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Saturday, September 16, 2023

Three from Bead Records

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos + Emil Karlsen – The Undanced Dance (2023)

Jazz is the point of departure for the duo of 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 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:

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:

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:



Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the Freeform quality of this review; it seemed to reflect perfectly the quality of the music.