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Saturday, September 30, 2023

François Houle Genera Sextet - In Memoriam (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Clarinetist/composer François Houle’s In Memoriam is dedicated to Ken Pickering, one of Canada’s greatest jazz advocates, who passed away in 2018. Pickering was director of both the Vancouver Jazz Festival and Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, as well as organizing national and international tours for Vancouver musicians. Among Canada’s major jazz festivals, Vancouver was unique both in the attention it paid to the city’s most creative musicians while also featuring major creative figures from the international free jazz and improvising communities. I can’t claim close friendship, but Pickering was a singularly warm, modest and committed man, and I was always happy to have occasion to get together with him at festivals.

Ken Pickering’s special closeness to this project demonstrates his familiarity with the international community. Houle asked Pickering for recommendations for an international ensemble. Pickering’s suggestions? Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum (on this recording his place has been taken by trumpeter/ cornetist Marco von Orelli), trombonist Samuel Blaser, pianist Benoît Delbecq, bassist Michael Bates and drummer Harris Eisenstadt. Either way, it’s five different countries optimally represented by a combination of skill and personality. For a recent performance at the Guelph Jazz Festival, the international balance was retained with Jeb Bishop assuming the trombone chair.

Whether intentional or not, Houle’s composition reflects the breadth of jazz that Pickering himself celebrated, with suggestions of New Orleans polyphony arising at times, something evident as well in the assortment of winds, with von Orelli sometimes playing cornet and Houle’s clarinet the only reed. It’s there too in the brass duet improvising on the expansive “Requiem for KP”. There are definite free jazz touches in the abstract and angular dimensions of Houle’s composing, most notably on “This Tune” while, conversely, there are richly orchestral textures reminiscent of third- stream music. “Ekphrasis” develops an almost ceremonial aspect with a bell-like repeating piano figure and the richness of Blaser’s trombone sound.

The individual performances are consistently at a very high level, solos inevitably tied to the moods of the compositions. Several of them, including “Gish Gallop” and “Deep River”, share the reflective resonance of spirituals, a quality that achieves its apotheosis in the concluding “Chorale”, which is also a setting for Houle’s most personal tribute, an extended solo that possesses tremendous warmth and depth of feeling, making maximum use of the clarinet’s capacity for subtly expressive tonal and timbral inflections.

The most delightful element of the Genera Sextet is the absolute fitness of these musicians for Houle’s requirements, both as ensemble players and soloists, an ongoing memorial to the wisdom and thoughtfulness of Ken Pickering.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Ignaz Schick x 3

Douglas R. Ewart & Ignaz Schick - Now Is Forever (Zarek, 2023) 

By Eyal Hareuveni

When German turntables wizard Ignaz Schick was a teenager, and then only an alto sax player, he bought George Lewis & Douglas R. Ewart’s post-free jazz Jila-Save! Mon. - The Imaginary Suite (Black Saint, 1979), expecting some Art Ensemble of Chicago-tinged tribal Afro-Americana. But, surprisingly he was completely drawn by the non-conformist mix and naked interplay of contemporary abstraction with AACM roots and blues and totally outer space electronic drone scape with some spiritual woodwinds and brass. This album encouraged young Schick to trust his artistic instincts, take risks with musical textures and collages but also to achieve musical friendships in the process.

Many years later, in 2017, while Schick was in a composer residency in Los Angeles, he initiated a two-day recording session with the exceptional visionary, multi-instrumentalist, luthier (he designed and built the shakuhachi, bamboo flutes and the didgeridoo he plays in this session in addition to the sopranino and alto saxophones and the English horn), poet, afro-logical conscience keeper and critical thinker Ewart in Minneapolis. Schick arrived with a bad flu (Ewart’s Jamaican rum recipes did wonders), but completely ready for a magical dialog, and it is clear that he is well-versed in Ewart’s work, poetry and palette of sounds. This double album sounds like an updated reflection of the seminal and powerful Jila-Save! Mon. - The Imaginary Suite, experimental and ritualist, poetic and spiritual, and matching beautifully and naturally the AACM Afro-American free jazz aesthetics with the post-2000 European electro-acoustic free improvisation. Ewart’s wise and passionate narration of cultural and socio-ecological criticism sounds prophetic and urgent, and Schick’s reserved and imaginative sonic layers deepen Ewart’s unsettling spoken messages and musical outcries. This double album documents all the extended studio improvisations and the live ones in front of a small but generous audience. Now Is Forever is a unique masterpiece, a pan-generational and pan-cultural warning, and an inspiring and motivating musical document. 



Ignaz Schick & Oliver Steidle - ILOG3 (Zarek, 2023)

ILOG3 is something totally different. It is the third duo collaboration of turntabalist Schick with Berlin-based drummer-live electronics player Oliver Steidle who have been working as ILOG since 2013. ILOG3 was recorded at Studio Zentrifuge Berlin in October 2021, a little more than a year after ILOG2. ILOG3 was conceived originally to be a video shooting session but Schick and Steidle performed such a fascinating set that they demanded to be released. ILOG3 is a set of dense and multilayered but surreal and uplifting electroacoustic, polyrhythmic mayhem that stresses the rich musical vocabularies of Schick and Steidle. Schick adds to his turntables sampler and pitch shifter/looper as well as a stack of new and quite “clubby" vinyl while Steidle is armed up with two new midi controller pads integrated into his drum kit with which he can control in a much more virtuoso way his portion of samples. Their interplay is super fast and juggles with crosscut tricks and beats but flows organically, as Schick and Steidle know each other’s eccentricities so well that they can anticipate the next moves and already prepare counter, subversive answers. ILOG3 guarantee to spin your head even faster than the tricky beats and satisfies the most cerebral listeners as well as the ones who only want to have their share of fun. It is released in two versions, a long extended suite for the CD, and a compact compressed version for the LP. Best to get both to enjoy the different constructions and the rebellious flow of this manic and chaotic music. 

Ernst Bier / Gunnar Geisse / Ignaz Schick - Hawking Extended (Zarek, 2023) 


Hawking Extended brings together Schick, on alto sax, turntables and sampler, with fellow Berliner jazz drummer Ernst Bier, who played with Schick in the Hawing duo since 2013, and here adds wave drums and electronics, with Munich-based guitarist and live-electronics player Gunnar Geisse, who plays on laptop guitar and virtual instruments. This trio was recorded at Bonello Studio Berlin in May 2018, a year after the first concert of the trio. These idiosyncratic musicians mirror and are being fed by the tension of their acoustic setting of alto sax, electric laptop guitar and drums, with the electronic and processed layers of wave drums, laptop and turntables. This unique setting forces Schick, Bier and Geisse to take risks, dive deep into unpredictable and cryptic interplay, and sketch highly eclectic and obscure sonic textures, collages and collisions that occasionally touch taboo kitsch or alien kind of cartoon music and flirt with anything from poetic and cathartic free jazz to SciFi cinematic-nightmarish atmospherics. One of the pieces is titled “No Boundary Proposal” and this title captures the essence Hawking Extended weird, provocative but totally captivating, as well as the aesthetics of Schick’s work.

 
 




Thursday, September 28, 2023

Nava Dunkelman & gabby fluke-mogul - Likht (Relative Pitch Records, 2023)

By Jury Kobayashi

Anytime new footage of gabby fluke-mogul and Nava Dunkelman’s duo is uploaded to YouTube I listen to it as quickly as I can. Formed in 2014, Likht marks the duo’s first album together and is a testament to their years of collaboration.

There is something fresh about this release and yet it also carries the experience of an ensemble that has played together for years. Dunkelman’s percussion sounds like an orchestra-a world of its own- with each sound meticulously placed and fiercely executed. fluke-mogul’s violin is instantly recognizable for fans of their work. Their approach goes beyond the act of playing violin, they hum, moan, play the backside of the violin, crunch, chop, and summon sounds into the moment of execution. Like the description accompanying the album states, there is a ritual being performed. The ritual is not a cloistered one, it is grounded in the mud of existence and is felt in the bones.

My favourite track might be the final track, Lust. fluke-mogul’s transforms Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman and deconstructs it. Their playing is complex and the contours of the Coleman’s melody dissolve beautifully under fluke-mogul’s bow. What stands out for me in this track is Dunkelman’s playing, who must have 30 hands. I hear small percussion, cymbals, toms, bass drums, gongs, and the sound of a rubber mallet bowing a snare drum. Percussion here becomes an equal voice in the music, and often is the star itself of the track.

I have heard fluke-mogul in interviews describe the influence of Ornette Coleman’s work on their playing and maybe harmolodics (musical philosophy and methodology invented by Coleman) is the best way to understand this album. From Coleman’s words, rhythm becomes melody, harmony becomes rhythm, and vice versa-all these musical elements carry equal weight and shift syntactically throughout the album. In Prime Time for Harmolodicspublished by downbeat in1983 he states “Harmolodics is the use of the physical and mental of one’s own logic made into an expression of sound to bring about the musical sensation of unison executed by a single person or with a group”. Each of these artists has a unique musical voice which could be referred to as unison following Coleman’s definition. Their unison appears to be both personal and collective in that each musician’s sound individually supports the whole of the music. Whether either fluke-mogul or Dunkelman were thinking about harmolodics when they made this album is not the point, rather,I am invoking harmolodics to help highlight the uniqueness of their sound individually and collectively.

This album is beautiful and striking and leaves me wanting a follow up album. The playing is impeccable and captivating. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of experimental or improvised music.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Thomas Canna – mi sembri frastuono, sussurro (MUPE, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

As Stef Gijssels wrote on this blog some weeks ago : “Listening to solo percussion albums requires some special attention and attention span as well” and indeed that’s what this album asks of its listeners. Mi sembri frastuono, sussurro by Thomas Canna is the third output of MUPE, a small artist-managed label that is focused on providing documentary evidence of its evolving artists and their sonic search.

It is a solo percussion totally acoustic album: “the record has been initially developed last winter while I was studying the concept of “resonance” on my native instrument - the drum kit in its most traditional configuration” (T. Canna, personal communication)

This investigation seems to move from music to alchemical psychology and back as most of the titles suggest (Nigredo/Blackness, Albedo/Whiteness, Rubedo/Redness - are names traditionally used to describe the different steps in the alchemic path ). The result is six different pieces that (at least to me) seem to form a sort of suite.

The music is framed by the initial and final tracks made of vibrating bass harmonies (Nigredo and Unificazione) while in between things get more percussive and concrete (made of metal and skin), sometimes focusing on a rhythm, sometimes dispersing in sounds and whispers. The central piece Testimone (Witness) seems to find a balance in the tension field created by the diverse sonic sources: “I was looking for timbres that would allow to hold notes/harmonics over so as to create a vast array of overlaying colours … like some background cosmic radiation with no beginning and no end existing just in the here and now.” (T. Canna, personal communication).

In conclusion this album offers an insight of the musical landscape of its author and leaves us with some moments of wonder for a primeval sound that brings echoes of the sound of the elements, something like the “vibrational dew” that Ornette Coleman was searching for. Worthy listening.

You can listen, buy and download this album on Bandcamp.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Natsuki Tamura - Summer Tree (Libra, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is his own kind of musician. Disciplined with his Gato Libre ensemble, creative and controlled in the bands and duets with his spouse Satoko Fujii, and then you have his own personal albums. These are usually idiosyncratic creations full of sonic strangeness and brutal explorations.  "Summer Tree" consists of four tracks, each with titles related to the summer period. 

Tamura plays trumpet, piano and wok (!), and Satoko Fujii lends her voice on "Summer Wind". "Summer Tree" and "Summer Dream" have composed themes played by his muted trumpet. Around his trumpet, many layers of sound have been produced, noise, drones, resulting in a dense wall of sound, ominous, dark and perplexing. 

"Summer Color", the first track, is completely improvised, and is possibly the most brutal or excessive of the album, on which the wok plays a central role in mesmerising percussive repetitions. "Summer Tree" expands the sound by many layers of screeching trumpets, like a chorus of mad, anguished and furious supernatural creatures, over which Tamura's solo trumpet quietly sings, as if totally untouched by the mayhem in the background. 

On "Summer Wind" Fujii determines the overall sound, by a wonderful delivery of high-pitched eery shrieks and shouts, like a mountain demon coming haunt the world. Especially on this piece, the trumpet plays a more subordinate role, with the piano and the voice taking the lead, creating a bizarre and foreboding atmosphere. 

The last track, "Summer Dream" offers a kind of closure, a melancholy and sad moment of redemption, and the dark background drone is countered by the lonely trumpet, as a kind of acceptance of a much darker underlying reality, in symmetry with the second track. 

This is one of those albums whose cover art does not reflect the nature of the music. It's hard to find a moment of blue skies, sunshine, warmth or even clarity in the music, which is dark, uncanny and at moments terrifying. Tamura has achieved something exceptional here. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Monday, September 25, 2023

Ivo Perelman and Nate Wooley - Polarity 2 (Burning Ambulance, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Burning Ambulance Music is releasing Polarity 2 with tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and trumpet player Nate Wooley —the eagerly awaited sequel to 2021's Polarity. Perelman re-enforces his excellent listening ear as well as his technical mastery on this recording, as he and Wooley – Wooley being equally creative– venture ever closer to the outward extremities of sounds that can be interpreted as music or sheer sonic exploration.

Throughout the recording, Perelman, and Wooley trade musical commentary, rather like two familiar comrades meeting up after a short time apart, each with something to say, and the other more than willing to listen and respond. At times, there is a blending of the two instruments’ sound and it is difficult to distinguish the lines each player takes but they also regularly de-converge and scorch two distinct trails on the musical landscape. 

From the classy dexterity of the opening track (each track is given a simple numeric, as is Perelman’s usual want), to soothing retorts and calming responses on track 2, the pair embark on a musical communion that pairs the two instruments – and how the musicians play them, perfectly.

Perelman has collaborated with many instrumentalists and adapts to different styles but with Wooley, as with Matthew Shipp, he achieves something quite special. Wooley is a creative player and unafraid to exploit any gap in the music left inadvertently or deliberately by Perelman – at one point even an intake of breath by the latter is immediately filled with squeals–seemingly of delight–by the trumpet and the theme develops around the soaring, whirling trumpet notes.

From blended phrases to solo pieces like that of Perelman on track 3, there are instances of lyricism and introspective playing, Perelman’s fiery delivery tempered more than adequately by the trumpet and also duet sections where both players travel along paths that interweave and intertwine to create something new, a chimera of trumpet rasps and saxophone notes.

Perelman substitutes the voice of his tenor for his own voice on track 4 with the trumpet skilfully soaring across the top before the saxophone joins again, adding Perelman’s other distinctive voice – that of his beloved tenor sax to give another vocal textural dimension to the music.

This recording sees two musical shapeshifters create a colourful, flamboyant, and distinctive combination. Pre-order now and the full release will follow in October.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Nikolaus Neuser - Sunday Interview

Photo by Manuel Miethe



1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

The feeling when active and passive dissolve, and I feel as if I'm flowing through, in a sort of transcendent state. Hearing and playing become the same, and for me, it's the closest possible approach to the moment, the now.

2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

When they are capable of making their fellow musicians sound good. Some can listen so well and intensely that one sounds great. That's simultaneously my greatest ideal for myself in music-making.
 

3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most? If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

That's hard to answer, there are so many I admire for different reasons, each within their historical context. So, I can only answer this question in a very abstract way. Meeting John Cage and Merce Cunningham, for instance, would be intriguing. 

4. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

There's still so much to explore with my instrument; it's an ongoing journey. In addition, there are projects and encounters in my mind that haven't been realized yet.

5. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like?

Yes. David Bowie's latest album deeply touched me. Lately, I've also been listening to Gloria Jones, Deichkind, and Dead Kennedys.

6. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to be better at prioritizing.

7. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

It's hard for me to favor one specific album. Different aspects feel well-realized in different albums, and I'm happy when something succeeds. Currently, I quite like the new album from I AM THREE; perhaps simply because it's current. It's set to be released in early 2024 on Leo Records, as far as I know, it will be the label's final release.

8. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

Once it's released and I hold the first pressed copy in my hands, I usually listen to it once more, and then not again. Sometimes after years. This can be very interesting because I no longer remember my intention while recording, so I perceive it anew.

9. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

Kenny Wheeler's "Gnu High" was very important to me for a long time. If I have to name just one album, it might be that one. I still listen to the album from time to time even now.

10. What are you listening to at the moment?

Henry Threadgill's "Zooid."

11. What artist outside music inspires you?

Marina Abramovic, Elias Canetti, Gerhard Richter, Kurt Schwitters, for instance, are inspiring for me. Also, entities like Das Zentrum für politische Schönheit (The Center for Political Beauty), where art and political/social thought merge, are worth mentioning in that context.

 

Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix

Reviewed albums with Nikolaus Neuser

Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall - The 49 Trumpets of Jericho (Bohemian Drips, 2018)
Silke Eberhard – Portrait (Jazzwerkstatt, 2017)
The Alliteration - The Alliteration (Creative Sources, 2014)
Potsa Lotsa Plus – Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015)

 

 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra - Family (We Jazz, 2023)

By Ferruccio Martinotti

Could you figure out, in A.D. 2023, something more reckless than having a jazz big band? Sorry? Ah ok, having a record store, sure. Luckily for us, around, there is someone so brave and visionary to do that, he comes from Norway and his name is Gard Nilssen. Born in 1983 in a family of drummers, and a drummer himself, he has played beside the likes of Frisell, Metheny, Redman and the top notch of Scandinavian musicians, finalizing a score of more than 70 records along with different bands (SpaceMonkey, Bushman’s Revenge, among the others. His past project Puma in our humble opinion deserves a peculiar mention) and if you are familiar with the blog, his Acoustic Unity should be pretty known to your ears. 

Fresh from pressing, here we have Family, a new chapter of the adventure as band leader of the Supersonic Orchestra, a monster ensemble of 7 saxophones, 2 trombones, 2 trumpets, 3 double basses, 3 drums, recorded live in Den Haag, Netherlands, at Mondriaan Jazz Festival, blasting 8 tracks originally composed by  Nilssen, along with his faithful saxophonist, bass clarinetist Andrè Roligheten. It could sound pretty banal but we don’t have any difficulties to admit that, just before the music started, the synapses were (un)consciously ready to set as paradigms the Fire!Orchestra on one side and Paal-Nilssen Circus on the other. As said: banal, too banal. In fact, while you are ready to be swept away by a sonic avalanche, as soon as the music flows, a sense of warmth, even when the “angles” becoming sharper, is triggered by the smooth, sheer amalgam among the musicians but what’s really mindblowing is that you hear, you clearly feel that the band got the swing, yes dear reader, modern, free, acuminate but unmistakably BIG BAND SWING. Looking forward to catch the Supersonics live can hardly be overstated. 


 

The Supersonic Orchestra is:

Andrè Rolighten tenor sax, bass saxophone, bass clarinet, percussion
EirikHegdal sopranino sax, C-melody sax, Bb clarinet, percussion
Per “Texas” Johansson tenor sax, baritone saxophone, contrabass clarinet; Bb clarinet, percussion
Kjetil Moster tenor sax,baritone saxophone, Bb clarinet, percussion
Mette Rasmussen alto sax, percussion
Maciej Obara alto sax, percussion
Signe Emmeluth alto sax, percussion
Thomas Johansson trumpet, percussion
Goran Kajfes trumpet, percussion
Erik Johannesen trombone, percussion
Guro Kvale trombone, percussion
Petter Eldh double bass, percussion
Ole Morten Vagan double bass, percussion
Ingebrigt Haker Flaten double bass, percussion
HakonMjaset Johansen drums, percussion
Hans Hulbaekmo drums, percussion
Gard Nilssen drums, percussion


Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra - Family (We Jazz, 2023)

The sophomore album of Norwegian drummer-composer Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra features some of the strongest voices of Scandinavian jazz (with one Polish sax player). The Supersonic Orchestra is a 17-piece big band - with reeds players André Roligheten (who plays in Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity and co-composed all pieces with Nilssen and arranged the music), Eirik Hegdal (who hosts Nilssen in Team Hegdal), Per ”Texas” Johansson (of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra), Kjetil Møster (of The End), Mette Rasmussen, Maciej Obara (the Polish one who hosts Nilssen in his Quartet) and Signe Emmeluth (of Emmulrth’s Amoeba and Fire! Orchestra); trumpeters Thomas Johansson (of Large Unit) and Goran Kajfes (of Angles and Fire! Orchestra); trombonists Erik Johannessen (who played with Hegdal and Nilssen in lord Kelvin) and Guro Kvåle (the youngest musician here, only 21 years old at the time of the recording); double bass players Petter Eldh (the third member of Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity and of Punkt.Vrt.Plastik), Ole Morten Vågan (who with Eldh helped Nilssen and Roligheten with the compositions, and of Obara Quartet) and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten; drummers Håkon Mjåset Johansen (of I.P.A.), Hans Hulbækmo (of Atomic) and Nilssen (who was born and raised in a musical family consisting of nothing but drummers and also plays in Bushman’s Revenge and with Norwegian pop artist Susanne Sundfør). The Supersonic Orchestra was captured live in top form (and with excellent sound thanks to recording and mixing engineers Bård Ingebrigtsen, Jørgen Brennhovd and Marc Broer) at Paard Van Troje during the Mondriaan Jazz Festival in Den Haag in October 2022.

The title of the album reflects the essence of this exciting performance. The close rapport between these experienced musicians, with a few younger ones, who have played together in so many formats over the years charges the music with unstoppable, uplifting energy and love for the music that, in turn, radiates its captivating emotional power immediately to the audience. The music was created for the totality of the ensemble sound, the family, and not for pyrotechnical solos. You feel the same kind of joyful rhythmic vibe and healing power in the music as when you first heard the iconic Chris McGregor Brotherhood of Breath or the Art Ensemble Of Chicago.

American drummer Chad Taylor contributed liner notes to Family and observed the essence of ease in the Supersonic Orchestra and the feeling of family. He also found the strong rhythmic basis of the Supersonic Orchestra - three double bass players and three drummers - in the Kenny Clarke – Francy Boland Big Band that operated in the late sixties and Nilssen discovered while composing music for Family. “Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through love and care, This music feels alive with hope, sincerity, joy and courage”, Taylor concluded. Fantastic performance. Great album.


Friday, September 22, 2023

Frode Gjerstad with Matthew Shipp - We Speak (Relative Pitch, 2023)

By Paul Acquaro

I've been thinking about extended technique and the saxophone a bit lately, and I am starting to come up with a taxonomy, a classification scheme, if you will, of the various sound possibilities and their application. For example, there are the extended tonal systems that musicians like Evan Parker and John Butcher have developed and extended, rich panoplies of sounds that when you hear it, you can immediately identify the source. This extends, in my nascent system, to titans like Peter Brötzmann whose blasts belong to his own unique vocabulary. Then, there is the over-blowing that add emphasis and takes the listener out to the unknown, like, for example in Tony Malaby's playing.

Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad lies somewhere in the middle. His musical language is built from a generous array of extended tones, smeary squeaks, slathered squalls and contained eruptions, all with an idiosyncratic grammar that glues it together. His syntax contains hints of raw power and much refined application, and it communicates wonderfully with collaborators who intuitively know how to speak a similar sonic dialect.

Enter pianist Matthew Shipp. We Speak is this duo's first recording, and I believe, their second all told following 2019's Season Of Sadness with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. After a few spins of We Speak, one would not suspect that this is not the work of a long standing duo. Shipp effortlessly builds up the environment with strong tonal clusters and rhythmic figures as Gjerstad darts around and interjects sonic splatters amongst delightfully melodic sprints. Structures emerge through both Shipp's reactions to Gjerstad's edgy and sweeping lines, and the saxophonist's reciprocal filling in of the musical spaces.

All of Shipp's musical gifts are put to use in ensconsing Gjerstad's sounds in harmonic fit-to-form packages. From the opening moments, when we hear the saxophonist introduce a series of vibrant, akimbo tones and then sharp, strident tonal fragments from the piano, to their suddenly pulling back and delivering of a lithe melody adorned by tonal fragments, it is riveting. The results are perfect crystallizations of spontaneous music, the product of the unique chemistry of two masterful improvisors. We Speak is a challenging and exciting album that I'll continue to listen to as I mull over my emerging 'saxophone squeaks' classification system.
 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Clifford Allen - Singularity Codex - Matthew Shipp on RogueArt (RogueArt, 2023)

 By Lee Rice Epstein

It’s a real special time for appreciators of jazz and improvised music, with many recently published tomes, biographies and autobiographies of greats like Sonny Rollins and Henry Threadgill, compendiums of The Cricket and FMP Records, deep explorations of regional collectives like the Williamsburg loft scene. But there’s a kind of book, I’ll say outright to start off, that we simply need more of, which is the kind of slim and sprightly—yet thematically and informationally dense and rich—book Clifford Allen has written on pianist Matthew Shipp: Singularity Codex - Matthew Shipp on RogueArt.

“Sprightly yet thematically dense and rich” is a phrase one could equally apply to Shipp’s piano playing, and one of the key features of Singularity Codex , Allen’s first book, is how well it manages to expand the story of downtown New York music, specifically Lower East Side music. Shipp’s life and art intersect with the stories of dozens of artists and writers who populated or cycled through the Lower East Side, including Michael Bisio, Rob Brown, Whit Dickey, Mat Maneri, Jemeel Moondoc, Joe Morris, Yuko Otomo, William Parker, and David S. Ware. As one of the finest writers about modern jazz and improvised music, Allen has a particularly masterful way of bringing together personal reflections, engaging writing about improvised music, and research with first-person interviews. The result is something of an oral history of Shipp’s time in New York, from his arrival through the production of 25 titles for French label RogueArt.

As described in the book, these titles (some still pending release) comprise a group of work, nearing its completion. Unlike Shipp’s releases on other labels, the works produced with label founder Michel Dorbon are, as Shipp explains in the acknowledgements, “a distinct body of work within the arc of my bigger body of work—one emanation of Shipp.” Allen traces the development of this body, from Shipp’s pre-RogueArt days playing with Moondoc, Ware, and Parker in various groups, to the emergence of his quartet Declared Enemy, which kicked off the French label (though it was ultimately destined to be release number four). Allen moves between researched sections—richly drawn portraits of a vibrant scene in constant motion—and extended interviews with many of Shipp’s long-time collaborators, first Parker, Brown, Dickey, and Morris, and later Otomo, Dorbon, and Jim Clouse, the owner/engineer of Park West Studios, where Shipp recorded all his RogueArt titles (and many more).

The final section, a runthrough of all the recordings, from Declared Enemy’s 2006 debut Salute to 100001 Stars - A Tribute To Jean Genet to as-yet-unreleased duos with Steve Swell and Kirk Knuffke, a final RogueArt solo album, and what will be Ivo Perleman’s first album for the label, and Shipp’s last one, a tidy alpha-omega of sorts, particularly given the huge number of records they’ve made together. It seems, in its own way, just right. As does the final section of Allen’s book, where he reprints in full the liner notes to The Reward, written by the late poet Steve Dalachinsky. It’s a beautiful dual tribute to Shipp and Dalachinsky, two artists whose close bond is reflected on by everybody throughout the entire book.

One final note. In 2019, the French label RogueArt released Symbolic Reality , the first album in nearly 20 years from Shipp’s string trio, with William Parker and Mat Maneri. It was something of a reunion and also something of a rekindling, in its way. Somehow, for me, it represents a key landmark in the RogueArt catalog, just as the earlier albums did with hatART/hatOLOGY. In fact, I’ve only heard about 10 or 12 of the albums discussed in the book. If I heard zero, or only one or two, I would find it just as valuable and engaging; Allen’s writing is about Shipp and, naturally, about much more than Shipp—it is about music, art, and culture, and about the fires still ablaze, obscured by what, from a distance, may appear to be mere embers.

Available from RogueArt

https://roguart.com/product/singularity-codex-matthew-shipp-on-rogueart/222

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Matthew Shipp - The Intrinsic Nature of Shipp (Mahakala 2023)

By Gary Chapin

From reviewing an essential Matthew Shipp Trio recording of the 1990s (Circular Temple), I now consider The Intrinsic Nature of Matthew Shipp, which—sorry, I can’t help myself—will be considered essential also, before too long.

It’s intrinsic in a number of ways. All of Shipp’s defining “moves” are here. His penchant for the middle register, his way of putting repetition and substantive anarchy in juxtaposition to one another, his breathtaking—and I mean that literally, sometimes my breath interrupts when he does this—use of the sustain pedal. Also, on display is Shipp’s seemingly unlimited melodic creative gift.

The album is minimal not only because it is Shipp playing solo, but because he seems to be playing in an intentionally pared down mode. Both the right and left hand spin melody lines telling some startling stories, and there is less of (though there are some) the sort of clustery abandon that Shipp can be so good at. Clusters sometimes occur over time, though, like a melody played over a long sustain, becomes a harmony. Shipp’s control of the vertical and the horizontal is out of this world.

It’s a quieter album than some of Shipp’s, but only in density and dynamic, the ideas draw as much attention to themselves as any sonic boom or train wreck might. But the quiet does create a sense of intimacy that’s very seducing. Even when I listen while doing something else—typing this review, for instance—the music often invites me to stare off into space and consider. Wait, I was talking about intimacy. That sounds like introspection. I think maybe the two are essential to each other.

I could be overthinking this. I am prone to reacting strongly to non-musical cues on recordings—titles, images, etc—and there is a track on the album called “The Intrinsic Nature of Shipp,” which, very likely, the recording was felicitously named for. And, honestly, who can say what Shipp was thinking when he named the tune that?

But when you tell me something is “intrinsic”—i.e., belonging naturally or essential—then I’m going to start wondering. Is a solo performance more intrinsic than a trio performance? Do the relationships of the trio make it non-intrinsic? Are our relationships intrinsic to ourselves?

That’s me crossing completely from the line of useful (fingers crossed) critique to me-just-having-a-good-time-writing-about-music.

Whatever the philosophers say, the experience of this album is fantastic and entrancing, and, yes, intimate, in the sense you feel like he’s in conversation directly with you, the listener. (Another relationship!)

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Matthew Shipp Trio - Circular Temple (ESP-DISK, 2023)



By Gary Chapin

In a recent review of The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project (by the Pandelis Karayorgis Trio), Stuart Broomer referenced an essay by Matthew Shipp about a time-spanning group of pianists he described as Black Mystery School Pianists. The list included Monk, Elmo Hope, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Nichols, and Mal Waldron, among many others. I had never thought of these pianists as a subset of jazz pianists, but reading the essay, it totally works—it’s fascinating. Go read it.

I was especially struck by the mention of Waldron. I have a deep and abiding love of Waldron’s playing and I think he is, if not unsung then undersung—with most of the singing being about his time with Dolphy and Booker Little (or Billie Holiday). And, from the first time I heard Shipp, I’ve sensed a kinship between Waldron and Shipp. There are surface indicators. They both use repetition in an amazingly intriguing way. They both treat the lower middle register as a long-time lover. But there are other connections, mysteries, I would say.

So, imagine me listening to Matthew Shipp reissued 1990 trio recording, Circular Temple,to prepare for this review, and then, in another context, Spotify shuffle brings up Waldron’s 1974 wonderful Up Popped the Devil . A trio recording with Reggie Workman and Billy Higgins. I don’t want to belabor this (“Too late,” I hear you), but the sense of continuity from one artist/generation to the other is exquisite.

Circular Temple features Whit Dickey and William Parker. Its re-release is framed as part of a reconsideration of Shipp’s immense catalogue, an appreciation, a retrospective for an “elder statesman.” It is as “essential” a recording as one could imagine from Shipp, Dickey, and Parker. A suite in four parts beginning in a deep reflective space, and quickly becoming more stabby and ominous, the three move from space to space, following each other’s leads at different times, working in groups of twos and threes. Whit Dickey reminds us just how much melodicism developed out of Kenny Clarke’s bop innovation of “dropping bombs.”

I mention bop because Dickey himself mentioned that the 2 nd part of the suite is a “bebop extravaganza.” I’m not sure I see that. I can see where, like Andrew Hill or Don Pullen or Waldron, this bridges to late late late bop-influence, but really its an extravaganza in its own right. They subtitle the section “Monk’s Nightmare,” an arch provocation if ever I heard one, even if the trio does seem to reference or reflect or rhyme with Powell and Monk in places. Circular Templeneeds no adducement to tradition to justify our awe.

What gets me with this trio, is the utterly bottomless well of creativity that comes forth, and how the streams of one of the trio feed the streams of the others. Section 3 is an extraordinary short emerging from Parker’s arco thinkings, the three sound like characters in a Beckett play. Section 4 is the grand opus of the set, opening with Shipp solo song and then building piece by piece, texture by texture, dynamic by dynamic to an elegiac ending some 25 minutes later.

It's good to see attention being drawn to this absolutely essential recording.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Wadada Leo Smith - Fire Illuminations (Kabell Records, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

For his 80th birthday celebration of last year, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith assembled a new band, the "Orange Wave Electric", a new ensemble next to his prveious "Golden Quartet/Quintet" and "Great Lakes Quartet".  This ensemble sounds like a rejuvenation musically, away from the very ambitious, complex and almost classical music of the last years, back to the more rock and fusion oriented sound of "Yo Miles". 

Next to Smith, the band consists of electric guitarists Nels Cline, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith, electric bassists Bill Laswell and Melvin Gibbs, electronic musician Hardedge, percussionist Mauro Refosco, and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. The full band performs on the two longest tracks, the opener "Ntozake", dedicated to American playwright and poet "Ntozake Shange", and the equally long "Tony Williams" dedicated to the great drummer. From the very first notes the tone is set: an mid-tempo infectious rhythmic foundation that allows for the trumpet and guitars to solo, much in the same vein as on Miles Davis' 'Bitches Brew'. The music is heavily post-produced in the studio, with added accents, heavy chords at times, dramatic bass-lines with many layers of guitars and electronics dubbed as background, adding density, but that does not the diminish the boyish joy of your servant for this back-in-time musical experience. 

Smith's trumpet shines of course, whether by its jubilating incantations or meditative contemplation, and even if you may think you have heard all this before, that's possibly true to a large extent, but then again, it's so good that it does not really matter. 

Two of the tracks are dedicated to boxer "Muhamed Ali", not only for his boxing skills and achievements, but also for his political stance and humanity. 

The last track evokes Muhamed Ali's fight against George Foreman in 1974, better known as "The Rumble in the Jungle". It starts with tentative and angular sonic bits, but once the drums and the trumpet fall into a steady groove, the fight is going on in full force. 

All compositions remain in a moderate tempo, developing the long pieces, full of shifting colours and tones, a kind of musical kaleidoscope, full of slow energy and measured power. 

A treat.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Qasim Naqvi, Wadada Leo Smith, Andrew Cyrille - Two Centuries (Red Hook Records, 2022)


Last year, Wadada Leo Smith and Andrew Cyrille also participated in this album by Qasim Naqvi, who is known from his work as the drummer in the "Dawn of Midi" piano trio, whose first album from 2010,  called "First", is easy to recommend. 

On this album, Naqvi primarily plays modular synth, and drums only on two of the eleven compositions. The synth sets the tone, sometimes accompanied by the trumpeter and drummer, sometimes not, in easy soundscapes, that are usually long and stretched, the easy backdrop for Smith's melancholy trumpet and Cyrille's to-the-point accentuations, yet sometimes the atmosphere is a little more upbeat as in "Sudden Upbeat" and "Palaver". 

I have mixed feelings about this album. On the one hand because Wadada Leo Smith and Andrew Cyrille accepted to participate in music that is very non-committal, staying on the safe side without any clear artistic vision, on the other because they do participate in this project, demonstrating their willingness for new endeavours and new contexts.  

But it might be that something fundamental escapes me: the album actually was the Winner of the 2023 Deutscher Jazzpreis in the Best International Album of the Year category. Here is the jury's motivation: "The album „Two Centuries“ by Wadada Leo Smith, Andrew Cyrille and Qasim Naqvi convinces with its top-class trio line-up, whose sensational combination of modular synthesizer, drums and trumpet is unique. The unusual use of the instruments and especially the use of electronic sounds leads the music to a transformation from which unprecedented musical worlds emerge. The great musicians Andrew Cyrille and Wadada Leo Smith collaborate with the young electronic musician Qasim Naqvi to create soundscapes of great audible expanse. This overwhelming sonority in music breaks cultural boundaries.

I think my opinion is clear. If you have to spend any money on a recent Wadada Leo Smith album, let it be for "Fire Illuminations". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Listen to Ntozake, the first track of "Fire Illuminations"

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Jost Gebers (1940 - 2023)

Photo by Gérard Rouy
By Martin Schray

Usually, we publish obituaries about musicians here, but this time we say goodbye to a man without whom European free jazz would not have existed: Jost Gebers. He was the driving force behind Free Music Production (FMP). Even though FMP was founded in 1969 by Gebers, Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Peter Kowald, it was continuously tied to no other person as it was to him. Yet, he would probably be embarrassed by these lines now, because the cult of genius was completely far from him. And if Gebers had known in 1968/69, when the foundation of FMP was in the offing, what was in store, if he had known that there would probably never have been a successor to carry on the label in the spirit of the founding years, who knows whether he would have taken on this task.

Behind the founding of FMP, above all, was the desire to improve the musicians’ working conditions if they owned the means of production - also for the production and distribution of recordings - themselves, “i.e. to be able to determine the conditions oneself, instead of having to go into the studio for a few hours and deliver one’s stuff in the shortest possible time“, as Gebers put it. Because of too much friction, the collective was dissolved in 1976 and Gebers was appointed sole managing director. However, further on there were enough serious crises, because it’s questionable whether this music, which has always been fundamentally very uncommercial, would have supported itself on its own (today more than ever, but even then). FMP was also on the brink of going bankrupt in the 70s and 80s. Without the encouragement from outside, Gebers would not have been able to continue. Above all, Peter Brötzmann, who was more committed to the label than any other musician, was able to convince Gebers again and again to continue the label after all. Cultural politicians sympathetic to the label were also helpful.

After the German reunification, however, FMP - like so many things in Berlin - had to reorient itself. Because of the cheap housing in the city at that time (especially in the eastern part), the scene became even more lively, multi-layered and international than it already had been. But FMP was thus also no longer the sole top dog, and the struggle for funding became more difficult as many federal subsidies for the former West Berlin fell away. Until the mid-1990s, FMP represented the main streams of improvised music, as well as the most important side streams - more comprehensively than any other label. However, contact with musicians who were now moving to the city and looking for performance and publishing opportunities remained sporadic. It’s bitter irony that at the moment when Berlin, at least musically speaking, finally overcame its rather provincial status, FMP, this decidedly cosmopolitan enterprise, started to fade into the background. Thus, from 1996/97 on, it was already foreseeable that the history of FMP was drawing to a close. Gebers had already signaled that he would retire. At that time it was clear that Berlin politics would provide less and less funding for something as exotic and unruly as free jazz. FMP itself had not become a commercially successful business model (which would have been impossible, since the label owes its existence to a unique biographical/temporal constellation), but the idea that stood at the beginning - to produce free music undiminished, continuously and against the spirit of the times - had broadened. This will forever remain Jost Gebers’s achievement.

But unfortunately, the story about him and FMP did not come to a harmonious end (at least the Berlin part). Gebers planned his exit smoothly, everything was to be well prepared: With the dissolution of his company, the institutional funding ceased. In return, he received a guarantee that he would receive full funding until his exit, and planning security was assured for a few more years. The FMP publishing company, which has represented many of the musicians' works since 1985 and is not identical with the label, remained in existence and took over the label and was able to produce CDs beyond 1999. At the same time, FMP-Publishing granted Helma Schleif in a license agreement “the unrestricted and exclusive right to have the recordings of the label FMP/Free Music Production/An Edition of Improvised Music produced and distributed worldwide“. The entire stock of goods went to her, but the Total Music Meeting, the basis of many productions, was effectively ended, which was to play an unfortunate role in the future of Schleif’s continuation. Helma Schleif associated the distribution takeover with more far-reaching plans and believed that she would also inherit the entire label - including its festival - through this takeover. This was further supported by the fact that Gebers, after discussions with younger musicians such as Gregor Hotz and Olaf Rupp, was persuaded to organize a TMM compact festival that would be self-financed without subsidies. The festival was a great success, especially artistically. But it made his decision to dissolve his company and thus also end the financial support of TMM seem short-sighted, stubborn and self-important (the two lines of argument in complete opposition, it’s difficult to position yourself when you’re on the outside). Gebers and Schleif fell out completely, and the whole thing ended up in court, where Gebers was fully vindicated.

In 2003, Gebers, who had retired from his work as a social worker in the meantime, moved to the Westphalian small town of Borken, where the publishing house had already been based for many years. At the end of 2004, Gebers ceased production activities altogether. It was not until 2007, after the legal dispute, that he was able and willing to resume them. Many FMP productions are now available via Bandcamp and destination:out, at least digitally.

A statement by Olaf Rupp outlines the importance of Gebers’s influence. When we asked him for an interview about the Echtzeit network whether there were people that he would like to highlight because they have contributed a lot to today’s improvising scene, he answered: “FMP! Most definitely!“ He pointed out that Jost Gebers had done an incredible amount for improvised music, even if some people (including him) complained about him back in the 90s because they believed he was not very open to new musicians. Now Rupp sees that differently. He only realized much later, that all of the musicians, even those who weren’t allowed to play at the Total Music Meetings, benefited indirectly from the fact that FMP existed, especially because of its structures.

There are many rumors about Gebers’s vault, about many tapes that actually deserved to be published. Who knows what the future will bring. But today we simply mourn the loss of a great man in free jazz. It’s been a sad year for free jazz fans so far, seeing three German legends - Brötzmann, Petrowsky and Gebers - pass away.

Note: Large parts of this text are based on Felix Klopotek’s history of FMP “Tschüss! 40 Jahre FMP“. For those who read German, you can find the long version here.



Lina Allemano - Sunday Interview

(photo by Manuel Miethe)

1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

Risk, adventure, not-knowing, searching, flowing, discovering, sharing.

2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

Deep listening, musical generosity of spirit, effortless/egoless virtuosity and/or musicality.

3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most?

I don’t have a singular “the most”… I admire very many and am always excited to discover more music from the living and the dead.

4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

This question is a bit for me like the question, “If you could have an all-star fantasy band, who would be in it?”, to which my answer always is, “I already have my fantasy bands”.

5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

I would like to delve deeper into composition and compose for instruments I am not yet overly familiar with… like harp, for example.

6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like

Of course! I do play with some fantastic pop musicians from time to time, and for example, I’m a fan of Jeremy Dutcher whose newest album Motewolonuwok comes out very soon…

7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

How do I answer this one…? I’m feeling pretty lucky and happy to be alive. Changing something about myself is somehow not on the top of my to-do list, so I guess I haven’t put much thought into it. I’m more focussed on finding out what I can do while I’m here on this planet and what it means to be an artist in this crazy world…

8. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

I’m generally most proud of whichever album I’m making at the moment… until I make a new album… and then I’m most of proud of that one. And so on. I like to move forward, so I don’t tend to look back.

9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

Nope, never. Leading up to the release, I will have listened to it a zillion times (first choosing the takes, then mixing, then mastering… the whole process goes on for months), so by then it’s completely internalized and I have no desire to listen again. Besides, there’s always more new music to listen to since I keep making new albums, and then there’s the music of other people that I would much prefer to listen to and spend time with… and there’s only so many hours in the day, so… no, why go back?

10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

Well, unfortunately that would probably be my own due to the endless process of listening I described in Question 9 that I have to do when producing my own albums. But I’ve had many an album on endless repeat over the years from many different artists… No point in listing those off, too many, but perhaps it’s a fun fact that the first album I recall listening to endlessly on repeat was when I was aged 12… it was a Woody Shaw album called Woody 3 and it was on cassette, taped from my dad’s vinyl.

11. What are you listening to at the moment?

Takes from the latest recording sessions with my Berlin trio Ohrenschmaus + special guests. (You see? It’s endless! As soon as you release an album, you immediately have to start listening to takes from the next one.)

12. What artist outside music inspires you?

My mother inspires me a lot. She’s a literary translator and I would definitely consider what she does to be an art. I’m also currently very inspired by the drawings of Berlin-based visual artist Lena Czerniawska, who made the beautiful cover artwork for my newest album Canons.


Albums with Lina Allemano that we reviewed

  • Lina Allemano, Uwe Oberg, Matthias Bauer, Rudi Fischerlehner - SOG (Creative Sources, 2023)
  • Lina Allemano Four - Pipe Dream (Lumo Records, 2023)
  • Lina Allemano & Nick Fraser - Trumpet Drums REMIX Festival (Lumo, 2021) ****
  • Lina Allemano Four - Vegetables Album (Lumo, 2021) ****
  • Bloop - Proof (Lumo, 2021) ****½
  • Lina Allemano’s Ohrenschmaus - Rats and Mice (Lumo, 2020) ****½
  • Lina Allemano - Glimmer Glammer - Solo Trumpet (Lumo Records, 2020) ****½
  • Lina Allemano Four - Sometimes Y (Lumo Records, 2017) ****½ 
  • Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Squish It! (Lumo Records, 2017) ****½
  • Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Squish It! (Lumo Records, 2017) ****½
  • Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Kiss The Brain (Lumo Records, 2015) *****
  • Lina Allemano Four - Live At The Tranzac (Lumo, 2012) ****



 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Three from Bead Records

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

light.box + Emil Karlsen – The Undanced Dance (2023)

Jazz is the point of departure for the duo of light.box. Alex Bonney is on trumpet and electronics and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay on bass guitar and electronics. The extended use of electronics creates ambient sonic atmospheres that are playful and rewarding. The addition of drummer/percussionist (and one of the artists that resurrected Bead Records) adds a jazzier feel on a first level. Karlsen’s very modern and up to date polyrhythmic drumming approach matches perfectly with the aggressive notes and plucks coming from Tremblay’s bass guitar. The droney, atmospheric trumpet is a source of diverse audio results coming from his use (as evident in other releases he participates too) of different techniques on the instrument. Bonney’s trumpet is as flexible as it can get.

The Undanced Dance (what a great choice of words to describe it, indeed) consists of three long tracks that are divided into smaller parts. I really like the way they slowly build ambient textures, reaching into a lengthened climax that certainly leaves out any fears this could be some boring ambient music, like so much material under this label nowadays. Karlsen’s playing is versatile, flexible as ever and very humble. It seems, at some of the tracks, that he deliberately stays almost silent in order to leave room for the light.box duo.

Leaving aside that it could be a matter of choice, I really would like, if I must nag a bit, to listen more to the aggressive parts of Tremblay’s bass guitar. Nothing to do with any rock gestures, thankfully…

The Undanced Dance seems, and is, an important new entry in this second volume trajectory of Bead, as it broadens the label’s catalogue, while staying true to the nature of 1970’s improvisation (in which Bead was integral too) that anything fits and can be done.

Listen and buy here: https://beadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-undanced-dance



Mark Sanders/Emil Karlsen – Muted Language (2023)

Coming from rock tradition, in my pre-teens and as a teenager, I have to admit that I owe to jazz and free jazz tradition (you, can spot the irony, right?) the fact it totally changed my idea of what drumming is, how solo drumming can be perceived. The notion that there is life beyond hitting the drums as aggressively as you can, apart from tearing down the macho idea (even physique) of the drummer, opened up, and still does, so many different paths as a listener. I deeply and profoundly enjoy listening to just the drums.

Muted Language, the first drumming duo of, coming from a younger generation of improvisers Emil Karlsen, with Mark Sanders (who has worked with John Butcher, John Edwards, Veryan Weston and Tony Bevan among others) clarifies from the first moments you start listening, that it is an open and freeform affair belonging to the aforementioned trajectory. Playing the drums can definitely be a muted, non-verbal language. Here, though, we have a duo of drummers that, in the midst of the pandemic as it was recorded in May 2021, hit it off right from the beginning.

Improvisation as a practice made us all realize that the solo voice (call it an instrument too) is as important as the shared language, but the up and coming result (of the duo in this case) is much more important. Here, in Muted Language too, the interaction, the silences, the stop-and-go-again of each musician are the important factors of its success, as a true child of free improvisation.

It amazed me and really enjoyed it, that the two drummers are almost audibly indistinguishable in their playing. There is no overlapping, no easy way out to present a solo dynamic. Just a constant flow, through interaction and intensive listening, of ideas, be it polyrhythmic, energetic –but not loud- playing, or sonic environments that are created on the spot utilizing all their instruments. Sonically, Muted Language, demands your attention as its essence lies in the small gestures in a audio micro-climate that bursts from fresh material. I strongly believe that Muted Language will become very important in the fresh catalogue of Bead Records.

Listen and buy here: https://beadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/muted-language


John Butcher/Dominic Lash/Emil Karlsen – Here and How (2023)

Chronologically the last of the three, even though they were released in just a few months away from each other, proving that the artists around Bead are on a fertile period, Here and How is the one closer to a free jazz/free improv trio from the three. The trio is consisted by one of the older generation stalwarts of free improvisation, the great John Butcher on saxophones, with two younger generation musicians-improvisers, Dominic Lash on double-bass and Emil Karlsen on drums and percussion.

It would be a misinterpretation to call this release the most “normal” sounding of the three. It certainly is the one closest to the “tradition” free jazz built through hardships and polemical situations. The three of them have built an eclectic catalogue of their own, one that is full of surprises and, certainly, not one that goes under the moniker mannerism.

The CD, clocking in around fifty absolutely enjoyable minutes, consists of eleven tracks –mainly sorter passages with only one that exceeds the ten minute mark. For all of us, free jazz and improv acolytes it is a given truth that there are numerous recordings out there of the best quality. This remark, automatically, poses the next question. Why listen, or even buy, this CD then?

Well, of course, there is no easy, objective, or one that is measured by the numbers, reply. All the Bead releases right now engulf the essence of urgency. There are artists behind this name (one of the most important of the 1970’s, lest we forget) that seem really eager and excited to put out there new music. And there’s of course a certain quality in the playing of those three. I read on Bead’s bandcamp page that this recording was the first time the three played together. A striking fact considering that the interplay is amazing. Butcher, well known for giving us the totally unexpected, provides with clear sax lines throughout the recording. He finds a balance between playing with a fierce tone and never saturating his fellow musicians with sheer volume. This way there’s enough room for Lash and Karlsen to move far and away from the bass-and-drum-being-the-backbone kind of music. Their playing is free and lucid, most of the times in unison, as a duo, other times providing their individual voices.

There are times that I felt that Butcher just blew humbly in his mouthpiece and others that he managed to be aggressive and leave room for Karlsen and Lash. His skill is evident even to those of us with limited technical knowledge. And, of course, it is a matter of sentiment. This recording is made up by three musicians who seem like impressionist painters, building, stroke by stroke, on small scale, finally creating a strong statement for the fresh catalogue of the label.

Listen and, definitely, buy, here: https://beadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/here-and-how

@koultouranafigo