting things happen when you let yourself drift in such an unstoppable tide. Or as Andrew Levy wrote in his poem: ‘...The thief of time sheltered by your body from all harm. / From memory from shadows this kind of pain. The ground is green, the ground is whatever color you wish it to be. / an orange-lined triggerfish. The smallest, discrete, Non-decomposable bell”.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Introduction to Syntactical Ghost Trance Music

Sharing here a link to an video that will likely be of interest to Anthony Braxton fans, as well as those who are curious about different compositional techniques. Created by Kyoko Kitamura at the Tri-Centric Foundation, the footage is drawn from various recent rehearsals, interviews and performances.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Rempis Percussion Quartet - Harvesters (Aerophonic Records, 2023)

By Martin Schray

Dave Rempis is not only a musician, he is also a label owner. Almost all of his releases are distributed on Aerophonic Records, a 100% artist-run label created by him ten years ago. The label’s first album was Phalanx, by the Rempis Percussion Quartet (RPQ), a band he runs together with drummers Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy, which has now made it to eleven albums. Since the fourth, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has joined RPQ on bass. For the label’s tenth birthday, it’s therefore only logical that this band also celebrates the anniversary with a new album. In March this year, Harvesters was recorded in France, a country where RPQ had never played before, although they tour Europe regularly. In a packed week-long schedule, the band started in Tours, where they also organized a day of workshops and recordings. Unsurprisingly, the band received rave reviews on the first night in Tours, spurred on by their French debut as well as their first meeting in four years post-Pandemic and a full house.

The first part of Harvesters documents the second set of the performance that night, and “Everything Happens To You“ doesn’t take long to flare: a brief, rather restrained call to arms and off they go. Rosaly and Daisy push forward as usual, there’s always a pulse. The rhythm machine is never completely off the beat, but it’s a polyrhythmic drive forward, a typical RPQ characteristic. Supported by them, Rempis plays for six minutes in somnambulistic certainty and - knowing his abilities - he doesn’t lose his composure. In this part he shows exemplarily his whole spectrum: repetitive lines and runs, wild vibrato, interspersed with melodies, but blatantly overblown and played forward. What is more, it becomes clear which tradition he comes from: Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster as well as early Archie Shepp and Peter Brötzmann. It is he who pulls the cart and the rhythm section has to hurry to follow him (which musicians of this caliber do, of course). When he then drops out (another stylistic element the band likes to employ), he does so out of nowhere, but Håker Flaten, suddenly standing alone, catches the situation very confidently and plays an almost lyrical solo. The piece concludes by returning to the beginning. By RPQ standards, this part is extremely accessible, very melodic and meditative in parts, almost dreaming oneself into the French night as the musicians withdraw more and more from the improvisation. Rempis is almost a bit reminiscent of John Coltrane in the last two minutes of the music.

The second piece of the set, “The Exuberant Aubergine“, presents a new addition to the quartet’s previous recordings, as French trumpeter Jean Luc Cappozzo joins the band. Although the musical philosophy doesn’t change, the improvisation is more lyrical and playful. Cappozzo, who can be heard on flugelhorn here, fits into this well-rehearsed collective as if he had been with them all the time; he harmonizes excellently with Rempis in particular. How the lines of the two circle around each other is the actual sensation of this recording. Cappozzo’s warm tone is reminiscent of Bill Dixon, which leads to very contemplative moments, especially in the middle of the piece, where the two wind players tend to explore the sound of their instruments before taking off again into familiar free jazz realms.

The second part of the album then shows the band from a different side. The first track, “Spooky Action“, was recorded live at a morning workshop for children ages 8-18. After the set, the band worked with the younger audience members, all recent immigrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Niger and Senegal. Knowing this, you can actually hear an African-Asian influence on “Spooky Action“, especially in terms of Rosaly’s and Daisy’s rhythm work. Rempis himself swings like on none of his recordings that I know of, shaking out riff after riff, rarely before has he sounded so upbeat.

The second and third tracks of the second part - “Little Fascists“ and “Fat Lip“ - were both recorded on the same stage as the concert and workshop, but this time without an audience. This is a rarity for RPQ, as they usually prefer the higher energy levels of the concerts for recordings. The studio recordings now bring out another quality of the band, a more melancholic, introspective one. What was already announced in “The Exuberant Aubergine“ is further explored here. The drums are less frantic, sometimes relying on sparsely placed cymbal sounds. The music is almost pointillist, mainly in “Little Fascists“.

Harvesters manages, even after eleven albums, to take new sides from the band. A worthy release for an anniversary.

Harvesters is available as a double CD and as a download. You can listen to “Spooky Action“ on the Aerophonic’s bandcamp site, where you can also order the album.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Summer Bummer Festival, August 25 & 26, Antwerp, Belgium

(Selvhenter - photo Stef Gijssels)

By Stef Gijssels

On Friday I attended the Summer Bummer Festival in Antwerp, Belgium. The programme was absolutely excellent, with some of the more exploratory music in the improvisation scene of today. 

You can find the programme of both days below. 

Some reflections from my side. 

Reflection # 1 - female musicians. 

I am not sure to which extent this was the intention of the programme makers, but all saxophonists on day one were women. The day started with a duet between French saxophonist Ornella Noulet with drummer Ferdinand Lezaire. Even if trained in traditional jazz, her powerful alto and improvisational skills are very promising. They have no recorded output yet, but it was nice to get to know them. On the next performance free improv luminaries Han Bennink and Terry Ex were joined by Norwegian saxophonist Heidi Kvelvane for their last two improvisations. You can watch a short clip of their performance here. We were treated for an intense duet of British baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and altoist Dee Byrne on the second stage. Back on the main stage, we had a show by Selvhenter, the Danish all female group with Sonja LaBianca on alto, in the company of Maria Bertel on trombone and the great rhythm section of drummers Jaleh Negari and Anja Jacobsen. The evening ended with the very aspirational and ambitious new ensemble of Angles, Martin Küchen's brainchild, now with 13 musicians, including a string quartet, and with Belgian Hanne De Backer on baritone sax and bass clarinet. Also on Day 2 - which I could not attend, unfortunately - we have the presence of Pak Yan Lau, Marta Warelis, Helena Espval, and the six young female musicians of the Nemø Ensemble. This female presence is only to be applauded, also for the quality of their music, and they're all young, which brings me to my second reflection which is more of a question. 

Reflection # 2 - young bands & old audience

On Day 1, the concert room was packed, and people stayed from early on, around 4pm till well past midnight. Roughly estimated, the audience consisted of 80% men, and between the age group of 50 to 70 (you know: grey hair, ponytails, glasses), while the performing bands consisted primarily of young musicians. How is this possible? We can only be enthusiastic that there is a new generation of young musicians attracted to free music, but why are they not in the audience? How do we get young people to come to appreciate 'our kind' of music? Sure, the 'elderly' (including myself), are still welcome, but why is 'our' kind of music only appreciated by young musicians and not more broadly by young listeners? 

Reflection # 3 - strange music

I am used to strange music - at least that's what my immediate surroundings think - but some of the things I heard yesterday pushed the boundaries of what I expected. The wildest and at time most 'unlistenable' music came from Star Splitter, the duo of Rob Mazurek and Gabriele Mitelli, whose electronic squeaks and squeals, blips and beeps, screeches and buzzes were at times beyond the level of tolerability (especially at that sound volume), even if some parts were great (I'm a Mazurek fan, so yes, great to see him perform). Also the trio of Marvin Tate, Ben LaMar Gay and Mike Reed presented something unheard - at least to me - a theatrical poetic show by Marvin Tate, about social and political issues, shouting, yelling, roaring, bellowing on how "happiness is strange". It was disconcerting, pushing the audience out of their comfort zone, but fascinating, mesmerising, especially also by the quality of the accompanying musicians. The evening ended with Martin Küchen's jazz opera - The Death Of Kalypso - composed for large band and the vocals of Elle-Kari Sander. It was the world premiere of this ambitious project that will see a double vinyl release in April next year. In my opinion, the best jazz opera since Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill. Look out for it, including the launch of separate tracks of it in the course of this year. 

Kudos to the festival organisers to have lined up artists who break boundaries between genres and artistic disciplines, who still go beyond the expectations, even of those members of the audience (you know: grey hair, ponytails, glasses), who think they've heard it all. We love to be challenged, we like to be out of our comfort zone, we enjoy to be suprised by anything new. And even if not everything works or means something to the listener, that does not matter, it's great that minds are ears are opened to innovative possibilities and sonic experiences. 

So, a great experience. And if anybody has answers to some of the questions above, please share them. Comments are of course always welcome. 

Day 1

Angles: The Death of Kalypso
Star Splitter: Rob Mazurek – Gabriele Mitelli
Mike Reed – Ben LaMar Gay – Marvin Tate
Cath Roberts & Dee Byrne
Han Bennink – Terrie Ex – Heidi Kvelvane
Cooper Crain – Dan Quinlivan – Rob Frye – David Edren
Ornella Noulet & Ferdinand Lezaire

Day 2

Oren Ambarchi, Andreas Werliin, Tashi Dorji
Susie Ibarra & Tashi Dorji
Turquoise Dream: Carlos Zingaro – Marta Warelis – Helena Espvall – Marcelo Dos Reis
Mike Reed's Separatist Party: Ben LaMar Gay – Marvin Tate – Cooper Crain – Dan Quinlivan – Rob Frye
Heidi Kvelvane – Terrie Ex – Lazara Rosell Albear
Nemø ensemble
Musicopes – Pak Yan Lau

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Our Sunday Interview: Matthew Shipp

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?
    The courage to dive into the unknown. Having faith that there is a safety net when deconstructing a musical structure knowing that something beautiful is buried deep within it that can be found out with a further round of abstraction.

  2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?
    The ability to listen- to think fast or so fast that you are not thinking -- to have a concept of the sound you want to project -- to be gracious in your use of space -- to meld in with who you are playing with -- overall musicianship.

  3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most? If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?
    History is a construct. Since time is relative who cares - I admire me.

  4. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?
    At some point, I will shut the fuck up at the instrument - but till then I seem to have the need to push down notes and chords on a thing they call a piano. I guess I would like to come up with a phrase and or sequence of chords that are so powerful that there is no need to ever play another sequence of notes again.

  5. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like
    Yes, I love pop music - the list is way too long and broad to list.

  6. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
    Nothing, I like who I have become and even the bad things about myself led me to where I am today and I want to be the me that is me.

  7. Which of your albums are you most proud of?
    Wow, I have so many albums that that is a hard question to answer. It also changes all the time. Today, I would say Zero, To Duke, By the Law of Music, The Art of the Improviser, Re-union, but that is today, tomorrow it would be a different answer.

  8. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?
    Yes, when the mood hits. I go through periods of reevaluating my work and or seeing what language surfaced in me at different periods.

  9. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?
    Hard to answer - maybe the Genius of Bud Powell, or A Love Supreme, or the Dennis Sandole album on Cadence Records, or Low by David Bowie, or Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder, or Rite of Spring by Stravinsky.

  10. What are you listening to at the moment?
    Not much, trying to keep a clean mind. Recent listens though are Albert Ayler, Monk, Sal Mosca, Pygmy music, and a lot of 80s dance music.

  11. What artist outside music inspires you?
    The writers who inspire me are endless. The mystics who inspire me are endless. Bruce Lee inspires me. All forms of dance inspire me.

Interview: Matthew Shipp at 60, an Interview

Partial list of reviews of Matthew Shipp (only recordings where is the leader), in no particular order:

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A L'ARME! X+I, Berlin, August 10-12, 2023 (Part I+I)

Crowd (above) Roof Deck (below) (photos by Juliane Schuetz

By Paul Acquaro

Read part 1 here.

Friday, August 11

The crowd at the Radialsystem was impressive. On Friday evening, at 7 p.m., the A'LARME! crowd spilled out onto the ample patio space overlooking the the Spree, the river that cuts through the middle of Berlin as well as the side-yard. The bar inside, as well as the one outside, had lines and a patio space on the third floor of the former sewage pumping station, turned stunning performance space, featured a natural wine bar and videos of performances from previous festivals. Of course, I found myself headed periodically to the merchandise table - actually more the pop-up record store of Gerhard Busse's No Mans Land mail-order shop.

Joy Guidry (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

As far as I could tell, this years edition of A'LARME did not have an explicitly stated theme, however, there seemed to be several that tacitly snaked through the varied programming. One of which was expressed by bassoonist Joy Guidry, who addresses themes of discrimination and self acceptance in the face of prejudice and hatred. Guidry's 2022 album, Radical Acceptance, opens with the track 'Just Because I Have a Dick Doesn't Mean I'm a Man,' which lays out with acerbic wit and directness their feelings, and the show that kicked off Friday's concerts set this sentiment to a soundtrack that was both confrontational as well as uplifting. The performance was heartfelt as Guidry challenged the audience to consider injustices by asking the question: "How do you live in a world where...". The music included free jazz interludes, a lovely spiritual folk melody 'Down in the Valley' which stretched into an extended musical exploration, and some bassoon playing from Guidry, which at times leaned experimental and other times sentimental. I would have loved hearing even more of the instrument, a rarity outside of classical music.

Florian Walter and Jan Klare  (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

'Meat.Karaoke.Quality.Time.' What does it mean? For the audience gathered around the stage in the Saal, it meant a mix of humans, electronic instruments, and an AI named "π∆∞m∫" collaborating in real-time, in some possible future. Saxophonists Florian Walter and Jan Klare took to the EWI (the electronic wind instrument, a synthesizer controller played by blowing into it like a horn) and Karl-F. Degenhardt played the 'sensory drums,' which, to my understanding, is a way to use the drums as a synthesizer controller. The fourth member was the AI, developed by Canadian programmer Mike McCormack. The self-learning algorithm added yet another elements of chance and randomness to the human made electronic music from the stage, and the affect, considering also the digital landscapes above the stage and the cosmic rain gear worn by the musicians, was something out of joint dream from Ray Kurzweil and George Lucas - the Singularity Band playing the late set at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Intriguing and haunting.

Claire Rousay (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

Claire Rousay was on last year's program, slated to play drums in woodwindist Ken Vandermark's group with Macie Stewart, before a car accident changed these plans. This year, Rousay made it to Berlin but no longer playing drums, and rather focusing on electronics and vocals. Like say William Eggelston's photography of mid-century America, Rousay's sample sources too are of the everyday - for Eggelston it was shapes and colors of societal artifacts, for Rousay it is the sounds. She mixes samples of audio, like "stopwatches, lawnmowers, field recordings, voice messages" to make sonic pictures. It was interesting, but I was not convinced interesting enough to stand in the very crowded Saal until I noticed that behind her laptop, she was holding an electric guitar. Soon enough, she struck a chord and began singing a wistful melody. It was not a memorable melody or unusual chord progression, but along with the auto-tuned vocals and brittle, crinkly electronics it was quite affective.

SUM (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

The next performance was quite weird. The crowd was still assembling in the larger concert hall, but were keeping the main floor generally open, while SUM's performance may have had already begun. A tall, lightly clad Pablo Gīw, standing to the right side of the hall, began moving slowly, deliberately towards a trumpet lying on the floor next to blanket full of electronics. As he reached the instrument, Kelvin Kilonzo appeared on the floor. Creating a beat through the trumpet though his breath and re-processing by the electronics, Gīw created a pulsating soundscape that took over the room. Kilonzo simply moved through the space, and the combination of the sound oscillations and the flowing movements together made for a disorientating effect.

Victoria Shen (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

The last set of the night by 1 Above Minus Underground was unlike anything ... or maybe, it was a bit everything ... I've ever hear before. The sheer amount of gadgetry on the stage was mindboggling. In fact, it seemed to be more a set-up spectacle than music, but either way, it certainly screamed improvisation. The first portion of the performance featured Victoria Shen making sound using the contents from one of the tables and her body - from a light-up portable record player to a bow that she used to play her hair (she was well mic'd). She was eventually joined by second electronics player, a singer, and drummer Lukas Koenig, who drumming and conception was at the heart of the project. Finally, vocalist Elvin Brandhi joined, providing even more exotic sounds to the textured, rhythmic event. The vast amount of tools and people on the stage certainly made a never before heard collage of sound, fury and permanently altered epiglottises.

Here's the whole group:
Lukas Koenig (AT) — Drums, Synthesizer; Dälek (US) — Vocals; Victoria Shen (US) — Needle Nails, Electronics;  Rojin Sharafi (IR/AT) — Vocals, Electronics;  Elvin Brandhi (UK) — Vocals; Nik Hummer (AT) — Modular Synthesizer


Saturday, August 12th

Jasper Stadhouders Presents Polyband – Chapter II (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

I begin with a confession: I missed Jasper Stadhouders' Polyband set. Previous obligations got in the way and I missed what was later described to me by an audience member as "just wow." The guitarist and bassist's free jazz big band concept, in existence since 2015 and comprised of mostly Dutch musicians, operates via the following formula: "lots of volume, lots of rhythm, lots of tonality, lots of repetition – and then, a single, minimal change for a massive impact." Obviously, from the people I spoke with and my spies in the audience, it had it's intended effects: there was some messiness, some obviousness, and some magic to the performance. As I entered Radialsystem, I did hear the group's final three notes - and they did sound good!

Claire Rousay and Julia Reidy (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

The evening's second set was the pairing of Australian guitarist Julia Reidy with Claire Rousay. The stage featured two electronics set ups, facing each other and the set began with Reidy plucking the guitar and then reprocessing the sound. Quiet, bubbling electronics and a slowly emerging soundscape ensued. Slight vocalizations from Rousay mixed with Reidy's open, sweeping arpeggios. As the two progressed, it felt like we were moving between rooms of a mystical house through doors made of hanging musical beads, each room was similar, but at the same time, a unique discovery. It became hard to distinguish who was making what sound at some points, except of course when Rousay's gentle vocals entered the space. Together, they layered up sounds of sampled talking, to swirling guitar tones, and bass beats until reaching a satisfying end.
Thomas Ankersmit (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

The Serge Modular analog synthesizer, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, was developed by Serge Tcherepnin, then a professor at CalArts in the early 1970s. He idea was to develop a synthesizer that was an affordable alternative to the more expensive Buchla synthesizers. He was successful and ended up leaving CalArts to pursue building his instruments exclusively. Thomas Ankersmit, about six years younger than the instrument, has today become one of its leading player. His set, however, may have contained the most confrontational sound that I've ever encountered in a concert setting. The set began interestingly with a series of explosions that seemed to come from different distances and locations and which felt frighteningly realistic. However, a prolonged, high frequency pitch drove me - and several others - from the hall. After the piercing tone subsided, I returned to hear some other and more listenable tonal elements.

Kassa Overall (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

Kassa Overall leads a powerful band with a slick delivery style that was both somewhat at odds with the grittier feel of many of the performances at the festival, but also provided probably the most accessible route to jazz of the performances. It was also a fun show. The music incorporates hip-hop and rap with jazz rather flawlessly. Overall, the drummer and MC, along with percussionist Bendji Allonce, leads the charge in creating dense, layered, driving percussive grooves. Pianist Ian Finkelstein provides McCoy Tyner like suspension and bassist Giulio Xavier Cetto offers a solid but agile grounding. Tomoki Sanders, son of Pharoah Sanders, adds colorful sax solos, ranging from saccharine smooth- to eviscerating free-jazz, and exudes an irrepressible energy on stage (as well as running through the audience!). What seemed on paper to be a somewhat off-brand headliner, was quite an invigorating and inspired set.

 RÊVE PARTI (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

The final set, RÊVE PARTI, by Eve Risser on prepared piano and kick-drum, with live-electronics player Adrian Bourget, provided the after-concert dance party music, but I had wandered off into the Berlin night by then. Reflecting on the festival a few days later, I can say that my initial impulse to let the festival simply be itself worked out quite well. Sure, there were some acts that I do not feel the need to see again but many more discoveries that opened up my ears to something unexpected and new. What more can you ask for? Without challenge, it would be boring and there is nothing boring about this festival. So, looking forward to A L'ARME! X+II!

Friday, August 25, 2023

A L'ARME! X+I, Berlin, August 10-12, 2023 (Part I)

By Paul Acquaro

Thinking back on past editions of A L'ARME!, it has typically been quite hot, and in a summer where extreme heat has reigned over southern Europe and the US, simple reasoning would suggest that the patterns of past years would hold true for mid-August in Berlin; however, how far from it. Seasonably cool and under blue skies with white fluffy clouds, the opening evening of A L'ARME! X+I was starting out under some ideal conditions.

Even though A L'ARME!'s curator Louis Rastig is himself a fine free improvising pianist himself, do not expect his festival to be some sort of a classic Free Jazz festival. I've made the mistake before of trying to squint real hard and see only what I wanted to see. True, in the beginning, there was more free jazz, even with some of the legends themselves like trombonist Conny Bauer, percussionist Sven Aki Johanssen and the late saxophonist Peter Brötzmann (to name a few) on the program, but as the years have gone on (we're now at the 11th edition, if you do the math), there is less free jazz to find on the program, however, there is still plenty of improvisation, and more so, the drive to create uncompromising, and often very loud, music.

According to Rastig, the main thing is that the performances and music are improvised. He hopes that it brings people around who are ready for something different, and hopefully bring in those who may not have been interested in improvisation before. In fact, a chance conversation with an older listener in the audience, revealed that Rastig was maybe onto something else as well... "I'm tired of free jazz," he said, "it's been done."

Personally, I still have a lot room for some fiery sax, plink-plonking guitar and time-addling percussion, but at this year's festival, I decided to stop squinting, put in my ear plugs (generously provided by the festival) and experience the music without trying to fit it into an older form. Here is what happened...

Thursday, August 10

Edwin van der Heide's lasers (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

Of course the opening show was lasers and fog machines, how could it not? The Dutch sound and light artist Edwin van der Heide's work "Intersecting Planes" sculpts the air in the room into geometric shapes that goes tongue-and-groove with a soundtrack of deep, body rattling bass oscillations, electronic beats and unnerving drones. The lasers, changing with the music, create patterns of lines on the wall and prisms in the air, one moves through the performance space seeing forms that are not really there and hearing sounds with a palpable form.

No Plexus (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

The set was followed by the Dutch duo No Plexus, comprised of Allison Wright and Brechtje van Dijk presenting their multimedia deconstruction of the somewhat maligned term 'Gen-Y' or 'Millennial.' The duo reprocesses the imagery and sounds that have been culturally tagged as Millennial and as the generation discussion, starting with the Boomers to the forgotten Generation X, Gen-Y and recent focal point Gen-Z, has become mainstream fodder, it seems quite the appropriate target for scrutiny by the arts. Wright and Brechtje can Dijk use fast cut video, pastiches of song genres from bossa-nova and lounge to electronics and torchy ballads, to deliver their critique. It was a neutron bomb of information, intriguing and intense.

Holistic Trio (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

The third set of evening was a much different affair featuring essentially only acoustic instruments. Trio Holistic featured the interactions of Veslemøy Narvesen on drums, Kit Downes on organ and piano, and Ketija Ringa on flute, for the first time publicly. The music began quietly, with a suspenseful organ and some action from the high-hat. The flute then began tracing out some lithe structures and playing simple melodic snippets. Compared to the density of the previous duo's music, this was as ephemeral as the smoke that had been rising from the machines in the other music hall. Something however was building up, and as Downes switched from the organ to piano, it seemed to signal a change to a more kinetic sound. The trio however then wavered, retreating back to a quieter space, which lasted until Downes, back on organ, pulled out the stops, and towards the final moments, the group generated some welcome agitated energy.

Carl-Michael von Hausswolff (Photo by Juliane Schuetz)

The Saal, the same room as the previous show, boasted a stage set up in the middle of the room, screens above and spotlights from all sides. Sitting behind a table of devices, the controversial Swedish artist Carl-Michael von Hausswolff, under a wide brimmed hat and trenchcoat, manipulated waves of sound and static. Possibly more interesting as concept than as a live spectacle, the sounds that were extracted and shaped by the analog machines on stage ranged from dry and glitchy to liquidy and digestional.

Moe with Mette Rasmussen and Veslemøy Narvesen (Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

The first set of the night ended with the noise-rock of the Norwegian duo Moe with the addition of Veslemøy Narvesen on drums and Mette Rasmussen on saxophone. As the set began, my gut reaction was flight -  it was really loud. The earplugs were making it bearable, but group leader Guro Moe's electric bass and intense vocals and Håvard Skaset's guitar work nearly bested them. Then, Rasmussen came in and her wailing lines took the primordial crunch of the duo and elevated it to something else entirely. Narvesen, as loud now as she was restrained in the earlier set, added fascinating polyrhythm to the aggressive punk/metal pulse. They played as a quartet - not as a duo plus guests - each elevating the others work to create something intriguing and eviscerating. 

Finally, after an encore, I took my weary ears home to rest to prepare for the next two nights.

Read part 2 here.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Zoh Amba, Chris Corsano, Bill Orcutt – The Flower School (Palilalia Records, 2023)


By Guido Montegrandi

Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt have a well consolidated history of playing and recording together as a duo (Brace Up from 2018, and Made Out Of Sound from 2021, for example) and more recently the two released Play at Duke that presents their concert from April 22 at the 21st Anniversary Festival at Duke University for the Three Lobed Records. Additionally, in recent months, Corsano and Zoh Amba have been playing together as a duo on various occasions. So, it seems almost natural that the three of them have ended up in a recording studio together.

“Inviting a third person to the party could threaten a slowly cultivated balance—whether between Orcutt and Corsano or Corsano and Amba—but in this case the addition only heightened various dichotomies: soft vs. loud, bruising vs. tender, furious vs. lyric.” (notes to the record)

And indeed dichotomies seems a key word to describe how these three musicians meet to exchange ideas and sounds and stories, well ready to react to the goading of their companions, acting to add balance ... or to take it to the extreme ... or to lead astray ... or to uphold every note.

'What emptiness do you gaze upon!': the tenor pursues single notes and short phrases over the circular beating of the drum and static arpeggios, chords and chiming notes. The three of them seem to follow closely parallel pats that find their crossing when in the end silence comes creeping.

'The Flower School' sounds almost like a Corsano/Amba dialogue over a subtle drone provided by Orcutt. Here the sax provides long melodic sounds coupled by a crescendo of the drums that progressively grows rhythmic and expansive. The final sound is a lonely guitar drone.

In these two pieces, Orcutt seems to be in his “carpet-of-sound mode,” with the aim of creating an environment for Amba and Corsano to grow their sonic plants.

'Sweet one' is a guitar duo with Amba playing acoustic guitars arpeggios while Orcutt moves around creating an “echoic chamber” full of angles and reflections. The atmosphere is quite close to one of the small pieces for guitar and voice and sax or flute that you may find on Amba’s youtube channel.

'The morning light has flooded my eyes': here we go again, the guitar offers a lightly distorted ostinato coupled by responsive drumming. Long blown phrases surround this construction as the sax enters in a tight conversation with the guitar. This is probably the piece that carries the closest memories to the late 60s free music. Here, Corsano's drumming is simply perfect. Then suddenly it all calms down as the sounds become long and lyric and flow almost seamlessly into the final piece, 'Moon Showed But No You,' a sax and guitar duo in which a crooked sax melody is sustained by interrupted rhythmic arpeggios and spacious notes.

When the music is over, we retain the impression of a powerful yet subtle record with three musicians who have found their chemistry creating neat intersections and leaving each other enough space for their individual visions to become a collective creation.

You can listen and buy it on Bandcamp.

Zoh Amba, Chris Corsano, Bill Orcutt - The Flower School (Palilalia Records, 2023)

Recently, I wrote a review of Zoh Amba’s release O Light O Life Vol.2 and found that it could not quite keep up with its predecessor. So, I expressed a little skepticism whether it was wise of her releasing so many albums in such a short time (there were five in 2022 alone), if you want to keep a certain standard of quality. Without a doubt, these albums are all very good, I even consider Bhakti a masterpiece. However, at the time of the publication of my review I wasn’t aware of the fact that a new recording with Chris Corsano (drums) and Bill Orcutt (guitar) had already been released, and I must admit that Amba has proved me wrong, because The Flower School is quite an excellent album again.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the great quality of The Flower School is that the combination with Bill Orcutt’s guitar makes the musical environment completely different compared to her previous releases. In “What Emptiness Do You Gaze Upon!“ and “The Morning Light Has Flooded My Eyes“, Orcutt and Corsano create wide textures through shredded chords and drum rolls that Amba pushes harsh against with a roaring sound full of vibratos and shrill overblown lines reminiscent of Albert Ayler and David Murray. In terms of the energy of these tracks one almost feels reminded of a version of Last Exit without Bill Laswell on bass. Also, Orcutt proves that he knows how to structure an improvisation. He cleverly introduces repetitive tones and drones that seem like chimes or gloomy portents, Corsano in turn uses this for drum crescendos over which Amba then lets her spiritual lines float. That she’s also a talented balladeer can be heard in “The Flower School“ and in “The Moon Showed But No You“, the latter just in a duo with Orcutt. Here it seems as if both dance around each other, very tenderly, but without touching each other. It’s a piece of extraordinary beauty and coherence.

Not only on this album does Amba succeed in creating both with her playing: she’s iconoclastic, edgy and brutally rough on the one hand, while on the other hand she’s sincerely painful and heartbreaking. Her tone, her voice, emerge from this tension. Thus, her music is extremely demanding and spiritual. If you didn’t know that she’s just 22 years old, you would probably imagine 40- to 50-year-old giant. But the fact that she turns this stereotype on its head is one of the reasons that make her so special.

So, I might have been wrong in my review of O Light O Life Vol.2 regarding Amba’s release policy (though I haven’t changed my opinion towards the album itself). But as long as she makes music of such depth and elegance as on The Flower School, any release is welcome. I’m looking forward to listening to the next one.

The Flower School is available as a download and a limited vinyl version. You can listen to the album and order it here:

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Giovanni Di Domenico/Goncalo Almeida/Balasz Pandi/Giotis Damianidis –Pray For Your Prey (defkaz records, 2023)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Apart from the strange, incomprehensible title, this vinyl is an aggressive affair that covers a lot of ground between jazz, fusion and free rock. Defkaz records, operated from Thessaloniki Greece, is presenting a pan-European eclectic mix of improvisers. Giovanni Di Domenico is on Fender Rhodes, Goncalo Almeida on bass, Balasz Pandi on drums and Giotis Damianidis on electric guitar. On a first level they clearly rock like the old-fashioned way!

Defkaz has hit a goldmine with this LP which was recorded in October 2017 in Brussels. All musicians are on top form. Playing aggressively, full of energy and pathos, the group presents a holistic vision of modern music. Di Domenico leaves his instrument of choice, the piano, to create proggish atmospheres with the Fender Rhodes but never stops being the natural force he is on the keyboard. The –could be but is not- backbone of drums and bass by Pandi and Almeida dissolve the traditional roles of their respected instruments, by playing as equals and share something that I could call a broken common language with the effects used on the electric guitar by Damianidis.

His playing balances in-between free rock gestures and the ambience created by the feedback of amplification. The two sides of the vinyl consist of two tracks each, but it would be no lie that you can listen to them like on long improvisation. In our modern society of the spectacle it is always something to be mentioned, that Pray For Your Prey is a recording that doesn’t need time to absorb you. Of course it wasn’t built to serve the capitalist motto of time is money, but, certainly, it captures you, the listener, from the first moment you start to pay attention.

The four of them played live and seem in sync from the very first second. On the label’s site there’s a mention that it, also, could be labeled as a noise recording, but that is something I cannot agree with. Pray For Your Prey can be, and is, noisey, but it lacks the chaotic randomness that a good noise recording engulfs. On the contrary, the four musicians seem to know exactly the way they want to follow, even if they are not sure about the exact path. This path is revealed to them every second of the way. There are certain moments of the recording that total control seems to be lost. Those are the best ones, I believe in a great listen that surely demands the attention of anyone not interested in labeling the music.



Monday, August 21, 2023

The Bridge Sessions - Pang (The Bridge Sessions, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

The "Bridge Sessions" was created in 2013 as an exchange programme of creative musicians from France and the United States (primarily Chicago) to participate in festivals on the other continent and to perform as newly assembled quartets and quintets of French and American musicians. The project was initiated and led by Alexandre Pierrepont, Johan Saint and Nader Beizaei. The rules of the game are described as follows: "The Bridge associates nearly 150 French and North American musicians (75 per cycle, one cycle lasting seven years), divided into quartets and quintets. This long list respects the sociological diversity of the jazz field: men and women of all generations and backgrounds, who will be brought together, one after another, configuration after configuration. And its aesthetic diversity: music as a means of expression and as a means of experimentation, music as a domain of possibility. All of them show invaluable capacities to share their knowledge and craft, both on- and off-stage."

This is already the sixteenth album of the initiative, with Ben LaMar Gay on cornet, vocals, electronics and percussion, Sam Pluta on live electronics, Sophie Agnel on piano, and Pascal Niggenkemper on double bass.

The four tracks were recorded during concerts in four French cities between May and October 2021, and they show the value of the initiative. The music is beyond category, and also preciously organised by the label. Even if the four tracks were created as separate pieces, they form a relative coherent unity on the album with an interesting sense of development.

The sound is eerie and ethereal. The long first track, fifteen minutes long, consists of shimmering sounds, of the acoustic bass and the inside of the piano, complemented by the electronics of Pluta and LaMar Gay. The latter sings, and gradually a theme emerges, gently supported by the piano, slowly developing into something denser and strange, and it is only after eleven minutes that the cornet appears as the first solo instrument. 

The second track is as mysterious as the first one. The electronics weave a translucent soundscape that seems not to really evolve until Agnel adds a few dramatic piano chords, well-paced, with lots of space in between, ominous and dark. LaMar Gay starts with his typical vocal incantations, alternating between the hypnotic and playful, echoed by his own cornet. 

I will not review every track, because I'm sure you get the gist. The four musicians create an astonishing and excellent album, solid, compelling and utterly strange. 

This album alone justifies the whole initiative of The Bridge: it helps to create brilliant new work by bringing musicians together, almost in an artificial way, so that the bouncing off of new ideas and approaches can lead to something never heard before. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

You will find a performance of the quartet on the video below, starting after the Intermission after about one hour into the video, which starts with a piano duet between Sophie Agnel and Jim Baker. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Our Sunday Interview : Satoko Fujii

Photo by Eva Kapanadze
For our new idea of Sunday Interviews, we asked Japanese pianist, composer and conductor Satoko Fujii to complete the questionnaire. We are very grateful that she is willing to give this initiative a start. 

Here are her answers. 

1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music? 
I enjoy the direct expression of ideas and creativity, and the ability to immediately share those with people. Also the spontaneity and risk-taking. It’s truly music created in the moment.
2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?
I admire collaborators who can make a statement with silence and know the right time to end.
3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most? If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?
It is difficult to pick one, but I would say Paul Bley.
4. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life? 
I would like to make music that nobody has heard before.
5. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like
I love popular music. I grew up with it when I was in high school. Paul Simon is one of my favorite artists.
6. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I can’t think of anything. I am very happy to be myself.
7. Which of your albums are you most proud of? 
I can’t pick one. All of them are like my proud kids!
8. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?
When I plan my next project, I listen to my old albums just to see what I did and what did not do.
9. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life? 
"People in Sorrow“ by Art Ensemble of Chicago.
10. What are you listening to at the moment? 
The new recording by the Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio.
11. What artist outside music inspires you? 
German-Swiss author Hermann Karl Hesse.

Here are the albums by Satoko Fujii that we reviewed over the years. We added links for the albums of the last five years. To find the other albums, just use the search engine of our blog. 

  • Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - in Krakow in November (Not Two Records, 2006) ***** 
  • Gato Libre - Nomad (Nomansland Records, 2007) ***½
  • Jimmy Weinstein - This Ocean (Ad Hoc 002, 2006) ****
  • Double Duo - Crossword Puzzle (Libra, 2007) ****
  • Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble - Fujin Raijin (Victo, 2007) ****
  • Satoko Fujii & Carla Kihlstedt - Minamo (Henceforth Records, 2007) ****
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet - Bacchus (Onoff, 2007) ****½
  • Gato Libre - Kuro (Libra, 2008) ****
  • Satoko Fujii ... and bands ... looking back from the future ...
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do - Heat Wave (Not Two, 2008) *****
  • Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii  - Chun (Libra, 2008) *****
  • Satoko Fujii & Myra Melford - Under The Water (Libra, 2009) ****
  • Raymond MacDonald - Cities (Nu-Jazz Europe, 2009) ****½
  • Larry Ochs & Drumming Core - Stone Shift (RogueArt, 2009) ****
  • Minamo - Kuroi Kawa/Black River (Tzadik, 2009) ****
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do - Desert Ship (Not Two, 2009) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura and friends
  • Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - Muku (Libra, 2012) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do – Time Stands Still (NotTwo Records, 2013) ****
  • Satoko Fujii - Spring Storm & Time Stands Still (2013)
  • Kaze - Tornado (Circum, 2013) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii - Gen Himmel (Libra, 2013) ****½
  • Gato Libre - DuDu (Libra, 2014) ****
  • Kaze - Uminari (Circum Disc, 2015) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii Tobira - Yamiyo Ni Karuso (Libra, 2015) ****½
  • Porta Palace Collective - Neuroplastic Groove (Rudi Records, 2016) ****
  • Satoko Fujii / Joe Fonda - Duet (Long Song Records, 2016) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo ‎– Peace (Tribute To Kelly Churko) (Libra, 2016) ****
  • Satoko Fujii - Invisible Hand (Cortez, 2016) ****½
  • Trouble Kaze - June (Circum Disc, 2017) ****
  • Wadada Leo Smith / Natsuki Tamura / Satoko Fujii / Ikue Mori - Aspiration (Libra, 2017) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet ‎– Live At Jazz Room Cortez (Cortez Sound, 2017) ****
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Fukushima  (Libra Records, 2017) ****
  • Satoko Fujii - Solo (Libra, 2018) *****
  • Kaze - Atody Man (Libra, 2018) ****
  • Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Berlin - Ninety-Nine Years (Libra, 2018) ****½
  • Kira Kira - Bright Force (Libra Records, 2018) ****½
  • Fujii/Fonda/Mimmo - Triad (Long Song Records, 2018) ****½
  • This Is It! - 1538 (Libra, 2018) ****½
  • Larry Ochs Sax And Drumming Core - Wild Red Yellow (RogueArt, 2017) ****½
  • Mahobin - Live at Big Apple in Kobe (Libra Records, 2018) ****½
  • Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda – Mizu (Long Song Records) ****½
  • A Year (or 60) in the Making: Satoko Fujii's *Kanreki
  • Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - Pentas: Tribute to Eric and Chris Stern (Not Two, 2020) *****
  • Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii - Midsummer (Self, 2020) ****
  • Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii - Keshin (Self, 2020) ****
  • Rafał Mazur ‎– The Great Tone Has No Sound (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2020)
  • Satoko Fujii - 24 albums reviewed
  • Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda – Thread of Light (FSR, 2022) ****
  • Satoko Fujii - Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams (Libra, 2022)
  • Satoko Fujii and Otomo Yoshihide – Perpetual Motion (Ayler, 2023) *****