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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Anna Webber - Shimmer Wince (Intakt, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

Anna Webber is well liked here at FJB, and it’s easy to see why. Her compositions vary per project, but have an intriguing mix of autre jazz and autreclassical aesthetics — along with her own personal fascinations. Shimmer Wince grooves, but it grooves over alluringly repetitive, minimalist-informed charts. She is considered a “central figure in the New York jazz scene,” and her downtown roots are showing.

This quintet sounds bigger than a quintet. It’s only the prescribed five people — Webber on tenor and flutes, Adam O’Farril, trumpet, Mariel Roberts, cello, Elias Stemeseder, synths, and Lesley Mok, drums — but the arrangements, orchestration, and performance create a sense of depth, moment, and theatrics. Storytelling. Specific instruments are used to amplify this. The cello, for example, shapes the envelope of the sound in a unique way, as does the synth. But the voice is the ensemble. There’s almost an element of sound design to the compositions, here. The group creates an ecosystem with all the implied structure, process, and mutuality. The instruments are tiered and stacked so that the ensemble floats through its subsets over time, but never stops laying ground. The forest-trees relationship is very cool. Every individual line is worth focusing on, but they disappear into the whole and we only gain by their confluence.

The liner notes tell us that these are explorations in just intonation, something I find very interesting in the abstract (really, I’ve read books about temperaments), but I have a hard time pointing to any portion of the music and saying, “There it is!” But the outcome speaks for itself. As with Pauline Oliveros — another just intonation advocate — Webber draws you in with an ensemble that is somewhat more harmonious than you find in nature, except that she’s using “natural” tuning relationships to achieve it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Daniel Carter, Leo Genovese, William Parker, Francisco Mela – Shine Hear, Vol. 1 (577 Records, 2023)

By Matty Bannond

New York never sleeps, rests its eyes or lowers its voice. The unceasing activity of the iconic metropolis recently inspired Daniel Carter to write a poem – and that poem inspired this three-track album by four artists who are part of the furniture, carpet and wallpaper at 577 Records.

Shine Hear, Vol. 1 is the first material released following a recording session in July 2023, with a second part waiting to escape. It brings together Carter on saxophone and Leo Genovese on piano, with Francisco Mela adding drums and vocalizations derived from Cuban traditions. William Parker plays bass, as well as gralla (a Catalan double reed instrument) and shakuhachi (a Japanese end-blown flute made of bamboo).

The title track is five and a half minutes long, and gets sandwiched between two much longer pieces. It’s the most melodic and pretty part of the record, with a bluesy saxophone phrase. The bashful voice of the shakuhachi is foregrounded here. The bass and drums back away to make space.

For the rest of the album, things get wild and stay wild. “Intertext Salute” is a bloodbath at times, with the musicians charging full-tilt in polar opposite directions. The mood does soften for a short period that suggests nighttime in the Big Apple. But the heavy traffic returns and the pace picks up again, with the saxophone and gralla trading throat-punches.

“Glisten Up” has a similar spirit. Carter’s saxophone makes several attempts to cool things down at the halfway point, and calm heads eventually prevail before the track drifts to an exhausted close. But the listener always senses more rough stuff lurking below the surface. There’s no chance to truly settle.

The passionate playing on Shine Hear, Vol. 1delivers an intense listening experience, with these four skillful improvisers displaying their deep expertise throughout. Like its mega-city muse, the album never sleeps, rests or speaks in a lowered voice. This is chaotic, dirty music. And full of urgent energy.

The album is available on CD, limited-edition vinyl and as a digital download here .

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Akira Sakata & Entasis - Live in Europe 2022 (Trost, 2023)

By Ferruccio Martinotti

As a simple (biological) matter of fact, the Giants are fading away, being circle of life and circle of music drawn by the same compass. Luckily for us, the last ones still standing are firing all cylinders, like there was no tomorrow, not even knowing what the word “retirement” could mean. An astonishing example, still unreachable for ranks of much younger musicians, comes from the very far east and is a frequent flyer on these community’s skies, Akira Sakata. 

Born in Hiroshima in 1945, a trained marine biologist, his strike on the Damascus Way of Jazz is Voice of America heard on the radio soon after war's end, and from that moment on he starts paving his long path towards the myth. Thanks to a prodigious technique on reeds, he moves totally at ease on different musical fields: from the superb trio with the piano of Yosuke Yamashita to the noise powerhouse of Hijokaidan; from the electro-acoustic nuances along with Jim O'Rourke to the telluric sounds of Last Exit with Bill Laswell. Last, and definitely not the least, the refined chamber jazz as Entasis, a duo with Giovanni Di Domenico. In 2018, in Thessaloniki, Sakata and Di Domenico joined forces with Giotis Damianidis (guitar) and Christos Yermenoglu (drums), the recording of the concert is issued the following year as Hōryū-ji (El Negocito, 2019) and, as often happens among true free souls, this pretty impromptu meeting generates an amazing, ongoing project. Just a couple of words about Di Domenico. Italian, resident in Belgium, he is in our humble opinion one of the most underrated aces around. Influenced by the tradition of the bravest jazz piano players, the mix-up of Cecil Taylor, African ritual music, rock and the most radical avant/impro, developed through various international projects (Hintanoi, MulaBanda, Tetterapadequ, Dream and Drone Orchestra) provides an extraordinary canvas for his Fender Rhodes painting. 

This double CD, Live in Europe 2022, issued by Austrian label Trost Records, catches Sakata & Entasis at the top of its game, across three stages during a 2022 European tour: Thessaloniki (11.04 Duende Jazz Upstairs); Padova (14.04 Centro d'Arte); Brussels (16.04 Les Ateliers Claus). The related gigs show some slight changes on the line-up, besides the fixed texture of Sakata, Di Domenico and Giotis Damianidis. So in Greece we find the double bass of Petros Damianidis and Stephanos Chytiris on drums; in Italy Balazs Pandi on drums, duty covered in Belgium by Aleksandar Skoric, but the menu remains a tasteful full-monty of Akira's way of music: lyricism and brutal force, geometry and sheer improvisation, sonic sturm und drang with the gift of his usual interventions on mike. 

A final foot note: the history of music owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those small, proudly and fiercely independent record labels, driven by brave, fearless, devoted and maverick sonic explorers, so madly generous to grant a safe harbor to artists otherwise forgotten under the dust of time or by the nasty rules of the market. Well, little/gigantic Trost (see its roster of artists) is definitely one of that kind. Long live.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Alon Nechushtan, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen, William Parker, Federico Ughi – For Those Who Cross The Seas (ESP, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

On March 5, 2006, this live performance took place at the Zebulon in Brooklyn. The band are Alon Nechushtan on keyboards, the late Roy Campbell on trumpet and flute, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen on sax and clarinet, William Parker on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums. 

Fans of free jazz will love this album, despite all its flaws. First, it's a great line-up, and any opportunity to hear Roy Campbell play trumpet is a joy, including here. Second, this music is as free as the wind, with the first track, "Astral Voyages", clocking un-interrupted at 51 minutes, and the second, "Cosmic Cantics", at 45 minutes, equally without interruption. Third, there is no sense of hurry, nothing to reach, no place to attain, just to perform in the moment, and be part of the flow. This last one is also one of the flaws. It's a little too non-committal in terms of sound and musical vision. It's nice to hear, it's fun to listen to the interaction, especially from these musicians, but things could have been a little more daring for me. The other flaw is the recording quality which is not always ideal. 

But that should not spoil the fun. The musicians appeal to their broad repertoire of jazz styles and sub-genres. There are totally free moments, boppish moments, passages that remind of Bitches' Brew, especially because of the tempo and Nechustan's electric piano, other moments of pure pentatonic blues, with Campbell also giving some excursions into middle-eastern tonalities. It's long, it has no sense of direction, but the playing is good, and we would give a lot to hear Roy Campbell play again. So it's fantastic that this has been made available. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Nate Wooley - Sunday Interview

(Photo: Martin Morissette)

1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music? 

The intimate knowledge that I will never master it.
2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

I like people who feel limitless, giving a feeling that we can go anywhere without the barrier of ideology or skill getting in the way. 
3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most? 
At this point, I’m not really sure. I think I’ve had a tendency toward hero worship, and I realized wasn’t that useful. So, I try not to look at anyone that way. Admiration, at least in the way that I’ve dealt with it in the past, usually leads to mimicry, and I think the best way to honor the people that came before you—if that is important to you—is to be as rigorous and brave in making your own music as they were in making theirs.
4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?
No one. Let the memory rest and open up space for young people and fresh ideas.
5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life? 
I just want to stay interested; I want to be strong enough to fight boredom and laziness up to the end. That sounds a bit glib, but I mean it. I think boredom and torpor are the enemies of life. I don’t have any control over accolades or achievements; I can work as hard as possible to get some tangible thing—an acknowledgment, some money, a musical breakthrough—and it is still so dependent on fate and other forces beyond my control. So, I just want to keep it simple and try and stay engaged in making music and writing and thinking for as long as possible. As I get older, I realize this is a monumental task on its own.
6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like? 
I grew up on jazz, and when I branched out, it was to classical and experimental music, so I think I maybe missed the window when I could have made a real attachment to popular music. I listen to whatever pop music my wife has on, mostly, but I do connect to Low quite a bit. I have most of their records and go out of my way to listen to that, but I’m not sure if that’s the kind of popular music you mean.
7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I have a fairly limiting social anxiety that keeps me from most group situations that don’t involve playing music. It’s not debilitating, and I don’t bring it up to equate my discomfort with anyone that whose anxiety affects their ability to live, but I still wish I could get over it, because I am sure I’m missing out on a lot of great conversations and new people from the desire to avoid that feeling of panic.
8. Which of your albums are you most proud of? 
A lot of times when making a record, there’s a period of elation, followed by a complete collapse in my confidence in the music on it. I think this happens for a lot of people, but I rarely get out of that second phase. I did listen to Seven Storey Mountain 6 as I was working on something the other day, and I felt like that was better than I thought it was when I was finishing it. Maybe I’d feel that way about other things if I could convince myself to go back and listen, but I am usually either obsessed with what I’m working on at the moment, or I’m spread too thin to think too much about it.
7. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?
I guess my above answer kind of covers this.
8. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life? 
It’d be hard to say. If I ran the numbers, it would probably be something ridiculous, but the record I know the best—every note of every part—is Ron Miles’s Witness.
9. What are you listening to at the moment? 
At this very moment, I’m listening to the second Vanguard record that Joe Henderson made. That’s an anomaly, though. I don’t listen to a ton of jazz any more for whatever reason; a friend had just picked this one up and was hearing it for the first time, so I dug it out and am listening again. 
10. What artist outside music inspires you? 
Mostly I’m attracted to writers, and I like people who have retained some sort of integrity and intimate voice in their work over and/or against what they know would bring them success: Wendell Berry, N. Scott Momaday, Anne Carson. Not that those writers are toiling away in obscurity, but they have made decisions based on some sort of intuitive formation of how writing should go, what it should say, and what is true to them. I find that intimidating as a writer, but I find it inspirational as a musician.

Recent reviews on Nate Wooley (till 2017 ... but many more before this year)

Friday, November 24, 2023

Simon Nabatov 3 + 2 - Verbs (Clean Feed, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Cologne-based pianist/ composer Simon Nabatov enjoys a broad musical practice, rooted in a combination of fluency and openness, whether venturing into Latin American music, the repertoire of Herbie Nichols, setting texts of early Russian modernist poetry or, as is the case here on Verbs, expanding his trio with bassist Stefan Schönegg and drummer Dominik Mahnig to a quintet with Leonhard Huhn on alto saxophone and clarinet and Philip Zoubek on synthesizers in a quest for committed and complex movement. The cues here are a series of titles, each of them a call to a significant action, all essential acts with which we might fight, dream or struggle toward achievement, meaning or grace. The music, thus concerned with existential acts, is, inevitably and necessarily, largely improvised.

The verbs of the track titles – “Pray”, “Race”, “Reveal”, “Breathe”, “Converge”, “Evolve”, “Float” – are keys to the moods of the pieces, all collectively improvised, but for “Breathe”: “Pray” is longing meditation, “Race” dynamic, hyperkinetic movement, “Reveal” sunlit romance. The significance of the titles is direct, they are prods to mood, but the character of the improvisations is spectacular. Each musician is a virtuoso listener, garnering, anticipating material from his co-workers, and responding as a virtuoso of empathy and stimuli. Whether it’s slow, medium or up-tempo, each piece is a weave of voices entering with germane asides, supportive nods or fresh textural elements, coming and going in a shifting, contrapuntal choir. The longest track, “Converge”, approaching 12 minutes, is filled with a dark power, initially marked by diverse percussion and increasingly driven by an engine-room roar of synthesizer.

The composed “Breathe”, oddly enough, is perhaps the most manic and slightly comic: an explosion of tight-knit bits of electronics, piano and drums, all given to a certain tendency to whiz-bang, a sudden redirecting shock, often comic, that finds companions in the fluttering piano of “Evolve” and the rhythmic knotting of the concluding “Float”. Every individual voice in the quintet is a crucial creative component, whether coming in and out of focus or shining at length in one piece or another, whether it’s Zoubek and Mahnig on “Converge”, Schönegg on “Race” or Huhn on “Float”. Nabatov is consistently brilliant here, whether playing piano or assembling a band, every track testifying to the necessary energy of verbs.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Jazzfest Berlin 2023 (2/2)

By Paul Acquaro

See part 1 here.

SATURDAY, November 4
The main event of Saturday evening was a concert by AACM founding member and ever creative composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill, who had written a piece specifically for the festival that melded his New York based Zooid quintet with Berlin's own ever creative composer and saxophonist Silke Eberhardt and her 10-piece Potsa Lotsa XL group. The impetus for the composition came from the 2020 Covid-impacted edition of Jazzfest in which curator Nadin Deventer and her crew pivoted to an online format, and Threadgill, who was supposed to be a part of the festival that year, instead watched a livestream of Eberhardt and Potsa-Lotsa playing arrangements of his music. Thrilled by what he saw and heard, a new collaboration was sparked.

Henry Threadgill_Zooid_Silke Eberhard_Potsa Lotsa XL (© Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

There was a lot of anticipation for the piece and the hall was completely teeming with an eager audience. An interview with the composer the day before with music journalist Peter Margasak revealed a restlessly energetic 79-year-old who indicated no flagging of creative energy. On stage, the group, fifteen strong, were arrayed in a semi-circle facing conductor Silke Lange, were multiple saxophones, tubas, guitar, bass, cellos, vibraphones and more, promising - if nothing else - a rich pallet of tonality.  As the piece began, Libetry Ellman's acoustic guitar work cast a spell through the auditorium. It was both exacting and atmospheric and set the tone for the series of solos that made up the bulk of the hour long piece. Eberhardt's contribution was as scintillating as one would image, and the solo from tubist José Davila  was also a delight. Shifting tonal colors and composed sections connected each solo and Threadgill's own feature spot provided a bridge between contrasting sections of lush orchestration. However, it was Potsa Lotsa clarinetist Jürgen Kupke who, wielding his Bb clarinet like a deadly weapon, left the biggest mark.

Kaja Draksler's "matter 100" © Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

The late night sets that followed presented a hard choice: would it be the sure thing searing free-jazz and burning poetics of Irreversible Entanglements or the wildcard of pianist Kaja Draksler's new "matter 100" project? A completely unspecific and unknowable algorithm chose Draksler's  project, which featured herself and Marta Warelis on keyboards and piano along with sound-sculpting guitarist Andy Moor, prepared hurdy gurdy player Samo Kutin, drummer Macio Moretti and vocalist Lena Hessels. I was a tiny bit skeptical but something about prepared Hurdy Gury suggested that something unusual was going to happen ... a hunch that proved to be 100% accurate.

The group began with a gurgle of electronics and some classic chord changes from Moore. Hessels began warming up on the vocals, her part-spoken, intervalically akimbo melodies invoking a real art-rock vibe. The hurdy gurdy, a fascinating hand-cranked violin-like instrument, was somehow also connected to two frame drums that add extra churning growl to the mix. The hum of sound soon broke and a gentle parlor melody emerged and decayed. There were moments of noisiness but much of the set was spent building atmosphere, especially on the last tune, an epic formed around an exchange between Hessels and Moore regarding "true or false" statements. Hessels states "one, true or false" to which Moore has a statement ... "we are shadows cast on a cave wall" ..."two, true or false" ... "I sometimes hear voices" ... this repeated a 100 times over a slow, hypnotic groove that always seemed just about ready to explode ... but never does. 
Amba, Takara and Cajado (© Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)
Closing out the night in this side hall, American saxophonist Zoh Amba performed an exuberant set with the support of two new collaborators, Berlin-based Brazilians, bassist Vinicius Cajado and drummer Mauricio Takara. After a brutal opening salvo with Amba leading the way, which was as intense as any acoustic group could be, the trio began exploring other harmonic textures, heading in some unexpected directions. Cajado's bass work was a revelation, his playing was both resistant and reactive, reflecting back the saxophonist's primal blasts, as well as supporting her more reflective moments. Takara, also drummer in Rob Mazurek's Sao Paolo Underground, is a subtle crafter of groove and intensity. His compatibility with Cajado was obvious from the set's opening moments, and their rapport helped pull the trio back from the brink during a mid-set breakdown in which Amba migrated to the piano perched on the stage and the bassist engaged in a feedback solo.

SUNDAY, November 5

So, here we are, back to where the review began, leaving the Dephi theater after listening to Alexander von Schlippenbach in a podium discussion with film director Tilman Urbach about Tastenarbeiter. The sun was now out, warming up the early afternoon, and a lot of music still lay ahead.

McHenry & Cyrille (© Photo by Peter Gannushkin)

Later that evening, back at the Festspielhalle, pioneering avant-garde drummer Andrew Cyrille took the stage with saxophonist Bill McHenry and proceeded to dig into a series of duets from their 2016 project Proximity. The music, accessible and polished - McHenry has a rich, well-rounded tone and Cyrille's drumming is encompassing - has a charming intimacy and the duo's compatibility and musical warmth was palpable. Their musical dialog contained some ear-worm worthy melodies and engaging rhythmic exchanges, Cyrille's playing was tuneful, often employing a dampened approach that gave his drumming a warm tone, while McHenry played short and elliptical phrases to engage his partner. In general, the tight tunes struck the right tone.

Eve Risser Red Desert Orchestra (© Photo by Peter Gannushkin)

Percussion also played a large part in French pianist Eve Risser Red Desert Orchestra's set. The large group is a mix of European and African musicians, blending traditional African percussion with traditional jazz instrumentation, like piano, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, and bass, and the music they create together is a rich blend of traditions without ever succumbing to world music cliches. Red Desert Orchestra's debut recording on Clean Feed Records, Eurythmia, made several best of the 2022 lists and the evening's set was a little reminder as to why. The group began with hand drumming leading to a fuller rhythmic passage that simply invited Susana Santos Silva's bright trumpet to sail over the intensifying groove. The music shifted and segued from one arresting melodic and rhythmic idea to the next. Stand out work from all the soloists ensued, with a spotlight on the balafon (an African marimba) and djembe players Ophélia Hié  and Mélissa Hié. After an excitedly chaotic  announcement with a short thank you speech included, Risser, like Takase on Thursday, dedicated a piece to Carla Bley. The later pieces from the group also highlighted the trombone work of Matthias Mueller and baritone saxophone of Grégoire Tirtiaux, all played with a delicate balance between exuberance and deliberateness. Quite an upbeat, enjoyable set.

Bauer receiving prize (Noglik, right) (© Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

Over the years, the prestigious Albert-Mangelsdorff-Preis from the Deutschen Jazzunion has been given to musicians during the festival, and this year, trombonist Conny Bauer received the honor. Certainly deserved, Bauer has been a force in German jazz since his emergence as a singer and guitarist and then later as a trombonist in the early 1970s, and was a driving force in groups that shaped free and improvised music in the German Democratic Republic, like Synopsis (later Zentralquartet), FEZ and Doppelmoppel. This evening, German jazz critic Bert Noglik gracefully introduced Bauer and bestowed the prize. Then, with hardly a pause, Bauer, along with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker proceeded to deliver a masterful headlining set. Parker and Drake are simply one of the best rhythm sections in the creative music world, and with Bauer providing the melodic lead, there is little this trio cannot accomplish - check out their  2013 Jazzwerkstatt recording Tender Exploration.

Drake, Parker, and Bauer (© Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

The set began with Parker drawing his bow across the strings, generating elongated tones, and then, with Drake at the drum kit, a final flourish and quick solidifying of the rhythmic foundation. The two operate on a subconscious level, pushing, pulling, generating, neither one 'soloing' but both standing out. Over, under, through and around this harmonic and rhythmic mesh, Bauer ebbs and surges with tonal texture and melodic intentions: Parker is now working with high harmonics as Bauer squeezes out some slippery notes and Drake slips into a deep, laid back groove. A later improvisation slinks along like an upbeat crime-noire with a spy-movie melody, however, it's the last improvisation that sets a new standard for ... well ... everything. It could be a composed song, as the parts are so coherent interlocking. No matter how complex and poly-rhythmic Drake gets, no matter how far out Bauer or Parker go, the music rolls and flows, a peerless masterclass in collective improvisation. It's worth the prize alone.

There were a couple other shows later that night, sort of a winding down and/or a celebration but after this set, it felt rather complete. The 60th edition of Jazzfest Berlin had been a rich serving of old and new delights pulling from both the festivals own legacy as well as it looking ahead. 
Read: Part 1 | Part 2

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Jazzfest Berlin 2023 (1/2)

It was the last day of the Jazzfest Berlin, a rainy Sunday morning, and I was decked out in rain gear and biking through glistening streets on the way to the Delphi Filmpalast am Zoo - a posh art-deco theater dating from 1927, and also home to the famous Quasimodo music club. As I was dodging the deepest puddles and thickest patches of wet leaves, I was thinking back on what - so far - had been quite a rich and sometimes demanding set of concerts already, and the exciting sets coming up this evening. Now, I was headed to see the premiere of a new documentary, Tastenarbeiter, on free jazz legend and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach.

The movie was a delight and the theater was full. At two hours, the film allowed the story to unfold in a natural feeling, narratively loose way, letting the accomplishments and backstory of the pianist to be told through day-in-the-life encounters with old friends and collaborators like trumpeter Manfred Schoof and drummer Gunter "Baby" Sommer, as well as making music with his wife and pianist Aki Takasi and son Vincent Graf von Schlippenbach, an accomplished DJ, and preparing for the Globe Unity Orchestra concert at the Haus Der Kunst in 2021. The visit with Sommer at his residence in Radebul, near Dresden, provides a peek into the importance of Free Jazz in East Germany, and the filmmakers visit to the late FMP organizer Jost Gebers throws a light on the tumultuous backdrop of Free Jazz in West Berlin in the late 1960s. Schlippenbach himself shrugs off the political aspects, as we rather meet an artist focused on his art and how it touches everything around him.

THURSDAY, November 2
Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach (© Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

In fact, on the opening night of the festival at the Berliner Festspiele complex in a nicely appointed corner of Berlin's Charlottenburg, Schlippenbach closed the night with a triumphant set with Takase. Throughout the hour, the two played solo and duo on facing grand pianos and at the same piano, utilizing their patented four-hands-on-one-keyboard approach they employed for Four Hands Piano Pieces on Trost Records this year). They began with a Takase piece entitled "Steinblock," which aptly describes the highly syncopated tune. Forcefully delivered on facing grand pianos, the blocky chords and choppy motions were simultaneously minimalist and maxed out, quite an invigorating start to the set. A song by Schlippenbach followed, more fluid and melodic in nature and representative of the varied nature of the set. One could get a sense of how the pair work and inspire each other from their interactions upon the stage. Another high point of the set was Takase's rendition of Carla Bley's lovely 'Ida Lupino,' which she dedicated the recently departed composer. They brought their set to a close with "Bach Factory," both at the same piano, Schlippenbach concentrating on the low end of the keyboard, while Takase handled the vibrant go-for-baroque melody. Responding to the vigorous applause, they played a take on an Bavarian folk song for an encore.
Apparitions (© Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

If Schlippenbach represents one end of the jazz spectrum, namely members of the first generation of Free Jazz musicians in Europe, then a set earlier on the same night aimed to represent the newest generation, in which a group of over 30 school students, ages nine to twelve, sang, snapped, and reacted to the combination of free and composed music by French musicians saxophonist Antonin-Tri Hoang and pianist Romain Clerc-Renaud. The work, "Apparitions," anchored by the quartet Novembre and augmented by a cello trio and a second jazz trio, who were at first set up outside the hall near the side doors, was an ambitious work that played with the space. Musically speaking, cut-and-paste like passages passed between the groups; physically speaking, midway through the performance the doors were opened to the foyer and the other trio could be heard playing; and with light, different combinations of the performers would appear like apparitions on the darkened stage, like Shakespearean ghosts. Then, there were the children who had been rehearsing throughout the week to provide a choir from the balconies and a choreographed parade though the hall. If it sounds like a lot to take in, then this paragraph is a success, and if the kids who participated develop an interest in free improvisation, then that is the real success.

Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson (© Photo by Geert Vanderpoele)

It was, however, the opening act of the festival, the duo of pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson, that set expectations the highest. Both, somewhere in the middle of their ever growing careers, are putting their stamp on the somewhat atypical piano and guitar duo. In 2021, they released Searching for the Disappeared Hour on Pyroclastic Records and for all intensive purposes, the hour in question seems to be found in quite capable hands. The duo began with gentle pickings from both instruments and then rolled into questioning chords and darting melodies. Halvorson, playing sneaky, warping lines buffeted Courvoisier's own fleet fingerwork - and vice-versus. Throughout the set, a real sense of instant composition was apparent. The attention to the harmonic atmosphere and the artful spinning of suspense, wonder and resolution was a thrill. 
Valentine Cecalddi's Bonn Bonn Flamme

The first night of the festival did not really end at the Berliner Festspielhalle, but rather Quasimodo, the music club down the road, with the intense work of French cellist Valentine Cecalddi's Bonn Bonn Flamme. Featuring the Portugese guitarist Luis Lopes explosive fretwork, Fulco Ottervanger's furiously melodic piano and keyboard work, and Étienne Ziemniak's roiling drum work, Cecalddi's group whipped up a set that seemed to walk a thin line between safety and danger.  The group released their eponymous album this past summer on Clean Feed Records, which proved to be only a starting point for their live adventures. Wrapping intense feedback laden freakouts inside charmingly melodic tunes among other absurdities, the quartet remixed the history of jazz into a potent mix as they delighted they standing room only audience well into the night.

FRIDAY, November3

Jazzfest Berlin obviously stretches beyond the boundaries of the Berliner Festspiele grounds, to include the nearby jazz club A-Trane, the aforementioned Quasimodo, as well as the Wilhem-Kaiser-Gedachtness-Kirche, located at the busy intersection between Kurfürstendamm and the Bikini Mall. It also stretches the boundaries of what may even be considered jazz, even by the most expansive definitions.

Nancy Mounir: “Nozhet El Nofous” (© Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix)

Egyptian multi-media artist Nancy Mounir's "Nozhet El Nofous" is the result of several years of researching and exploring the micro-tonal music of female singers from 1920's Egypt. Mostly forgotten by history, even when they were still alive, these singers were relegated out of the cultural space when in 1932 the Congress of Arabic Music in Cairo standardized tuning practices. Mounir presented the start of this work during the 2020 pandemic version of the festival with a video work, expanding it now to a concert with live narration. She developed the work by 'rescuing' the singers from fragile 78s and setting it to a contemporary octet featuring herself on the most microtonal of modern instruments, the theremin. Along with multimedia display of images of the singers from the period and narrations of interviews made during her research. Though conceptually compelling, the performance, however, felt like it lost momentum in the rather episodic presentation and subtle supporting compositions.

Frith, Portugal, Santos Silva (© Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

After a short break during which audience members could be overheard offering mixed opinions about the previous performance, the trio of guitarist Fred Frith, Susana Santos Silva and percussionist Maria Portugal took the main stage. Frith and Silva released Laying Demons to Rest on Rogue Arts last year and the album saw the two highly adventurous players engaged in an improvisation that drew on a vast source of extended techniques and unusual tones resulting in an impressively cohesive arcing 45 minute track. What they managed to create live, in the moment, with the addition of Portugal, was equally compelling. In addition to the comparative and contrasting musical dialog between Frith and Silva, Portugal lent her own subtle - and sometimes not so - percussive and vocal impressions.

Starting with a sputtering trumpet over the looped sound of Frith's own breathing, they began the summoning. As Portugal added percussion, the sound of the trio did in fact feel like it was coming from a place beyond the stage. The sounds changed, Portugal began playing a large hand held cowbell and with a box that "mooed," Frith conjured sounds from his guitar with a bow, and Silva's trumpet rose brightly above the sounds. At the end of the set, the crowd erupted in applause - the demons once again successfully subdued.

Paal Nilsson-Love Circus (© Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

The last set on the main stage was Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's Circus, which, true to its name, evokes a big-top like atmosphere with a kinetic and sometimes frenetic musical approach. The sextet, aside from Nilssen-Love's commanding presence on drums, is comprised of strong musical personalities like trumpeter Thomas Johansson, saxophonist Signe Emmeluth, bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen, accordionist Kalle Moberg, guitarist Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir, and the vocals and antics of South African singer and actress Juliana Venter. It's Venter who is at the heart of the circus - she sings, speaks and acts out a jumble of song lyrics, texts and poetry, as well as dances and provides call and response scat singing with the other instruments. It actually sounds like it could be a bit enervating, no? Well, Nilssen-Love is a master of improvisation and the group he has assembled handles this potent mix with aplomb - the mix of sounds, words, and music swirled into a fantastic show that simply surged musically from the uptempo start to the pulse pounding end. All the musicians had a turn in the spotlight, with Johansson's acrobatic horn playing often in focus. Emmeluth had absolutely stand out passages as well as Jonsdottir who had a rock-star moment, which in the current zeitgeist of guitars being textual instruments, hearing someone simply rock-out can be quite refreshing. 

The past few years have seen a theme of "Chicago" permeating the festival. This year, a series of late night concerts dubbed "Sonic Dreams: Chicago," was presented in an approximated "night club" in a transformed main and back stage area of the Festspielhalle.

Mike Reed's The Separatist Party (© Berliner Festspiele, Photo Camille Blake)

Drummer Mike Reed's The Separatist Party, featuring the spoken word work of Marvin Tate and trumpet playing of Ben LaMar Gay, started out the night on a high note. Sounding often quite inline with their new eponymous release on We Jazz, the group delivered an impressive show to the throngs of concert goers filling the hall. The area was set-up with multiple low stage areas, which made for some interesting changes throughout the night, but was also somewhat frustrating, as many of the musicians were impossible to see unless one happened to be directly in front of them. Case in point, the off-the-program trio of Reed, bassist Joshua Abrams and saxophonist Ari Brown, drew the crowd across the room, delivered an exciting free(ish)-jazz set, but were essentially invisible. The set by the Bitchin Bahas, on a raised platform, was a bit better, though the synthesizer based music from keyboardist Cooper Crain, keyboardist Dan Quinlivan and saxophonist Rob Frye, provided less visual commotion. 
Natural Information Society (© Photo Peter Gannushkin)
The night drew to a close with the highly anticipated Natural Information Society, led by bassist - and here on gimbri (an African style bass) - Joshua Abrams. The group, in addition to the Chicago core of bass clarinetist Jason Stein (whose solo during the first jam was simply stellar), Ben LaMar Gay, drummer Mikel Avery, harmonium player Lisa Alvarado, and with Brown as a guest, enlisted several Berlin based musicians, saxophonists Anna Kaluza, Mia Dyberg and trumpeter Axel Doerner, to expand on the group's long modal jams.  
Read: Part 1 | Part 2