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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Samo Salamon, Vasil Hadžimanov & Ra Kalam Bob Moses - Dances of Freedom (Samo Records, 2024)

By Sammy Stein

Dances of Freedom brings together Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon, (Mark Helias, Donny McCaslin, Julian Arguelles, Michel Godard and more) Serbian pianist and composer Vasil Hadzimanov (Vasil Hadzimanov Band, Bace quartet, Matija Dedic and more) and American drummer Ra-Kalam Bob Moses (Roland Kirk, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, Emily Remler, Jack DeJohnette and many more).

Moses and Salamon recorded Pure and Simple with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen in 2022, so this is another venture for the pair, this time with the renowned musician that is Hadzimanov.

This release features Salamon on electric and acoustic guitars and banjo, Hadzimanov on keyboards and piano, and Moses on drums and percussion.

The music on the album creates many atmospheres, from the mysterious opening of ‘Cream of Freedom’ which then swells and evolves with a background of keyboard harmonies, repeated banjo phrases, and a pleasant sonic cacophony from the percussive theatre in which Moses appears to reside, to the energy of ‘Free Dances’ and ‘Ocean Calimba’

The striking element is how the trio interact and musically feed from each other as if there is an energy that is shared, passing from one to another in an endless rolling journey. ‘Free Dances’ has a depth to it, provided by string effects and the driving percussion but over this is a song, a sighing and wonderment which serves to take the listener in two simultaneous directions. The intricate guitar and percussion dialogue during the second third is interesting and engaging.

The open, spacey sounds of ‘Ocean Calimba’ are worth staying with, despite the ever so slightly irksome key effects, and the beautiful opening of the stand-out ‘Dirty Zone’ soothes and calms the nerves for a short while – until that is, the drums and keys work their way towards a section of contrapuntal rhythms and the energy builds, with the percussive elements driving, pushing, and elevating the track to new heights, particularly when the picked guitar rises from the background to inject even more energy. This is full-on improvised excellence delivered with acuity and aplomb. The track finishes with a calm, soothing phrase just to ensure you don’t quite jump out of your seat.

‘Conga Master’, is stuffed with changing rhythms, while the dark elements are allowed to surface in ‘Morphbed’ to menace and deliver a strangely entrancing moody piece. The album continues in this changeable, interactive way with ‘Pans’ feeling bitty, yet each ‘bit’ is connected and woven into the next piece so it flows but in a different manner to the preceding tracks and ‘Indian Base’ providing intense rhythms and a mesmeric solo from Moses, who keeps the intensity of the rhythm pattern across the track despite the loud phrasings riding across the top.

The final track ‘Hapi May’ has the feeling of a celebration as the three musicians improvise around introduced riffs, themes, and phrases, which randomly introduce themselves, are picked up or passed by and this is a great track to finish an album where three musicians come together to create music that is listenable, relatable and a glorious celebration of improvisation. Different combinations of musicians create very different sounds, and this trio is no exception. This is music like no music before and a unique experience.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Ches Smith - Laugh Ash (Pyroclastic Records, 2024)


Some people say that all drummers are just air-headed space cadets. Ches Smith would be the first to admit that he is no exception to this stereotype, but one wouldn’t expect it to be true having heard Laugh Ash. The phrase “composed by the drummer” tends to trigger alarm bells, but on this latest album there is nothing to be feared regarding any one-dimensional, or underdeveloped ideas, à la Nick Mason's "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party". It’s instantly apparent that there are many musical facets to Ches that go far beyond simply being a beast on the skins.

For a start he’s (almost) done away with the drums altogether, in favour of gritty, original electronic grooves - a bold move for someone who has forged an already legendary career out of the ‘batterie’, but one that proves his acute ear for interesting, essential rhythms. There is a distinct lack of “phatness” in jazz today, and a lack of sick beats. Opening track “Minimalism” aims to change all that, exploding into Laugh Ash with its gnarly, arpeggiating loop, and satisfying sub bass.

When it comes to drum programming, Ches knows his way around the machines. Something of a beat connoisseur, his electronics are purposefully and meticulously curated. They provide a grounding for the highly ambitious decet, resulting in a sound which is densely layered, and complex, but not without a distinct dedication to a humble groove.

Each track has its own individual flare. On “The Most Fucked,” the drum and electronic introduction sounds somewhat reminiscent to his Haitian-influenced drum contributions on Xiu Xiu’s Girl With Basket of Fruit (2019). He references hip hop MC’s Kool Keith, Motion Man and E-40 as inspiration, and while experimental hip hop certainly lends itself to the influence on production, there is surprisingly no rap feature in sight. The pieces instead are peppered with offerings from poet and vocal artist Shara Lunon. Ches writes: “… the human voice at times adds warmth to the blend of horns and strings; at other times it provides a lyrical presentation or literal or poetic idea.”

And Shara is just one in a staggering lineup of Ches’ talented friends featured on the record. A who's who of 2024 purveyors of free music: Anna Webber (flute), Oscar Noriega (clarinets), James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Jennifer Choi (violin), Kyle Armbrust (viola), Michael Nicolas (cello), and Shahzad Ismaily (bass and keyboards). Instrumentally there is no shortage of variety and virtuosity.

These features provide an analogue juxtaposition to the digital frameworks of each piece. Any individual mention would be doing a disservice to the number of standout moments but having said that, Nate Wooley's coked-out trumpet solo on “Unyielding Daydream Yielding” is a particular showstopper.

“I suppose I would call it serious. It’s undoubtedly sincere,” writes Ches. There’s a separation between the two - it’s earnest, not pretentious. But yet, there are some funny moments. On “Disco Inferred” for example, the primitive programmed drum sounds can induce laughter at some points, with their relentlessly cute simplicity (and *that* unfeasibly snappy snare). But Ches is a funny dude, and giggling is always allowed, on an album that celebrates the feeling of a joy so visceral, and so physical that there is nothing left to do but spontaneously combust into a crackling, cackling, cloud of dust.

Don't miss Ches Smith’s “Laugh Ash Listening Party" (Feb 1)

Monday, January 29, 2024

Achim Kaufmann, Frank Gratkowski, Wilbert De Joode - Canberra (Trokaan, 2023)

By Martin Schray

The trio of Achim Kaufmann (piano), Frank Gratkowski (clarinet, saxophone, flute) and Wilbert de Joode (bass) has been around for more than 20 years, but I have to admit that I first noticed them in 2014 in their expanded line-up under the moniker Skein - with Tony Buck on drums, Richard Barrett on electronics and Okkyung Lee on cello. This happened with a fulminance that was second to none. Inexplicably, the band disappeared from my radar just as quickly as they had appeared, even though there are other recordings of them in different line-ups. Just as accidentally as I discovered Skein nine years ago, I now stumbled across the core of the band, the original trio. Canberra is their sixth album, recorded on their tour of Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, made possible by the German Goethe-Institut.

The fascination that I felt the first time I heard Skein was immediately there again on this recording. Canberra is a musical puzzle, the trio constantly lures you onto the wrong track and just when you think you are on the trail to the core of the music, you only realize that it has taken another turn. A common denominator of the four pieces is the hardness of Kaufmann’s piano touch, the power of De Joode’s bass and Gratkowski’s unforeseen changes of instruments. The reedists’ notes shoot through the room like a swarm of bumblebees gone mad, at lightning speed, then elegant and relaxed again, while De Joode’s plucked bass seems to drip like fat drops of water from the ceiling of a stalactite cave. Especially in the opener “Now and Here, Burning“, only Kaufmann’s rigor holds the busy bustle of the two together. Structurally, the trio floats back and forth between sound exploration, free jazz and chamber music approaches. Often they try to come together from different angles. In “Windows Alive“, the saxophone hisses and smacks, Gratkowski pushes the limits of the available tones. De Joode uses the entire body of the bass to produce sound. It seems to be a big mess, yet the piece doesn’t fall apart, even though it groans, moans and sighs. It goes on like this for four minutes before an almost inconspicuous melody line on the saxophone brings the instruments closer together and they seem to drift off into familiar territory in free jazz-like expressivity. The fact that this doesn’t happen is again thanks to Kaufmann, who works the inside of his piano and thus provides the ultimately decisive friction to keep the ship on course. On “Coral in the Blast“, the musicians once again let the listener wander through a musical maze. The harshness of the sounds is still there, but a certain beauty is no longer wiped away; they almost seem to welcome it and look forward to integrating it. So the piece swells up and down, mainly because Kaufmann and De Joode push it to do so. Yet, Gratkowski’s saxophone floats above it with great ease.

The music on Canberra is completely improvised, it’s created in the moment. Silence, dynamics, the juxtaposition of textures, the use of tonal elements and the energy of jazz - it’s the juxtaposition that makes the music so fascinating. This project - whether it’s the trio or its extensions - will not disappear from my radar again.

Canberra is available on vinyl and as a download.

You can order and listen to it here:

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Han-earl Park - Sunday Interview

1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

The pleasure of play is when people find of their place, make connections, negotiate, compromise, reevaluate, take ownership of their space and their actions. The ambiguity of action and reaction; the unknowability of connection.

The pleasure of play is when trust is a choice, and we choose to trust. When we don’t take each other for granted. When we are fully cognizant of the potential for violence and cruelty, but we choose to take compassion, affinity, consent, desire and agency seriously.

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

It’s not one thing for me. It’s never one thing. What you bring to the stage is your humanity—messy, beautiful, dysfunctional, joyous, contradictory, mutable, stubborn, insecure, fractious, but also empathetic and compassionate.

Each musician is different, and each group is different. It’s good, I think, to be sensitive to who the group is, and what the group could be; to be open to what is possible, but cognizant of the differences and inequalities that exist in any ensemble.

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

Today it’s Little Richard. (Ask me again tomorrow.)

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

Sorry. I could only answer that with a cautionary piece of science fiction.

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

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to find ways of refracting improvisative play through narrative tropes, forms and techniques. I’d like to see where this takes me.

I’ve been searching for a kind of poetic compression, maybe; working on forms that journey from parallel docks to narrative theater or film, maybe. I’m currently thinking of ways in which improvisative play might become a kind of acting—less autobiography, more embodiment, or a kind of personification.

And to find ways of doing this safely, with compassion and sensitivity.

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

Of the recent music that’s caught my ear, I love the 100% distilled virtuosic mischief of Nova Twins. And then there’s the punk-disco of Gacharic Spin whose most recent album, W, is technicolor nuclear candy.

I’ve also been revisiting the Pet Shop Boys. I’ve been struck by their take on ‘Go West’ in particular—an AIDS-era piece that’s simultaneously sweet, triumphant and elegiac. It’s reminded me that political art, especially in difficult times, is often best presented with earnestness.

In terms of music that speak directly to my own practice right now, there’s Sine (check out their song ‘Don’t Know My Name’ for starters). If I played in a rock band, that would be the sound I would be aiming for. Sine reminds me a little bit of groups like Tackhead in terms of attitude and vibe. I’m bowled over by how they manage to leverage studio-based techniques into their music while retaining a kind of energetic jam-band sound.

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

Other than financial stability? I need to work harder on making sure that I consistently and correctly, in my speech, gender non-binary people.

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

Peculiar Velocities, I think, has some of my best playing. Or, maybe better: Catherine and Nick absolutely brought out the best playing from me. (Thank you!)

Juno 3: I can confidently say that it sounds like nothing else out there.

Of Life, Recombinant: Part of me is still surprised I managed to pull that off, and that it works as well as it does.

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

Very, very, very rarely.

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

Michael Jackson, Thriller. (Probably.)

11. What are you listening to at the moment?

Deadly Stares by Mellowdeath.

Catherine Sikora’s All My Winters.

Download both. (Thank me later.)

12. What artist outside music inspires you?

A lot of writers and film-makers. And increasingly so to the point where I don’t know if my interest in narrativity is fueled by these artists and their works, or if my compositional and improvisative concerns are making me seek a deeper connection with fiction and the telling of stories.

I was reading China Miéville’s short story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion, for example, while mixing Peculiar Velocities. And I think a big part of why I was able to keep focus on the drama and messiness and excitement of Eris’ performance on that recording was because I was taking that journey with Miéville’s fantastical, twisted, dark, deeply affectionate humanism.

I was on a flight watching Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, and, at that mid-point-turn in the film, I knew—I knew immediately—what my next piece was going to be—its shape and its form, and the intended effect on the listener. It took me a few years, and a whole bunch of stuff on the cutting room floor (and the end result owed as much to Lynch as it did to Bong), but out of that came Of Life, Recombinant.

And I was reading N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became while mixing Juno 3, and her book—her voice and her writing style—became a constant source of inspiration during that process. Certain techniques of writing, say, the way Jemisin evokes place and subjectivity and interiority (the people and places in her book feel so real to me—like I know them personally), would push me to do certain things with the mix. Jemisin’s book demonstrate to me what was possible, and how I might go about achieving those effects in sounded form.

Han-earl Park reviewed on the Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Sparks and Vision: Teis Semey Quintet / Evi Filippou & Robert Lucaciu

To be clear, the Sparks and Vision festival in Regensburg, Germany is not a free-jazz festival. Rather, held over three days in the charming Regensburg theater, the festival brought together a diverse set of musical artists covering such a wide breadth of musical styles that only the term "jazz," in an expansive definition, could apply. While it would not make sense here to describe the meticulously crafted electric folk of GANNA, the innuendo laden effusiveness of Kadri Voorand, or the gentle interplay of jazz vocalist Norma Winstone and pianist Kit Downes, there were two acts that do: the progressive jazz of the Teis Semey Quintet and sympathetic duo of Evi Filippou & Robert Lucaciu.

Teis Semey Quintet. Photo by Elmar Petzold.

Danish guitarist and composer Teis Semey first came to my attention a little while back with the release of his recording Mean Mean Machine. The album, which has aesthetically a punk rock looking cover, is actually not punk rock sounding, rather it contains 45 minutes of compelling compositions and spirited playing. Echoing this 2021 recording, the band came out on the opening night of the festival in coordinated black and red clothing (like the album artwork) and looking ready to make a ruckus. They then proceeded to charm the hell out the audience with a mix of kinetic, somewhat knotty, and mostly high energy tunes. The guitar sound initially was reminiscent of late 1970s John Abercrombie. With a lightly distorted and edgy tone and see-sawing tension, the guitarist built a musical structure that served well as scaffolding for the two saxophonists. First, alto player José Soares ratcheted up the tension in dialog with Semey, then tenor player Jesse Schilderink came in and swept up the rest of the notes. Then, just as one may have thought, "ah ha, they're going to punk it up now," they pulled back. A sublime transition and exchange of syncopated lines expose the sophistication of the compositions, and bassist Jort Terwijn and drummer Giovanni Iacovella kept the group firmly on the line between a straight-ahead modern jazz pulse and some sudden twists and turns.

The group at the festival was slightly different than the one on Mean Mean Machine, which makes sense, that was 2021 and somehow, it's now 2024, but regardless, the album is worth a mention as well. Instead of the double saxophone line up, the tenor sax spot was handled by trumpeter Alistair Payne, and it makes a difference. Payne's playing on the recording is melodic and cutting, sometimes shadowing Temey's melodies, sometimes countering them, and while the two saxophonists do similar, they do so with somewhat fuzzier, reedier texture. Some tracks that stand out are the opener "Sun Song," which begins with punchy syncopation and leads to even punchier solos, and the closer "Tragedie," which features the guitarist's quick intensity and excellent interplay between the sax and bass.

Robert Lucaciu & Evi Filippou. Photo by for Sparks & Visions.

On the Sunday morning, Berlin based vibraphonist Evi Filippou and bassist Robert Lucaciu began the first of two matinee concerts with a perfectly fitting set of music. They opened slowly, as befits a Sunday morning, with a song penned by Lucaciu that began with gently flowing melody from the vibraphone. This was followed soon thereafter with Filippo ringing tiny bells and applying a bow to the bars of her instrument. creating an eddying pool of ringing over tones. The arc of the set was rather perfectly crafted, from the easing in of the first tune to the energetic free improvisation in the middle, and then at the end a return to form but with a bit more power. 

Walking out of the theater towards the foyer, a quick sampling of opinions after the set pointed to particularly satisfied public. So, while there is no recording yet for Filippou and Lucaciu, when it does materialize, if it can capture the spirit of what had just transpired on the stage, it should be quite the aural treat. 

Friday, January 26, 2024

Elliott Sharp – Köln Solo (zOaR, 2023)

By Don Phipps

On his album Kóln Solo, Elliott Sharp continues his mission: to stretch the sound of music. Recorded live, the compositions highlight electronic sounds mixed with guitar – with voicings that seem to stretch from distant galaxies down to the collisions of sub-atomic particles.

His composition “Precis” begins with a kind of drumbeat that evolves into scrapes, tinkles, slides, and almost insect like expressions. The guitar plucking rambles and then explodes, and fierce fingerings combine with dark abstract chords. Think of creaking stairs late at night or the deep harmonies of crickets on a late summer night.

On “Garble,” the pops and clangs startle and amuse. Aggressive attacks with stunning virtuosity greet the listener on “Farrago.” Sharp’s guitar howls like a wounded coyote – alone staring at the night sky. The need to sound tuneful has been jettisoned – replaced with the need to go beyond. The flurries, like snow scattering in strong winds, at times leave one breathless. At other times, the music stretches like a rubber band, always feeling like it’s about to pop but never does.

Sharp admits to being influenced by Jimi Hendrix. And on “Craton,” the long legato arcs of the guitar certainly suggest a distant relationship to the 60s icon. What one must come to understand is that under Sharp, sound becomes music. Now 72, he has not shied away from generating uncompromising efforts. The listener should be prepared for a journey both odd and fascinating. With Sharp’s music, forever is never far away.

This video shows Sharp’s style but it is not from Köln Solo:

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Drazek/Fuscaldo/Drake/Aoki/Jones/Abrams - June 22 (Astral Spirits, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

There is an underground stream that starts from Don Cherry Organic Music and the Art Ensemble of Chicago and meanders through improvised music, finally reaching our days; a flux particularly vital in the works of the Natural Information Society and the Drazek - Fuscaldo extended duo. It has to do with rhythm and use of words and voices and instruments, it creates an experience that focuses the listeners and the musicians on something basic, elementary and yet complex, organic indeed.

Przemyslaw Krys Drazek - trumpet, electrical guitar and Brent Fuscaldo - voice, classical and electric guitar, percussion, harmonica who are at the core of this record are joined by Thymme Jones - piano, melodica, drum kit and walkie talkie, Tatsu Aoki - shamisen, upright bass, Joshua Abrams (founder of the Natural Information Society) - upright bass and Hamid Drake – percussion, frame drum, drum kit. All of them, in different configuration and instrumentation, contribute to create diverse but consistent combination of sound in the four tracks that make up the album.

A constant characteristic is pulsating bass lines and a chanting voice often embraced into a nebula of sounds on which the trumpet draws its lines.

The final minutes of 'Blossoming' are a direct link to Don Cherry's 'Chenrezig' (from Brown Rice) with the Padmasambhava mantra that appears to spring from the music itself and indeed there seems to be more than a connection with the ideas Cherry was developing in the 70s even if here music sounds deconstructed and exposed in its bare bones. All of the pieces in this album are the result of a constant agglomeration and separation of sonic fragments evolving and dying just like living organisms.

The words chanted by Fuscaldo in the opening track evoke a possible key to the listener:

Weaving tongues

on the leaves of all your majestic kinfolk
changing hues in the clouds for the setting sun
scribbling in the air like a dragonfly
the words to a prayer that's been hidden in time
back and forth
weaving back and forth with tongues
higher and lower realms
snake is eating its own tail

My personal impression is that of a music which creates a sense of communion between the players and the listeners - a beautiful gift in this bleak midwinter.

On Youtube you can find the recording of a live streaming concert of December 8, 2023:

The record is available on Bandcamp for purchase and download.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Christoph Schiller & Carlo Costa - Spinet and Drums (Neither Nor, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

As a warning, this music has nothing to do with free jazz, but it meets our high expectations of innovative and creative boundary-breaking music. The main material is provided by German spinet-player Christoph Schiller about whom we've written before, in the context of his collaboration with other musical minimalists. A pianist by training, Schiller switched to spinet already some years ago, possibly because of the lighter texture of the tones that can be extracted from the inside of the instrument. His partner here is Italian percussionist Carlo Costa, who is one of the subtlest and possibly most lyrical of the moment. 

Together they weave four pieces for us, structured and developing around silence, calmly, with precision and a wonderful sense of pace and power, each time adding single strokes or featherlight touches to a selection of strings and objects. This is music that requires careful and quiet listening, personally, individually, intimately. 

In the chaos of year-end, the violence in the world, the cheap commercial excitement, the false claims of politics, and all the other stuff that's going on, it is a relief to take a time out, to isolate yourself from all this, and to listen to this music. You will be delighted by its aesthetic, and I hope you will feel invited to actively particpate in their world of unhurried precision and authenticity. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Art and Design World of Heung-Heung Chin

John Zorn - Sacred Visions

It is impossible for me to say enough about my dearest friend, Tzadik designer Heung-Heung Chin. Her imagination is boundless, her style deliriously beautiful, her craft meticulously elegant, and her passion endlessly inspiring.

Simply put — Heung-Heung Chin is a genius!

— John Zorn

Graphic designer Heung-Heung Chin studied 2D, appreciating all artistic disciplines while enjoying the energy of cities worldwide. She joined forces early on with composer, saxophonist, and organizer John Zorn and became a large part of the visual identity of the Tzadik label. In the music circuit, well known figures such as John Lurie, Erik Friedlander, Lou Reed, Dave Lombardo, etc. have asked her to design cover art, programs, show posters, and more. She remains one of John Zorn’s close collaborators, as she has realized most of his booklets (CDs, DVDs, LPs, books) a few years after Tzadik was established. Her creations (illustrations, but also layout, formats, inks, and materials) are notable for their stylistic amplitude, referencing several periods in the history of graphic design for a result that is always remarkable, often unforgettable. Each new release has provided an opportunity for the prolific artist to push experimentation and daring further, and for the listener and fan to marvel at the degree of sophistication deployed. She is an essential element to the Zorniverse, which contains multitudes of musical genres, colleagues, and satellites.

Interview by David Cristol

John Zorn - Meditations on the Tarot

David Cristol: What is your background? How did you get into design and associate with the music scene? 

Heung-Heung Chin: I graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art where I focused on 2D after the Foundation year: graphic design, experimental typography, art of the book (bookbinding), offset lithography, basic photography, silkscreen, lithography, etching, history of graphic design, calligraphy, independent study graphic design, professional practice, etc. 

Hips Road [John Zorn’s global umbrella, of which Tzadik and The Stone are under] was part of an independent study course Zorn developed for me. I met him at one of his shows. 

Were you involved in the now-defunct label Avant? Other labels? 

I designed an Avant catalog in brochure form. Occasionally other artists need a designer for a single project: 31G, Blue Note Records, Brassland, Sister Ray Recordings, independent artists like iNFiNiEN, etc. 

Ikue Mori has also designed some record covers; have you ever worked together? 

She has Tzadik releases where I’ve taken care of some of those packages on various series. There have been some projects where I’ve art directed photos. The Oracles Series [dedicated to women musicians] is my own design. Artists need to submit their hi-res artwork and text so it can be plugged into the format. The Phantom Orchard portraits for Orra were under my art direction. There were a bunch of peacock feathers that I decided would work for the images. Phantom Orchard Orchestra’s Trouble in Paradise features her handmade puppets/dolls and photography. On the Spectrum series, her dolls are featured again, same process as for Trouble in Paradise. Craig Taborn and Ikue Mori’s Highsmith includes my portraits of them. Currently for most CDs, she provides the artwork and I will just place them in the package. 

Phantom Orchard - Orra

Do you have other activities apart from Tzadik? Not necessarily involving music? And where does your inspiration come from? 

I’m a freelance graphic designer. Sometimes I create digital illustrations that are sold as fine art. My first solo show at Gallery 30 South featured illustration, jewelry, graphic design, and art boxes. There is a series of mini watercolour animal portraits that I finished for fun which wound up on Tzadik. Personal comics every now and then. I like to look at almost everything: graphic, controversial, clean, messy, fashion, jewelry, internet, galleries, institutions (museums, schools), the street, businesses, private residencies, nature, packaging, books… Art is important to me and I need to surround myself with creative people. I’ll never stop learning. 

How long does it take to complete a record cover? Does it have to meet Zorn’s approval or do you have a large amount of freedom? 

Everything Hips Road related must pass John’s approval first. It’s more like me doing the bidding of the composer/artist and myself. I show him my completed design or ideas and then he passes judgment. Depending on the project, I can quickly complete the design or work over 100 hours. Archival (Zorn only series), Lunatic, or Key Series are almost free-range layouts and take the longest to design. Any project where I have to draw new filigree or create a bulk of the image in Photoshop will take time. Future releases will be on Spotlight, Spectrum, or Archival. Non-Archival reprints will be Essential Collection. 

John Zorn - Quatrain

Are you inspired by the music on the records you design, or do you have ideas in advance? 

John always gives me a copy of his music. In addition, we always talk about his ideas and how I can enhance them. We discuss packaging and printing possibilities. That affects the way I design. Often I have to think like a silkscreen or offset lithography printer: how things knock out, print atop each other, ink absorption, etc. Other artists might send tracks. If an artist on a different label does not have artwork, then we will discuss ideas. Most will hire me for my style. 

Is it more difficult to design a cover when you don’t like the music? Or do you see both aspects as two separate things? 

The artist doesn’t always supply the music. It’s nice to feel more connected to the music through advance hearing while working on a project, but it doesn’t necessarily change the way I work or feel. Working on John’s projects is different. We pretty much read each other’s minds. Knowledge of art history and esoterica is necessary for his projects. For example, knowing the history of the Holy Roman Empire and reading Artaud’s Heliogabalus book made my contribution more authentic.

Masada 30th Anniversary Edition: The Complete Studio Master Takes

Do artists make suggestions or have wishes as to what the covers will look like? 

Most have suggestions. Some tell me to run with it. 

There has been a real sense of continuity over the years on Tzadik covers; and yet there has also been an evolution, the style has been refined. Would you agree? 

It depends on which designer/series you are looking at: Tomoyo (Composers, Jewish, New Japan, first Archival), KimSu (Film Music, Lunatic, Archival), and Ikue (Key, Archival). Each series needs to visually relate with the other formats. Spotlight, Spectrum, and Essential Collection are modern/minimalist. Archival can be modern/minimalist like the Nothing Is As Real As Nothing CD. Good typography is important. 

John Zorn - Beyond Good And Evil - Simulacrum Live

For many music fans, the visual aspect of Tzadik, and other labels of course, has been a reason for choosing an album over another; not only because of the covers themselves, but because of the quality brought to the overall release in terms of presentation, with obvious respect for the record buyer. A lot of Zorn records are a good example of this (Astronome, FeminaO’o…). The visual and textural elements enhance the musical experience. Would you agree? 

The package is a part of the artist’s vision. I have judged a book by its cover and still do. The packaging should also help the listener understand the music more if the music is too challenging… It seems to be the case for the general public out there. John’s creative output involves the entire universe: music is art and it’s pretty much impossible to separate audio, visual, and literature. You have to see, feel, and hear each release as if it is an actual art project/product/vessel to truly understand what he has to say. Why release an ugly package when there is an opportunity to make it look nice? Very often people do not care about the design. It seems like a waste of time/money to print something unattractive. Nice design does not have to cost much. 

Which periods, artists, or styles of record covers/artwork of previous decades have caught your eye? Thinking of Niklaus Troxler for example, who also has a recognizable style? 

Most anything good or bad will catch my eye. A typographical error usually stands out such as using a foot mark instead of an apostrophe. I often see this on awnings and projects. Nice typography stands out like Bauhaus or Push Pin Studios. In History of Graphic Design, I compared ’60s Japanese pop design and American graphics. (I included an old LP cover with my paper.) Philippe Apeloig taught at Cooper Union and his modern, playful approach reminds me of Troxler. 

John Zorn - Spinoza

There is a timelessness to your designs. You seem to operate outside of fashions. Was that always the intention? An idea of Zorn maybe? 

Both. It’s usually necessary to refer to history: typographically, visually. His music is esoteric and directly related to what he has been researching and studying. A classic look has suited him well for many of his releases. It really depends on the project. At the same time, I have my own style and enjoy pushing the boundaries of micro-printing. For example, some Archival packages have text along the edges of the outside spine. It might look like a regular border, but you can read it. I try to play/push as much as I can, to the point that it becomes standard for Hips Road. He already started this before I was hired: Arai, Tomoyo are great examples. John has brilliant ideas and solutions to problems. I am just helping him present his ideas. He’s a genius and an excellent art director. 

What releases have you been working on lately? 

Spectrum releases and a couple of Hermetic Organ volumes. New Masada Quartet Volume 1 vinyl to help recoup losses from the SCP disaster. 

John Zorn - The Hermetic Organ - for Terry Riley

Which do you feel best represents what you’re after? 

Archival Series and some work for other labels. Historical, classical, fun, timeless. Ink, tiny type, filigree, books. My characters have appeared on Archival and Oracles. Pop culture is not always seen on the label. I love street art and experimental typography. The Big Gundown, Dion McGregor Dreams Again, Olympiad, Remedios are good examples of experimental typography — still readable. If we had a bigger budget, I definitely want to use all the tactile material I’ve never used before. Justin Pearson’s 31G label: Venamoris beautiful, classic, edgy font, good artwork, great printing. Billy Martin’s Amulet Records label: Wandering book, Stridulations score package. Posters for festivals: large room for details. Some are bus posters and building banners. It would be nice to create more artwork, limited edition books, prints, figurines, jewelry, and even fashion. Some ideas: Naked City logo on a skateboard deck, Simulacrum logo on a heavy finger ring. There have been some character enamel pins and stickers. I want to try more, but one needs talent, money, and a good manufacturer/artisan to create them if I cannot do it myself. 

How would you say your artwork style and working methods have changed and refined over the years?

There really isn’t much change to my style or way of working in terms of conceptualizing layout. As usual, a client might have an idea of the artwork, text, format, and budget. Printing options and design will change because of budget/deadlines: one can easily imagine how and why. Software issues have affected speed, technique, size, and archiving.

Licensing changes have occurred with Adobe, font foundries, and Pantone. Some fonts no longer work. It is mentally and financially costly to see if there is a proper replacement. A foundry might not update, respond to messages, or even exist anymore. I redraw some letters/numbers or search for old outlines hoping it will match current projects. Once a design is approved and ready for the printer, I have to make a layer of outlined fonts. This is just in case a computer won’t read the font software in the future. Editing becomes difficult or even impossible depending on the software changes. Hopefully we will no longer have to update projects, but it has happened. We have a new Tzadik Essential Collection reprint series created in Adobe to ensure readable fonts, at least for now. I used to mostly work in Quark and import images from Photoshop/Illustrator, but now I’ve been starting more in Illustrator. 

Getting fonts to properly transfer in a seamless block rather than hundreds of items involving Adobe (Illustrator/PDF or Adobe/Quark) has been an issue. Adobe: Pantone licensing is now subscription. This is annoying/time consuming since PMS swatches used to be a part of Adobe where one could quickly select colours. Without the subscription, selecting colours usually means looking at expensive swatchbooks under proper lighting, matching CMYK colours, and figuring out how to import the PMS colour as a swatch. Importing a swatch is a process. For some people, they will just have to pick a substitute colour and tell the printer to replace it with the PMS colour. I need to be able to see it next to all the elements. 

I prefer certain programs over others. Quark compared to Adobe InDesign is still the most comfortable for book design because it is text and page heavy. Illustrator is what I use to draw filigree, which means creating more layouts there. It is easier for the person I work with to generate printer quality Adobe PDFs rather than Quark files. Unfortunately, the Adobe file sizes are gigantic. 

Clients’ expectations: I always tell them I have a limited skill set and they will be expecting my style since I cannot create every type of design style or image out there. Some people think I can draw like Michelangelo or the Mandalorian storyboard artists, photograph, paint, sculpt, etc. It is wrong to assume I can do it all in every artistic style. It takes me a very long time to design, draw (only for certain projects), and check the design. Good/decent typography is generally the most important to me. Files need to be as clean as possible with its points, layers, organization, etc. 

Poster designs

What were the most difficult record covers you ever worked on? 

A conceptually simple task like expanding a background can be difficult — creating a seamless painterly/photographic look. I do not enjoy working in Photoshop to create a bulk of the image. It is fine if I am just changing the dimensions, changing contrast, or airbrushing out a few tiny mistakes. Trying to come up with a basic layout, choosing fonts, and drawing the first set of ornaments is very taxing on my brain. I prefer to focus on a single project. If there’s a project that has a format, such as Spectrum, then it’s easier with its pretty strict design format — fonts and positions. I draw a majority of filigree which takes an exorbitant amount of time. There seems to be a style of mine that works.

Some hard projects: Naked City White Box Set (figuring out where images go in the booklet), Song Project (filigree), Garden (filigree), Sacred Visions (filigree), Heaven and Earth Magick (extending background), Calculus (typesetting formulas and checking with a math expert), Tzadik Essential Collection (new series reprint of low stock), etc. The Essential Collection needs to work for every non-Archival series in a budget-friendly way. Every project I’ve worked on that may appear quick and easy has never been that. It just takes me longer than most people. I do not like to spend forever coming up with layout options. If there is one that works, we should just go with it. It is not necessary to try every colour, font, and placement. The goal is not to explore every permutation possible. Deadline or budget prevents such abuse. 

Venamoris by the Lombardos (Paula and Dave Lombardo) is a beautiful LP on Justin Pearson’s 31G label (2023). The artwork (photo, illustration) and layout are mine. Hard work, lots of proofreading. They pretty much loved all the ideas. Their inspiration was John Zorn’s Nostradamus cover. Fresh bleeding-heart flowers were blooming at the right time. They wanted a few blood drops. That was a fun element to incorporate all over. 

John Zorn - The Fourth Way

What is your favourite record cover you ever worked on? 

No favourite or list of favourites. My portfolio has many pieces I really like. Oracles series and Archival series would be on top. Non Tzadik clients include Venamoris, Brian Carpenter, Medeski Martin & Wood, Erik Friedlander, etc. MMW’s The Dropper featured Danny Clinch photography. I drew the ephemeral characters and had special stamps made for the typography. Erik Friedlander’s Maldoror is another one I’m fond of because of the illustration and how it matched up between panels when folded. 

In the past years you have created a number of impressive-looking box sets, from the Song Project singles, the mammoth Book Beri’ah, 4 volumes of Bagatelles, the Song of Songs special project and the reissue of the ten original Masada studio albums in a rich new package. Could you describe how you worked on each of these releases, what was the concept and how you made it happen? 

John will describe where text and images go. Some boxes only have mostly text. We need to know the basic colours, how much room there is for everything, and if I need to come up with any artwork. I might augment with filigree. We pick the fonts early in the process because it helps me design faster. Typography adds a beautiful texture. 

Song Project: Eleonora Ciara’s band photos and John Zorn’s collages are the centerpieces. Each single follows a basic format with changing frames and colour. 

Book Beri’ah: This was mathematical for me with the Kabbalah’s geometrical aspects. Typography was the visual focal point where it almost seemed like the numbers and tracks would bounce around on a tree. Limited printing options or lack of images can create the most classic and exciting design. 

Bagatelles: This is an academic homage, design-wise. Each digipack is printed with 2 colours (PMS and black). There is a stylized embossed “B” on the cover. Simple, classic, and beautiful typography, changing shapes, icons, and colour. Each box had a colour theme: bold, pastel, metallic, fluorescent… The coloured gutters started as a printer’s mistake. We decided to keep it rather than reprint. It became a permanent design element for the next sets since it looked great. Notes panel: so simple, but not boring, at least to me. There’s something about holding an item and reading heartfelt essays. It’s mostly text, a simple photo, different icons per volume/set. Colours and finish add to the feeling. 

Masada 10 CD Boxed set: Arai Yasunori designed the original Masada CDs. We wanted to keep a lot of the original images and his Hebrew letters. I redrew his letters since there were no digital files for me. Unique filigree for each volume. The large vector icons on the discs are period appropriate. They are based on Masada site artefacts. The booklet has many essays by artists about how Masada affected them. Very interesting stories. Design-wise it follows some Archival classical music booklet ideas. Each set is elegant and respectful of the music and subject matter. 

Medeski Martin and Wood - The Dropper

Have you seen Mathieu Amalric’s movies about JZ? He said he shot scenes about the artwork in the making, that almost made it in Zorn III and might be included in Zorn IV. Are you looking forward to that? 

Definitely looking forward to seeing his latest volume of the Zorn series. He once mentioned wanting to include the design process in an upcoming installment. I haven’t been interviewed or filmed working on design. He probably came up with a creative way to incorporate that aspect. Maybe he filmed John, other artists, printers, A to Z Media, his collection, a museum, a store…? 

What is your view on Tzadik going digital? For a long time, it was all about the record as a complete entity, which included music, artwork, fine printing, resulting in a precious material artefact that felt good to touch, as opposed to downloadable files. Will new Tzadik records still be published as CDs or vinyl? 

Digital streaming sites do not pay the artists well. Hard format is high quality. I obviously prefer the old-fashioned full packages. Customers will really be supporting the artists properly through hard copy purchases. I think once they make a purchase, they will not regret it. We work hard to give them a full experience. The artist’s vision is also in the packaging: information not available through streaming sites. Everything — printing, notes, music — is crafted and presented thoughtfully. We are still working in the CD format. Occasionally there will be books, LPs, etc. I never assumed we would stop printing. There is a Masada fan who has explained the importance of purchasing the physical copies.

Here is a good link where people have discussed this.

Arcana X (Book Cover)

Can you explain the Limited Run shenanigans? How was that distributor articulated with Tzadik? In addition to the 3 benefit concert nights at Roulette at the end of January, what are the plans to recoup losses? 

SCP hosted and handled the Tzadik Limited Run site for limited edition projects (LPs, Song of Songs book and boxed sets). They would receive customer payments and mail the merch. Fans reported that the website was down after attempting to purchase items late November. A month later, it was announced SCP planned to file for bankruptcy. It means creditors, artists, labels, and victims will be owed funds and their own merchandise. SCP owes Tzadik $70,000. We will need donations. There are a few upcoming benefit shows and a special benefit vinyl to help this situation. 

Three nights of benefit concerts at Roulette in Brooklyn, NYC, January 25 to 27, 2024.

Limited-edition New Masada Quartet Vol. 1 vinyl will be available from Redeye distribution. 200 signed by John Zorn are available for preorder from Downtown Music Gallery.

Hips Road always accepts donations made out to Hips Road. 
Mailing address is 200 E 10 ST, PMB 126, New York, NY 10003, USA.

PayPal is also an option. Write to for the address.


John Zorn - Song of Songs

Monday, January 22, 2024

Olie Brice, Rachel Musson, Mark Sanders - Immense Blue (West Hill Records, 2024)

By Sammy Stein

Immense Blue is a release from Ollie Brice on bass, Rachel Musson on tenor sax, and Mark Sanders on drums. The music was recorded at London’s Vortex Jazz Club and although it is just three tracks, together they create over fifty minutes of improvised music. The longest track, ‘Jump The Hidden Balcony The Air’ starts as a whisper, each instrument making their presence felt with gentle riffles, phrases, and wisps of introduction. The sax is first to set off on an explorative journey, working its way across registers and limitations, with bass and drums following.

A commonality in all the tracks is the ensemble playing from the three improvisers. The sax leads often but the percussive lines from drums and bass work their way through and into the textural patterns, so their presence is keenly felt. Even when the tenor sax is left briefly at one point delivering paired notes into near silence, the arco bass joins in and sings out its lines.

The opening track could be divided in several places because there are sudden and massive shifts in direction, but the fact it is all connected and you can sense the musicians have a deep connection while playing makes sense to keep it as a single track. Over several listens, the different rhythms, patterns, and subtle changes can be heard. Even if the album is played several times in a sitting, it feels different every time as the ears find another trail laid down by one of the instruments to follow. Sander’s drum solo in the opening track is entertaining and flows freely across several changes but through this album, there is plenty of opportunity given to each musician and they all shine in separate ways at different places.

‘Streched Polyphone’ (deliberate mis-spelling) is aptly named for its contrapuntal content and at least three lines (maybe more) of melody – yet the connections are there and the divergent melodic lines merge and blend enough to create unity –and the bass solo is just gorgeous.

‘Hollow Circle and Round Edge Scream’ includes a bluesy feel in the opening lines, provided by a diligent bass line, over which the sax raucously travels the chromatics. This track is packed with energy and dynamics.

While, with just three tracks, it feels necessary to discuss them individually, the album should be taken as a whole because the interconnectivity between the musicians, in their playing styles, listening to each other’s lines and how they then react, is palpable.

As an improvised creation, this recording is, as the title suggests, immense and has a touch of blue too.

Simplified to a one-line review – this is creative improvisation at its best.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Heddy Boubaker - Sunday Interview

Photo by Zehavit Boubaker

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    Improvising freely, surprising people.

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

    Their ability to surprise me, as long as they respect other musicians and the music we are constructing together.

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

    My 2 little grandsons, we love improvising together and they are wonderful.

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

    The first man who felt that hitting two stones together could be more than making fire. But if I really had the power to resuscitate people I would have a lot of other candidates first.

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

    Understand deeply how music works beside all its mathematical aspects.

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

    Define popular music… Otherwise I listen to almost all styles of music, certainly more than improvised music.

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

    Becoming young again.

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

    The next one.

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

    No. But sometimes I forgot what was on an old album and I listen to it again to remember how/what I was playing at this time. It could be a very long time ago after the release.

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

    Jimi Hendrix - Are you Experienced / Axis Bold as Love.

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    A lot of old (from 50s to 80s) Congolese music. And a lot of other stuff, as always

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    Albert Einstein, physics artist.

Recordings with Heddy Boubaker reviewed on the Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Mette Rasmussen, Paul Flaherty, Zach Rowden, Chris Corsano - Crying in Space (Relative Pitch, 2023)


By Nick Metzger

I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Paul Flaherty was on The Hated Music with Chris Corsano back in 2000 on Byron Coley’s Ecstatic Yod label, even though by then Paul had been at it for decades. I bought it because I was really into Corsano and Bill Nace’s Vampire Belt duo, whose hand assembled CDRs of rabid no-wave I still listen to on occasion. I was and am completely blown away by Flaherty and Corsano and have bought just about everything they’ve appeared on together and separately since. Corsano’s duo work with Mette Rasmussen opened the doors for a trio album with Flaherty called Star-Spangled Voltage, where the music became even more complex and intriguing. On Crying in Space the trio is joined by bassist Zach Rowden, whose own duo album with Flaherty As Far As Death was covered by the blog in the spring and was one that I really enjoyed. Rowden adds further texture and density to the mix, a sort of earthly mooring that provides this spaceship crew with a grounding node.

The album opener “The Hesitant Nature of Doubt (Shadow Chase)” begins with a plaintive wailing of the horns, briefly song-like, riding long swells of arco lines and ricocheting percussion. This breaks down into a marvelous bedlam of everyone-at-once dialogue before further coalescing into thoughtful, carefully hewn forms and warm experimentalism. Flaherty barks and howls gruffly, his rolling lines punctuated with squeaks and vocal-like cries. Rasmussen plays in lightning quick bursts, accentuated with circular motifs and bellowing car park honks. Rowden utilizes dark tones both plucked and bowed and provides much of the timbral focus during the quieter moments. Corsano is the glue that holds it all together. His crisp rolls and deft footwork both punctuate and elevate the playing of the quartet. There is no better drummer for this type of music. Rasmussen builds up an extended, subtle and progressing solo melody centered around reed pops to open “What To Expect When Faking Your Own Death” before the rest of the quartet drops in and a parabolic furor ensues. Flaherty’s lines are equally bluesy and screechy atop the quieter portions, tangling with contrabass grima, scattered percussion, and all manner of mouth/bird noises and maybe even some harmonic/melodica(?). The closer “Industrial Sabotage Friday” is the shortest track, comparatively a footnote, but it’s also one of the biggest blowouts on the album. High spirits and high energy to close out the set.

I really enjoyed the rawness of this session, there really isn’t much held back or left unexplored, which I find Flaherty brings out in his co-conspirators. The interplay is excellent, as anticipated based on their shared history. I suppose you could say that this one was a long time in the making, with all the pieces slowly dropping into place over the last 23 years, and it’s well worth your time if you haven’t gotten to it yet. New wrinkles abound with this lineup and the music sounds fresh and inspired. I’ll continue buying everything these musicians drop collectively or otherwise. Another excellent release from Relative Pitch.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Dror Feiler - Maavak (Music & Noise 1980-2023 Volume 1 & 2) (The Celestial Fire / iDEAL Recordings, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni & Nick Ostrum

Dror Feiler is an Israeli-Swedish experimental composer, reeds player (and a collector of rare and vintage reeds instruments and bells ), and multimedia artist. Feiler, now 72 years old, is also a staunch and vocal, left-wing activist who has been fighting against all forms of fascism and for the Palestinian liberation from the Israeli occupation.

Maavak (מאבק, struggle in Hebrew) is monumental, two-10-cd box sets that summarize more than forty years and seventy concerts and other musical projects by the rarely documented Feiler. Maavak is also the name of the 1970s Israeli Marxist-Leninist group - The Revolutionary Communist Alliance - and its anti-colonialist journal. These limited editions of 300 box sets were released by Feiler’s own Celestial Fire imprint (titled after his debut album, Anckarström, 1991) and by Swedish sound artist Joachim Nordwall’s iDEAL Recordings.

Feiler’s music is intense, urgent and demanding - obviously for the innocent listener but also for the musicians, who are themselves listeners, and is meant to be experienced live. Its raw and physical, transformative and destabilizing power and its politicizing aural environment are organized with the “Brutal Sentimental Concept” and its radical, unifying principle of noise as form. Feiler explains briefly his musical vision in Maavak’s beautiful liner notes: “It is a kind of tapestry woven from contradictory, calculated clouds of sounds and melodies in which each individual expression reflects the absent whole… My intention is for a chaotic, incomplete form to serve as a counterpoint to a positivistic, well-groomed and complete form. (Noise) has shock value, and defamiliarizes the listener who expects from music an easy fluency, a secure familiarity, or any sort of mollification... I place importance on the precision of sounds versus imprecision and the relationship between synchrony and asynchrony. Going from disorder to order in music can be interesting, but going from disorder into a greater disorder interests me even more… The more it gives to listeners, the less it offers them. It requires the listener spontaneously to compose its inner movement and demands of him not mere contemplation but praxis”.

The box sets are organized by specific instrumentation, orchestration, or themes and offer the rich musical universe of Feiler - works for organ, clarinets and bells, music boxes, noise (mostly performed solo by Feiler), solo saxophones, chamber music and chamber orchestras, violin/s. We focused on a few works of Feiler. Feiler’s brutal noise vision can be experienced in the 54-minute explosive and abrasive, manic and merciless attacks of “Music is Castrated Noise no. 1” (2008) (there are now ten works in this series, for different instrumentations), performed by Feiler and other noise comrades - Tommy Björk (who plays with Feiler in the free jazz unit Lokomotiv Konkret), Tommi Keränen (who plays in Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit), Raymond King, Mats Lindström (who played in Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra), Lasse Marhaug (who meticulously mastered and designed the box sets) and Kasper T Toeplitz.

“L’extension du Domain de la Lutte no. 2” (2022) borrows its title from a novel by French writer Michel Houellebecq and is performed by the Belin-based contemporary ensemble zeitkratzer, directed by Reinhold Friedl, and conducted by Feiler (and released before in zeitkratzer’s noise \ ... [lärm], Tourette, 2002 which offered other works by like-minded composers - Masami Akita a.k.a. Merzbow and Zbigniew Karkowski). This orchestral work introduces noise into contemporary music but in a subversive, primal manner when “the intuitive molten metal brutality of the music brings the player into a new energy, a new music is created, a new speed of thinking and feeling where the intellect meets manic raver”, as Feiler tells.

The short title piece, “Maavak” (1981), is the earliest composition in these box sets and is performed by an ensemble of eight wind players, six double bass players, and six percussionists and stresses the unconventional orchestration of Feiler, with no noise makers, but already then with a strong unsettling and destabilizing sensibility. “Halat Hisar” (2009) (حـالـة حـصـار, state of siege in Arabic, but also the title of a collection of poems by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish) for bass flute prepared piano and symphonic orchestra and performed by the Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra. This lyrical and powerful composition, with its machine gun-like percussive pulse, relates to the Israeli siege on Gaza Strip. Feiler himself took part in the freedom flotillas to Gaza, was arrested by Israeli security forces and for a few years was even banned from entering Israel.

“Tikkun Olam” (2018) (תִּיקּוּן עוֹלָם in Hebrew, meaning repairing of the world, a concept in Judaism that refers to various forms of action intended to repair and improve the world) was performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ilan Volkov with sax player Mats Gustafsson and Lasse Marhaug and Feiler himself, as noise makers. This dramatic composition, with its strange hissing soundscapes and all-out blasts evoking Edgard Varèse for the twenty-first century, seems to posit the healing of the world as a painful, even violent, process. Honestly, apart from the title, one does not detect much hope or respite. It is unnerving but moving. What is striking is not just the eerie orchestral drone and militaristic imagery that propels “Tikkun Olam”. In the context of the box sets, one is also struck by the myriad ways Feiler explores noise within contemporary composition. It also keeps with Feiler’s own Brutal Sentimental Concept, wherein noise and melody serve as counterpoints to each other to disarm, confuse and engage the listener. Consider me disheartened, bemused and thoroughly entranced.

The last composition in these box sets, “Epexegesis” (2018-19)” demonstrates the relevance of Feiler’s work for our lives, as active, engaged and concerned listeners as well as human beings motivated to make the world better. This composition was written for two soloists - the vocalist Blixa Bargeld (of Einstürzende Neubauten fame) and Feiler on reeds and live electronics - and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra conducted by Volkov and recorded at the Tectonics Festival in Stavanger, Norway. This moving and sad composition, with the charismatic and passionate oratory of Bargeld, adapts a text of Palestinian, Stockholm-based poet Ghayath Almadhoun that captures an imaginary conversation of a dead Palestinian victim, supposedly apologizing for the Israeli sniper who killed him and deconstructing his - and the Western culture - that allowed such a barbaric, senseless act.m

The liner notes of Maavak end with an enlightening quote from French philosopher Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s pamphlet from 1754: “All forms of freedom are interconnected, and are equally dangerous: The freedom of music initiates the freedom of emotions, which in turn initiates the freedom of thoughts, leading to freedom of action, and freedom of action is the state’s number one enemy”.