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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Christoph Gallio – Sunday Interview

© Beat Streuli, Zürich 2013

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    The greatest joy is that you can move freely musically - without taboos and restrictions that could come from outside. The freedom also becomes greater and greater - it grows with experience.

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

    That's her ability, her musicality - her flexibility but also her humanity...we have to understand each other - I don't mean that we think the same or something - but a basic trust has to be there for me...I have to be an accomplice in certain moments...

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

    That's a difficult's less about admiration - more about recognition of an artistic achievement or position...there are many musicians and composers who I think are very good and who definitely have the potential to inspire me...;-)...

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

    Urs Voerkel

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

    More freedom!

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

    Yes, I've always been interested in pop music! I like a lot of it! I have CDs and LPs lying around from the following artists: Patty Davis, Jimi Hendrix, The Meters, Wetleg, Geese, Black Midi, Brian Eno, Nadine Shah, Joan as a police woman, St. Vincent, Yoko Ono, Joni Mitchell, The Slits, Unknown Mix, Fela Kuti, Talking Heads....

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

    My impatience

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

    Well, there's no album that I couldn't stand more...I think everything is pretty good, quite immodestly. I recently listened to one of my first releases. I wanted to check the validity, see if this position and aesthetic was still right for me. I was pleasantly surprised! It's Christoph Gallio // certainty sympathy (1988)...

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

    No, very rarely. I'm not one of those people who first introduce a guest to their latest record...;-)...I often have trouble listening to myself. In retrospect. Sure, when I'm editing I'm forced to listen to myself and everyone else .... until I can't hear it anymore.

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

    It sounds cheesy, but I think it's Coltrane Love Supreme - a masterpiece in itself!

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    The above pop productions and new music from the late 60s: Cardew, Berio, Kagel, Ferrari, Alois Zimmermann, Lutoslawski, Schnebel, Holliger, Brown, Cage, Stockhausen...also a lot of jazz too…

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    Art! The whole Fluxus scene, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Vallotton, Silvia Bächli, Dieter Roth, Fischli/Weiss, Thomas Schütte, Alex Katz, Friedrich Kuhn, Muz Zeier, woodcuts (Japanese from the Edo period, but also from turn-of-the-century Europe)...and many more!

    But also poetry: Gertrude Stein, Friederike Mayröcker, Paul Celan, Robert Filliou etc.

Recordings by Christoph Gallio reviewed on the Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bill McBirnie - Reflections (for Paul Horn) (EF, 2024)

By Don Phipps

A Japanese Zen rock garden is majestic in its own right. The stones, manicured and ordered yet free and flowing, seem to reflect a cosmic calendar where infinite time can be experienced within the confines of bounded space.

In the 60s, New York born Paul Horn, a jazz flutist noted for his contribution to the “cool jazz” movement (a movement ushered in by Miles Davis and his album “Birth of the Cool” and which reached its musical apex with the classic and much-beloved Davis album “Kind of Blue”), began to explore transcendental meditation. He was joined in these explorations by the Beatles, among other rock notables of the period. Horn decided to take his flute to India with the goal to recreate meditation within music. Thus was created the unique and recommended 1968 album “Inside,” where Horn used the actual Taj Mahal as a studio! Interestingly, he later recorded inside the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Kazamieras cathedral in Lithuania, and in the magnificent Monument Valley (with the excellent Native American flautist R Carlos Nakai).

Horn’s gentle yet profound music has been reborn in Bill McBirnie’s album Reflections (for Paul Horn). McBirnie uses Horn’s free form and unstructured improvisational technique to create music of innate beauty – with an intrinsic quality that seems to exist outside of time. Think of light appearing and disappearing through branches swaying in the wind on a sunny afternoon. McBirnie’s flute captures this fluid languid motion while simultaneously retaining the serenity of a Zen garden.

McBirnie uses cascades of notes, running up and down the flute registers, and combines this with short staccato phrases and silent spaces. One can certainly embrace the peaceful breathing on the title cut “Reflections.” It’s like waking up in a verdant and fragrant forest. Or the dreamy “Masada Sunrise,” which brings to mind Monet’s 250 water lily paintings, and the stunning variations they reveal of a pond at different times of day and different seasons. Or take “Kitten & Moth,” and its impressionistic playfulness. And with “Monk’s Strut,” McBirnie even honors Horn’s cool period. One can envision a smiling Thelonious listening to the skipping happy pace.

Recorded at his own studio, McBurnie writes in his liner notes, that “Paul Horn is unquestionably the earliest, the strongest and the most enduring of all my influences on this instrument, regardless of idiom.” Those who believe jazz can explore an inner voice will do well to experience McBirnie’s reflections.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Science Friction - No Tamales on Wednesday (Screwgun, 2024)

By Gary Chapin

I feel shallow sometimes about how strongly I react to the timbre of things. Like, forget the ideas or the improvisation or the composition, sometimes just the sound gets me. The first notes on No Tamales on Wednesday are from Craig Taborn’s electric piano and those sounds brought a smile to my face and wave of associations. “Oh, yeah,” I thought, “We’re going to get some of that!”

No Tamales on Wednesday is an archival concert recording coming from one of my absolute favorite periods of Berne’s work. Science Friction features Berne, Tom Rainey on drums, Marc Ducret on guitar, and Craig Taborn on keys. It was recorded somewhere by someone in 2008, and is a very counterpointy set of pieces. It’s not technically counterpoint, of course, but you can definitely see sunlight between all the pieces. There is space.

Rainey plays as melodically as I’ve ever heard. Berne is an unending font of song. And Ducret does Ducret. He’s always been an utterly unique specimen, playing not in washes or broad strokes, but in particulate, jangle-i-fied abandon. Again, the melodies he comes up with! And then Craig Taborn. Kind of a magician. He opens the record and then infuses the whole proceedings with levitation throughout.

The tunes are expansive Berne works, many heard in other settings. At a listening party on Bandcamp, Berne pointed out that most of this material showed up later played by his Snakeoil team, and the tune “Adobe Probe,” has been heard before on the album of the same name. It’s all knotty composition that doesn’t end where it starts, and sometimes you don’t even know how you got there from here. A wonderful mystery solved by improvisation.

Available on Bandcamp:



Thursday, April 11, 2024

New Old Luten Trio - Something New, Something Renewed

New Old Luten Trio - Trident Juncture (Euphorium, 2023)

Leipzig based pianist Oliver Schwerdt, along with Berlin based drummer Christian Lillinger, have been over several years developing a series of recordings based on encounters with legends of the avant-garde. Most recently, the two worked with Japanese saxophonist Akira Sakata in what was named the Great Sakata Project. Prior to this was an intense pairing with the late Peter Brötzmann that resulted in some impressive recordings. The precursor, however, was their wonderful and uncanny connection with German woodwindist Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky - the Luten of the New Old Luten Trio.

The music on Trident Juncture, Schwerdt's recent release of the New Old Luten Trio's music, was pulled from their last concert at Leipzig's naTo club in 2016. This date also happens to be the bittersweet occasion of Petrowsky's last appearance before he became too ill to perform.

The album's main track, 'Trident Juncture,' ebbs and flows generously for an hour. Starting with the precise clatter of Lillinger's drums, Schwerdt and Petrowsky join seconds later with abrupt musical statements. A cluster of notes from the piano, a smeared note from the saxophone and they are off and running. The rules of interactions have been long agreed upon by the trio, so there is no need for exploratory playing and testing of the perimeters, rather as the drums begin to splinter the pulse, the energy erupts in colorful chord tones and shredding melodic statements.

The music is hardly one dimensional. Contrasting with the fierce, free interactions are moments of reflective playing. For example, around 10-minutes in, the piano has been swapped out for some 'small instruments' out and Petrowsky engages in an abstract passage with Lillinger, who, while keeping the structure of time, seems to be defying it at the same time. The saxophonist's tone is yearning, it is melodic, but also at times confrontational. This fascinating section lasts nearly fifteen minutes until Schwerdt returns to the piano with a passage that shifts the energy in a whole new direction.

The celebrated saxophonist passed away in 2023 (See: Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky (1933 – 2023)), so, any chance to hear a new recording is welcome, and this final set is an exemplary addition to a storied catalog.

New Old Luten Trio - Wild Flower Juice (Euphorium Records, 2008/2023)

On the occasion of Trident Juncture's release, Schwerdt has re-released the trio's very first meeting from 2008, also recorded at Club naTo in Leipzig. At the time of the release, it was given a rather unfortunate name that has been rethought and now appears as Wild Flower Juice on Schwerdt's Euphorium Records Bandcamp site. (Just FYI, Schwerdt has a tendency to use pseudonyms and on this recording is listed as Elan Pauer). 

Made when Petrowsky was 75 and both Lillinger and Schwerdt were still larvea (ok, they weren't all that young, I'm obviously exaggerating for effect), the recording offers clear evidence that age is an unreliable indicator of artistic vigor. Petrowsky is a fountain of youthful energy, provoking and reacting, sparring with the other two at an infectiously creative level. From the opening statement of 'Vitalisierende Gesichtscreme' (Vitalizing Face Cream) to the closing moments of 'Wild Flower Juice' there is a freshness and vitality to Petrowsky's playing and a palpable rapport between him and the younger players.

Simply put, Trident Juncture and Wild Flower Juice are two wonderful recordings that bookend the excellent New Old Luten Project series, which featured Schwerdt, Lillinger and Petrowsky in trio, quintet and septet formations.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Antistatic – Relics (Cuneiform Records, 2024)

By Guido Montegrandi

Cuneiform record is celebrating its 40th year with an impressive series of releases and Relics by Antistatic is no exception.

This is the first full length work that the Copenhagen-based band has released, and the result is quite powerful. Though the line up of the band - two guitars, bass and drums- could lead into rock-something territories, the percussive style that characterizes the four musicians has its roots in the minimalist experience and also in the post-industrial soundscape. “Our music wouldn’t have been made if it hadn’t been for drum machines, or industrial machines in general,” says guitarist Laust Moltesen Andreassen in an interview contained in the press release. It is worth noting, however, that the band do not use any kind of drum-machine or looper in developing their intricate repetitive patterns. Guitarist, Mads Ulrich observes: “To me, the act of physically repeating all of these parts and rhythms instead of using loopers or other sorts of machines is a sort of meditation. It’s keeping body and mind active enough that thoughts just kind of disappear... It’s about having time to enter a kind of meditative, trance-like state while playing” (again, from the press release interview).

The first piece 'Angels vs Peasants' introduces the listener into the mood of the work - again Mads Ulrich: “We think we’re creating a logic in a composition just by repeating stuff, It’s quite common throughout our songs—and that draws a thread back to the ‘classical’ vibe of composers like Steve Reich and compositions that are just purely about repetition, or about some kind of simple rhythm.” (once more from the press release interview). The instruments find a common voice and a texture that develops throughout the piece into different sections of interweaving rhythms.

As the work develops, the focus remains on carefully planned rhythmic textures with every musician contributing seamlessly to the final effect, it is all about sharing and the result leaves space to a variety of solutions and atmospheres that make listening to this music a pleasure. 'Hive I and Hive II' are based on the same rhythmic pattern but represent very different approaches - dry and essential 'Hive I' - energetic and rocking 'Hive II.' The title track 'Relics,' in its different sections, sums up the attitude of the band producing a many-sided sonic itinerary.

Definitely not free jazz or improvised music but creative music nonetheless and absolutely worth listening.

The booklet associated to this work, apart from the usual photos of the band, includes nine black and white pictures associated to each track that further enhances the link with minimalism and makes the listening suggestions even more stimulating. Something for the eye too.

You can buy and download it on bandcamp

And you can also watch two live sessions (without public) on Youtube:

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Christoph Gallio, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders – Live at Café Oto London (ezz-thetics, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Recorded live December 18, 2022, Live at Café Oto London is one of those live masterpieces. I am sure any night this trio played would be enrapturing. This one, however, just sounds special. It starts with energy. Christoph Gallio barks fat alto lines (evoking Brötzmann and late Coltrane albeit on a different horn) over the churning thrum that drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Dominic Lash lay beneath him, steeped in the free improv tradition that implies rhythm but only by abandoning it for sound on sound on sound. Then, space opens and things get really abstract. (Lash, for his part, has had one foot in minimalism as long as he has had one in free jazz.) The trio then lets this opening ride for a bit, adding some embellishing scrapes and rummaging, as Sanders and Lash take over.

Gallio rejoins, or at least steps to the front, in the second track, 'Wildlife-Part 2,' a continuation rather than clean break from 'Wildlife – Part 1.'  The energy and pluck are still there, though Gallio extends his notes just a little longer and Lash switches to arco. Sanders plays a little more quietly, but still with that cluttered clatter. 'Wildlife – Part 3' is the departure. This has more space, and a long droning bass backbone at first, but eventually falls into that the dexterous clunk and angularity that introduces the album. The two parts of Homelife meditate on a soft folky rhythm, harkening back to that Sonny-Rollins-on-a-bridge tradition, but with more haze, distortion and serration. Then, things start to build. Then, they tumble.

Live at Café Otois exceptional. It is some of the best tensile scorched-earth, time-warp 60s-rooted free improv that I have hear for a long while. This is all the more impressive given the intergenerational line-up, which pulls from a range of aesthetic backgrounds yet coheres around the same gravitational enter. Despite its many detours and divergences over the last half century, that center, that vivacious tradition of harnessing and directing force away from melody, harmony, tonalism, and be-bop plaiting, a style that braces the crag and stumble as a form in itself, is alive and well.

Live at Café Oto London is available as a digital download from Bandcamp and as a CD from choice music stores around the world. Take your pick.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Matthew Shipp Trio - New Concepts In Piano Trio Jazz (ESP-Disk’, 2024)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Almost certainly, every review of this album will gesture in some way towards the title, it’s both too easily referenced and too validly applicable. I spent the past several weeks primarily listening Matthew Shipp Trio music, almost exclusively featuring the current lineup of Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. New Concepts In Piano Trio Jazz is, arguably, the finest thus far of the seven albums they’ve recorded together. This has been a gradual journey, where each album builds upon the developing relationship between the three players, and the depth and richness of their improvisation expands noticeably.

The first few albums together were all fantastic, and 2020's The Unidentifiable took the trio to the stratosphere. Something around fall of 2019, when that session was recorded, just brought everyone to a stellar level, like a change in the atmosphere, a deeper understanding of the unified self. Coming off their session with Nicole Mitchell (documented in Singularity Codex, Clifford Allen's masterful book on Shipp's RogueArt catalog), the trio seemed to find a heightened awareness of each other in space and sound. The following album, World Construct, built on this evolving state of being. Now, on their newest album, the group presents what seems like the fiercest, most driving statement to date.

In eight improvisations, spread across 45 minutes, Shipp, Bisio, and Baker play with a distinctly modernist approach. There’s always been something of a Stein-ian or Woolf-ish aspect to Shipp’s music, and this is more apparent than ever on New Concepts In Piano Trio Jazz, where signs and symbols (in the form of phrases and clusters) are restated, sometimes refracted, and often echoed through Bisio’s bass and Baker’s percussive drumming. It’s a bold and emotionally riveting piano trio album, surely one of the finest you’ll hear all year.

Available on Bandcamp

You can also now purchase Matthew Shipp's entire ESP-Disk' catalog for a discounted rate here.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Matt Mitchell - Sunday Interview

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    Perceiving the music as it flows past in time, feeling connected, whatever that may consist of in context.

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

    I value most when musicians exhibit singular focus, resulting from intense and continued study, to achieve something new.

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

    Way too many. Xenakis, Cecil Taylor, Zappa, Miles. Bach, Chopin, Scriabin. Duke Ellington. Morton Feldman. Monk. Stravinsky. Sun Ra. Also, deep admiration is probably a prerequisite when voluntarily studying someone. Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Andrew Hill.

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

    I’d rather frame it as getting to play with them when they were still alive but I’m “still me”. Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, Tony Oxley. Richard Davis, Gary Peacock. Derek Bailey would have been a hoot. I feel like I’d have done well in Zappa’s band. Wayne Shorter is probably an obvious choice but he was never less than goosebumps-inducing and being in the midst of that would have been something.

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

    Lots of things - continuing the search for new forms and sounds, maximizing what is possible for me to do in my waking hours.

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

    Music often doesn’t do well when money dictates the content even a tiny bit, which in one sense is the definition of pop music - music where financial viability is part of the goal. But there is tons of pop/rock/soul/ music from the 60s to the present which I love. Metal and punk probably count as a special case since they originally had their popular/populist elements but continue today in the more underground sense, which is where most exploration of new things occurs. But creatively done music in these all these veins abounds and always has. Today’s actual *pop music* is mostly dire, though.

    I’d say Prince is an artist who was pretty expert at being supremely popular and incredibly creative for a very long time. I love his music.

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

    An achievable thing, like “self-improvement”, or science fiction level? It would be really cool have scores and recordings of the music I hear in my dreams, which is of course always music that my brain is improvising but doesn’t exist in waking life. Usually this is unbelievably involved music that is untranscribable. Of course sometimes dream music is really stupid too.

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

    I am very proud of every single one of my records as a leader or co-leader, they all have achieved exactly what I hoped they would, in the macro- and micro- sense.

    That said, my I am exceedingly happy with my upcoming solo piano album Illimitable.

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

    I do, but not often. I’ll “check in” with an older album a little just to see how I still feel about this track or that.

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

    Really tough to say, this goes back to when I was 12. Probably something between these albums. These are albums that I feel a sort of “total recall” with when I hear them again, and they are all still complete masterpieces.

    Miles - Nefertiti, In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew
    Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch
    Herbie Hancock - Thrust, Maiden Voyage, The Prisoner
    Jimi Hendrix - Axis, Bold as Love
    Keith Jarrett - Facing You
    Weather Report - Black Market, Heavy Weather, I Sing the Body Electric
    Stevie Wonder - Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life
    Yes - Relayer

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?
    Sun City Girls, Gorge Trio, Angelwings Marmalade, Encenathrakh, Effluence, Vibrations Felt in the Void, Contagious Orgasm, Roland Kayn, David Lee Myers, Jim O’Rourke’s Steamroom series, Grant Evans, Chris Weisman.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    John Ashbery, A.R. Ammons, Clark Coolidge, Wallace Stevens, Pynchon, Nabokov, Beckett, Donald Barthelme, James Joyce, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, Michael Cisco, Brian Evenson, Matthew Bartlett. Chris Onstad/Achewood.

Articles with Matt Mitchell on the Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Big in Japan: Paal Nilssen-Love and Ken Vandermark

By Eyal Hareuveni

Soulmates - Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and American tenor sax and clarinet player Ken Vandermark, are one of the most productive outfits of free music. They have been working as a duo now for twenty years (their first duo album, Dual Pleasure, was released by Smalltown Supersound in 2002), but also in the quartet Lean Left (with The Ex’ guitarists) and worked together before in the now defunct Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, the Atomic/School Days, FME trio (with Nate McBride), Fire Room trio (with Lasse Marhaug), 4 Corners (with Magnus Broo and Adam Lane), on Vandermark’s projects like Map Territory and Artifact iTi and in occasional collaborations of The Thing with Vandermark or Vandermark, Nilssen-Love with Dutch reeds master Ab Baars.

Paal Nilssen-Love / Ken Vandermark - Japan 2019 (PNL / Audiographic, 2024)

Nilssen-Love and Vandermark’s extensive experiences of working together and in many independent projects just make their music better, as the box set, a limited-edition of 7-disc Japan 2019 (with a download option) proves. It was collected from their 16-date concert tour of Japan in December 2019, and released just before another duo tour in Japan. Japan 2019 documents two duo performances, as well as new collaborations with legendary Japanese musicians - reeds player-vocalist Akira Sakata (who plays with Nilssen-Love in the Arashi trio), and pianists Masahiko Satoh (now 83 years old, who recorded before with Brötzmann and with Nilssen-Love), and Yuji Takahashi (now 86 years old, known for his seminal recordings of the works of John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and Toru Takemitsu).

The box set offers 20 untitled, free improvised pieces that highlight the boundless, primal energy, utmost freedom and spontaneity of Nilssen-Love and Vandermark as well as the richness of their dynamics as well as their creative intensity. The first disc documents the first duo set performance in this tour at Tokyo’s Koen-Dori Classics, and already this set shows how the music of Nilssen-Love and Vandermark is always evolving, shifting, and changing, constructing and deconstructing ideas and themes organically, and moving seamlessly between the infectious rhythmic and playful to the lyrical and the contemplative. No matter how many times you have listened to or experienced Nilssen-Love and Vandermark live, they never repeat themselves, always pushing forward but wise enough to balance and contrast each other and add more nuances and sonic dimension to their languages. The second disc documents the second set at the same club of Nilssen-Love and Vandermark with Takahashi, who sounds like he embodies the whole history of jazz, injecting ideas that correspond with Duke Ellington and Cecil Taylor’s aesthetics. Nilssen-Love and Vandermark cleverly alternate between pushing Takahashi to totally free and explosive trio dynamics and supporting his brilliant solos, including a mid-piece, most beautiful solo that precedes a delicate duo with Vandermark who plays the clarinet.

The third disc was recorded a day later at the same club and features the trio of Nilssen-Love with Satoh and Takahashi. It was originally planned as a duo between the pianists, but at the soundcheck, Nilssen-Love’s interaction with them sounded so good there was no question about a trio performance. Vandermark describes this set in his insightful tour diary as centered on a dialog of the pianists, that was so in sync it sounded like one person who could play with four hands, while Nilssen-Love supported them with nuanced and layered percussive patterns that varied the pianists’ discourse and highlighted their rare dynamics. The second set of this performance is a quartet with Vandermark joining Satoh, Takahashi and Nilssen-Love. It suggests an even deeper and more exciting dynamics of this ad-hoc quartet, and the interplay sounded natural, effortless and kinetic at the same time, even a chamber one at the encore, with enough space for introspection and individual solos.

The fifth disc documents the third, consecutive night at Koen-Dori Classics with Satoh joining Nilssen-Love and Vandermark for a super intense free jazz set, in volume and energy. The three improvisers chase each other on the first two pieces in a manic and ecstatic race but with a strong sense of where they are going. Satoh alters these dynamics at the beginning of the third piece and introduces a delicate, openly emotional spirit before the trio returns to its cathartic mode. Satoh is an inspiring, idiosyncratic master of free improvisation but you can find in his piano echoes of the work of Alexander von Schlippenbach, with its Monk-ish cyclical syntax. The sixth disc was recorded eleven days later at the traditional Jyosenji Temple (Vandermark thought of the locations as belonging to Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusaha film) in Onomichi with Sakata, with whom Nilssen-Love and Vandermark performed together in their previous tour at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Pit-Inn club. This performance became a miraculous climax of this tour, with a profound, spiritual level of natural and effortless communication, beauty and elegance as if Sakata, Nilssen-Love and Sakata were serving a higher force with their music, or if the music was creating itself and the three musicians were fortunate to witness this creative process. A special moment in this performance happened when Sakata began reciting passages from the epic, 14th century Heike Monogatari ( The Tale of the Heike, Sakata’s album released by Trost in 2016) with the reserved playing of Nilssen-Love and Vandernark but with an unbelievable, electrifying intensity, that fitted perfectly with the unique location.

The last, seventh disc documents the last performance of this tour at Environment Øg in Osaka and Vandermark mentions that often the “last gig of a tour always has a different, specific tension surrounding it. There is an inherent desire to somehow make it the strongest performance of the trip:”. Luckily, despite the fatigue of such a demanding tour, Vandermark and Nilssen-Love still had a lot of things to talk and laugh about, off stage and on stage, and were in top form, sharp and powerful but also emotional and contemplative, exhausting all they had. Vandermark remembers this performance as reaching a ”new and different area of communication”, parallel to the spontaneous, melodic and rhythmic flow of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. “When music and comradeship come first, extraordinary things take place”, Vandermark concludes.

The tour ended but Nilssen-Love and Vandermark extended their stay in Japan to see the legendary Yosuke Yamashita Trio perform at the Shinjuku Bunka Center in Tokyo, exploring its rich history with many guests, including Sakata, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Takeo Moriyama. There are many more enchanting stories about this tour, the unique clubs and the food in the booklet of this great, indispensable box set.

Paal Nilssen-Love / Ken Vandermark - Japan Tour 2024: Live in Osaka (Catalytic Artist Album, 2024)

Apparently, the box set alone can not satisfy that addicted ones. So if you are wise enough and already subscribed to Catalytic Sound, you can enjoy the first document, hopefully, from many more, of the three-week tour in January 2024 in Japan. This album features two sets of the duo at Environment Øg in Osaka, the seventh performance of this 15-date tour, and where the last disc of the box set was recorded. Nilssen-Love and Vandermark still search and evolve, still offer unpredictable dynamics and still have the high-velocity power that can electrify any major Japanese city. But this incendiary duo has also the wisdom and experience to vary its ideas and turn from the chaotic and cacophonic to the austere, lyrical and understated. It does not get better than this performance.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Evan Parker @ 80

Evan Paker. (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

By Martin Schray

The range of Evan Parker’s musical activities is almost limitless. It covers his beginnings in the 1960s with John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble through to his duos with Paul Lytton and Derek Bailey, the Schlippenbach Trio, his own trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton and his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. In addition, there are dozens of occasional recordings and projects that go beyond the boundaries of free improvised music (think of recordings with Robert Wyatt or David Sylvian). 

One characteristic is that he has never deviated from his unmistakable stylistic identity. Nobody plays like him, he has managed to create an absolutely unmistakable sound of his own. This is particularly evident in his solo recordings, in the chronology of which a clear development can be heard. Already in 1986 Ekkehard Jost noticed that a growing complexity of musical material was recognizeable in Parker’s work, into which the saxophonist has put a lot of work and energy, both physical and mental. He has always approached the fundamentals of a profession with great seriousness and intensity and he has always regarded his music primarily as music to listen to, not music to dance to or tap your feet to. Parker is primarily concerned with the idea of the ambiguity of the qualities of impression. The same music can be perceived by the listener as slow or fast or as a successive sequence of individual intervals or as polyphonic polyphony. This has not changed to this day, nor has his enormous productivity. 

To mark his 80th birthday, we would like to discuss some of his latest releases today. 
And if you happen to be in London this weekend (April 6th and 7th), stop by Cafe OTO for a set of concerts by Parker. More here:

Evan Parker and Barry Guy – So It Goes (Maya Recordings, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Evan Parker and Barry Guy first played together in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1967 and they’ve been regular collaborators since 1979 in the Parker - Guy - Lytton trio with drummer Paul Lytton, a group that also formed the basis of Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble in 1992; as well, there have been Guy’s large ensembles, the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra and Elsie Jo. They’ve also been recording regularly as a duo since 1980. As part of Parker’s 80thbirthday celebrations, Guy and Lytton will join Parker at Café Oto in a version of Trance Map +, in a sense the latest outgrowth of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.

Parker has a knack for developing creative partnerships, but there’s nothing quite like Parker and Guy, whose “extended techniques” mirror one another’s, each with a conventional fluency long extended into polyphonic and continuous realms. While Parker has combined circular breathing, compound overtones and polyphony into a uniquely constant and compound discourse, Guy has similarly explored counterpoint, temporary “bridges” to divide the fingerboard into distinct zones of pitch and timbre, and rapid shifting between or combining arco and pizzicato techniques.

The special connection between them has been evident in previous duo recordings on Maya and it continues here, both in three duets and in the similarities in solos by each of them. The title phrase comes from Samuel Beckett, chosen by Parker in recognition of Guy’s long involvement with Beckett’s writing (e.g., the recent all this, this here by his Blue Shroud Orchestra’s [Fundacja Sluchaj, 2023]), and there’s something in the duets here that suggests music grown remarkably close to speech, a richly allusive and exploratory discourse.

The opening “So it goes… 1” is a developed tenor/ bass duet running to 12 minutes with an immediate sense of engagement, short tenor phrases wafting upward amidst a network of bass harmonics. There’s a mood here as much calm as searching, something almost balladic, a sense of multiple internal tempos that will eventually resolve in a simultaneous explosion of rapid interlocking runs from the duo.

“So it goes… 2” is a relatively brief pairing of soprano saxophone and bass, beginning in dense, rapid circularity. There is a sense of multiple voices, each musician generating a low and high voice. The complexity suggests natural architecture, as if a cavern is echoing and repeating voices, as if the instruments are natural phenomena, until the lines thin slightly and the degree of close echoing and interaction becomes clearer, Guy at times punctuating Parker’s continuum, at other times surrounding it, yet a certain lyricism – empathy, song -- seems always the object, here seized at the conclusion.

Tracks three and four are solos, at least insofar as only one musician is playing on each, though polyvocality or multiplicity is so much a part of each musician’s voice that the unitive notion of a solo might be inappropriate. Guy’s “Grit” is an explosion of plucked notes, high and low simultaneously, with sudden elisions and an occasional upward glissando emerging from the maze. Temporary bridges may come into play, the instrument a series of distinct registers, sometimes simultaneous, sometime mingling plucking and bowing with a certain delicate thrashing, even occasional effects that suggest underwater percussion. It’s one instrument – bass, soprano, strings, percussion, near, far – reimagined as hive, as orchestra.

Parker’s “Creek Creak” is sustained soprano song, another kind of continuous self-duetting in which one voice’s winding continuum is at times matched to another’s punctuation, the continuous and the staccato both continuous elements.

The concluding “So it goes… 3” is a tenor saxophone/bass duet, imbued again with a common lyricism, each musician somehow simultaneously referencing slow and fast tempos – a rapid reverie, another magical interaction, multiple moods engaged in an essential continuum, fitting conclusion to a remarkable program.

Sergio Armaroli and Evan Parker – Dialog (Ezz-Thetics, 2023)

By Don Phipps

The album Dialog starts with an interesting hypothesis. Can musicians who are not physically together carry on a musical conversation? According to the liner notes, it turns out soprano saxophonist Evan Parker was unable to leave the UK and join vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli in Milan for a recording session. Armaroli then presented the option of overdubbing to Parker. Parker rejected this format, and instead the duo decided to generate a long distance “call and response,” where Armaroli would record his solo contributions and Parker would respond with solos of his own.

So, can musicians who are not physically together conduct a musical conversation? To this, the answer is a qualified yes. While one can wonder what it would’ve been like to hear the two musicians together, the format permits each musician to demonstrate their chops and thematically engage each other. There are six solo vibraphone improvs and five solo soprano sax improvs (the sax improvs comprise only 12 of the approximately 68 minutes of recorded music – making Dialog primarily a solo vibraphone album interspersed with Parker-provided accents and highlights). Each solo covers abstract and diverse themes, but each contributes to a coherent whole.

Armaroli’s adventurous and diverse improvisations are substantial – with each improv adding a new twist to the album’s lexicon. No where is this more apparent than in “Two Rooms One Vibraphone #6,” a 27-minute masterpiece of art form construction and deconstruction, playfulness, and abstraction, running notes and silent pauses. There is within this one piece a universe of ideas, an exploration supported via Armaroli’s masterful technique. It’s almost the sonic equivalent of a burning bonfire, its random heat fading and growing until one center log falls inward creating a rush of embers and a roaring sound – as though the fire itself is happy that now it has fresh wood to consume. Likewise, Armaroli rolls and drolls and at times explodes. Contrast this effort with the decidedly minimalist approach Armaroli uses in “Two Rooms One Vibraphone #5” – with its soft underwater phrases and ballet-like pirouettes and rotations.

Parker chooses to respond to Armaroli’s inventive sound investigations with brief tone poems that highlight his glissando circular breathing- delivering a light touch of sonic effects that at times sound like two saxophones playing at once! The notes cascade like a waterfall, splashing joyfully onto a rock and hitting the surface with a light but pronounced splatter. There are also phrases that seem to accelerate like a rocket into the stratosphere.

This loose collaboration of inventive musical ideas gives Dialog a unique character – like call and response – but even more than that. Think Picasso and Matisse, delivering and sharing their works of art to challenge and stimulate each other. This is the gift of Armaroli and Parker in “Dialog” – a masterful exchange of two virtuosos.

Listen to 'Interlude 1' from Dialog here:

Evan Parker and Henry Dagg - THEN THROUGH NOW (False Walls, 2022)

THEN THORUGH NOW slipped by when it was released in late 2022, however, this duo recording of Evan Parker and electronic sound sculptor Henry Dagg is certainly worth a quick consideration. The music is a collection of free improvisation featuring the two musicians in a conversation through analog electronics.

Dagg, a former sound engineer for the BBC, is a builder of rather unique instruments. Here, he plays his built for the occasion, pre-digital Stage Cage*, which captures and reprocesses Parker's soprano sax as well as generate its own burbling tones. Such collaborations, per se, is not new musical territory for the saxophonist. Parker has long been involved with electronics, going as far back as the late 1960s with the Music Improvisation Company and later through his own work with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, which picked up speed in the 1990s. Every collaboration is different though, and on THEN THROUGH NOW, Parker blends his trademark solo saxophone language playing with his Dagg's oscillating electro-acoustic musical machine.

The recording begins with 45 seconds of near silence before a flutter of activity from the keys of the saxophone. A slow build up of wind passing through the instrument leads to a circle of nascent tones that start to blend with electronic waves. These waves are not hard cut digital tones, not even blips and bloops, but rather curvaceous musical shapes that serve as atonal melodic accompaniment to Parker's own excursions. As the improvisation continues, new sounds and possibilities emerge. About 15 minutes in, Parker's notes are being reprocessed, reformed, and replayed, generating some bracing sonic textures. At the 20-minute mark, Parker's intense circular playing is skewered by pulsations from Dagg's machine. Throughout the 56-minute recording, the duo discovers dense knobs of sound as well as revels in relaxed, open fields. Overall, quite a worthy journey.

THEN THORUGH NOW's label, False Walls, is currently working on releasing a 4 CD boxset of Parkers' solo recordings in the fall, honoring the saxophonist's 80th birthday.

* More about the fascinating Stage Cage from the liner notes
The Stage Cage includes four valve test-oscillators, a pair of ring modulators, frequency shifter, chromatic zither, and a variable tape delay system (consisting of two quarter-inch tape machines, eight feet apart – the first machine records, and the tape runs past moveable playback heads to the second machine, allowing several replays). Henry's main performance interface is a ‘dynamic router’: a five-key controller, which is the bridge between most of the components of the Stage Cage.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Paul Dunmall - Bright Light A Joyous Celebration (Discus, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Paul Dunmall is a tough musician to keep up with. Since 2010, he has released 86 albums (according to, and I am certain that leaves out a good number of live digital-only releases. What keeps him interesting is not just his raw creativity and talent but his relentless stream of collaborations, especially within the British scene. Many of these are with the usual luminaries: John Edwards, Marc Sanders, Phillp Gibbs, Paul Rogers. He also, however, has a penchant for sharing the stage with musicians from later generations. That brings us to Bright Light A Joyous Celebration, on which Dunmall is joined not only by the venerable Hamid Drake, but also younger musicians such as vibist Corey Mwamba (who admittedly is already a household name for many), reedsmen Soweto Kinch and Xhosa Cole and bassist Dave Kane.

Enough virtual ink has been spilled regarding Dunmall’s playing over the years. He has impeccable tone. He is a figurehead for an important stream that developed out of early energy music. He writes incredibly catchy melodies. (Four out of five tracks on Bright Light A Joyous Celebration are penned by the man, himself.) He plays with, rather than in front of, his collaborators, helping to elevate them while they keep him on his toes. Together, they keep the music fresh and moving. As much as any other project of Dunmall, this is one captures a unit rather than a leader and his band. Mwamba shines, especially on the introductory track, You Look Away, about 8 minutes into which he engages in an impressive jangly run, buoyed by Kane’s teetering strut. It can often be a challenge to disaggregate which tenor is playing when, but, because of that, I can say with confidence that Kinch and Cole have chops. They can toe up to Dunmall, dance around his snake-charmer soprano, hold their own court sessions, and harness that early free jazz spirit that imbues this music, no matter how contemporary it is. Kane and Drake, the latter not only one of the most precise drummers around but also one of the rhythmic, form an airtight rhythm section, especially when Mwamba adds his intermittent intercessions. That pulsing drive results various extended periods of riveting grooves, especially in the sole collective composition I’ve Had A Lot. By the time one gets through the end of the final and titular track, Bright Light A Joyous Celebration, another free bop beast, however, the listener might justifiably question why the celebration had to come to an end. Certainly, they have heard a lot by this point. Whether a lot is enough, however, is another question altogether.

A Bright Joyous Celebration is available as a CD and download on Bandcamp.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Choir Invisible – Town of Two Faces (Intakt, 2024)

By Don Phipps

The engaging musical poetry by The Choir Invisible on Town of Two Faces offers controlled passion among its minimalist sound adventures. A gentle halo floats above the music, like gray clouds interspersed with radiant light on an uncrowded beach at sunset.

The group, a sax trio comprised of Charlotte Greve on alto sax and voice, Vinnie Sperrazza on drums, and Chris Tordini on acoustic bass, is like a candle in a dark room – providing subtle lighting - enough to add distinction while retaining warm shadows. The album’s music is never rushed or flashy. Instead, all notes and phrases fit perfectly in place.

Greve approaches her lines using classical technique – distantly reminiscent of Jan Garbarek. Her lines are soft and dreamy while probing and exotic. There’s almost a slight sweetness to her approach that is encouraged by Tordini and Sperrazza’s subtle yet engaging accompaniment.

Tordini approaches his contribution in restrained fashion, providing solid lines that bring out his deeply wooden tone, a tone that brings to mind the late great Charlie Haden. Not to be outdone, Sperrazza provides poignant color to the absorbing tunes, with gentle cymbal and drum work that kicks in with intensity when needed but is more inclined to delicate flourishes and splashes.

Each of the numbers generate a different feeling but tie together neatly, from the happy switchback climb of “Membrane” and the dreamy but mysterious ballad “Lockwood,” to the bluesy and soulful “Stones Covers” and the rhythmically inventive “17 East.” The album even adds a couple of vocal numbers to the mix. One, “In Heaven,” featuring Fay Victor, is soulfully expressive, highlighted by its drawling assertion that “in heaven, everything is fine.” The other, “Town of Two Faces,” showcases Greve’s beautiful voice (sounding a bit like Suzanne Vega). In the number, Greve describes a city landscape of busy faces on sugar highs before they “crash,” a parade “that never really ends,” “the sign that is still missing”, and “birds and leaves… in this town of two faces.”

One would be amiss to leave unmentioned the sustained beauty of “Sustained Imagination,” with soft sax trills over bowed bass. Tordini picks his notes with great care beneath the lilting sax lines, while Sperrazza, always present yet understated, offers cymbal work that feels like ocean spray on a warm day.

Eschewing flurries and flashes, the adventures afforded by Town of Two Faces are ones all should embark on. Things in heaven may or may not be fine, but this album most definitely is.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Doneda/Frangenheim/Turner – Nail: Live in Ulrichsberg (Concepts of Doing, 2023)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

This CD, by Alexander Frangenheim’s Concepts of Doing, almost made it in my top ten list for 2023. The line-up is Michel Doneda on soprano and sopranino saxophones, Alexander Frangenheim on double bass and Roger Turner on drums and percussion. A concert recording from Ulrichsberg, Austria, it captures the trio in fine form while performing two short vignettes and two pleasantly long improvisations. Clearly the bonds they have created through the years by playing, in various formats, together are audible in the final result –the music.

I’ve been following Michel Doneda for quite some time. His ventures into sound and his willingness to experiment and improvise by transforming the soprano, or sopranino at other times, sax into an instrument that defies its tradition, has made him probably the most adventurous soprano player in the post Steve Lacy era. His audio journeys have moved him away from the free jazz/free improv milieu, so this trio CD is very welcome to my ears.

Alexander Frangenheim and Roger Turner are well established improvisers/musicians having played with numerous great players. Turner has always been, in my wanting to listen to small ensembles ears, amazing in duos, trios and small scale formations. What I really enjoy in Frangenheim’s playing is his humble presence. Having definitely defied his role as the time keeper, he is there and at the same time he isn’t.

The trio has built a strong rapport by playing together. At some points it seems that Doneda’s sax leads the way but that is a misunderstanding happening by the very nature of his instrument to dominate. All of them listen to each other; provoke ideas and gestures from the others. They play in unison, an undistinguishable entity.Turner’s polyrhythmic playing leaves the listener with an open mouth (certainly open ears required here) demanding form his fellow players to follow accordingly. Frangenheim’s use of the bass’ whole body allows him, many times, to be the second percussionist of the trio, while he plucks and strikes chords with a fierce grace.

There are passages when the soprano sax takes off in many directions at once, providing a focal point for the trio. His sopranino is more audible on the quieter moments, needing time and space to shine. Even though this is free improvisation at its best, Turner’s drum kit runs the whole road between “jazzy” tunes and totally free playing within one or two minutes on the longer tracks. Live in Ulrichsberg is definitely something you must listen to.

Listen and buy here.


Monday, April 1, 2024

اسم [ism] - Maua (577 Records, 2024)

By Taylor McDowell

Any release by pianist Pat Thomas has the tendency to turn heads, and this is especially so when teamed up with [frequent] coconspirers Antonin Gerbal (drums) and Joel Grip (double bass). Three-quarters of the group أحمد [Ahmed], the trio اسم [ism] similarly explores the jazz lexicon and it’s outer reaches as only these three can do.

Maua is the fourth record by اسم [ism], and the first to be released on 577 Records (their three previous releases were put out by Umlaut Records). Recorded live in Berlin’s Au Topsi Pohl in 2022, the trio evidently crammed on stage with Pat sitting behind a Bösendorfer grand piano that was brought in for their 4-night stint. Maua, beautifully recorded, delivers the bright, bouncing energy of this piano trio and transports the listener to the small German club on that May night.

Much like أحمد [Ahmed], the trio probes jazz forms and swings like hell. But the heavy, hypnotic structures of أحمد [Ahmed] are here replaced with a supple fluidity as the three snake their way through ever-shifting themes. The opening track, Maua, begins its 41-minute odyssey with a breezy, lilting passage of twinkling keys, splashing cymbals and a rubbery, staggering bass. The piece gradually morphs into a full-on swinging affair as they up the tempo. Gerbal and Grip lock in tight, shifting pulse and dynamics in unison and providing the rhythmic springboard from which Thomas dances atop. His airy, melodic lines feel inspired by Art Tatum, with a comfortable amount of chromaticism sprinkled into his runs and comps - think Tatum meets Taylor. For 41-minutes the trio slides in and out of passages that could have been recorded tracks on their own. Slow, cocktail piano themes that feel heavy on the cocktail part escalate into a breakneck swing, then into a bossa-inspired romp. It’s a free-ranging performance that feels like a recorded history of the jazz piano trio format, but with contemporary spin that only اسم [ism] can deliver.

The record closes with a gentler piece, 'Niloo’s Dream.' At only 6-minutes, it’s the perfect comedown at the end of a long, late night. The three deftly navigate a slow, free-form jazz piece that feels like it came from a standards book somewhere. The bar closes, the crowd shuffles out of the club, and اسم [ism] exits the stage..

Maua is striking example that uncompromising music can also be fun. So long as Thomas, Gerbal and Grip continue to make music together, the world is a better place for it.