Click here to [close]

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Brakophonic/Gunnar Backman

By Nick Ostrum

Guitarist, composer and producer Gunnar Backman has been documenting his wide-ranging projects on his Brakophonic label for years now. As far as I can tell, the label has released 60+ albums. Seven from 2022 are briefly reviewed here. Although this is an incomplete account of Backman’s work over the last year, it does shine light on just how curious and diverse his output is.

FLAGolodics (Lars Larsson, Fredrik Lindholm, Gunnar Backman, Anders Berg) – Happy Bappy (Brakophonic, 2022)

FLAGolodics falls on the funkier end of the prog spectrum, though it is still riddled with stutters and warped tempo changes. Driving, stadium rock backbeats and repeating laid-back bass grooves provide the backdrop. Backman and Larsson dance above it, weaving into the fabrics shredded to pieces by the other. Backman really lays in on some of these cuts, including the centerpiece, We Need Happy Peppy People. A few other tracks are more open. All in all, an interesting release that is most engaging when it deviates from the traditional song structures into less rhythmic and melodic realms.

FLAGellation (Lars Larsson, Fredrik Lindholm, Gunnar Backman, Anders Berg) – No Admittance (Brakophonic, 2022) 

Although composed of the same musicians as FLAGolodics, FLAGellation has more edge. The sound is full and, especially with Lindholm’s heavy cymbal work and the omnipresent fuzz and feedback, quite heavy. The funk of FLAGoldoic is replaced by noise rock and some bitingly urgent sax runs. And, of course, there’s Backman, who often fights his way to the front with Larson, where they entangle, squeal, suffocate, shriek and squeeze until the ritual whipping is complete. Some of that violent language may be misleading, but this stands out not only in its Hendrix wonk, but also the drudgery and force that propels this album forward.

Anders Berg, Gunnar Backman - Precipitation (Brakophonic, 2022)

Precipitation is a series of short statements of echoing guitar and bass runs that vine together and diverge into interesting sonic tendrils. Often, these tracks seem like the constituent elements of potentially longer pieces: an interesting melody here, some heated interplay there. Backman and Berg clearly have a special connection, and it shows. Unlike some of the other albums in this set, however, the ideas are tantalizing but terse and beg further realization. Precipitation sounds like a series of intriguing sketches (hopefully) of a promising bigger project to come.

Gunnar Backman – Rooms Inside (Brakophonic, 2022)

As one might expect from a full (48 minute) solo album, Backman extends on Rooms Inside in a way he does not on some the shorter releases in this review. All tracks have some sort of layering and processing beyond just a pedal, but Backman is still able to explore different territories. Corridors, for instance, flirts with feedback noise and dissonance, but keeps returning to a clear guitar jangle that grounds the piece and emphasizes the tension between an almost prog-poppy order and dissolution/noise. I imagine Hendrix, Lou Reed and the show Twin Peaks (Towers, a real treasure on the album) exercised some influence over Backman’s approach to guitar, though he distinguishes himself even more in the production. Apart from a few points where phrases are deliberately clean, much of this has gone through some refraction and layering process that turns what could have come off as onanistic noodling into a glitchy and intriguing set of guitar “solos.” Backman often veers toward noise, but, even at his most disjointed, he always falls back into space rock structures and metal-inflected guitar riffage that add coherence and make this an album very much worth seeking out.

Anders Berg, Peter Uuskyla, Gunnar Backman – View-Master (Brakophonic, 2022)

 This is another succinct on that speaks of a greater opus to come. However, with Peter Uuskyla, even the short pieces seem complete movements and ideas. Interestingly, the addition of a drummer seems to open space for Berg and Backman to diverge into mucky (Berg) and glimmering (Backman) territory. At other times (especially in the titular View-Master) they return to the contending interlace mode they adopted in much of Precipitation, though the machine gun rat-a-tat from the trap set propels them to new, spacey places. Much too short, but one of my favorites.

Dishwasher (Staffan Svensson, Per Anders Skytt, Gunnar Backman) – Layers//Day 1 (Brakophonic, 2022)

Dishwasher (Staffan Svensson, Per Anders Skytt, Gunnar Backman) – Layers//Day 2 (Brakophonic, 2022) 

Layers//Day 1 and //Day 2 move in an even spacier, more atmospheric direction that nods toward Miles’ fusion years, though with the trumpet deemphasized. Tellingly, all members of this trio are credited not only with more standard instruments, but also electronics. Backman takes on the fretted virtual guitar and live loops, as well. The result is foggy, with Per Anders Skytt’s drums dancing in fore and Staffan Svensson’s trumpet muted but fighting its way through the haze in the back. Backman’s performance is understated and almost ambient. Still, the music has a clunkiness that lends it depth and intrigue. Also notable is the length of these releases. Unlike the bagatelles that constitute No Admittance, Precipitation, Happy Bappy and View-Master , these tracks have room to develop. Most push beyond ten minutes, and, despite their improvised nature, never get caught in the guitar-forward doldrums. Rather, they remain engaging throughout and, taken in the context of these other 2022 releases, show that Backman and company do their best when they have the space to stretch out.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Mette Henriette – Drifting (ECM, 2023)


By Troy Dostert

Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette released a startling debut album back in 2015, after which she more or less disappeared, at least in terms of recording, until her long-awaited follow-up, Drifting. Anyone figuring that she might use this hiatus to reinvent herself would be mistaken, however. Her sophomore release continues in the same vein as its predecessor, with an elliptical, less-is-more aesthetic in which the silences speak as loudly as the notes that are played. And the chamber trio format also remains, once again with pianist Johan Lindvall, but with Judith Hamann taking over the cello duties from Katrine Schiøtt this time around. This release may be somewhat less ambitious overall, as there is no second disc of material utilizing a larger ensemble, as was the case on the 2015 album. But maybe this is all to the good, as it allows a more concentrated glimpse of Henriette’s distinctive approach to her instrument and her spartan compositional style.

Relying on figures and sketches rather than lengthy, developed pieces, the 15 tracks here clock in at a relatively brisk 43 minutes. Several are shorter than two minutes, such as the captivating opener, “The 7 th,” which invites the listener into Henriette’s sound-world in such an unassuming manner that the moment slips past almost too quickly. Just a wisp of melody, delicately traced by all three musicians without adornment or elaboration, and then it’s over. “Cadat” is just as elusive, with Henriette’s fragile, simple phrases floating atop Lindvall’s patient upper-register musings and just the faintest high-pitched textures from Hamann.

The longer tracks do possess a certain appeal as well, especially “Oversoar,” in which Henriette and Hamann’s diaphanous excursions intertwine mysteriously alongside Lindvall’s pointillist accompaniment. And “Indrifting you” also possesses a lovely aspect, as Henriette’s lyricism finds its way above the subtle restraint of her partners. While there is no question this is an ECM recording—one can almost feel the Nordic chill emanating from the austere production only Manfred Eicher can provide—it is Henriette’s underlying warmth, particularly in the lower reaches of her horn, that prevents the music from icing over. While some listeners may have hoped to see Henriette branch out a bit and explore new terrain, Drifting remains an inviting and sometimes entrancing recording.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Coal - Recorded Remembered (Shhpuma, 2023)

By Gregg Miller

We have here a very successful, experimental trio sound out of Greece made up of guitarist Giannis Arapis, Dimos Vryzas on violin and effects, and Simos Riniotis on drums and resonant objects. The Coal aims at a rough melodic beauty which remains nonetheless open to the fraying at the edges beyond which lies that vast pool of undifferentiated sound from which it gathers its material. Atop most of Recorded Remembered is Arapis’s electric guitar running through delay, freeze, reverse, and loopers with occasional gain and whammy. To the miscellaneous percussiveness in all those textures and effected sounds, add in Vryzas’s moody effects, his violin, and Riniotis’s creative kit-playing and found-sound palette, and we get a collective outpouring with depth and a certain worldliness. It’s all there, intentionality and a genuine feeling for play. The eighth track, “For Lisa,” is particularly lovely: a longish, singing guitar line is joined by a mournful violin over the sound of crumpling something and asymmetrical cymbal and tom hits. Sonically less refined is track 9, “The Keys I Don’t Use,” which seems to foreground, were I to hazard a guess, the keys they don’t use. Most of the tracks are more concerned with coping than disruption, though they still feast on the entropy of the sonic rather than give in to the impulse to erase it. There are many highlights. Nothing here feels particularly technical. The feelings are all very natural and honest. On the final track, there is briefly some actual chordal work, but pay that no mind, it arrives having weathered what there is to weather. Highly recommended.

Listen and download from Bandcamp:

My colleague Eyal Hareuveni provides some of the context for Arapis’s playing here.

 You can catch a taste of Arapis’s solo electric guitar magic here:

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Impressions of Taktlos

Connected to the influential Zurich based Intakt record label, the Taktlos Festival - which has been running for over 30 years - happened last weekend, complimenting the labels work in presenting ​​jazz, experimental rock, new music, improvisation and composition. The three day festival, which for the past several years has featured an artist curator, was in the good hands of Swiss trumpeter Silvan Schmid and the resulting festival was an exciting mix of acts. While the Free Jazz Blog is unable to write about the event, Berlin music photographer Cristina Marx (Photomusix) documented the creativity and collaborations. We are pleased to be able to offer a collection of her photography from the three days of music.

Festival Program:

All photos (c) Cristina Marx (Photomusix)


Day 1: Friday March 17

X Ray Hex Tet
Edward George words; Paul Abbott drums, synthetic sounds; Billy Steiger violin, celesta; Seymour Wright alto saxophone; Pat Thomas piano, electronics; Crystabel Riley drums;

Miao Silvan Makossiri
Makossiri laptop, nyadungu (lyre); Miao Zhao bass clarinet, electronics; Silvan Schmid trumpet, mixing desk;

DJ Diaki
DJ Diaki - laptop, drum machine;

Day 2: Saturday, March 18

Crystabel Riley
Crystabel Riley - drums;

Lotus Eddé Khouri x Gamut Kollektiv
Lotus Eddé Khouri - composition; Binta Kopp - laptop; Marina Tantanozi - flute; Miao Zhao - bass clarinet; Paula Sanchez - cello; Paul Amereller - drums; Philipp Eden - piano; Silvan Schmid - trumpet; Tapiwa Svosve - alto sax; Tobias Pfister - tenor sax; Vojko Huter - guitar; Xaver Rüegg - bass;

g a b b r o
Hanne De Backer - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Andreas Bral - piano, Indian harmonium; Raf Vertessen - drums;

Day 3: Sunday, March 19

New projects, new constellations, including (though not all pictured)...

@XCRSWX (Seymour Wright and Crystabel Riley) - alto saxophone, drums; Lotus Eddé Khouri L’anatome - movement; Pat Thomas - piano;

Hanne De Backer - baritone saxophone; Raf Vertessen - drums; Paul Amereller - drums; Edward George words; Makossiri - laptop, nyadungu (lyre); Tapiwa Svosve - alto saxophone; Xaver Rüegg - bass;

Marina Tantanozi flute; Xaver Rüegg - bass; Andreas Bral - piano;  DJ Diaki - laptop, drum machine; Paul Abbott - drums; Billy Steiger - violin;



Tuesday, March 21, 2023


By Keith Prosk

Leo Chang released four recordings, all duos, in 2022, three of which feature the homemade instrumental system, VOCALNORI, composed of suspended Korean gongs and cymbals, voice, and electronics to convey vocal vibrations through the gongs and cymbals. A manifestation of grappling with personal identity, the voice is literally filtered through symbols of cultural context while simultaneously subverting tradition to best fit the self by using them in uncustomary ways. These three recordings all also pair VOCALNORI with piri, the Korean double reed, the texture and attack of which could recall Steve Lacy’s ducks at their most raucous or the ecstatic energies of Kim Seok-chul’s hojok, probably building from a foundation of Chang’s amPiri system, featured in the fourth 2022 recording, Some Time , with Adrianne Munden Dixon on violin and electronics. Each seems to accentuate certain aspects of VOCALNORI and considered together demonstrate a generous adaptability of the instrumentalist and instrument to diverse scenarios.

with Jason Nazary - Failure to Display (SUPERPANG, 2022)

With percussion, whose many-limbed polyrhythms of kick drum booms, shimmering crash, and marching roll fills at times appears to channel the exotic or rather extraplanetary swagger of an Arkestra drumline, the VOCALNORI seems to assume a more percussive character. Chittering, skittering metallic scat. Apoplectic arrhythmias that can resound, reflect, and interfere for brilliant walls of klang. The voice may remain recognizable in subaqueous groans or seem texturally quite close to the kit and be completely baffled by the metal. The resonant material of which lends the space a harmonic glow though this music is mostly, particularly rhythmic. Playing piri requires the air that would power the gongs but bleep bloop rhythms tend to appear where the gongs are not.

with Chris Williams - Unnameable Element (Dinzu Artefacts, 2022)

 With trumpet, whose resonant metal material matches the grain of the gongs and whose mutes similarly filter and color the breath, the VOCALNORI assumes a more brassy character. Softer, slower attacks that allow gong soundings space to breath begin to lend a melodicism to the system not dissimilar to the trumpet. Bright domes’ dynamics tethered to breathing cadences. Textures can blur and I’m unsure if something that sounds like low brass, bowed cymbals, or oms is one or the other. Sometimes the system appears activated, just turned on, humming like electric current, sparsely sounding a cistern reverb for an ambient substrate upon which a soulful, smoky trumpet solo can occur.

with Lucie Vítková - Religion (Tripticks Tapes, 2022) 

With accordion, synth, hichiriki, harmonica, voice, and objects, VOCALNORI seems to find a system foil. Timescales stretch, long tones (im)perceptibly breach and sink into an activated ambience, oms and moans extend into meditative and trance states, the buzz of vibrating metal and its heralding harmonic oscillations rise to consciousness in these quieter soundscapes, cut by squalls from winds only rarely. The discrete attack of the rhythm system becomes something as enchanting and unrecognizable as the voice through gongs through sustain. Though elongated tone seems to flatten dynamics and movement the invitation to discern difference on a smaller scale actually amplifies its dimensionality. And in relation to the title, the gongs return to a kind of ritual - or at least the cairns for it - while remaining unstruck as they would in the original, returning to the simultaneous embrace and resistance of cultural identity at the heart of the system.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Two Trios from Sophie Agnel

By Eyal Hareuveni

The classically-trained French pianist Sophie Agnel is known for her imaginative way of transforming the grand piano into a lively, vibrating organism with extensive preparations as well as for her collaboration with like-minded, innovative improvisers like Phil Minton and John Butcher and sound artists Lionel Marchetti and Jérôme Noetinger. Two recent releases offer her visionary, sonic imagination.

Agnel / Lanz / Vatcher - Animals (Klanggalerie, 2023) 

Animals is the debut album of the unlikely, free improvising trio of Agnel, Swiss, Berlin-based turntables wizard Joke Lanz (aka Charles Testa) and American, Amsterdam-based jazz drummer Michael Vatcher. Agnel formed this trio for a performance at the Festival Météo in Mulhouse in 2016. Animals is a studio recording from Le Confort Moderne during Jazz à Poitiers in November 2018. The trio celebrates the release of this album with a European tour.

Agnel takes this trio to deliciously uncertain, heretic grounds. Lanz is a jack-of-all-trades who adds his extensive experience in playing anything, from improvised music to experimental music, from noise to turntablism, and is known as the leader of the action project Sudden Infant. Vatcher brings to this trio his experience of playing with jazz, free improvisation and avant-punk with Michael Moore, Tristan Honsinger and The Ex.

The 13 short pieces of Animals capture the wild, dadaist imagination of this trio with suggestive titles like “Laughing Hyenas”, “Lullaby For Dionysus” and “Metallic Meditation”, and often with more ironic and insightful references like the hyperactive “Michael Nyman Fell Asleep” and “Paul Rutherford's Trombone’. The dynamics are urgent and intense, creating constant, stimulating tension with unconventional and inventive techniques, but always precise ones, and with a subversive sense of humor and, obviously, many sudden twists. This trio explores radical sonic ideas, or unpredictable, rhythmic dynamics with great curiosity but no attachment. Once it is exhausted, the trio continues to its next adventure. Somehow this kind of improvised chaos makes perfect sense, and the beautiful cover artwork by Lasse Marhaug cements this trio's fascinating and joyful sonic collisions.

Sophie Agnel / Olivier Benoit / Daunik Lazro - Gargorium (Fou Records, 2023)


Agnel recorded two duo albums with fellow French guitarist Olivier Benoit (Rip-Stop, In Situ, 2003 and Reps, Césaré, 2014), who later recruited her to the Orchestre National De Jazz. She played in veteran baritone sax player Daunik Lazro's Quatuor Qwat Neum Sixx (Live at Festival NPAI 2007, Amor Fati 2009) and later recorded a duo album with him (Marguerite D'Or Pâle, Fou, 2016). Now the head of Fou Records, sound engineer and archivist of many historical free improvised meetings (and also a vintage synth wizard) Jean-Marc Foussat, has released live recordings of this short-lived trio from September 2008 at La Malterie in Lille and from April 2009 at Carré Bleu in Poitiers.

Agnel, Benoit and Lazro rely on their highly personal and unorthodox extended techniques. Agnel focuses on the inside of the grand piano and turns it into a vivid and intriguing playground, Benoit transforms his electric guitar into an abstract, and sometimes industrial sound generator and Lazro focuses on quiet, whispering breaths and long, sustained tones. The dynamics here are patient and fragile, letting the sparse, expressive percussive sounds resonate and float gently and suggest the course of the music. Each of the four pieces creates its own dream-like, sound universe but all highlight the poetic sensibility of this trio.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Alan Braufman - Live in New York City, February 8, 1975 (Valley Of Search, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

By the end of last year we discussed internally whether we should have a list of "historical albums" that were released in the course of the year, either re-issues, re-masters or new released of as yet unpublished material. Some of us did - I did not for no apparent reason - and their recommended albums can be found here, with a clear preference for Peter Brötzmann, Cecil Taylor and William Parker. 

Other albums were not included, for the simple reason that we had either not received the promo material yet or had not had time to listen to the album. One album we could have included in this list was Alan Braufman's "Live in New York City, February 8, 1975". 

Braufman is not widely known, and - including this one - he actually released only four albums: "Valley of Search" (1975/2018), "The Fire Still Burns" (2020), and "Alan Braufman &  Cooper-Moore – Live at WKCR, May 22, 1972" (2021). He released two other albums under the name Alan Michael, which he still uses today as a music teacher and performer. I learn on Wikipedia that during the 70s and 80s he worked as the saxophonist of such unlikely company of Carla Bley, the Psychedelic Furs and Philip Glass. 

Back to the album now. 

It's a live radio performance recorded at the WBAI Studio in New York, and with a phenomenal band, Alan Braufman on alto saxophone and flute, Cooper-Moore on piano, ashimba and recitation, William Parker on bass, John Clark on French horn, Jim Schapperoew on drums, and Ralph Williams on percussion. This was actually the first time that William Parker and Cooper-Moore met and performed together. 

The great thing about the album is that you get the entire performance, almost unedited, with the announcements by host Susan Mannheimer, who also encourages the audience to be generous for attending the recording session. The result is 94 minutes of music, available on a double CD or as 3 LPs with five sides. 

The beginning of the performance is actually a complete new rendition of "Valley of Search", containing the following compositions: "Rainbow Warriors", "Ark Of Salvation", "Little Nabil's March", "Destiny" "Chant", "Thankfulness", "Love Is For Real", "Forshadow". It's an interesting exercise to compare both albums. 

Cooper-More and the rest of the percussionists also play one traditional, "Ashimba" which also features on David S. Ware's "Apogee", another musician with whom Braufman shared a building at 510 Canal Street in Manhattan in the early 70s, and with whom Cooper-Moore and William Parker performed and released many albums over the years. 

The music is loft jazz and free jazz at its best: exuberant, powerful, energetic, dynamic, relentless, nervous, tribal, without any concern about sophistication or arrangements, as long as it sounded good and created even more energy to move deeper and further. The whole rhythm section is magnificent, with a propulsive power that drives the frenetic and fierce sax of Braufman wilder and wilder. He sounds like the alto equivalent of Gato Barbieri in his best days. The French horn of John Clark can only be heard sparingly, as if he was uncomfortable to intervene: in the beginning piece of the album and on "Bright Evening", a folksy uptempo dance, and on "The Muse" and "Sunrise" for the finale. 

We get the new tracks are all after a short break, with a variety of musical ideas and influences integrated into the improvisations, and with Braufman switching to flute except for the last two pieces.  There is Cooper-Moore's rhythmic "Emancipation", the joyous "Tree of Life", the tribal "The Muse", the meditative "A Tear And A Smile". The best pieces are the longer explorative pieces, with Braufman on alto, that end the album: "O Nossa Amor", and "Sunrise". 

Like its predecessors, it's a great album and a wonderful time capsule into the loft jazz of the seventies: great songs, strong performance, wonderful energy and authenticity. 

To end with the words of the enthusiastic announcer Susan Mannheimer at the end of the album - remember it's the seventies - "Just love each other and listen to the music". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, March 17, 2023

Piero Bittolo Bon – Spelunker (Chant Records, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

The music on this album is about exploring. It can be described as an extended use of extended techniques to produce an augmented language. The music in this album is about experiencing. Piero Bittolo Bon plays a sax without mouthpieces and most of the time without even blowing into it. As he says in the brief interview at the end of this review he plays in negative extracting sounds from the resonances produced by the movement of the keys inside the body of the instrument. These sounds are then amplified and filtered in real time through stomp-boxes and synths. It is feedback controlled and expanded, it is a sax transformed into a set of percussion, and a flute echoes from somewhere else.

We read in the notes from the artist's Facebook page: “This material was recorded in 2018, more or less halfway my still on-going process of extracting challenging (at least for me) possibilities and exotic dialects from the inside of the horn, which flourished into a whole new set of perspectives on the instrument even when I approach it in a more "traditional" way.” 

The first piece - "game/élan" - has in its title all the coordinates of the place we are visiting, it seems like we are listening to a distorted gamelan but it is maybe just a game and a combination of style and energetic spirit. What we ear are percussive sounds, whistles and blows that gather for a moment and then scatter moving in other directions, another focus. As the Bandcamp notes inform us “ the original recordings were edited and curated by Maurice Louca, a key player in The Cairo and Berlin experimental music scene”.

A different section of the same recording session of "game/élan" is presented in the third piece of the album "game/élan (excerpt)". 

The other piece - "A melange" - offers a catalogue of the different sounds that the augmented sax can produce. It opens with cavernous and percussive sounds and electronic noises; then a flute (?) section marked by the rhythm of the amplified keys. Another change marked by percussive electronic sound followed by controlled feedback and the keys of the sax played to follow a rhythmic pattern. There is a crescendo of noises and whistles and distortions evocative of a tribal setting. The voice, chanted through the cavity of the horn marks a finale where only feedback and clanking are left.

As Bittolo Bon declares this recordings features “the maximalist side” of his solo set “a full arsenal of amplifiers, stompboxes, drum machines and synthesizers is almost constantly involved in the search for some bit of music I might enjoy in that moment: the only rules I gave myself were (and still are) no overdubbing and no loopers allowed.” (notes from Bittolo Bon Facebook page)

It is interesting to compare the music in this album (recorded in 2018) with its minimalist counterpart in (m​ĭ​th​′​r​ĭ​-​d​ā​′​t​ĭ​z​′​ə​m) III - spelunker [un​]​ritual etudes (Self-Released 2022) recorded in 2021 using only acoustic instruments, microphones and amplifiers. The intention and the techniques used are the same but the sound is stripped to the bone and from a strictly personal point of view even more fascinating.

In conclusion “Spelunker” is not music for the faint of heart but if you are brave enough to enter the cave you will be rewarded with paintings and stalactites that are worth the journey.

The album is available on Bandcamp



To have a closer look at the Spelunker project you can choose from Bittolo Bon playlist on Youtube.

We also interviewed Piero Bittolo Bon about his project and its developments 

Spelunker offers to the listeners a sound which is certainly non conventional for wind instruments that’s why I would start by asking how did you come to develop the idea of using the inside resonances of your instrument and the feedback produced by microphones and amps to make music?

It was born by chance: as it may have happened to many wind players or singers or to anyone using microphones, during a sound-check I got too close to a microphone set to a very high gain and this microphone started to whistle. From this event I had the insightnto try to exploit this effect to produce sounds that I might use in an improvisatory context. I plugged my instrument into a guitar amplifier and I started experimenting

Watching your solo performances since 2014 one can notice the expansion of the attachment and the technology used.

Yes, my gear set up has developed a life of its own… it has started to expand in a more or less constant way. But lately I am downsizing because many of the attachment I’ve been using were absolutely redundant. In the beginning I had a little box made to power simple microphone insets with five outputs, I started big, thinking of positioning five mikes in different places of the sax bell, of course different positions into the bell produce different resonances but then I noticed that five mikes were far too many so I settled with just two that, I think, make enough noise. So now this is my standard setting.

Do you consider the instrument you play as a prepared instrument or instead as an instrument to produce augmented reality?

Well, both answers could be true, as far as augmented reality maybe it is more correct to talk about augmented language because this peculiar performing mode has made me find a completely different language on an instrument that, played in the traditional way, I am quite familiar with. There is a deviation that was more obvious in the beginning of my search, between what I expect from the fingering I use and the actual result. This deviation is produced by the fact that the sounds I produce come from a negative vision of my instrument. As a matter of fact I do not blow into my sax but I extract resonances that are than amplified and this has brought to a different manner to use sound. Even more, it has brought to use a very rhythmic language because I need a quite continuous action to activate feedback. When I play in a traditional way, my temperament is quite long-winded, I move my finger quite fast and so I have created a language and some alternative fingering that work quite well in this performing mode. Slowly I succeeded in creating a coherent sound environment that I can recognize as my own and that I can really enjoy.

Has this solo work modified the way you play in more traditional contexts?

I think that the two situations permeate themselves in a quite organic way; if you look at my Bandcamp page you will find some acoustic recording that use the same language but without any amplification. In these recordings I use more or less the same fingering and the same mind-set, I use the sax without mouthpiece, I invented a way of playing it using a technique similar to that used with the ney (a end blown flute of Persian-Turkish origin) I use the sax almost as if it were a flute and I also use the voice speaking or singing into it. In the end I have noticed that the material recorded is analogue to the one produced with my electric set. Beside when I play in a more jazz oriented context, I become aware of the fact that, at the level of muscle memory, the suggestions of what I thought myself with this language emerge in my way of playing.

In the Bandcamp notes for Spelunker you say that the only rules you gave yourself were (and still are) no overdubbing and no loopers allowed; with overdubbing you clearly loose some of the spontaneity you get with live recording so my question is about loopers, why have you decided not to use them?

Because I think they are a double-edged sword, I am quite prone to indulge in my comfort zone and I think that if I used loopers, which are very useful in many situations, I would lose some of the focus and the challenge that this way of playing implies even from a physical point of view. It may not seems but this continuous and percussive mode, even if I breath is not involved, is quite tiring for the sinews and the finger muscles and this physical side would be lost if I used loopers.

Looking at the series of your solos which can be watched on Youtube, I’ve got the impression that Spelunker represent a snap-shot of a work in progress that started in 2014 and is still going on?

The materials collected in Spelunker represent an halfway moment in my solo performances because the recording dates back to 2018 ant it was a moment in which I was using all the gears that I have (stompboxes, microphones, synths) and the fact that I had so many sonic possibilities sometimes made it difficult to focus on nuances. In the end I had a great number of recording and, because of my character, I was really terrified by the necessity to make a choice to edit the materials. If I have to choose a take of a composition everything is easier, but when I have to choose what I like and what I don’t in my improvisations I really don’t know where to start; it is not because I like all of them, maybe it’s the opposite or maybe it’s because in the end they all seem acceptable. Luckily in this process I had on my side a great friend and a good musician: Maurice Louca who made the editing selecting the tracks and assembled them in an order which he considered fluent and interesting

From your point of view what is the situation of improvised music in this period?

I think that the situation is better than you can imagine, there are many interesting musicians in more or less jazz oriented improvised music. I can see this because I take part in the organization of concerts for the Ferrara Jazz Club (the city where I live) a beautiful place with a program centred on more “mainstream jazz” but that also proposes events where you can hear more “experimental” improvised music and the scene is quite lively and there are many interesting young musicians.

Speaking about my solo work, I must say that I find it a bit difficult to propose it outside the jazz network of events, maybe because I am considered, and I consider myself, more internal to that network. Maybe the jazz environment is not exactly right for this music even if when I play solo I don’t fell like I’m playing something too far from what I play in a more jazzy situation. The acoustic output may be different but the intention is the same.

What about your future programmes?

I have made a couple of recording that I hope to release soon (at least not after five years like it happened with Spelunker): a solo with a very reduced setup (two microphones and two amps) which focuses on the rhythmic side of my language and a session of the duo Spell/Hunger with Andrea Grillini on augmented drums (he plays a drum set with series of sensors that control a sample library). On the more traditional side I hope to record a new album with my quintet Bread & Fox with Alfonso Santimone, Filippo Vignato, Glauco Benedetti and Andrea Grillini. I also continue my fantastic experience with the Tower Jazz Composer Orchestra, the resident ensemble of the Ferrara Jazz Club that I have been coordinating together with Alfonso Santimone since 2016.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

New - Danish - Horizons for the Piano Trio

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three Danish trios offer highly original, personal and poetic approaches for the piano trios, looking back into the rich legacy of jazz and free improvisation but also marking promising starting points for the future.

Peter Bruun, Søren Kjærgaard & Jonas Westergaard - Thēsaurós (Ilk Music, 2023)

Danish drummer Peter Bruun, pianist Søren Kjærgaard and double bass player Jonas Westergaard (who resides now in Berlin) began working together at the late nineties while all were students at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. At that time these three musicians-improvisers-composers were inseparable, beginning to shape their trio Fuschia as a collective symbiotic entity that immerses itself in the tension between complex stringent structures and improvisation.

After finishing school they parted ways. Kjærgaard started a long-running trio with drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Ben Street, led a Danish trio with Westergaard and a duo with legendary inter-disciplinary artist Torben Ulrich (the father of Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich). Bruun joined Django Bates’ Belovèd and formed groups like the folk-pop Eggs Laid by Tigers (with Westergarrd) dedicated to the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the All Too Human, and played in the free jazz trio with trombonist Samuel Blaser and guitarist Marc Ducret. Westergaard worked with John Tchicai and in recent years with the DLW trio with vibes player Christopher Dell and drummer Christian Lillinger.

The 2016 edition of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival united Fuchsia and since then it has become an annual tradition, and Kjærgaard, now a professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Bruun and Westergaard play every year a free improvising set in the festival. But since the trio resumed rehearsing regularly, Westergaard rearranged material that was originally commissioned by the 2014 edition of Berlin’s Serious Series Festival for a septet, later released as Positioner/Positions (Ilk Music, 2021). This album marked the first part of a new trilogy of the trio.

Bruun had been working since 2018 on the music for the second part of the trilogy, the double vinyl album Thēsaurós, likely to be followed by a third part composed by Kjærgaard. Bruun has been experimenting with a concept he calls Rhythm Design which has evolved from a research project into a system of writing music with complex rhythmic patterns as skeletal forms for his composition (you can find more information. Including scores and interview in Bruun’s website). For Thēsaurós he chose three different signatures - 12/11, 12/13, and 18/17 - as an examination of polymetric structures and exploration of the potentials between the structured and the intuitive through embodiment. Kjærgaard practiced these rhythmic patterns relentlessly until they felt they were part of him. Westergaard then extracted his own bass parts from the endlessly winding piano parts. Following countless, extended rehearsals that shaped synonymous strategies of playing these intricate, labyrinthian structures, the trio ended up cutting more than 20 hours of music in the studio, with most of the takes stretching between 10-15 minutes. Seven of these extended pieces made it into Thēsaurós.

The ambitious and challenging music of Thēsaurós demands repeated deep listening in order to decipher its complex, subtle and layered structures as well as the unpredictable inner logic and mind games but it compensates with its rare, haunting and intriguing beauty. The more you listen to Thēsaurós, its music resonates more and more. The music flows naturally, keeps its positive tension, and is performed with coherence and commanding elegance. It moves freely between Nordic, chamber jazz and modern jazz ("Thēsaurō's No. 6 [18/17]: Epitome" and “Thēsaurós No 2 [12/11]: Kinesis”) to contemporary chamber music (“Thēsaurós No 4 [12/13]: Treasure”) and intuitive, free improvisation (the last, live hypnotic piece “Thēsaurós No 7: Casual Structures”), often in the same piece. This music looks back into the legacy of the piano trio but also marks a promising starting point for the future. Obviously, the music stresses a deep affinity achieved not only through the long-time connection between the old friends Kjærgaard, Bruun and Westergaard but also through long and tasking processing and immersion from every conceivable perspective, including a bodily understanding of the musical concepts, in order to achieve such a profound and coherent work.

Inspiring and simply magnificent. 

Torben Snekkestad / Søren Kjærgaard / Tomo Jacobson - SPIRIT SPIRIT (Gotta Let It Out, 2022) 

Norwegian, Copenhagen-based sax player (also a trumpeter) Torben Snekkestad began to work with Kjærgaard in The Living Room trio (with fellow Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen), played with Bruun’s Unintended Consequences (Ilk Music, 2013), alongside Kjærgaard, Westergaard and Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lønning, and continued to work closely with Kjærgaard. Last year this duo released the sublime and poetic Another Way Of The Heart (Trost, 2022). Like Kjærgaard, Snekkestad teaches at the Danish Rhythmic Music Conservatory.

Snekkestad and Kjærgaard trio with Polish, Copenhagen-based double bass player and head of the label Gotta Let It Out, Tomo Jacobson, was formed in 2016. SPIRIT SPIRIT is its debut album, released on the last day of 2022. It is a 38-minute, nine parts suite with an epilogue, edited and composed from almost three hours of spontaneously improvised studio recordings by the trio. Its dynamics correspond with Thēsaurós, as this is a democratic trio that relies on deep listening with the three musicians keep challenging each other with their highly personal and unorthodox approaches, but in a much more minimalist and sparse, introspective and enigmatic manner than the one expressed in Thēsaurós. The profound poetic interplay of Snekkestad and Kjærgaard as well as their sonic imagination informs the suggestive, austere atmosphere of this inspiring and most beautiful meeting, with Jacobson’s extended bowing techniques intensifying its melancholic, dark tones.

Paris Peacock - Wingbeats (Ilk Music, 2023) 

Snekkestad (on saxophone and reed trumpet) and Bruun (on prepared tǎpan and micro percussion) return in another singular piano trio, this time with soul brother, pianist Simon Toldam (on prepared piano) in the NFT (Non-Fungible-Token) Paris Peacock, with sound designer August Wanngren and in collaboration with NFT Troels Abrahamsen. Paris Peacock was inspired by British photographer Levon Biss' super-enlarged images of insects, especially the butterfly Paris Peacock . The NFT platform offers exclusive access to supplemented content that illuminates the music and its magnifying conception in various ways through; video, essays, documentation material, as well as extended liner notes by musician/composer Simon Toldam.

Toldam refers Wingbeats to Edward Lorenz’s seminal article from 1972 about the chaos theory and the butterfly effect, reminding us that nothing in our world is set in stone and even small actions can have great power. “Now more than ever, I find it important to pay attention to details and have a genuine trust, that even small changes in our life have a severe impact on the world we are living in. To me, this mindset is similar to the art of improvised music; the very first little sound played will set the direction for the whole performance, and therefore bears defining importance,” writes Toldam in his liner notes.

The 40-minute Wingbeats was recorded live at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen and is influenced by Biss's Microsculpture of extreme, enlarged insects, and especially the image of Paris Peacock, and featuring Toldam’s Magnified Micro Music concept. Toldam drew three timelines through the image - loosely inspired by Danish electronic music pioneer Else Marie Pade. These lines travel through deep black nothings; varied colorful patterns; butterfly hair and eyes, which all are inspiringly translatable to various musical parameters; dynamics; densities; repetitions; and timbre. And beyond the more or less concrete transformation from image to sound, there's also the influence of communication between the image and our musical intuition.

The Wingbeats composition used maximally cranked microphones placed close to their acoustic instruments that were playing at a whisper’s volume in order to explore and investigate subtle sonic fields that are rarely heard, much like a magnifying glass for sound. This abstract and enigmatic composition forces you to think anew about how you listen, process this elusive sonic experience in space and time and adjust your mindset to its disorienting, sparse sounds. Obviously, your sensitivity to the most subtle, microtonal gestures and dynamics deepens and after repeated, deep listening your sonic doors of perception gather unique insights and endless other possibilities. This composition does not promise instant karma but its austere, humble and compassionate approach teaches us that even the slightest change in behavior or mindset from any one of us will have an impact on someone else, at some point. Maybe not in a week, or even a year - but perhaps in 10 years or 50 years or after we have passed on and transitioned to the eternal butterfly fields.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Magnus Granberg - the intensity of haunting stillness

By Stef Gijssels

If any musician deserves an award for the quality of his album titles, there is no doubt Magnus Granberg would be among the nominees: 

  • "Would Fall From The Sky, Would Wither And Die" (2015)
  • "How Deep Is The Ocean, How High Is The Sky?" (2015)
  • "Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee & Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long" (2017)
  • "Es Schwindelt Mir, Es Brennt Mein Eingeweide" (2018)
  • "Nun, Es Wird Nicht Weit Mehr Gehen" (2019)
  • "Als Alle Vögel Sangen Mein Sehnen Und Verlangen" ‎(2019)
  • "Come Down To Earth Where Sorrow Dwelleth" (2020)
  • "Let Pass My Weary Guiltless Ghost" ‎(2020)
All titles express the same sense of quiet desolation and meditative wonder, often short phrases from poems, folk songs or religious texts. The German word "Sehnsucht" describes the music well. At the same time it expresses longing and suffering, a craving for a better world, a realisation of an existential weakness or gap. 

The title "Es Schwindelt Mir, Es Brennt Mein Eingeweide" actually comes from the poem "Nur Wer die Sehnsucht kennt" from Goethe's "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre".

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!
Allein und abgetrennt
Von aller Freude,
Seh ich ans Firmament
Nach jener Seite.

Ach! der mich liebt und kennt,
Ist in der Weite.
Es schwindelt mir, es brennt
Mein Eingeweide.
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!

Only those who know longing
Know what sorrows me!
Alone and separated
From all joy,
I look into the sky
To the yonder side.

Ah! the one who loves and knows me
Is in the distance.
It dizzies me, it burns
my guts.
Only those who know longing
Know how I suffer!

Magnus Granberg - Night Will Fade And Fall Apart (Thanatosis, 2022) 

On "Night Will Fade And Fall Apart", Granberg composed a piece commissioned by the label and especially for the Tya Ensemble, consisting of Josefin Runsteen on violin, My Hellgren on cello, Finn Loxbo on guitar, Anna Christensson on piano, John Eriksson on vibraphone and percussion, and Ryan Packard on percussion. If you are not familiar with Granberg's compositions, you will be surprised by the fragile quality of the music, even if performed by a sextet. 

The music has a deep sense of poetry and melancholy ... a fragile world leading to fragile feelings, quiet contemplation, and visceral sensitivity. In the liner notes, David Sylvian describes the music as "music for the twilight, the final rays, as our impaired vision of the solidity of things and their accompanying certainties, fall away.” The music is calm, slow, precise, and moves forward with caution and meticulous. 

The album consists of two CDs. The first one performs the composition for full ensemble for a little less than 44 minutes. The second CD breaks the ensemble down to one or two instruments: percussion, violin, cello, guitar, and the last piece is for piano and vibraphone. If you listen to all this in one go, the effect is even more stunning, as if the world has actually fallen to pieces and the individual instrumentalists find themselves alone and isolated in the same world they were contemplating before as a team. 

Magnus Granberg explains the process behind the composition: "The piece takes as its points of departure a tiny handful of songs from two very different times and places: "Tres gentil cuer" and "En l’amoureux vergier" by the French, late medieval composer Solage as well as "My Foolish Heart", a popular song (and subsequent jazz standard) from the late 1940s by Victor Young and Ned Washington from whose lyrics the piece also borrows its title, albeit in a slightly modified manner. The rhythmic materials of the piece are all extracted from the songs of Solage and treated in different ways, whereas the harmonic materials are loosely derived from "My Foolish Heart"."

Even if we are at a very far distance from free jazz and free improv musically, I think this music will be appreciated by its fans too. It's the perfect antidote to our rushed way of life, a long artistic moment to enjoy and savour. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Magnus Granberg - How Lonely Sits the City (Another Timbre, 2022) & How Lonely Sits The City (Meenna, 2022)

For this album, the title was taken from the Book of Lamentations in the Bible:

"How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave." 

... even if the reference is also to the world of today, as is testified by the album artwork by Magnus Gramén. Granberg wrote this composition in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic for a quartet, which was recorded in October 2020 by the ensemble consisting of Eva Lindal on violin, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Stina Hellberg Agback on harp, and Magnus Granberg himself on prepared piano. 

Granberg then expanded the composition for his Skogen ensemble, with Anna and Eva Lindal on violin, Stina Hellberg Agback on harp, Magnus Granberg on prepared piano, John Eriksson on vibraphone, glockenspiel and whistling, Henrik Olsson on objects, friction, piezo, and Erik Carlsson percussion. The septet was recorded in June 2021.

Granberg's music has its own quality and vision: carefully crafted, a piece of musical lace, at the same time complex and light, spacious and intimate, bright and intense. In his minimalistic vision, every note, every sound is worth gold, so why waste it, why use it carelessly if you can create effects with just a few sounds that adorn an existential silence? 

It is interesting to compare both versions, with the piano a little more prominent on the quartet version, and the two parts of the septet performance versus only one single composition by the quartet. 

Regardless, the result is stunning as usual, full of paradoxes, calm and terrifying, quiet and intense, sad and bright. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp: here for the quartet, here for the septet version.