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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Space - Embrace the Space (Relative Pitch, 2024)

By Taylor McDowell

Space is Lisa Ullén (piano), Elsa Bergman (double bass) and Anna Lund (drums).The piano trio based in Stockholm is back with a fiery follow-up to their 2022 debut. The trio now collectively goes under the name Space, which I perceive to be the symbolic transformation from ad hoc group to a real band. On Embrace the Space the trio indeed plays like a band - demonstrating a fondness of each other rooted in their shared history (a shared history dating back to at least 2016 as members of Anna Högberg Attack). On Embrace the Space, the exploratory interplay of their previous outing is sufficiently eclipsed by raw and moving confidence of a fully-developed team.

Recorded in studio, Embrace the Space consists of eight exhilarating improvisations. The conciseness of most of these improvisations yields focused, to-the-point statements that relish in their collective acumen with stirring results. “Look” kicks things off with snarl, with Ullén’s brooding piano building tension like thunderheads on the horizon. The erratic “Cyklop” begins with a spikey conversation between prepared piano and Bergman’s plodding bass before Lund enters the fray. “Rage” is aptly titled - it’s a full-tilt assault led by Lund’s driving cymbals. On “Composure,” the trio slows down without sacrificing a lick of intensity. The paced, descending piano harmony feels foreboding enough before Bergman and Lund prod the group into rougher seas. Three longer tracks permit the group to stretch out a bit more. 

They still retain the focused energy as on their shorter improvisations, but with some additional room to maneuver. “All at Once” is a daring ride that firmly seats Space in the upper echelon of piano trios. There are even moments that remind me of the Feel Trio in the same raw intensity. “Bleach” is the longest track here at over 12-minutes. We find Space at its most dynamic here - it’s a communion of shifting moods and building tension. About 6-minutes in the trio decelerates; Ullén taps out a repetitive chord while Lund and Bergman fill the scene with restless energy. The piece gradually builds gravity until it reaches a breaking point. The release of energy is hair-raising as three voices collide in free jazz maelstrom. Utterly brilliant.

Space is fast becoming one of the most daring piano trios on today’s scene (and a personal favorite of mine). Embrace the Space is a milestone achievement for the trio as they solidify their sound and camaraderie. Highly recommended.

Enjoy this live performance at Gothenburg’s Brötz.

Embrace The Space is available as a CD or digital download.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard & Quatuor Bozzini - Colliding Bubbles (Important, 2024)

By Eyal Hareuveni

Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard is an experimental-interdisciplinary Danish composer whose work spans from contemporary composition and sound art to performance, conceptual and visual art. He considers his work to be basic research in realities and is interested in how bubble-like systems unfold themselves as human conditions. The meetings between individual bodies and different bubble-like systems and his works investigate the ways to escape these bubbles, and if not escape them, then how they can be warped, wrestled and renegotiated.

Colliding Bubbles (surface tension and release) is Løkkegaard’s composition for the Canadian string quartet Quatuor Bozzini (first violinist Alissa Cheung, second violinist Clemens Merkel,  violist Stéphanie Bozzini and cellist Isabelle Bozzini), meaning that Quatuor Bozzini is playing string instruments while playing harmonicas. Together, the eight instruments play a subtle game of timbral and harmonic attraction and repulsion. Løkkegaard composed before works for multiple pianos, clarinets, hi-hats, triangles, parabolic microphones, vibraslaps, harmonicas and alto saxes.

Løkkegaard says that he wanted to suggest different kinds of collisions of the “bubbly matter” that will lead to different ruptures and possible release of surface tension. The minimalist fluctuations between the statis-like, delicate vibrations and overtones of the more prosaic harmonicas and the classical string instruments, represent the collisions of these “bubbly matter”. Løkkegaard has perfected this method of arriving into (over)saturated state of multiplied bodies or systems of sound and on the 29-minute Colliding Bubbles he allows the reverberating sounds to collapse slowly and organically under their own (over)saturated weight and become something else, meditative and thoughtful timbral phenomena. 

You can think about this impressive composition as a sonic meditation about the human condition. It asks the musicians and listeners to rebel against the linear time concept and the nonstop sonic stimulations and find their collective sonic haven, where the individual sounds dissolve into the collective sound. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Joe Hertenstein - Sunday Interview

Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix
  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    Those endings!
    Secondly, getting paid for it.

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


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

    Many. Milford Graves

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

    Cecil Taylor

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

    Coming up with compositions for my new quartet for our first tour in October.

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

    Yes, in my spare time I am a singer/songwriter myself. I love words, storytelling, singing in rhymes. There’s nothing like a great sounding, well placed back beat. I’m suspicious of people, who don’t sing and dance.

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

    I’d like to be slightly less depressed about the state of the world and my playing. I’m also looking for a bigger (>70m2 with balcony) apartment in Berlin, anybody?

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

    My last one? Usually it’s hardly the music itself that I’m proud of but rather the fact that I managed to produce and release it into the world at all. Colleagues know what I mean. Being a full time (jazz-) musician is an impossible way of life.

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

    By the time an album gets released, I have listened to it so much during the production process that I must be careful it doesn’t become a love-hate relationship. Albums are the documentation of the past, please collect them, but come see me play tomorrow: Our trio REMEDY with Thomas Heberer and Joe Fonda will be touring Germany and Belgium during the first half of April.

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

    Couldn't say, probably Beyond Quantum with Braxton, Parker, Graves, and those by Tethered Moon with Kikuchi, Peacock, Motian.

    Many Jazz classics and classic classics of course.

    I listen/ed to many Blues singers and singer-songwriters...I don't is endless...

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    I’m mostly evaluating recordings of productions I’m involved with, I mean, it's a job. For a palate cleanse, I might spin some Dylan, Waits, Cale later...

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    I used to go to a lot of gallery openings. I wonder what the Vatican is hiding from us. I stare a lot at the carpet in my living room.

Joe Hertenstein on the Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Bergamo Jazz Festival, 2024

By David Cristol

Bergamo Jazz Festival had its 45th edition from March 21 to 24 with an uncommonly versatile programming courtesy of Joe Lovano, who introduced and attended most of the shows and was a benevolent presence throughout. An average of five concerts a day were spread over two distinct parts of the city, the fairly modern Città Bassa (downtown) and the ancient Città Alta (uptown), with excellent free jazz acts sharing the schedule with mainstream concerts.

Dave Burrell. Photo by Giorgia Corti 

Travel shenanigans meant it was unlikely I’d make it in time for Dave Burrell’s solo performance at Teatro Sant’Andrea, much to my regret. But after the drive from Milano I was immediately directed up the narrow streets of Bergamo Alta and could hear the jazz master (whose 1969’s Echo on BYG Actuel remains one of this scribe’s favorite records, as well as the earlier Pharoah Sanders’ Tauhid on which he participates). Joe Lovano introduces the set, and we hear the catchphrase “in the moment of now” for the first time – a recurring mantra at each of his MC appearances. There could have been no better way to launch the fest. All seats occupied, I retreat to the wooden stairs at the back of the venue, which turn out to be the best spot in the house, slightly perched and with a good view on the artist. The blistering set had me totally attuned to the cubist approach to jazz styles and standards, encompassing abstraction and Monkish / Taylorish attack on the keys. Diffracted blues, limping stride, cluster clouds, inner rhythms, insistence on chords or transitions other musicians – and listeners – do not usually pay attention to, are some of the elements of Burrell’s style, which doesn’t try to be pretty. From its origins to the fire music years, it feels like the whole of jazz is explored. Clichés are avoided like the plague, but we recognize fragments of standards like “Summertime”, “Lush Life” in a wildly original version, while “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is shattered to bits and “My Funny Valentine" sprinkled with purposefully “wrong” notes, dissonance being another province of the pianist. His art of is that of exasperation, questioning, turning the themes upside down. For all that, the implementation is straight to the point, no loitering about, and it’s wonderful to hear the 84-year old musician so forceful, inspired and relishing the opportunity to perform. This is concert-of-the-year material. “Just Me and the Moon” is played for the first time. "Time is up but let's break the rule," Burrell enthuses before launching into another workout. Lovano later expresses his satisfaction to have had him perform at the start of the fest, when the audience’s attention is still fresh and complete.

Moor Mother. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

Poetess and performer Moor Mother aka Camae Ayewa is now regularly present at European festivals, bringing her spoken words to a variety of projects instead of repeating the same show over and over, a hunger for encounters which is to be commended. Her albums are a testament to her openness to extended creative vistas. Onstage, in the last couple of years she lent her deep low voice to a duet with Nicole Michell, a Denardo Coleman-led tribute to his father with jazz band and symphony orchestra, while remaining a key element of Irreversible Entanglements alongside Luke Stewart et al. She was also supposed to perform in a duo with Archie Shepp but the gig was cancelled. Before playing in Don Moye’s AEC tribute at this festival, she joined forces with African-born and Bergamo resident Dudù Kouate (also of Moye’s band), master percussionist, expertly handling instruments I'd be hard-pressed to name, from water bowls to musical bottles through a turtle-shell-shaped piece of wood, pipes, whistles, talking drums and a singing bow. Mother reads social-conscious texts from sheets of paper or a book while generating electronic layers with the other hand. Her whispers are equal parts vocal and textural and her prose wavers between despair and hope, certainty of the nearing end of days and the need to keep the life flowing somehow. Gestures accompany speech, texts are crumpled and swept away while the artist calls to “shake loose the spirit”, gets irate as to whom has a right to citizenship, or makes the sound of her footsteps resonate in the microphone. The association of portentous drones and lush percussion strikes a fine balance between current angst and ancient wisdom. The already dim lightings gradually fade away, the duo ending in complete darkness and without amplification.

Naïssam Jalal. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

With “Quest of the invisible”, flutes player (and singer, but not today as she’s deprived of her voice by a common cold) Naïssam Jalal aims to give the audience a moment of serenity and meditation in a world agitated by worrying spasms. A few months after hearing her “Healing Rituals” quartet at Jazzdor Berlin, Jalal and the ever-graceful bass player Claude Tchamitchian reconvene, this time as a duo and with a different repertoire, though in the same spirit, in a small, packed museum hall. Behind the players, paintings of musical instruments provide an ideal backdrop. The low-key, intimate formula suits the music even better. Softness and warmth prevail, although towards the end Tchamitchian dances with his double bass, accompanying his bow strokes with low-pitched growls. He is the jazz element of the pair, earthy, playing rhythm, while the ney and other flutes are played in traditional, droney, melismatic rather than jazz fashion.
Famoudou Don Moye “Plays Art Ensemble of Chicago”. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

The Famoudou Don Moye “Plays Art Ensemble of Chicago” event had a special significance for the festival and its recurring visitors. On March 20, 1974, the AEC had one their first Italian gigs in the very same venue, the Donizetti Theatre, as tonight’s show, subtitled “50th birthday: the Bergamo concert." In 1974, the band induced strong reactions from the audience, split between enthusiasm and hostility. 50 years later, Moye pays tribute to his colleagues, whose names are celebrated throughout the performance, and very much keeps alive the spirit of the Art Ensemble of old. On a personal note, an AEC concert in 1998 (with original members minus Joseph Jarman) was an epiphanic exposure to “Great Black Music”. I don’t remember it – I was immersed in the music and impressed at the huge number of instruments onstage, notably Roscoe Mitchell’s percussion cage, eccentric attires and face paint – but a friend recently reminded me that a good chunk of the audience had left the venue.
Not so in Bergamo! But whether in 1974, 1998 or 2024, the AEC’s operating methods are not everybody’s cup of tea. Freedom has as much edge today as it had back in the day (I’m thinking even more but wasn’t born yet). Again, the stage is extensively cluttered with percussion instruments of various sizes, colors and shapes (played by all members of the band, chiefly Dudù Kouate and Moye), in addition to two drum sets, piano, organ and trombone (all three by the extraordinary Simon Sieger), bass by Junius Paul, violin by Eddy Kwon, poetry and electronics by Moor Mother. The ritual begins by everybody chanting a West Indies sounding psalmody from the slide. The tone is set, the concert will be full of surprises. Indeed, each piece feels like a new ceremonial. Small groups are formed with a high turnover of instruments. Everybody moves about on stage, not standing in one defined spot, depending on the need of each piece. Deceased members of the group are referred to in turn: Malachi Favors Maghostut, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, in Moor Mother's lyrics and the leader's intonations. “Ancient to the future” is still relevant today, but Moye's syncretic project now encompasses not only the afro-am community but also personalities such as Marseille-based Sieger and Brooklyn composer of Asian descent Kwon who wowed audiences as a solo vocalist of operatic proportions. The aggregate of contrasting characters appears as the logical next step, music as a unifying factor of artists from different continents and stripes. A timely reminder that the AEC have – along with a few others – kicked open the doors of jazz and let in all of its components and eras, in a savant hodgepodge, off beat on first impression but precise in execution and spreading knowledge in the process. An extremely joyous concert, which featured classics such as “Nonaah”, “No time left”, “Ohnedaruth”, “Odwalla” and “Funky AECO”.

Abdullah Ibrahim. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

The solo piano performance by Abdullah Ibrahim took place at the Donizetti, where he had opened the 1975 edition as Dollar Brand. The South African master delivered a nostalgia-tinged set, the delicately played keys not quite reaching the back rows of the large venue, which sometimes felt, in this fragile acoustics context, akin to a coughers’ convention. Spotting an empty seat closer to the stage, I discreetly ambled towards the front rows to better immerse into the last half. The themes and playing were disarmingly simple, and simply enunciated – no fireworks – the artist in a musical reverie, expressing heartfelt thoughts, wisdom and peace. Scraps of tunes appeared and reappeared, and it felt like Ibrahim wouldn’t have played differently if he had been practicing at home, browsing through favorite themes, some of which heard on recent albums Dream Time  (2020), Solotude (2022) and 3 (2024), as well as earlier ones. A touching continuum, a walk through the artistic journey of the idiosyncratic musician, who got up to face the audience at the end and sang an unhurried acapella homesick chant, expressing his longing for his beloved country where he’s unlikely to return.

Bobby Watson Quintet. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

Less relevant to this blog, but worthy of mention for sheer musical quality were two mainstream jazz acts. The Bobby Watson Quintet performed a roaring blast of hard bop, very much in the tradition but with so much drive and sincerity that it couldn’t help but win over audiences, including this listener. The 70-year old alto saxman directed the proceedings while playing, with support by a crew on their A-game, including Curtis Lundy on bass and Victor Jones on drums, both delivering flamboyant solos and hard-as-nails accompaniment. Young Wallace Roney Jr (son of Geri Allen and Roney Sr) on trumpet joined the leader on the front line with plenty of skills while Jordan Williams comped like there’s no tomorrow on piano. Erstwhile member and musical director of the Jazz Messengers, Watson played in the wide-ceilinged venue like he would have in a cramped NYC jazz club, talking to his colleagues onstage, keeping them on their toes. Their faultless sense of timing made for an irresistible set, authenticity always a winner.

Pérez, Patitucci, Cruz. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

At Teatro Sociale, the trio of Danilo Pérez (p, elp), John Patitucci (b, elb) and Adam Cruz (dm) also was a treat, the two former Wayne Shorter acolytes and the drummer delivering an effortless, restrained yet ever-astonishing set. Tributes were paid to Shorter (with a ballad that he could have penned in the Weather Report years), writer Toni Morrison and social activist Angela Davis. Panama-born Pérez is a presence not unlike Herbie Hancock, seemingly floating above the proceedings while also being very much “in the moment of now” . The Steinway grand sounded gorgeous, with impossible time signatures made simple for all to enjoy. Groove, synth landscapes, calypso-funk, quasi-waltz, a seamless melding of improvisation and composition, and, as an encore, a completely rewired "'Round midnight", of which only snatches could initially be spotted, added up to a pristine performance, with absolutely no filler to bemoan about.

Scofield and Lovano. Photo by Luciano Rossetti

The John Scofield's “Yankee Go Home” project, on the other hand, proved uninspired, in similar fashion to the drowsy Hudson Quartet from a few years ago with Scofield, Medeski, Grenadier and DeJohnette. The one moment of surprise came through the guest appearance by Joe Lovano, enlivening things up for a ten-minute “The creator has a masterplan” instrumental remake. The other tunes were firmly in none-too-subtle country-rock territory, Scofield even bearing a striking resemblance to actor Robert Duvall on the ranch these days.

With its program not adverse to a big gap in aesthetics, Bergamo Jazz 2024 was a big success in terms of attendance, with 14 sold out concert out of 16, an audience of nearly 7000. Next edition will be March 20-23, 2025.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Ava Mendoza & Dave Sewelson - Of It But Not Is It (Mahakala, 2024)

By Ferruccio Martinotti

The supreme Ava Mendoza is back on our turntables and, easy to predict, it’s sheer bliss again. Last year she released, as Mendoza Hoff Revels, the amazing Echolocation (in the 2023 top 10 of the blog’s reviewers, fyi) along with Devin Hoff, James Brandon Lewis and Ches Smith, this year we have in our hands the outcome of another collaboration, with Dave Sewelson as the partner in crime. 

Beside her own band Unnatural Ways and her solo activity, teaming up with other musicians seems definitely to be the ideal cup of tea of the Brooklyn-based guitarist, given that she lent her strings to the likes of Matana Roberts, William Parker, Fred Frith, John Zorn, Negativeland and Violent Femmes, just to name a few. 

A super short bio notes of Sewelson. Born in Oakland in 1952, he started playing trumpet, drums, electric and upright bass, before finally focusing on bari sax at 21; he then moved to New York around 1977 and played in 25 O’clock, Jemeel Moondoc’s Jus Grew Orchestra, Mofungo, Microscopic septet, William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra; along the decades he collaborated, among the others with John Zorn, Peter Kuhn, Alex Kline, Sonny Murray, Kidd Jordan, Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter. 

At an initial stage, the meeting of the two musicians was set as an improptu quick studio work around a couple of William Parker's lyrics but the chemistry soon clicked and something on a complete different level took shape, delivering a really outstanding free-blues record. We're on the most committed music blog of the galaxy, therefore it's almost pointless to say that when we talk blues we wipe out the idea of the fake black xerox music à la Clapton but we deal with the greasy, stinky, rotten to the core stuff, usually found in the stores of the likes of Beast of Bourbon, Jon Spencer, Cypress Grove as compadre of the legendary Jeffrey Lee Pierce during his ill-fated solo carrier and of Lydia Lunch on the underrated masterpiece A fistful of Desert Blues or (above all, ioho) the artists from the Fat Possum records roster such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford. 

As soon as the music of the first song, Mangrove Sea, comes out of the speakers, the pace is immediately set: an ongoing, desperate effort of the sax to escape from the blues tracks firmly kept on the ground by the guitar is what we'll listen along the whole record. Sometimes Dave is totally free to let his sax scream in a Ayler-esque and dissonant mode (the title track, Scaribari or Don't Buy the Lie), otherwise his tobacco, dusty voice is devoted to swampy, sinister atmospheres reminding us the mythical Flesheaters (Dava's dune) or even drunken serenades (Bill), always magically backed-up by the never self indulgent guitar licks: different musicians but a perfectly smooth amalgam in the holy name of blues. 

This is a record made of mud and blood, don't miss it.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Thursday, April 25, 2024

John Zorn - Parrhesiastes (Tzadik, 2023)

 By Don Phipps

One thing about John Zorn: he never ceases to surprise. And “Parrhesiastes” is exhibit A. Performed by the electric Chaos Magick ensemble – which features two keyboard players (John Medeski on organ and Brian Marsella on Fender Rhodes piano), an electric guitarist (Matt Hollenberg) and drummer (Kenny Grohowski) – “Parrhesiastes” is an entertaining and enjoyable romp through three Zorn surreal and fantastic compositions (Zorn also arranged and conducted the ensemble). The music resembles a rubber band, something that both stretches and retains form. Or maybe metamorphosis is a better description, as the music morphs from one catchy mood to the next, and no matter how abrupt the change, it still holds together.

Zorn has been pushing the boundaries of music his entire career. It’s been four decades since his groundbreaking Naked City group hit the scene, and three decades since his Masada group reimagined free music using, as he put it, “Jewish scales.” And while these efforts are still potent today, Zorn, now 70, has never rested on his laurels. “Parrhesiastes”– fusion done the Zorn way - is a sonic cornucopia of head-nodding bliss.

The three numbers are all thematically playful. And each covers a lot of ground – mood, shape, and form amorphous yet connected. “In the Footsteps of Hermes” starts things off, its sweeping lines set the stage before all hell breaks loose – think Oliphants charging the defenders of Minas Tirith. Grohowski offers up some exquisite power drumming – and it’s fun to hear Medeski sparkle and dance funk on the organ or Marsella hopscotch a bluesy line or two. And not to be outdone, Hollenberg’s heavy metal lines explode out of nowhere.

The Eventual Devalorization of The Perhaps” juxtaposes a funky soulful theme with Mad Hatter drives, and it seems, at times, prog rock exists at the tune’s core. Finally, “Form, Object, And Desire” wraps things up with Marsella’s high energy lines and Medeski’s full chordal offerings atop Grohowski’s dynamo drumming. There’s a brevity and lightness to many of the phrases, often interspersed with mad robotics and more funk. The result – an album that is different, unusual, and conventional at the same time!

With its almost breathtaking interchanges, “Parrhesiastes ”demonstrates the musical genius of John Zorn. How this prolific composer and artist continues to create imaginative music at such a high level is certainly a mystery, but like some modern Mozart, one can only marvel at his ever-expanding vocabulary. Highly recommended.

Watch a video here.


Wednesday, April 24, 2024

John Butcher + 13 - Fluid Fixations (Weight of Wax, 2024) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

It is quite unusual that a free improviser, even the most innovative and creative one, gets a chance to invite many of his past collaborators to perform a composition that relies on idiosyncratic improvisation qualities. But British sax player John Butcher was commissioned in 2021 by HCMF - the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival - to perform a composition, Fluid Fixations, where the ever-spinning oxymorons - fixed and fluid - may seem to present a conflict of interests, but eventually offer a kind of mysterious harmony.

Fluid Fixations was performed and recorded in November 2021 with Butcher + 13 trusted improvisers-collaborators from the last twenty years, some of whom never met before, and it reflects and refracts their distinct sonic palettes, instincts and energies - Viennese turntables wizard dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič), American trumpeter Liz Allbee, French pianist Sophie Agnel, cellist Hannah Marshall, violinist Angharad Davies, electronics player Pat Thomas, percussionist Mark Sanders, double bass player John Edwards and German-French Pascal Niggenkemper, Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg, German trombonist Matthias Müller, French vocalist-clarinetist Isabelle Duthois, and stroh violist-musical saw player Aleksander Kolkowski. Twice as many improvisers as in Butcher’s previous HCMF compositions - somethingtobesaid (2008, released by Butcher’s label, Weight of Wax in 2009, with Edwards and dieb13) and Isola (2012, also with Edwards).

This hour-long composition was informed by what Butcher calls psychological orchestration, i.e. imagining how specific people might respond to particular ideas, and to the sonic company they find themselves a part of. The score was based on instructions (some were intangible ones), precise notation, text, and photographic imagery, mostly drawn from natural environments, all echo his faith in the transformative power environments have over music performance but suggesting spaces where the musicians can step away from the score to create their own sound worlds. dieb13 incorporated pre-recorded sax recordings that were cut earlier to vinyl, as the compositional voice of Butcher, and used close-miking to manipulate some of the “hidden” sound possibilities of the saxophone. Specified solos, duos and small groupings were woven into the piece.

Fluid Fixations takes the risk of enchantment, as one of its pieces is titled, and draws you immediately into its mysterious, multifaceted and detailed sonic ecosystem. It invites the listener to surrender to a kind of poetic dream state, its psychedelic logic, the swarm-like sounds of the 14 musicians, and allows it to flow and grow naturally into your mind. Often free improvisation, especially with so many individual voices, can become an arresting show of group psychotherapy. Here, with the wise compositional ideas of Butcher, it turned out to be a love letter to the deep relationships formed through improvisation. Pure magic, with so many sonic spells, secrets, wonders and inventions to cherish through many repeated listening.

Listen and download here

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Blasting across the Alkali Flats with Evil Clown

By Nick Ostrum

…In quiet solitude or blasting across the alkali flats in a jet-powered, monkey-navigated...... and it goes on like this.” – Rev. Timothy Lovejoy, The Simpsons

In the above quote, Rev. Lovejoy was reading the wedding vows of one Homer J. Simpson. With just a little imagination and minus the “quiet solitude” part, however, he could very well have been describing the two releases reviewed here. Each is from one of PEK’s newer ensembles, which are based more around electronic environments than the acoustics of the sax-cello core of Leap of Faith, or the drum-propulsion of the Metal Chaos Ensemble. In that, however, they lose none of the sonic probing one has come to expect, and none of the tendency toward excess and entropy.

Simulacrum – Shadows (Evil Clown, 2023) 

Simulacrum is something apart from other Leap of Faith projects. It is missing what seemed to be PEK’s preferred cores until recently: that between him and cellist Glynis Limon and with a variety of percussionists. Instead, Simulacrum is a vortex of shifting soundworlds that ultimately blast across the alkali flats in a jet-powered…or rather fueled by the addition of Joel Simches on live processing and electronicists Eric Woods, Robin Amos and Bob Moores, who focuses more on his synths and drones than his usual frontage of trumpet and guitar. 

 Naturally, PEK, reedist+ Michael Caglianone and, when focused on such tools, Moores literally add the gusts to the electrified sandstorm of crackles, shimmers and all out sonic strangeness. Shadows is heavy, and heavy on the Arkestra-infused space gaze. However, the missing dedicated percussion replaced by a variety of electro-acoustic techniques help this one float to different corners of the cosmos, clunkily walking the thin line between order and inevitable decay along the way.

And, as a bonus to the hour-plus first track Shadows comes Chiaroscuro, a six-minute excursion into a more linear, but still gnarled and knotty kosmische Musik.

Shadows is available as a download and CD from Bandcamp.

Perturbations – That’s Where the Unknown Is (Evil Clown, 2023) 

Perturbations is another beast. It shares members PEK, Caglianone and Simches, here with a bigger footprint, with Simulacrum. Albey OnBass rounds out the quartet with his bass and box of percussion and electronics. Recorded in November 2023, That’s Where the Unknown Is begins with acoustic clangor and electronic “perturbations”, which blend into a quiet cacophony that mirrors an insect-ridden night in the woods. (One imagines the unknown could reside here, in the space between civilization and the wild, between the physical and metaphysical, as much as anywhere.) 

An accordion and layered tones of unknown provenance break the spell, transporting the listener from a simulated forest to a port city, creaking docks, lonely saxophone and all. The picture, however, never truly becomes clear. Swooshes of interference intervene. A second, deeper horn engages with the first. A busy swarming background persists, and, in the whirl of elements, it can be difficult for the listener to find footing. Albey OnBass introduces a staggered bass line, and his subsequent duet with a lone sax pose the jazzier moments of this piece. 

But these moments are fleeting, as was the forest and the dock. It seems like the moment the piece settles, it detours or rather leaps to different aesthetic realms. In that sense, That’s Where the Unknown Is is clunkier (though deftly and intentionally) than the ebb-and-flow characteristic of so many extended collective improvisations. This zigs and zags rather than builds and releases. And, well, it goes on like that, zigging, zagging and always finding new corners of the alkali flats to agitate.

That’s Where The Unknown Is is available as a CD and download from Bandcamp

Monday, April 22, 2024

Organismic Theory – A Space from Spaces (self released, 2024)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Organismic Theory is the Greek duo of Nicolas Skordas on various wind instruments and Selfish Limbs on analogue synth and fx. On this cd they approach jazz and free jazz, from another point of view. As especially Skordas is mostly know for free playing and being an acolyte of free jazz, A Space from Spaces seems quite different –especially for the small Greek scene. On the four tracks of the cd, all mentioning the word space on their title but concerning a different (social, personal, public, intimate) field of what we call space in this age of social media, the listener will find a fresh take, definitely more ambient, take, of the music.

The atmospheres created by the analogue synth allow Skordas’ wind instruments to breathe heavily, resembling many times, with traditional Greek musical patterns. There are some points on the tracks that the music transfers you up on the Greek mountains, where the sound of the clarinet  rises deeply from the soil and the analogue synth provide the wind, the sun, the dust –the whole ambience of nature. 

Expecting, at first, a definitely more “jazz’ approach, I was exposed (not without hesitance) to a whole different universe, one the balances between western musics and Greek traditional surroundings, as in Greece music is deeply rooted with space and geography. As my listening of A Space from Spaces progressed, I came to realize that, at least to my ears, those tracks are also heavily rooted (and relying from) the musicians personal take on this, always risky, part of the musical heritage.

The duo relies on building an atmosphere, sometimes cinematic, that most of the times, brings some memories to those of us living in the Balkans. But, beware, because this cd is definitely not “traditional” in any way.  Aggressively building into a nocturnal drama of the mountains, it bridges a gap between the past and the present, between jazz based musics and traditional Greek music of mountainous areas.

Listen here.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Rudi Mahall - Sunday Interview


Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    To play the clarinet

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


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

    Charlie Parker.

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

    Eric Dolphy.

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

    To play like Benny Goodman.

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

    I don't like pop-music at all.

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


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

    All the "Die Enttäuschung" albums.

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

    I don't listen to them.

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


  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    Benny Goodman.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

Reviews on the Free Jazz Blog with Rudi Mahall:

  • Jazzwerkstatt Peitz 50th Anniversary (April 27th - 30th, 2023)
  • FUSK - Absurd Enthusiasm (Why Play Jazz, 2022)
  • Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder / Olaf Rupp - Skyhook (Audiosemantics, 2022)
  • Out on Intakt (Day 1 of 2)
  • Paul Lovens/Florian Stoffner - Tetratne (ezz-thetics, 2020) ****½
  • Aki Takase - Aki Takase Plays Fats Waller at Babylon Berlin 2009 (Jazzwerkstatt, 2020) ***(*)
  • Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall – Fifty Fifty (Trouble in the East, 2019) ***½
  • Rudi Mahall Olaf Rupp Kasper Tom - s/t (Barefoot Records, 2019) ****
  • Ivo Perelman and Rudi Mahall - Kindred Spirits (Leo, 2018) *****
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach and Rudi Mahall - So Far (Relative Pitch, 2018) ****
  • Flo Stoffner/Paul Lovens/Rudi Mahall - Mein Freund der Baum (Wide Ear Records, 2017) ****
  • Uwe Oberg, Rudi Mahall and Michael Griener – Lacy Pool 2 (Leo, 2017) ****
  • Meet The Danes #4 (part 1 of 2)
  • JR3 - Happy Jazz (Relative Pitch, 2017) ****
  • Meet the Danes #3
  • Rotozaza - Zero (Leo Records, 2016) ****
  • Berlin ... and Beyond
  • Meet The Danes
  • The Deciders - We Travel The Airwaves (Jazzland, 2013) ****
  • Die Enttäuschung - Vier Halbe (Intakt, 2012) ****
  • Die Enttäuschung - 5 (Intakt, 2009) ****
  • Die Enttäuschung (Intakt, 2007) ****
  • Saturday, April 20, 2024

    (Ne)poslušno / Sound (Dis)Obedience 2024, Ljubljana

    By David Cristol

    From March 28 to 30, the 2024 edition of (Ne)poslušno / Sound (Dis)Obedience took place in Ljubljana, in the Španski borci cultural center housing different rooms for rehearsals and performances, a bar, terrace and records stand, in the center of Slovenia’s capital. Programmed by musician Tomaž Grom – who also operated as a good-humored and entertaining MC throughout – the festival is produced by the Zavod Sploh organization, dedicated to sound performance and associated research, education and publishing (through a record label) of acts that fit under the “free improvised” or “creative music” monikers, with co-producers including the Zavod En-Knap dance company and support from the country’s Ministry of Culture and the City of Ljubljana.

    It was a long trip to Ljubljana, and an even longer and adventurous return journey, through soulless and nondescript “landscapes” of concrete from France to Slovenia through Italy, before reaching the destination in the nick of time for the opening show. Forget all the hassle: from the first notes emitted, the fest appeared as an islet of sanity in a crackpot world. Small-sized it may be, but heavy and consistent in content. A relaxed atmosphere prevailed in the full house, and the ever-mindful audience was a welcome bonus (the idea of producing a mobile phone to film or photograph didn’t occur to anyone; while official photographers were doing their thing). I hadn't attended a mostly improvised music fest in quite some time and it felt like a welcome change of pace, even a return to my beginnings in music reviewing. Whether one likes a particular project or not, integrity was a thread running through every act, with logistics to match and an easygoing aspect to the proceedings. Nine concerts were presented to audiences over three evenings.

    All photos by Marcandrea 
    Opener DARA Strings is an all-women string quartet consisting of two cellos (ElisabethCoudoux, Isidora Edwards) and two violins (Biliana Voutchkova, Joanna Mattrey), the players coming from modern classical, composed works, improvisation, electronics, each of them boasting an impressive list of collaborations, releases, commissions and performances: musical partners include Susana Santos Silva, gabby fluke-mogul, Camila Nebbia, Andrea Parkins, Frances-Marie Uitti, Pascal Niggenkemper… The show appeared as a combination of composition and improv, probably more of the former than the latter. No scores in sight but rhythmic or motivic cues delivered by one cello and small speakers on the floor sending pre-recorded landmarks directing the process. Other devices included rubbed paper on the strings and wood on the part of Coudoux, and bowing, plucking and strumming from the homogeneous ensemble. Voutchkova appeared as a leader of sorts and at times whispered in a timbre close to the strings’ own. What we heard was a kind of considered ritualistic seance rather than a bristling improvisation set, although extended techniques were put to use at most times, resulting in sounds of creaking metal to birds chirping and other twisted effects. Often it was hard to discern who was doing what, and that didn’t matter as the point seemed to immerse oneself into a teeming underworld, of flying and crawling creatures and other lifeforms of various sizes, textures and dwelling places.

    Next was a trio of Luka Zabric, Margaux Oswald, Aurelijus Užameckis, for some “traditional” improv if there is such a thing, from piano, bass and alto sax. A bustling intro swiftly led to silence, then fluttering on the alto began a cautious process of layering clatter, Oswald adopting an opposite approach to the wild surges she displayed at Lisbon’s Causa Efeito fest last year. Cardboard objects were inserted in the sax bell, and that instrument as well as the bass probed at their furthest reaches, producing vibrating harmonics and dissonances outside of the ways taught in schools. The unbroken performance opened up to unbridled pianism, rapid, swarming climbs following the oblique explorations. The power was felt throughout, but restrained. Every strike, breath, stroke was charged with inner intensity and optimal focus. The trio embodied a complete commitment to listening and reacting in real time, that produces the best results in that genre. Constantly on the edge, a music of the threshold, perched between sound and silence.

    Sabine Vogel and Emilio Gordoa’s "LandStages/Sonic relocations" premiered the year before in Berlin.The multimedia 50-minutes piece included video projection and was presented as a love letter to natural environment, stemming from a desire for the great outdoors after the infamous lockdown(s) of not so long ago. Gordoa made use of the drums, vibraphone, electronics and mixing desk, while also appearing onscreen, in the middle of a field for example, presenting us with a double image of the artist. Vogel played clarinets, flutes and small percussions. On the screen, we see a large valley swept by the wind, dead leaves, earth, blades of grass, a big tree and other static shots while electronically treated flute and percussion are heard. Likewise, wooden flutes are suspended from the metal flute as played in the room, while onscreen the same flute is hanging from a branch, swinging in the air. Maybe the video had a distracting effect, because musically I didn’t find the piece to be particularly compelling, nor did it leave much of a trace in memory. A reason to rejoice, anyway, is that some people are trying to bring back a sense of contemplation and wonder to a world in sorrow, musicians among them.

    On Friday, the trio of Taiko Saito (vib), Jan Roder (b) and Michael Griener (dm) ushers in the evening. Usher is not quite right as listeners are hurled without delay into a whirlwind of high-octane improv. Which comes almost as a shock as our host primarily proceeded to a plastic nose flutes distribution to all audience members, with successful and not-so-successful attempts by everyone at playing it, a moment of hilarity from all. Back to our trio. I had enjoyed Griener with Christian Weber and Ellery Eskelin on an old jazz repertoire onstage and on a corresponding album on Intakt. Here we have fast improvised music, with a sense of flow, the trio running at full steam for most of the time, with huge conviction. If every effort is made to avoid making "music" in the sense of predetermined forms or predictable patterns, the trio’s instrumental mastery is obvious, even in a style where virtuosity is rarely the point. The fortissimo approach means that mallets and cymbals fly dangerously before spilling on the floor. Textures are also a major part of the proceedings, with tiny bells from Saito, bowing on the vibraphone blades, and odd tools used by Griener, while Roder relentlessly fuels the engine. Jaw-dropping unaccompanied solo features from each member bring even more twists to the busy affair.

    We’re directed downstairs for Chris Pitsiokos’solo piece in quadraphonic sound, and invited to sit around him and his apparatus. The one-man-band of computer + sax + pedals + flickering lights had much in common by Julien Desprez's projects, which Pitsiokos admits to having taken some inspiration from. The artist appeals to photographers to remain calm. No need to fret, as most of the piece consists of massive noise à la Merzbow, with high-pitched sax shrieks to boot. Hard to tell what's improvisational and what comes from preparation, as Pitsiokos seems to follow the diagrams on his computer screen quite closely. Phrases are looped so as to form a rhythm, and squawks trigger the lightbulbs with varying speed and vehemence. A full-on assault on the senses, a test of endurance maybe, that not everyone in the audience is ready to confront, even with ears protected. Ten minutes in and the door of the windowless room opens for some people to exit. In the first part, no more than three or four notes were drily ejected from the instrument. In the next part, on the contrary, long notes were superimposed on each other. Can't say I enjoyed it, but am sure enjoyment wasn't the purpose here, and rarely is it art's.

    In her duet with Joke Lanz (originating in a trio with Michael Vatcher), Sophie Agnel offers a different aspect of her work than that heard last year in the contemporary-tinged six-piano band Pianoise and the long-running free jazz trio with John Edwards and Steve Noble. The fun factor is more immediate with turntablist Lanz (of noise-industrial project Sudden Infant), although it may be a side effect of the combination of piano and turntables, and of both the visual and choppy characteristics of the latter equipment. Agnel plays on the whole instrument as she is prone to do: motivic patterns and clusters on the keys and striking the wooden frame (with a yet-unseen repeated lightning-fast closing-opening of the keyboard lid!), more often than not standing bent over the strings, with self-made tools applied over them, whether caressingly or vigorously. We’re hearing a cut-up aesthetics with scratched blasts reminding of cartoons’ rapid-fire honks or even advertisement’s sloganeering strategies. It’s not all stop-and-go though, and we are treated to some moments of aggregation, due to Agnel’s ability to catch anything thrown at her and make it sound good. A contrasts-based performance, just the right side of theatricality, a mostly jolting set rather than an idea of continuity here. Having reached a climax, Agnel slows things down a notch. Not for long, as the last minutes see Lanz play with ultra-rhythmic LPs (likely drum’n’bass beats) with enthusiastic prowess, Agnel hitting the lowest keys with floor-crunching vigor, before they jointly decide to end their run with a burst of laughter.

    The last night opens with a concert by the participants to the New York-born, Berlin-based Chris Pitsiokos workshop, not playing here but introducing the set and being a watchful coach. About fifteen musicians took part in a 3-hour a day workshop, with fruitful results judging from the evening’s music. Nine short pieces are played by small ensembles (mostly trios and quartets), swiftly assembling and dismantling, with some recurring players along the way. A little bit like Derek Bailey’s Company split in short sections rather than long form, the balance between players not threatened and the sounds leading the way in satisfactory fashion, whether it’s a tenor/sax/synth trio, a more aggressive soprano/elg/dm trio or a relatively gentle quartet of two basses and two vocalists. Musicians both seasoned or barely in their twenties achieve convincing song-length sets. The nose flute even makes an appearance.

    This was followed by the most attention-commanding set courtesy of Lê Quan Ninh’s solo performance. A single bass drum stands in front of the musician, surrounded by a number of tools and devices, wooden, metallic, mineral and earthy, on the floor or attached to the frame. The utmost effects are reached by the simplest means and awe-inspiring focus on the part of the artist. Stones are hit, one blow at a time, while he moves about space. It's all about the sound projection. Intensity never flags, and the artist resembles a painter, the assured grip of the hands on the objects he pushes on the drum skin an integral part of either the thunderous rattle or soft rumor thus obtained. In the darkened room, the white circle of the drum skin can also evoke an ice-skating ring over which the fingers are dancing. Huffing on shaken cymbals also delivers a mighty murmur, as does the bow played against the frame of the drum. Mesmerized, musicians and audiences were curious to ask Ninh about his approach to playing. He certainly garnered new admirers that evening.

    Don’t search for their album, it hasn’t been recorded yet. matter 100 is a project of Slovenia’s Kaja Draksler and the same band (three women and three men: Draksler, Lena Hessels, Marta Warelis, Andy Moor, Samo Kutin, Macio Moretti ) and instrumentation that played at the latest edition of Berlin’s Jazzfest. They haven't reconvened as a sextet since, only benefiting from partial rehearsals, due to geographical dispersion. Their next gig will be at the Unerhöert festival in Zurich in a few months. The same repertoire, with slightly modified arrangements and a different song order, is presented. Spectators on the floor lie down in various positions, on cushions spread with that purpose. A richly layered music, that makes heterogeneous elements (rock rhythms, Vocoder vocals, electric guitar punk toiling, droney hurdy-gurdy, spoken word, live sampling), cohere and serve the common work. Hessel's voice is both fragile and confident, maybe reminiscent of Karen Mantler, on a repertoire of wildly original and unformatted songs. Moretti knocks his drumsticks together, getting up and moving away from the stage and exiting into the corridor and out of sight, where he continues to maintain a rhythm for a while. On the lengthy "True or false", Andy Moor's answers to Hessel’s questions are hampered by a mixing that doesn't always allow to grasp the lyrics. While the tune's humorous dimension made its mark on the audience in Berlin, the feeling this time is different, the absurdity of the words taking a darker aspect, tragic even. This change in perception was perhaps due to the physical distancing of the group, placed at the back of the auditorium rather than close to the audience. Towards the end, Warelis is left alone for a synth solo, listened to silently by band members and audience alike.

    Thank you: Brigita Gračner

    Friday, April 19, 2024

    Satya - Songs of the Fathers: A Celebration of the Music of Abdullah Ibrahim (Resonant Artists, 2024)

    By Sammy Stein

    Songs Of The Fathers is a recording by Phil Raskin and Frank Doblekar, the duo at the core of the Satya collaboration, here enhanced by Synthesist Neil Alexander and Paul Antonell who created the orchestral feel the duo wanted. It should be mentioned there is a caveat here. I was asked to write the liner notes for this album and readily agreed.

    The recording is a mindful tribute to Abdullah Ibrahim, one of music’s great masters. Each track is a first-take recording apart from one, which felt right for Raskin, who was keen to impart a sense of an ‘of the moment’ atmosphere to the improvised elements of the recording.

    ‘Mannenberg’ opens the album. The number was written during the 1970s and is very much of its time, with Ibrahim funneling the chaotic, busy, feral sounds of urban life in Cape Town during the time of oppressive apartheid. It opens with a trinkling piano and the voices of the crowd before the deep-voiced drums enter, with the continuous background rhythm that pervades the track. Like the spirit of the African people during this time, the rhythm is never drowned, and its strength continues no matter what is laid across the top of it. It creates the underlying tension in the piece, as it is overlaid with kinetic rhythms and melodic lines that work against each other, yet briefly conjoin to create harmonies. The melody tops out across all the noise, gentle, yet distinct. It is a dynamic, vibrant track that includes marketplace, and the occasional vehicle sounds which add to the sense of being immersed in a village square. The number has hints of blues, jazz, and marabi – an African music that evolved during the urbanization of Africa during the 1920s. For Raskin, the rhythm patterns were influenced by his time spent in African villages. There is this wonderful swing between delicacy, a frothy effervescence of activity, and the harsh at times, gentle at others, continual melodic input across the top from Doblekar’s sax.

    ‘Song For Sathima’ was written in dedication to Ibrahim’s wife and was on his ‘Water From An Ancient Well’ album. It is strong, melodic, and powerful, giving the listener a hint of the character of this woman. With a gentle sway here, a touch of sweetness, a hint of sadness, and a love-filled tribute played here with more force than on the original album but just as powerful to listen to as Doblekar’s sax calls the melody line out over solid backing.

    ‘The Wild Rose’ is the perfect vehicle for the ensemble’s improvisation and on this track, the orchestral feel the band wanted to create for the recording comes to the fore. Raskin adds instruments he has collected, including an African djembe, to his drum kit, and, together with the synthesizer and sax, the ensemble creates a multi-textured arrangement. Doblekar and Raskin excel in eerie, improvised saxophone phrases backed by guttural phrasing from the percussion and piano. At times, a whale-song keening is heard, while at others, the sax wheedles its way around a central note, finding connecting microtones, proving no single note is an island, introducing an Eastern essence to the music. It is quite different from Ibrahim performing on the piano with his distinctive off-set harmonics, but this track has wonders all of its own, introduced by the ensemble’s imagination.

    ‘Hamba Khale’ means ‘go well’ in the Zulu language and this track is the only one on the album that is a second take. The intricate, energy-filled patterns of the percussion contrast with the winsome melody. The different rhythmic patterns, changes, and melody feel at once conflicting with counterpoints, yet they are linked by keys, times when they merge.

    ‘Tone Poem 2’ is the only track that is not an Ibrahim composition. By Doblekar, it is inspired by Ibrahim’s compositions and forms a melodic cycle, representative of how melody can shift under a relatively static harmonic background. This shifting movement, pitched against soaring melody lines works well.

    Ibrahim’s ‘Blue Bolero’ closes the album, and this beautiful ballad leaves the listener in awe of Ibrahim’s compositional skills and artistry. Satya does justice to Ibrahim’s music and remains respectful while applying their skill sets to the work. Ibrahim’s presence is felt in the music. Raskin comments, “We felt we needed to be respectful of this great artist Abdullah Ibrahim and we hope you will enjoy this music. For those familiar with Ibrahim's music, we hope you feel we gave it justice, and for others, we hope the music will reach out to you and that you will become familiar with his music and be able to share in its joy as well.”

    Worth noting too is the incredible cover art by Peter Koppenall.

    Resonant Artists is a label with a mission to reach out and demonstrate the power of music to others. Created by Raskin and a platform for the release of improvisational music by both established and emergent artists, this recording will be followed by more. Raskin’s’ connections in the music world go long and deep and his contact bring a depth and breadth with them that is difficult to surpass. More is here on this platform Resonant Artists – A New Force in Improvised Music ~ The Free Jazz Collective (

    So, expect more but meantime, enjoy this beautiful recording.

    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Emad Armoush’s Duos – Electritradition (Drip Audio, 2023)

    By Nick Ostrum

    Damascene Vancouverite Emad Armoush has been at it for almost 25 years, now, bringing Arabic and Iberian oud, ney, guitar and vocal traditions to ears across the globe. When I say “tradition,” however, I do not mean conventional or faithful to some decontextualized, staid practice. Rather, Armoush first came to my ears in Gordan Grdina’s Haram ensemble (reviewed here and here ). The tradition is there, but in new contexts and new forms and necessarily with new meanings. Hence, the title Electritradition, a portmanteau that joins the new and old, the faithful and the divergent.

    Electritraditionconsists of a series of duos with François Houle (clarinet and electronics), Jesse Zubot (violin and electronics), JP Carter (trumpet and electronics), Kenton Loewen (drums and percussion) and Marina Hasselberg (cello). As the liner notes point out, the duo is extremely intimate, and that intimacy comes through effortlessly in these pieces. Each is fully fleshed out, and the artists seem sympatico. In fact, that sympathy, that collective feeling, sets the mood for Electritradition , as well. This music is deeply moving, often somber, sometimes discordant, sometimes hopeful, but always appealing to that range of yielding and interpersonally connective emotions.

    One could spend a great deal of time focusing on the other side of the duos: Houle’s impeccable tone and precision, Zubot and Carter’s blending of their acoustic techniques and electronic distortions into Armoush’s vision, Loewen’s responsively rhythmic but also wandering drums, or Hasselberg’s weeping waves of sound. However, Armoush stands out throughout all of this, not only in his oud and guitar, which are both so rooted but also, at points, defy conventions, but also in his deeply soulful singing. One hears this in pieces such as Labshi, when his singing entangles with both oud and Carter’s trumpet, or the sweetly and mournfully bucolic duet with Hasselberg, Hala Lala Layya, or the vamped middle of the final and possibly most mesmerizing track, Eye to Eye, the second duo with Houle.

    This album is a real achievement. It brings to mind legendary figures such as Anouar Brahem and incredible contemporary units such as, well, Haram. And, in the sense of the latter, it embraces, defies and furthers tradition, making what one must hope is a new lasting tradition of this Syrio-Iberico-Canadian-et al. music that really defies close categorization, but somehow – or maybe just because of that - fits perfectly on the pages of FJB.

    Electritraditionis available as a CD or download on Bandcamp.