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Sunday, June 30, 2024

Peter Van Huffel - Sunday Interview

Photo By Sergei Haudring

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    The moments of true connection that occur randomly within an improvised performance. They are sometimes amongst the entire ensemble and sometimes just a connection between two musicians in the middle of a larger group performance. But these for me are the moments that make improvised music exciting, unpredictable, and organic.

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

    I admire professionalism and open communication in regards to personality in the people I work with. While in the process of making music, I admire an ability to listen and a sincere interest and effort in connecting with others in the ensemble during the creative process. As far as I’m concerned music should never be about the individual ego.

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

    John Cage, because of his ability to stay in an almost childish state of “play” and his seemingly lack of fear of failure. I don’t love everything that he did and I don’t believe he did either, but he was always sincere in his efforts and his wish to exploration.

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

    Ornette Coleman

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

    I seem to be tremendously slow at accomplishing this, but it is still a goal of mine to create a solo album at some point in the coming years. I am still however figuring out what I want that to sound like.

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

    Yes, I am a big fan of all styles of music, as long as the artist manages to catch my attention in one way or another. Probably my favourite popular band/artist is Radiohead.

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

    I would like to be better at being lazy and letting time pass.

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

    That is a very hard question to answer as I am proud of most of the albums I have released; however if I had to choose one it would probably be the third album by Gorilla Mask, “Iron Lung”, released on Clean Feed Records in 2017.

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

    Yes but rarely. I usually listen to an album again once or twice around the time of release, partly to to make sure everything came out properly and partly out of excitement for the new product. After that it is much more rare. Sometimes I listen back to a specific track which I want to refresh on for a gig, and there are times when I decide to listen back to a whole album out of curiosity, but I don’t think this happens more than once each year or so.

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

    Probably Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    The Smile, “Wall of Eyes”

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    I am inspired by all sorts of artists from visual artists to filmmakers, and from actors to authors, so it is very hard to pin down one name. One person however who comes instantly to mind is the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, because of his ability to bend concept, image and storyline into a unique world all his own, which seems to unveil new layers every time I rewatch one of his films.

Peter Van Huffel on the Free Jazz Blog:

  • Peter Van Huffel's Callisto - Meandering Demons (Clean Feed, 2024)
  • Gorilla Mask - Brain Drain (Clean Feed, 2019) ****
  • Gorilla Mask - Iron Lung (Clean Feed, 2017) ****
  • Peter Van Huffel & Alex Maksymiw - Kronix (Fresh Sound Records, 2016) ****
  • The Scrambling Ex (FMR, 2015) ****
  • Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask - Bite My Blues (Clean Feed, 2014) ****
  • Peter Van Huffel - Boom Crane (Fresh Sound / New Talent Records, 2014) ****½
  • Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask - Howl! (Between the Lines, 2012) ***½
  • Peter Van Huffel Quartet - Like The Rusted Key (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2009) ****
  • Saturday, June 29, 2024

    Narr / Steidle - Introduction (self-released, 2024)

    By Sarah Grosser

    There is a snare-heavy drum freakout about half way through Steidle & Narr’s "Humble Days Ahead" which is so fast, so explosive and bombastic – let’s just say, Zach Hill has been real quiet since it dropped. Certainly Death Grips fans will appreciate the brutal energy of the raucous duo of Oliver Steidle and Steffi Narr’s wilder cuts, but it’s not all smashy-smashy bins and distorted guitar shredding. Introduction offers us five helpings of a variety of different improvisations, with a red thread of unpretentiousness and general psychedelia. The bandcamp tags of ‘jazz,’ ‘rock,’ ‘cosmic grooves,’ ‘grind core,’ ‘hip hop,’ and ‘improvisation’ only make up a part of the puzzle. One could even add ‘thrash,’ ‘experimental,’ and ‘electronic’ to this list. 'Tis quite far out, man. 

    Narr’s bold guitar work is prominent and crushing during album opener "A Funny Prejudice." Displaying creativity and virtuosity, she shreds like a banshee, perfectly complimenting Steidle’s ballistic, heavy drumming. 

    "Colours In My Mind" provides a moment of downtime. It features a repetitive, meditative, mostly beatless loop reminiscent of '90s trip hop, peppered with chimes, subtle samples, and electronic variations progressing over its almost 14 minute duration. After a while some drums slice their way in, gradually introducing themselves, but the focus is mostly on how the other elements fit in and around this one loop. The phrase “it's a mood” gets thrown around a lot these days, but that’s exactly what this is, and that mood is evocative, dark, slightly melancholy, almost stoner-ish, but never uninteresting, and certainly never boring.

    "Kill Your Darlings" sees a drum n’ bass breakbeat happening sporadically over a gating, phasing synth chord getting more bent and warped all over the place. The song is twisted into oblivion, the drums providing some kind of a reference point among the chaos which becomes progressively more unrecognisable to itself. The guitar is picked up again towards the tail end of the piece but it’s mostly drums and electronics. 

    The bizarrely named “Serious Sports vs. is Wrestling Fake ?” Is three and a half minutes of utter madness. The drums appear to be triggering a beat repeater… and you know what? It doesn’t make any sense to try and analyse the production method here. It is simply an improvised exploration through an immediate set of fast samples, underlined by intense drumming and gritty, gnarly guitar sounds. 

    Introduction is not an album for everybody - and thank god for that. It’s edgy, brash, and wild. Narr and Steidle look cute as hell on the front cover, which, frankly, is worth the 8 euros alone. It’s obviously been a great hair day for both of them, and now, they’ve got this sick new album out. The looks on their faces say: “Think you can handle this?” Like a dare.

    …So? Go check it out, I double dare you. 

    Friday, June 28, 2024

    John Zorn’s Bagatelles - Vols. 13–16 (Tzadik, 2023)

    By Lee Rice Epstein

    Almost 50 years after he started recording and releasing music, John Zorn has hit an incredible creative peak with his book of 300 Bagatelles. While Zorn's Masada books have had, arguably, the most immediate and wide-ranging impact, these newer compositions build on all of the methods Zorn has used and developed over 50 years. The fourth edition of Bagatelles collects volumes 13–16 and revolves around the theme of horns. Bagatelles, in classical Western practice, tend to be composed for soloists or small groups, and this edition takes beautiful advantage of the range of the bagatelle style. The results from each volume are, in a word, masterful.

    First, comes the incredible Volume 13, which features the Speed-Irabagon Quartet, with Chris Speed and Jon Irabagon on tenor saxes, Christian McBride on bass, Ches Smith on drums, and Zorn guesting on alto sax. The quartet rips right into their set with a potent, buzzing energy. As far as this edition goes, it’s the perfect opener. With Speed, Irabagon, McBride, and Smith, it’s a lot like climbing into the proverbial rollercoaster: buckle up and let the ride take you. A lot of Zorn’s music—think Dreamers, Incerto, piano trio—is jazz with the inside turned out, and outside turned in, which is exactly what Speed, Irabagon, McBride, and Smith have done consistently throughout their careers. The music zips along under the guise of a traditional quartet, but throughout, the horns bend and wind their way through McBride and Smith’s fierce rhythms.

    Volume 14 has Peter Evans solo on trumpet and piccolo trumpet. What, honestly, can one add to the corpus of writing about Evans’s trumpet playing? What he’s done for trumpet is right up there with Toshinori Kondo, Birgit Ulher, and Axel Dörner. Alongside peers like Lina Allemano, Nate Wooley, and Steph Richards, the trumpet’s been reimagined a dozen times over. Key to this album, however, is how the marriage of Evans and Zorn’s musical imaginations has produced a magical performance. On many of his compositions, Zorn pushes instruments beyond commonly accepted quote-unquote barriers, similar to what Evans has done physically and musically. Together, they are a powerhouse,

    Volume 15, Ben Goldberg leads a quartet with Jorge Roeder and Thomas Morgan on bass, and Craig Taborn on piano. Goldberg references the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in his liner notes, and that’s the group that instantly came to mind skimming the lineup. Adding a second bass player might seem to playfully hint at Cecil Taylor’s early Blue Note albums, but that’s not quite what Goldberg is up to here. This may be the most successful small-group Bagatelles set to date, given how brilliantly Roeder and Morgan blend together. Goldberg has a sly wit to his music that he brings to the arrangements of Zorn’s music. Neither one of them (or Taborn, for that matter) gets quite enough credit for the humor and lightness they effortlessly bring to their music. This quartet is a sheer joy to listen to, and I’m more disappointed than ever that I haven’t seen them perform the music live.

    On Volume 16, Sam Eastmond breaks the Bagatelles mold wide open, convening a 12-piece ensemble, the first group of British musicians to be invited to record a set of Bagatelles. The lineup is pulled from Spike Orchestra regulars, including Chris Williams on alto sax, Asha Parkinson and Emma Rawicz on tenor sax, Mike Foster on baritone sax, Noel Langley and Charlotte Keeffe on trumpet and flugelhorn, Joel Knee on trombone, Tom Briers on tuba, Moss Freed on guitar, Olly Chalk on piano, Fergus Quill on bass, and Alasdair Pennington on drums. As an arranger, Eastmond has recorded two previous volumes of Zorn’s music, Book of Angels, Volume 26: Cerebus and The Book Beri’ah, Volume 3: Binah. That’s largely due to Eastmond’s cleverness as conductor and arranger—each member of the band has their specific role, and the components of Zorn’s playbook provide a showcase for their individual voices. Where a composition might have a radically condensed line, Eastmond understands how to draw out the many aspects (swing, cartoon music, cut-and-paste, metal, rock) contained within, infusing Zorn’s Bagatelles with mid-century dance band excitement.

    The Bagatelles book shines when, as with these (and all previous) recordings, the performers are among Zorn’s closest and most inventive collaborators. In their hands, each tightly honed tune extends upwards and outwards, leading towards some distant, thrilling horizon.

    Thursday, June 27, 2024

    Peter Van Huffel's Callisto - Meandering Demons (Clean Feed, 2024)

    By Paul Acquaro

    It's a moon, a myth, and something new from saxophonist Peter van Huffel ... it's Callisto. Comprised of the Berlin based Canadian Van Huffel, who adds electronics in addition to his hearty baritone sax, along with fellow Berlin / Canadian musician trumpeter Lina Allemano, drummer Joe Hertenstein, and pianist (and electronics player) Antonis Anissegos, the bass-less trio of Callisto is a departure from the heavy breathing of Van Huffel's other outfit, Gorilla Mask, and a foray into acoustic-electronic composition and improvisation. 

    Worry not Gorilla Mask fans, strident rhythms still abound, but they may decay a bit sooner than expected, or be transmogrified by electronics in subtle - and not so subtle - ways. The opening track 'Meandering Demons' starts with van Huffel and Allemano playing a highly syncopated head, while Hertenstein adds additional urgency to the agitated melody. A slightly electronically altered piano provides a metallic-tasting bass line and then Van Huffel begins a taut solo, accented by the effected piano tones. Then Allemano joins, her trumpet piercing the musical momentum. The players head down different paths, each exploring different ideas, but the musical quilt hangs together by the fascinating threads that all pull back to the original melody - the meanderers re-united.

    'Ravenous Hound,' the next tune, expands on the group's many techniques and timbres. An extended passage by Allemano and Hertenstein find the trumpeter delivering feisty lines over the drummer's insistent pulse. Splashy cymbals follow Van Huffel into his solo, which is then punctuated by Anissego's electronically augmented bursts of notes. 'Glass Sanctuary,' too, explores new musical modes. Legato single note phrases from the piano, sax and drums are given electronic sonic padding that eventually come together into a colossal structure created out of sheer atmosphere. New melodic ideas emerge, permeating the air in a focused direction, the shading and shavings of the electronics shape the acoustics in ever changing ways.

    It is tempting to do a track-by-track but that would detract from the fun you should have checking out this excellent recording by Callisto. So, let's end with a quick impression of the closing track 'Barrel of Monkeys': it's excellent. Here the interplay between van Huffel and Allemano is front and center, lurching with intensity, shimmering chords from Anissegos and persistent and interesting rthymic ideas from Hertenstein, propping them up even more.

    Wednesday, June 26, 2024

    Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville - May 2024, Victoriaville, Canada

    By David Cristol
    All photos by Martin Morissette

    The 40th edition of FIMAV (“Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville”) took place from May 16 to 19, under the guidance of new artistic director Scott Thomson, a trombone player and previously programmer of the Guelph festival, after four decades under founder Michel Levasseur, the latter still involved on this edition on technical duties, with some of his relatives also on deck giving a hand. Launching a festival in the small town of Victoriaville and keeping it alive is nothing short of heroic. The endeavor was initially inspired by festivals such as Moers in Germany. FIMAV quickly became a reference in terms of improvised and avant-garde music. The associated label Les disques Victo, also a family business, is nearing 140 releases to this day (the latest are a Void Patrol live recording by Elliott Sharp and Fatrasies by the François Houle/Kate Gentile/Alexander Hawkins trio). This year marked a handover of the steering wheel, with both a sense of continuation and the kick-off of new threads. Frequent performers at the festival such as Roscoe Mitchell and Nate Wooley shared the schedule with bands getting a first chance to present their work in Quebec or even North America. Early afternoon solo concerts were located at the Church Saint-Christophe d’Arthabaska, and the remainder of the days saw the new music enthusiasts commuting from the Carré 150 downtown (salle F. Lemaire and Cabaret Guy-Aubert) to the Centre des Congrès for the 5 p.m. and midnight concerts. For the first time, the Free Jazz Collective was in the audience. 

    Quatuor Bozzini

    A long day’s travel from the old Continent and through Quebec led to missing the first show (and regretting it later, after hearing enthusiastic echoes about it), an oratorio in four acts by Pascal Germain-Berardi, “Basileus”. The homegrown mammoth work featured 50 musicians including an ominous-sounding “growlers choir”. The follow-up act couldn’t have been more different. Quatuor Bozzini (two violins, plus viola and cello) played Jürg Frey’s “String Quartet n°4” , exposing listeners to very low decibel-level music, a constant brush with silence, involving deep listening from all. Props to the audience for holding their breath for the set’s duration and immersing in this fragile yet intense piece, which goes firmly against the fabric of the dominant noisy and hurried way of life that plagues our daily lives. A delight to hear on stage, a courageous leap of faith from the new artistic director, rewarded by a mindful audience, with no applause between movements, which would have broken the spell. The sound of the instruments has a raw quality to it, closer to the dusky gut strings of baroque than the shiny metallic hues of new music. It takes extraordinary performers to keep their cool and stay in unison, with such delicate attack on the strings that notes appear out of the ether. The opposite of the no less talented Jack Quartet playing Zorn's music. The cohesion and tonal precision are out of this world, with long notes played at the same exact underlying tempo and identical volume. It’s contemplative, almost static, or so it seems, for it in fact ever evolves, however slightly. 

    Sakina Abdou

    The following morning starts at the church of Arthabaska where Sakina Abdou makes her first live appearance in Canada. On record, her solo saxophone work is featured on the 2022 Relative Pitch release Goodbye Ground. She is a key element of Eve Risser’s Red Desert Orchestra, which got a lot of exposure in recent years, a favorite act of European festivals. She begins from behind the audience, hidden from sight. The sound is bold, life-affirming. Another saxophone is placed at the center of the “stage”, like an iconic artefact. Abdou favors long notes, interspersed with light growls and occasional vibrato. The artist paces about the upper floor, close to the large organs. The full-bodied sound eventually comes closer to the audience. Abdou walks slowly from the back of the aisles and proceeds to the spot where a priest usually talks to believers. She switches to tenor, resorts to circular breathing, produces harmonics over repeated or changing patterns, explores the lower register for a while and makes use of the resonant space. Plaster angels surround her, and a sculpted Jesus in preaching position seemingly gives her his blessing or maybe lectures her. Whether it is God’s or the devil’s music, there is a devout and ritualistic aspect to the proceedings – and we’re part of it. Abdou delves into the low notes, without a break or words being spoken. For the finale she deploys a technique involving vocalization and aspiration, with noises reminiscent of bird chirps, sending us on the day’s journey on a light and uplifting note. 

    Amma Ateria

    For her piece « Concussssion », San Francisco composer Amma Ateria resorts to electronics only, offering a sound translation of the consequences of a head trauma and its recovery process. We’re privy to a trip under sedation back to consciousness, equally nightmarish and soothing, hopeful and claustrophobic, involving wall-shaking sub-bass, muffled voices, uneasy sound perspectives evoking growing and recessing waves of pain, and progressive neuronal reconnection, enhanced by rather suffocating abstract black and white video images. The serious-minded artist seems to have studied the subject in-depth, unless it stems from a personal experience. 

    Splendide Abysse

    The mostly local and ¼ Italian (the undemonstrative drummer Carlo Costa, living in New York and the soul behind the lowercase Neither/Nor label) quartet Splendide Abysse is led by composer and clarinet player Philippe Lauzier. A yet-unheard language is deployed, supported by a tight unit of performers (in addition to those mentioned, Belinda Campbell on prepared piano and synthesizer and Frédérique Roy on accordion and vocals). The name of the project and some lyrics in the latter part of the set suggests an underwater universe crawling with sea creatures, but the source of inspiration was not necessary to enjoy the music on its own. Presented as a suite, its successive movements are not distinctly separated from each other, rather flowing from one part to the next. These songs with or without words have a ghostly quality to them, and no flashiness whatsoever. The tones are both precise (in execution) and uncertain (for the ear), with a piano either detuned on purpose or in just intonation. The nuance and complexity makes this project one to listen to at home or on headphones, but it hasn’t been recorded yet. Given the work and care put into it, and the sheer originality, it would certainly be worth it. 

    Natural Information Society

    This incarnation of Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society is subtitled « Community Ensemble with Ari Brown ». One of the key elements here is Chicago tenor man Ari Brown, who brings stellar playing to the table, albeit too low in the mix (every N.I.S. show I witnessed had similar problems, the harmonium either inaudible or drowning the other players, which is regrettable given the talent on hand). The band’s aesthetics remain unchanged, its feverish grooves organized around the leader’s focused guembri playing, a trancey music with, in this case, a wealth of trumpets and saxes providing stimulating solos throughout, although the formula is not exactly innovative at this point, and the magic only works intermittently. 

    Sophie Agnel and John Butcher

    On the eve of her 60th birthday, pianist Sophie Agnel is in great creative form, from the six-piano band Pianoise, the tremendous trio with John Edwards and Steve Noble, and a fun duet with Joke Lanz on turntables. The association with John Butcher on tenor and soprano sax is a dream one. Top shelf improvisation, by two major practitioners of the genre, if it can be called that. Through the diversity of sounds and textures these two get from their instruments, the approach is orchestral. Agnel could be credited as a percussionist, given the energy she puts into playing on the wooden body and the inside of the grand, preparing it on the spot, moving about frantically, while her partner stands still for the duration of the mind-blowing set, spurting several good ideas a minute and bringing them to fruition. This is strictly improv, cut out from any jazz influence. 

    Orcutt Guitar Quartet

    The only electric guitar quartet I heard live prior to this was Dither, performing John Zorn’s game pieces. On record, Fred Frith Guitar Quartet. But it’s not a format one encounters every day. The Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet was put together after Orcutt had played, recorded and released the repertoire by himself. Taking it on tour, he brought a stellar team of fellow string hitters (Wendy Eisenberg, Ava Mendoza, Shane Parish), who share a common sensitivity with the composer. That is, leaning towards blues and other American roots music, with a biting mindset, not without nuance though. The short pieces are based on purposefully simple riffs. The group is all smiles, each member bringing their characteristic musical persona and sound to the picture. The album from which the tunes are lifted lasts 30 minutes, so what follows is improvised and makes room for a delightful “string” of solos, duos and trios. Then the quartet returns with a new riff, hotter than sands of the desert at noon, with gnarly playing from all. 

    Roscoe Mitchell
    Sitting next to Roscoe Mitchell in a shuttle, I [dare] ask him about the current reissues on the French BYG-Actuel label, which he’s aware of and associated with. When I mention particular album titles, instead of commenting on them he remembers and hums the tunes, stressing that the music is “not free.” Seven small colorful paintings by the hand of the composer are arranged on the stage of the Cabaret. The A.A.C.M. founding member appears in a dapper purple suit and pink hat, the large bass saxophone already in place. Mitchell sits on the stool and puts his lips to the embouchure. From his small groups to his large ensemble(s) recordings, and multi-tasking in the Art ensemble of Chicago, we have learned to expect the unexpected. Tonight, it feels like studies, orderly and unhurried, one note at a time. No trace of extended techniques, except for the spectacular circular breathing. The slowly unfolding notes and melodic patterns are unrelated to Great Black Music. This is more akin to a systematic research. Serious and no-nonsense. He moves to the less cumbersome sopranino, on which he favors hissing and dissonant emissions. Sakina Abdou gets as close as she can to check the master at work. On the records stand later on, we spot and grab a book collection of Mitchell’s visual art, published by Chicago’s gallery/label Corbett vs. Dempsey. 

    Roaring Tree

    Roaring Tree is Joëlle Léandre on bass, Mat Maneri on viola and Craig Taborn on piano. They released the hEARoes album on Rogue Art and will be next heard on Lifetime Rebel, a 4-CD + DVD set recorded at Vision festival for Léandre’s lifetime achievement celebration in 2023. All have history together, with Maneri duetting with Léandre on “A woman’s work” as well as being both members of the Stone Quartet and Judson trio. Taborn appeared on Maneri and Joe McPhee’s Sustain album in 2002 and both joined Ches Smith on the wonderful album The Bell on ECM in 2016. These master musicians, improvisers united by friendship don’t need to plan anything ahead of going up onstage. It’s hard to tell why it works so well, but it does. Maybe it’s because their tempers are markedly different and complementary: melancholy and calm for Maneri, restless and militant for Léandre, lighting up with joy in the case of Taborn, these moods translated in their playing. What joins them is complete availability to the moment, and a sense of lyricism in the abstract. The collective interactions are remarkable – one could think miraculous if it was not the result of decades of hard work – and each one’s approach to their instrument is subjugating to observe as well as to hear. Taborn’s hands are constantly hovering over the keyboard, like in starting-blocks, ready to engage in bursts of expression, whether fleeting or declarative. Maneri’s manner is more inward, eyes closed and looking into his soul to find the appropriate microtonal notes and textures to contribute, while Léandre seems in a state of tension, torn between an impulse to let rip and the necessary moderation for the trio to keep its balance. She transcends that tension in her solo spot, a few memorable minutes of both the set and the festival. Tour-de-force aside, it’s the waves of ideas coalescing or circling around each other in real-time that makes the value of this incomparable trio.

    The Dwarfs of East Agouza

    At midnight, the concerts have a fun, danceable and sometimes delirious dimension to them. I was thrilled to hear these musicians onstage, with only Egyptian keyboardist and electronics wizard Maurice Louca unknown to me. All three are based in Cairo and live in the same building. Longtime Montréal resident Sam Shalabi is an impressive guitar player while bass and saxophone player, comedian and vocalist Alan Bishop, of Sun City Girls fame, is also the brain behind the global music label Sublime Frequencies. The Dwarfs (yes, right spelling, while the program changed it to Dwarves) of East Agouza‘s brew of North African psychedelia relies on the best dub bass playing since Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble, astoundingly bent guitar tones, over a base of electronics-generated beats and oriental synth motifs. The axe molesters face each other, showing their profiles to the audience. Ava Mendoza sits in the front rows and films snippets of the show with a big smile on her face. Bishop wails like a baby with a sax mouthpiece before convincingly playing the instrument. He dances, engages in camp vocalizations and whimsical speeches. Then the sax becomes a flute in his hands. Funky, unpredictable, surrealist and a highlight of the festival. 

    Columbia Icefield

    After the devastatingly emotional Seven Storey Mountain ensemble concert at Lisbon’s Gulbenkian two years ago, Nate Wooley comes back with another stunning live offering, this time with Columbia Icefield. All four members were part of the aforementioned Seven Storey Mountain performance. The compositions are new, different from the released album, which also had slightly different personnel. It’s the last concert of the tour. Wooley presents the project and the band (Ava Mendoza on electric guitar, Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar and Ryan Sawyer on drums) in his introductory speech, explaining that we are about to hear a tribute to one of his mentors, the man who made him quit a meaningless job in Oregon in order to focus on playing the trumpet, the late Ron Miles, who passed in 2022. It resulted in young Nate leaving his previous life behind, and to this day we benefit from this career decision and 30-year old friendship. The compositions are arranged into a single big piece, without breaks. Most of the set consists of a rock and rhythm-heavy style, after a solo trumpet overture and before a solo conclusion also from Wooley, tapping his feet and chanting an incantatory march or hymn. Between incipit and explicit, the music proves both elegiac and dissonant – a rare combination – on a slow piece from a trio then the quartet. The drumming is profuse, with assembled sticks. Sawyer moves to maracas only for a lengthy solo. Mendoza joins with metallic lava flows. This is music brimming with love and anger. Ron Miles-style melodies are recognizable, but in a wild environment, in contrast to the gentle recordings of the late trumpeter. Scores are followed closely, and there are generous spaces for expression from all. The compositions harbor multiple shapes, with changing rhythms and playing modes: straight ahead, improv, noise, melody, abstraction, the listener never quite knowing what the next minute’s going to sound like. The quartet goes full-out for a while, the usually peaceful Alcorn unleashing her inner Jimi Hendrix. Not forgetting Wooley’s virtuosity, whether on the quieter pieces or with the band at full steam.

    Kavain Wayne Space / XT Trio

    Next is an odd one. Kavain Wayne Space / XT Trio consists of Kavain Wayne Space (CD DJ), Seymour Wright (alto sax, real and potential) and Paul Abbott (drums, real and imagined). Disjointed beats, barely recognizable and recontextualized 70s soul & funk samples and (a)rhythmical sax playing, as per usual from Wright ([Ahmed]). His style is all hiccups and jerks, fragments, single brief notes separated by silences; the sound equivalent of flickering lights, and not unlike John Oswald’s Plunderphonics in the disorienting results (Oswald gets mentioned because he is in attendance, as a friend and neighbor). Wright is also a terrific writer in the “We Jazz” magazine. Hard to tell which sounds come from the drummer or the deejay. The whole thing is noisy and dense, with messed up hip-hop rhythms and the alto sounding like an accordion when Wright puts a pedal to use. At the back of the venue, a volunteer dances her ass off. Very unusual and interesting, but the set never seems to end, and indeed could go on forever, as the continuum had no definable beginning either. A confrontational attitude, playing until there’s no one left to play for? A test of the listener’s endurance? While everybody has to leave in order to make it to the next show, the XT trio is still playing… 


    I had heard Sélébéyone in Berlin, when the band was a septet (with Drew Gress on bass, Carlos Homs on keyboards and Jacob Richard on drums). Seven years later, it is now a quintet with Steve Lehman (alto sax, sequencing), Maciek Lasserre (soprano sax, sequencing), and spoken word artists Hprizm (aka High Priest) and Gaston Bandimic remaining, while Damion Reid more than fills up the drum chair. The rappers’ lyrics are in English for the US citizen, who simply has one of the best voices in hip-hop, and in French and Senegalese dialect (wolof) for Lyon-based Bandimic. The vocal samples are in French and English. The longevity of the project is notable. The human and aesthetic relationships between members have enabled it to keep on touring, even if some jazz heads would like to hear more of Lehman in acoustic trio format for example (well, he already did that, check Clean Feed’s double LP of Lehman with Mark Dresser and Pheeroan akLaff). The sound is too loud to make out the lyrics – when the Berlin set allowed for a better perception of every element in this busy, richly layered musical and linguistic offering, a work of intricate structures, with brief and dazzling solos that avoid standing out too much from the whole. It is possible to grasp that some of the words at least are politically conscious. The absence of a bass is compensated by low grumbles courtesy of Lehman’s electronic gear, which also propels pre-programmed beats. Jazz, electro and hip-hop are one here, without one “school” taking precedence over another. As such, it’s an ambitious and ideal unit.


    Kim Myhr Sympathetic Magic

    A lightweight ending to a heavyweight edition, the octet Kim Myhr Sympathetic Magic promotes a laidback, atmospheric and groovy imaginary folk-pop rich with guitars and percussion, and a finicky vintage keyboard (courtesy of Eve Risser who subs for a missing regular band member) that initially refuses to work. Risser has a lot of fun in this context, distinct from her own projects. It’s alluring, velvety even at full power, and maybe the most popular set with the audience. To my ears, however, the concert suffers from the inescapable programmatic nature of the music, which unfolds as planned, with nary a surprise or unsettling of expectations in sight. The second part proves more stimulating, although never projecting a sense of urgency or something of significance to say. “It’s a mood”, they say, and maybe I just wasn’t attuned to it.

    Michel Levasseur and Scott Thomson.

    In a relaxed and friendly atmosphere allowing for artists, audiences and writers to meet and chat, the 40 th edition of FIMAV was highly enjoyable. We’re told that people have come in smaller numbers than the previous year, which can be explained by several factors: John Zorn was a big attraction on Michel Levasseur’s last hurrah, and the new artistic impulse by Scott Thomson, with more new classical acts on display may take some getting used to from the usual crowd. For this listener, it was a consistent and mostly satisfying listening experience, with a fine balance between peak acts and discoveries, all worth hearing. A solid statement of intent and prelude to brilliant future editions.

    Thanks to Jordie, Norman, Daniel, Doc...

    Tuesday, June 25, 2024

    Montresor - Autopoiesis (self-released, 2024)

    By Sammy Stein

    Cameron Piko, also known as Montresor, is based in Melbourne, Australia, and released his debut album Entelechy, in 2015. Nine years later, his follow-up is Autopoiesis and the style is a departure away from the prog-rock homage of Entelechy towards more experimental, freer music. His musical dadaism sets him aside as he blows apart many conventions yet produces music that has strong elements of rock, jazz, improvised classical, and jazz fusion. He indulges his penchant for rhythms at odds with each other and yet held together by chordal lines running beneath.

    Think Miles Davis meets Frank Zappa, and you get some idea of Piko’s music. His punchy rhythms track across regulated and otherworldly patterns, gluing them together, yet making each track individual.

    Much of the richness of the sound is the result of the musicians Montresor chose for this album – Cameron Piko, guitars, Chris Martin, bassoon, Stuart Byrne, bass clarinet, Charlie Cawood, bass guitar, Morgan Agren, drums, Vilan Mai, clarinet, Gerry Pantazsis, drums, Phil Turcio, piano and Richard Allison and Gabriel Riccio, additional keys. So many sounds to choose from and how Piko does this makes this music intriguing.

    Experimental time signatures mean there is a jumpiness to the music at times and the musicians have to navigate some oddly timed changes, where each line has a different pattern, used to create depth and texture.

    Be prepared for a different journey on this album as Piko veers in several directions, sometimes changing style mid-track and the experimental side is to the fore. That said, the classical instrumentation adds familiarity and provides a rich wellspring of sounds and ranges that Piko can use – and he does so with alacrity. For example, in ‘Bildungsroman’ he uses the rich depths of the bass clarinet over the ensemble's disjointed rhythms and chords of the ensemble, and the contrast works well because there are enough familiar rhythm patterns for the listener to associate with.

    On ‘Homunculus’ there is a wonderfully uplifting last section where the almost frivolous repeated rhythm of the guitars provides a noisesome backdrop for the fluid melody. Piko’s use of classical instrumentation alongside the almost constant drums bass and drums allows him to create tracks like ‘The Fallen City’ where different sonic moments are introduced using the wider range of sounds available to the composer. On Autopoiesis the classical nod is freely given before the track evolves into a multi-genre mix of styles from rock to jazz and improvisation.

    This album is eclectic, and multi-genre influenced but is an intriguing listen and gives insight into the workings of Piko’s complicated layer-building style.

    Monday, June 24, 2024

    Steph Richards - Power Vibe (Self-Produced, 2024)

    By Don Phipps

    The interesting and spontaneous dynamics presented by trumpeter/flugelhornist Steph Richards and her bandmates on Power Vibe are diverse and challenging. While the abstract numbers wind and unwind in various ways, each offers its own mood and energy.

    Unfortunately, studio engineering is problematic – in particular, the buried aspects of Joshua White’s piano lines (check out “Power Vibe” where his impressive solo is obscured). White’s technique is certainly compelling, and his energy offers great counterpoint to Richard’s sweet lines and Stomu Takeishi’s all-over-the-neck bass effort, but even towards the end of the modern ballad “October to July,” where a beautiful call and response back and forth between Richards and White should be a highlight, White is relegated to the background. Contrast this with the live number, “Supersense (Live in Bolzano),” where the recording mix gives his piano a bit more (but still not enough) weight. Towards the end of “Supersense,” White propels the piece into sonic space.

    That said, Richards exhibits a wonderful set of chops, and her lines race along or use staggered syncopation (check out “Power Vibe”). Her flugelhorn effort on “Moutons” seems to float in mid-air, adding runs or blowing fat notes that slur upward. Her work on the live number “Supersense (Live in Bolzano)” suggests playfulness, as her notes slip and slide about. And her cool intro on “Prey” and on the melancholy “October to July” reveal yet another side to her playing.

    Takeishi, too, shows his bass skills throughout the album. Listen to his staccato picks on “Prey,” rolling along above Max Jaffe’s sensory electronics. Or his subtle work on “October to July” and his racing, rumbling technique on “Reculez.” Drummer Gerald Cleaver too, makes his presence felt on “Reculez,” – with well-time snare rolls and some fine work on the toms. Sadly, Cleaver’s contributions are also shrouded in the mix.

    Jaffe’s electronics are interesting, but at times confusing. What is he trying to accomplish, for instance, on “Power Vibe?” Is his purpose simply to add texture or surprise? One might think the jagged lines of “Power Vibe” would work fine without the atmospherics, which at times sound like howling wind. His work on “Reculez” is more precise and deserving of recognition.

    “Supersense (Live in Bolzano)” features a passage where Takeishi and Richards play in unison. Bass and trumpet together – quite a pairing! And Roberts and White shine, while Jaffe takes over on the drums and adds some interesting flourishes here and there.

    In sum, there is great feeling and virtuosity on display in Power Vibe. Roberts and company should be applauded for their willingness to take chances and push the envelope. If complex, free, and challenging music is your interest, Power Vibe is worth exploring, technical limitations notwithstanding.

    Steph Richards, trumpet and flugelhorn
    Joshua White, piano
    Stomu Takeishi, bass and electric bass guitars
    Gerald Cleaver, drumset (tracks 1-5)
    Max Jaffe, sensory electronics (tracks 1-5), drumset (track 6)

    Saturday, June 22, 2024

    Peter Evans' Being & Becoming - Ars Memoria (More Is More, 2023)

    By Stef Gijssels

    In 2020, we were treated to the astonishingly strong "Being & Becoming", a quartet of Peter Evans on trumpet and piccolo trumpet, Joel Ross on vibraphone and percussion, Nick Jozwiak on bass and Savannah Harris on drums. For their sophomore album, the latter has been replaced by Michael Shekwoaga Ode.

    Like the first album, the music is complex, influenced by Western and non-Western sounds, by modern and ancient sounds. The tight compositions and structural anchor points, leave sufficient room for improvisation resulting in wonderful dynamics and lively expressivity between the four stellar musicians. Sounds change, rhythms change, tones change, moods change, harmonics change, not all at once, but in a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of spiraling ideas and sounds. It's hard to assess which arrangements have been agreed upon, but despite the music's complexity, in the hands of these four musicians it all sounds so spontaneous, so organic and supple. It's hard to assess the level of concentration these musicians need to keep abreast of what will happen next, while at the same time performing with ease and fully relaxed, focused on their own sound. I assume that this is somehow captured in the album's title, the art of memory,  to have played some music so often, that it comes naturally, without effort, so that you can focus fully on the delivery, the performance of the moment. The whole album develops coherently in a very suite-like fashion. In contrast to their debut album, I have the impression that Evans gives more room for the other instruments, with the rhythm section become the lead voice, and the trumpet adding and colouring. 

    Another exceptional aspect is the overall tone of the music: it sounds so jubilant, joyful, upbeat and ecstatic, with the exception of the more solemn middle track, built around a central tone and slowly developing. But it's especially the superfast moments, such as on the title track that are absolutely exhilarating, demonstrating how the quartet has refined, polished their art over the years, to achieve such a wonderfully precise and inectious interaction. It is at times hard to believe what they're doing, and you can listen again and again with open ears and open mouth. 

    Listen and download from Bandcamp

    Watch a full performance, streamed live on Mar 17, 2023 at Roulette, New York.

    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy – The Mighty Warriors (Elemental Music, 2024) *****

    By Gary Chapin

    Few musicians map the borderlands between free jazz and post-bop with the thoroughness and skill of Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy, and the fact that they fell into a decades-long partnership is one of the great happenstances of this music we love. On this recording, a previously unreleased live recording from Antwerp, 1995, we’re presented with 96 minutes of the two (along with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille) at the height of their powers.

    Waldron is included in Matthew Shipp’s list of Black Mystery School Pianists, which completely tracks, given Waldron’s minimalistic, quasi-ritualistic improvisations that often bring on small delightful fugue states in the listener. Lacy is, in addition to all his own streams, a fellow traveler for the Mystery School, with an architecture building on Monk’s foundation.

    Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille are the ridiculously powerful rhythm section for this date. I don’t know how I can describe the rightness of Workman’s playing, that every note is where and when it needs to be, and each sounds amazing (which is also a function of production and recording). Cyrille is the gentlest, most sensitive kick-ass free drummer you’ve ever heard, unfailingly providing levitational force under the rest of the geometry. Workman and Cyrille together have the best conversations—old friends who are still fascinated by what each has to say. Of course, that would go for Lacy and Waldron, too.

    The set comprises two Monk tunes, a long Workman piece, a Lacy original, and the rest by Waldron, including a long medley that opens with Waldron’s “Snake Eyes” (something of a standard) and moves into variations on a Cecil Taylor piece. There’s a lot of stretching out on this album, and the creative facility available to these four men is extraordinary. They are all at the top of their game.

    As if that weren’t enough, the book included with the package contains pieces written by Workman, Cyrille, Dave Liebman, and Hiromi Waldron (Mal’s widow). If we’re giving out stars, this one gets five.

    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    Kodian Trio & Kodian Plus

    Kodian Trio - Black Box (Raw Tonk Records, 2024)

    Kodian Plus - Disengage (New Wave of Jazz, 2023)

    By Lee Rice Epstein

    For about 10 years, the power trio of drummer Andrew Lisle, guitarist Dirk Serries, and saxophonist Colin Webster have been tearing up the UK and European scene. Setting themselves apart from other improvising trios by rejecting clichés at every turn, they’ve nevertheless remained relatively off the radar of most US-based fans of free jazz and improvised music. If this is your first time hearing about them, for example, Black Box is their ninth album overall, eighth as a trio, showcasing two live sets from March 2022, recorded at the Black Box in Münster, Germany.

    Serries has defied conventions for 40 years, first as VidnaObmana and later as leader or member of a number of improvising groups. Lisle and Webster are like two halves of a beating heart, their flow is so natural and elegant; for a stateside comparison, think of Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy—in many ways, Rempis is a fitting point of reference for listening to Webster, and this trio is a bit like the one with Rempis, Daisy, and pianist Matt Piet. The music at times leans moody and atmospheric, then breaks into scorching hot syncopated attacks, Lisle skirting along like Rashied Ali. And here’s what makes Kodian Trio unique among free jazz acts: both sets demonstrate their knack for building ambient, quiet spaces in the music. Where other groups might simply have players drop out for the introspective section, here you have all three players trading whole tones and creative techniques, as playful as it is stirring.

    Two days later, Lisle, Serries, and Webster brought in brass player Charlotte Keeffe and pianist Martina Verhoeven to form Kodian Plus, an expanded group recorded a blazing studio session (here’s hoping there are also live sets waiting to be released). Keeffe has been, for me, the discovery of the decade. A dynamic player with a clear vision, she matches Webster for sheer inventiveness, both of them playing with breath, valves and keys, and tones to make radical, dramatic sounds and melodic lines. Verhoeven, Serries’s spouse, has played with Serries and Webster in various free jazz lineups for over 10 years. Although she also plays bass and cello, on Disengage, Verhoeven only plays piano, although that phrasing greatly diminishes what she does with the instrument. Like many of her contemporaries, the piano is a whole instrument, not merely a set of keys at the end. And so, like Serries, Webster, and Keeffe, she almost takes the instrument apart sonically and reassembles it, component sound by component sound. After some languidly paced explorations, the quintet burns brightly, pulsating and boiling over with so much energy, it should leave any listener buzzing, eager to catch them as soon as possible.

    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    James Chance (1953 - 2024)

    Photo from jameschanceofficial

    By Martin Schray

    In the early 1980s I used to buy my records at a nice small-town record store; it was run by a hip couple. They knew my preferences at that time - New Wave, Alternative Music, HipHop etc. - and one day they recommended James White & The Blacks’ Sax Maniac. If I wanted something different, this was the record I needed. I went home, put the record on ..... and was disturbed (I didn’t know what No Wave was). The music was weird and atonal, but also kind of funky. Over the years I’ve put Sax Maniac on and off, to this day I struggle with it, but I’ve come to appreciate it. James White, the man also known as James Chance, was a pioneer of deconstructed dance music, and I followed his career and listened to the albums he released over the years. I even saw him with The Contortions in 2015 on the Météo festival. So it was sad news when his family launched a GoFundMe campaign in 2023, because it was clear that he had serious health problems. Now the great saxophonist and singer has passed away.

    James Chance was born as James Siegfried and was raised in Milwaukee and Brookfield, Wisconsin. At the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee he joined his first band, Death, which played Stooges and Velvet Underground covers but also some of their own songs. In 1975, Chance moved to New York City and quickly entered the free jazz and no wave punk rock scenes. In 1976 he founded Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch, a soul mate. In 1977, after studying for a short time under David Murray, Chance formed The Contortions, who mixed free jazz improvisation and funky rhythms á la James Brown with a punk attitude. Their live shows often ended in violence when Chance would confront audience members. Chance’s stage and musical persona were closely connected to his then girlfriend and agent Anya Phillips, who died of cancer in 1981. Although they broke up already in 1979, the Contortions released four albums in sum: Buy, (ZE/Island, 1979) , and Off White, under the pseudonym James White and the Blacks (ZE Records, 1979) featuring Lydia Lunch under the pseudonym Stella Rico. The third one, Live Aux Bains Douches (S.C.O.P.A., 1980) contains a killer live version of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough“. The last one is White Cannibal (ROIR, 1980). Back in the days it was only released as a tape, but later the album became available on CD and vinyl. The opener is a very rough version of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)“. All four albums are must-have classics of the No Age genre. The Contortions reached a wider audience with their contribution to the Brian Eno-compiled No New York collection of No Wave acts.Chance then re-formed James White and the Blacks with a completely different lineup that appeared on the 1982 album Sax Maniac which was dedicated to Anya Phillips. The group released one more album, Melt Yourself Down, a very limited Japanese release. In 1982 Chance toured with the re-formed James White and the Blacks with his brother David "Tremor" Siegfried and his band David and the Happenings. In 1983 Chance briefly relocated to Paris, returning to New York City in 1983 to record the album James White Presents The Flaming Demonics.

    In 2001, Chance reunited with original Contortions members Jody Harris (guitar), Pat Place (slide guitar) and Don Christensen (drums) for a few limited engagements. Original keyboard player Adele Bertei appeared briefly, but bass player George Scott III had died of an accidental drug overdose in 1980 and his slot was filled by Eric Sanko. The reunited group has played several shows in 2008.

    In addition to limited engagements with the original Contortions, Chance has performed and recorded with the Chicago band Watchers every now and then. In 2009 he made occasional appearances playing keyboards in NYC with a trio, with the material restricted to close readings of jazz standards. In Europe, he has performed with James Chance & Les Contortions, French musicians who have been his backing band since 2006.

    Unfortunately, Chance had to cut short his tour plans in 2022 due to a sudden health crisis. The family had hopes that James would recover, however there was scarce employment for musicians during this time of the pandemic.

    Recently, Chance was in very bad health, he had to go to hospital because he was not able to walk anymore. What was more, his partner Judy Taylor died, which left him on his own. At seats a little help was his brother David. Now Chance has lost the fight against the illness, which - albeit a relief since he doesn’t have to suffer anymore - is a bis loss for the music world.

    Watch James Chance & The Contortions “I Can’t Stand Myself“ and feel the man’s magic: 

    Alexander Frangenheim/Patrick Crossland – Basic Tracks, Baltimore New York (Concepts of Doing, 2024)

    By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

    The duo of Alexander Frangenheim on double bass and Patrick Crossland on trombone has been playing together since 2010, their interaction comes as a proof of their longstanding creative relationship. This CD, in Frangenheim’s own Concepts of Doing, is the next release of the label, right after the excellent trio Nail with Frangenheim, Michel Doneda and Roger Turner, which was reviewed here.

    Consisting of five tracks the first two are live recordings from a concert at the Baltimore University, while the rest were recorded live at the Record Shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. All five tracks are improvisations, that show clearly how advanced are the two musicians in their take of how to improvise as solo artists and their willingness to absorb the solo mentality of jazz tradition into collective playing.

    Both live recordings are full of intensity and energy, free improvisations that combine the syncopated nature of the trombone with the percussive sounds from the double bass in a non-linear way. I say non-linear as they, very willingly it seems, stop from time to time, gathering energy and incorporating pauses of silence in the recording. Their playing, though, is dynamic and intense, allowing the listener to call this music free jazz as well…

    They seem that they possess the language of improvisation and are, at the same time, quite able to take the most from their respected instruments. As a listener sometimes I feel that a trombone could less equiped for free playing by nature. At least I feel like that after having listened to many recordings consisting of this instrument. But Crossland’s playing feels at ease with everything that comes in the way. Bursts of audio activity, silences, full on energy attacks.

    Having listened more to Alexander Frangeheim’s music, I feel at ease with his compatibility in any situation given. His playing in Basic Tracks is flexible and relaxed but not in the “cool” way of many boring musics. He is eager to follow, to lead, and, mostly, to listen and to interact. Another great one from Concepts of Doing.

    Watch the Baltimore show here:


    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Jason Stein, Marilyn Crispell, Damon Smith, Adam Shead - spi​-​raling horn (Balance Point Acoustics/ Irritable Mystic Records, 2024)

    By Don Phipps

    Intense. Explosive. A full-on rumble. That’s just some of the adventure that awaits listeners of “spi-raling horn,” a collection of artist Cy Twombley-inspired spontaneous compositions and improvisations by a quartet comprised of Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Marilyn Crispell (piano), Damon Smith (double bass), and Adam Shead (drums). The music runs the gamut from challenging roller coaster sprints to playful syncopation. And the expertise and talent required to pull all of this off is present in substantial abundance.

    Why does the late great Jimmy Lyons come to mind when listening to Stein’s rollicking up and down bass clarinet lines? Stein plays his instrument like a bee buzzing around a new fragrant flower, anxious to experience the nectar within. And like the bee, whose constant flight and buzz are in constant motion, Stein provides dexterous sax key rips and strong ongoing exhortations throughout the album – driving and eliciting amazing responses from his bandmates. His fluid playing and rapid-fire runs are on full display in the cuts “a universe of otherwise” and the instant masterpiece “a rusted bell’s clank.”

    Marilyn Crispell, whose excellent work gained prominence in the long-lived Anthony Braxton quartet, fits right in with Stein, and at times dominates the action. Take her prancing opening on “back and back out,” and her powerful control as the piece winds down. Her abstract counterplay keeps “the ground laid open” hopping about – as though the musical sand is just too hot for bare feet!

    And the rhythm section – bassist Smith and drummer Shead never let up. Smith’s hands rip up and down the bass neck with forceful plucks. And when he’s not popping the strings, he bows modern flowing lines that seem to race like a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred through fields at full gallop. Check out his bow work on “a song paid by singing,” and, his solo on “a rusted bell’s clank” is simply not to be missed.

    Like Smith, Shead generates a lot of heat as he rummages over the traps. There’s not a drum or cymbal he doesn’t touch or a technique he doesn’t bring to bear as he crafts his ocean of sound. Listen to his amazing speed dashes on the cymbals on the number “a rusted bell’s clank.” Or his rolling thunder mallet technique on “so close it cut my ribs.” Or his airy combination of brush and bass drum pedal on “the ground laid open.”

    While “a rusted bell’s clank” remains the centerpiece of this album, two other pieces demonstrate that the quartet is not focused solely on power dynamics. First, the fascinating “saturant moon water,” with its lunar sound effects, offers up a musical representation of a spatial expanse. And second, “so close it cut my ribs,” offers up a beautiful opening – like catching one’s breath at the top of a summit that looks out on both sky and ocean.

    Albums that combine incredible talent and muscular playing are a delight. And that Stein, Crispell, Smith and Shead have produced this stunning swash-buckling homage to a painter - one whose whole oeuvre was about random musings and free expression - should not be a surprise. Let’s hope there’s more to come !

    Monday, June 17, 2024

    Taylor Ho Bynum & Jacqueline Kerrod - Simple Ways Such Self (Orenda, 2024)

    By Stef Gijssels

    Harpists are hard to find in jazz, yet in free improvisation they can find their place, and we have reviewed several of them over the years, with better known musicians such as Zeena Parkins, Rhodri Davies, Ernesto Rodrigues, Thanos Chrysakis or lesser known - at least to me - such as Brandee Younger, Carol Emanuel, Charles Overton, Rafaelle Rinaudo, Lucia Stavros, Delphine Latil, Angélica V. Salvi, Áine O’Dwyer, Alison Bjorkedal, Stina Hellberg Agback, Marilu Donovan, June Han, Noah Horne, Clare Cooper, Kara Bershad, Anne Lebanon, Elisa Thorn, Saara Rautio, Tineke Steenbrink, Giovanna Pessi, Jess Garland, Sissel Walstad. It's still an impressive list, more than I anticipated when I started browsing through the reviews. 

    We know Jacqueline Kerrod from her collaboration with Anthony Braxton, a musician with whom cornettist Taylor Ho Bynum also substantially collaborated, and both musicians met in the context of their membership of Braxton's ZIM Music Ensemble and ZIM Sextet. 

    They decided to give a live performance together in March of last year, each having penned one track, while leaving the other pieces open to free improvisation. It resulted in this unusual and definitely exceptional album. The harp by itself invites for more intimate, quiet music, which is mostly the case on this album, but Kerrod is inventive and creative enough to expand the expected limits of her instrument. Classically trained in her native South Africa, she is equally versatile in modern music as she is in improvised contexts. 

    Even if both instruments have totally different musical roots and are rarely heard together, their sound here is wonderfully coherent and a perfect match in the hands of two musicians who fully master their instruments and their art. The music is mostly gentle, sometimes meditative, yet always full of character and with sharp fangs at times. It's hard to pigeon-hole the music stylistically, if that is even needed, and that's possibly also part of its charm. The open dialogue, the intensity of their listening, the precision of their interaction, the freedom of the sound, combined with the quality of the playing make this an easy to recommend album. 

    Listen and download from Bandcamp