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Gorilla Mask: Peter Van Huffel (as), Roland Fidezius (b), Rudi Fischerlehner (dr)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur; 1/17/2020

Silke Eberhard Trio: Kay Lübke (d), Jan Roder (b), Eberhard (c)

KM28, Berlin; 1/13/2020

Schlippenbach Trio: Alexander von Schlippenbach (p), Evan Parker (ts), Paul Lytton, (dr)

Tempel, Karlsruhe, 12/10/2019

Bassdrumbone: Gerry Hemingway (d), Mark Helias (b), Ray Anderson (t)

Eric's House of Improv @ Zurcher Gallery, New York, NY 11/09/2019

Schnell: Christian Lillinger (dr), Pierre Borel (as), Antonio Borghini (b)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 11/15/2019

Friday, April 10, 2020

Fire! Orchestra - Actions (Rune Grammofon, 2020) ****

By Martin Schray

Fire! Orchestra manages to surprise their fans. On their last recording, Arrival, they changed a good deal of their line up, added strings and focused on more abstract textures in their pieces (compared to the manic soul jazz approach they displayed on their first albums). Now, on their sixth release, they do without their vocalists Sofia Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin (possibly the distinguishing element in comparison to similar larger formations) and play a piece by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki*. “Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra” was performed only once at the Donaueschingen festival in 1971, where it was also recorded. The ensemble, New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra, was put together by Don Cherry for the occasion and was conducted by himself and Penderecki. The orchestra itself consisted of 14 musicians such as Kenny Wheeler, Peter Brötzmann, Tomasz Stanko, Terje Rypdal, Albert Mangelsdorff, Han Bennink and others (Penderecki - Don Cherry & The New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra: Actions).

Penderecki’s work is mostly classified as post-serial music, and he attracted attention for his sound compositions. He is regarded as one of the leading Polish composers and reached a wider audience after embracing more tonally-centered music, which has been labelled “neo-Romantic“. Yet, in the first part of his career Penderecki belonged to the post-war modernists and until the late 1970s his music contained avant-garde musical techniques, in which rhythmic and harmonic sound structures and gestures took greater precedence than the traditional values of form or melody (a larger audience came in contact with his music in Stanley Kubrick’s movie “The Shining“ and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist“). As many adventurous composers these days Penderecki was interested in exploring new areas. He had heard the Globe Unity Orchestra at the end of the 1960s and thought of integrating musicians from a different background and with other perspectives than he was used to from the classical world. He recognized similarities in the compositional techniques of the classical avant-garde and in the approach of the large free jazz orchestras as to interests and working methods (structured improvisation, graphic scores, conduction and gesture as composition).
“Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra“, the piece Penderecki was commissioned for Donaueschingen, is a bit more than 16 minutes long and explores the balance between composition and improvisation.

Drones and extended techniques such as overblowing sit alongside brass chords, which hang in the air as well as a rather ordinary walking bass. The musical progressions of the piece divide it into four sections of different character. As Penderecki explained in his commentary to the recording, the notated melodic lines, which he called “actions” or “stimulators”, were to inspire the improvisers’ imaginations. Their task was to repeat them in a canon, not reading the music, but on the basis of what they had heard before. As in his classical compositions of the time, Penderecki used the advanced playing techniques of the free jazzers to systematically fathom the boundaries between sound and noise, thereby releasing undreamt-of energy (at least in the view of the classical composer). He also used aleatoric rhythmic elements and an extremely differentiated application of tone clusters, which he layered and subsequently set them in motion through pitch fluctuations, especially in the expressive culmination in the last section of the composition. The whole thing is a permanent up and down, a back and forth between staccato-like outbursts (mainly by Terje Rypdal) and abrupt changes between smaller formations, solos and tutti elements.

This is the foundation Fire! Orchestra works with. Like the original their piece was commissioned, in this case by the Sacrum Profanum festival in Kraków, Poland in 2018. The idea was to reimagine this piece in a contemporary setting, with a new approach and a new body of sound, though the instrumentation is more or less identical to that of 1971 (the only difference being a tuba replacing one of the two trombones). However, a major difference is the fact that their version is considerably longer than the one from 1971 (40 minutes, to be precise). Fire! Orchestra’s version is also divided in four parts. Like the original Actions begins with a drone that’s slowly built, but the organ parts, with which the original is interspersed, are replaced by extended techniques of the reeds. Already at the beginning the piece breathes more freely. Finally, a saxophone melody emerges, thwarted by a flute and another nervous saxophone. The construct then collapses, leaving a Deep-Purple-like organ behind. After 6:34 minutes this first part is over. The second one begins with a solo trumpet, into which the electric bass falls almost casually, drums and guitar accompany it, the saxophone and a trombone communicate with the trumpet, while the rhythm section holds the theme stoically. Then another huge drone is built up, peeling out of the blue. As in the original, there is an abrupt change to a chamber-musical trio of electric bass, double bass and bass clarinet, which is then again pushed by several brass instruments, which interfere more and more until everything shifts to some kind of discussion of several instruments, which is counteracted by the tight brass section. So, Fire! Orchestra have adopted the drones and strong contrasts as the constituent elements in Penderecki’s composition. Particularly the contrasts however, merge into each other more fluently, possibly due to the composition's larger expansion. In the third part the guitar slides in, but it disappears as quickly as it had come, only to be replaced by a final drone, whose compactness then frays into single strands. After that Gustafsson plays an energetic solo like Brötzmann did in 1971, before the whole orchestra starts a locomotive-like move using excruciating tone clusters. The sombre outro is reserved for the organ, the cacophonic sound field seems to get lost in space, as the music fades away with a diminuendo.

As a conclusion, Actions is more organic and organized, it’s not as rough as the original, which is meant in a positive way. Compositional and improvised parts merge more easily than in the 1971 version. Never before has Fire! Orchestra sounded so different. They really seem like a revitalised version of the early Globe Unity Orchestra. I already look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Fire! Orchestra is:
Goran Kajfes – trumpet
Niklas Barnö – trumpet
Susana Santos Silva – trumpet
Reine Fiske – guitar
Per åke Holmlander – tuba
Maria Bertel – trombone
Anna Högberg – alto sax
Mats Gustafsson – baritone sax and conduction
Per “Texas” Johansson – tenor sax, clarinet and flute
Christer Bothén – bass clarinet
Alex Zethson – hammond organ
Elsa Bergman – double bass
Torbjörn Zetterberg – electric bass
Andreas Werliin – drums

*Annotation: Krzysztof Penderecki died the day I finished this review (March, 29th, 2020) at the age of 86 in Krakow.

Actions is available on vinyl and as a CD.

You can buy it from or from the label:

Listen to an excerpt here:

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Richard Teitelbaum (May 19, 1939 - April 9, 2020)

Richard Teitelbaum. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.
We are sad to note the passing of Richard Teitelbaum. A pianist and entho-musicologist, Teitelbaum was known for his work with electronic music (he was a pioneer of brain-wave controlled music) and as an educator. His began his professional life in Italy on a Fulbright, co-founding the group Musica Elettronica Viva with Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski. Teitelbaum's discography includes work with Anthony Braxton, Joëlle Léandre, and George Lewis, among others. More recently he was part of drummer Andrew Cyrille’s group that recorded 2016's The Declaration of Musical Independence for ECM.”

Costis Drygianakis – The Approach (Ήχοι κάτω από το σπίτι, 2019) *****

“Wild nature is charming, since it is simultaneously innocent and threatening, and it is innocent and threatening because it doesn’t abide to moral imperatives”

Drygianakis' The Approach (Η Προσέγγιση in greek) is a work for a big orchestra that is accompanied by texts from Drygianakis himself, Thanasis Chondros, Alexandra Katsiani and Thanos Kois. This recording can be listened or even read. The texts have their own narratives and even thought they are seemingly totally different, the follow a path, a hidden trajectory behind the original stories they tell. Apart from the storytellers, there are 24 four musicians involved in the approach. In the highly idiosyncratic discography of Drygianakis this is probably his most ambitious work and, most certainly for me, his best.

The artwork from Vicky Vlachogianni, a painting called The Silence, incorporates the horrific stories children’s paintings many times imply. There are images from The Silence quite familiar for us in Greece, a country that has been transformed into a dumpster for humans trying to flee from war and disaster. We have to thank our politicians and the good old democratic E.U. for this. Vlachogiannis’ artwork adds playful tension with its lush colors to the release.

As The Approach evolves I realized that the texts are at the forefront and the music is there to help them fully accomplish their role. At a first level the three different texts, presented mixed, seem different and asymmetric. But the more you listen, the more you connect the dots between them. They balance perfectly between a dada performance and a big scale cut-up reading. Quite easily, even in the same phrases you will find humor and despair. Irony and pathos, a big humanitarian feeling like the small passage in the beginning of this review.

All the musicians involved play their role perfectly. Either in big scale or sometimes in sole accompaniment, they operate as the gateway for the texts. While I’m writing these lines I realize that this is a modern day greek opera balancing between atmosphere and texture. The Approach has a lot to say to someone coming from this part of the planet but, in all modesty, also to someone coming from anywhere else. The final result -words and music- form an abstract, 100% personal view of our world here.


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Aidan Baker and Gareth Davis – Invisible Cities II (Karlrecords, 2020) ****

By Nick Ostrum

As his second release of the year, Davis collaborated with experimental doom guitarist Aidan Baker (Nadja, et al.) Unsurprisingly, this sounds more like Davis’ dark post-rock/dark ambient work with A-Sun Amissa and Baker’s work with Nadja than it does the Akita-Davis collaboration presented yesterday. In fact, this sounds somewhat airier, though no less eerie, than Nadja. Already, this description may be the question of whether this album belongs on FJB. In its melodicism and experimental impulses, absolutely. In its contrast to the unrelenting sonic fusillades of Merzbow, even more so.

Allow me to posit two propositions. First, Broken Landscapes excavates an aural panorama of postindustrial wreckage with the effect of turning this imagined future (or, possibly, experienced present) of the dialectical effects of humanity’s futile attempts to truly segregate, classify, and subjugate nature (crassly repurposed from Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment). Second, Invisible Cities II can therefore be seen as a complementary effort to chart the ghosts of what remains in that decayed scenery, viewed, albeit, through a more thoroughly anthropocentric lens. The mood is more subdued, but also more foreboding. Davis’s bass clarinet breaks through the haze, adding slow, flat, funereal melodies reminiscent of a ship’s horn in a dense murk. Sounds of waves, ghostly hums and rings, and radio static flesh out the music and lend the music an eerie, dreamy atmospherics. Then, with barely perceptible development, the music brightens (that is, in the way that Sunn O)))’s recent releases are somewhat “brighter” than their previous releases). To the extent that this type of atmospheric music, which still has some sort of directionality, can be separated from the soundscapes that seem to aimlessly explore terrain in any and every direction (though there is some of that, here, too), this is the some of the best churning ambient music I have encountered in a long time. Aidan Baker lays some fine and intricate sonic gossamer. Davis, for his part, takes the helm, anchoring the music in sounds discernibly human and hymnic while steering through the listener through Baker’s not-too-futuristic, adumbral abyss.

Invisible Cities II is available in LP and digital formats.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Gareth Davis and Merzbow – Broken Landscapes (Moving Furniture Records, 2020) ****

By Nick Ostrum

A couple of things. First, I am a fan of Masami Akita (Merzbow). Second, like any normal listener (cheers to the dedication of the abnormal listeners), I am simply unable to keep up with his hundreds of releases, or even his 40 (very rough count) of archival and new recordings from just last year. Biases and human shortcomings aside, I have developed a taste for harsh, textured noise like this and a particular preference for Masami Akita’s collaboration projects. At least lately, his work with Richard Pinhas, Keiji Haino, Balazs Pandi, Mats Gustafsson, and others seem to allow Akita the room and, maybe, the similarly minded sounding boards to step back (slightly) the gale-force onslaught and allow for richer textures and more spacious and continuous courses. That is, even while retaining dense loop, ear-rupture aesthetic. There are plenty of exceptions, but, regardless, I find the collaborations more reliably exciting.

All sound is music, Broken Landscapes is more musical than much heavy noise, and heavier than much heavy ambient. Much of this has to do with Akita, but much also comes from the bass clarinetist/electronicist Gareth Davis (A-Sun Amissa or Oiseaux-Tempete, as well as numerous collaborations). There are times when his clarinet blasts clarions out of shrieking, steely soundworld. Here, he sounds like a siren, a warning, from a future of environmental devastation and endless (noise) pollution. Each track is named after an enviro-technical landscape: the Norwegian windfarm of Dogger Bank, the now forever Lynchian Inland Empire of Southern California, and the sprawled suburban Yabata, Japan, as imagined in the track Yabata Frog. In one sense, even the social messaging is textbook Merzbow. In another, to someone like myself who simply does not keep up, it still sounds like Merzbow and Davis (see below). I gain some comfort from that, even though our near future when the struggle between civilization and nature might be lost for both promises to be quite a depressive shit show. And, if this is any indication, there is still some ruthlessly dark and brutally lurid beauty to be had.

Broken Landscapes is available in LP and digital formats.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Joe McPhee and Fred Lonberg Holm - No Time Left For Sadness (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2020) ****

By Sammy Stein

No Time Left For Sadness is the first release from Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone) and Fred Lonberg Holm (cello, electronics) where they are working as an improvising duo. It is challenging and quite charming in its own way. Joe McPhee and Fred Lonberg-Holm have worked together before in combos including Survival Unit III, with drummer Michael Zerang, but the pair have never released a CD of duets. The recording was made in Lone Pine Studios in upstate New York where both players live. The intimacy of the recording makes for some close encounters of the intuitive kind and both Mc Phee and Lonberg- Holm demonstrate an uncanny understanding of each other's presence. There is an emotional intensity to the recording too.

There are just 3 tracks and the titles ' That Time, ' This Time' and 'Next Time' may be arbitrary but also might herald the dawning of an endearing and continuing collaboration.
'That Time ' sees the pair working together to produce sounds, explorations and diversions, whilst constantly re-imagining the landscapes they are creating. There is a sense of relaxed understanding here, each taking a chance to outshine and then support the other and the different manner in which the 'cello can contribute to music is explored fully. An uplifting track which veers across registers, explores the reedal tones as well as that of the strings as they are pulled taut, scraped, plucked and bowed in many different ways.

One might wonder why the 'cello does not feature more in improvised music. Joe Mcphee's solo section is sublime and the tenor sax parps and squawks the life out of itself, offset with sensuously bowed strings and it is a delight to hear the upper notes of the 'cello played with such control.
In the second track, 'This Time' the opportunity for further exploration is taken further with an opening section of pizzicato strings, tempered with saxual interruptions and perfectly placed riffs from McPhee. The music is expressive, emotive and switches mood with mercurial speed at times. There is also a gentle touch which pervades the entire track and is almost tangible. It adds colour and temper to the music. The folk-like ending is surprising and quite lovely.

In the third track ' Next Time' the CD culminates in a climax extemporary improvisation. Mc Phee and Lonberg-Holm provide multiple directions, creating landscapes which have few musical signposts, yet every direction leads to another deeper and exquisite revelation.

Although there is electronic additional material on the tracks, the combination of acoustic and electronic sounds works a treat because here the additional noises are worked in as part of the music - almost as a third instrument and it is only in the final track that they are more apparent.

There are several combinations working here - that of Joe McPhee and Fred Lonberg-Holm, that of 'cello and sax, of reed and string and that of the different tones - which come together in a surprising number of places, the notes of each instrument rising to meet before diverging again. There are patterns created which are then torn apart, melodies begun and then deciphered and coded once more. It is an album of intrigue, interest and constantly changing emphasis. Both musicians explore different balances, reacting to each other in different ways and pitches of sound. Bursts of energy one moment and gentle, take-down melodies the next yet also an awareness of each other. In 'Next Time' there is a wonderful section where the strings shriek under the pressure of the bow whilst the body of the 'cello provides deep, drum-like single notes.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Two from Charles Gayle

By Nick Ostrum

Charles Gayle has received a lot of love on FJB, and for good reason. Bear with me for a minute and I will try to keep the redundancy to the essentials.

From truly humble beginnings, Charles Gayle has become a legend. His story is almost the very stuff of jazz fantasy: a lone artist devotes himself completely to his craft in the face of an unyielding world (or music industry) only to overcome obscurity and gain due recognition – albeit on the fringes – in his later years. That romantic tinge only holds, however, if you focus on the uncompromising quest for self-realization through music and strip it of the hardships endured in a decade and a half of homelessness, whereby Gayle survived by busking in a fashion more likely to repel than attract the average passer-by. This, of course, was how Gayle refined his sound, which lies somewhere between freneticism of Charlie Parker, the spirituality of Albert Ayler and late-stage John Coltrane, and the off-the-walls adventurism of Arthur Doyle. If you have listened to his previous recordings, you already know he digs deep into the new thing tradition and, if you have heard Solo Piano or Live at the Glenn Miller Café you know his roots run still deeper beyond free-bop and be-bop. Gayle’s inspiration also emanates quite unapologetically from his religious faith (listen to the brief thank you at the end of Seasons Changing for a brief and inclusive declaration) and his oft-noted resistance to commercial conformity, as well as his experience, all those decades ago, on the streets of New York. As Gayle himself explains, “I tried to copy the sounds I heard: the traffic, the fire engines, the police cars, even babies crying. Everything. It’s just automatic. You do it all these years so that becomes your music.” This odd brew of obstinacy and spiritualism, deeply human music and accidental noise pollution, struggle and discipline, tradition and vanguardism, makes him hard to pin down. This also makes him so exhilarating.

Now, some three decades after his first releases on Sweden’s Silkheart label, Gayle is an octogenarian and he is still blowing his uniquely colored fire, as these two recordings from 2019 attest.

Charles Gayle, Giovanni Barcella, and Manolo Cabras - The Alto Sessions (el Negocito, 2019) ****

The Alto Sessions is a studio recording with two musicians Gayle first played with in 2011: Giovanni Barcella (bass) and Manolo Cabras (drums). Since their first meeting these three have consistently practiced and toured and intermittently recorded. This is their second album together.

It begins with a series of twisted wails. Barcella and Cabras bide their time for a minute, and chime in with similarly gnarled lines and broken rhythms. From there, a wild ride ending abruptly with energy and some of Gayle’s (?) vocal howls. The second track, “Charles’s Speech” is a ballad, softer and blusier than Gayle usually lays. The rhythmic accompaniment is sparse and lyrical. “Three Lonely Legs,” the third track, returns to the energy music paradigm, laden with squeals and tortured scales. In a way that it seems only Gayle can muster, however, behind this aggressive, inspired abstraction resides and underlying pensiveness and meditation. This theme carries over into the next track, Cabras’s steadily lumbering and meditative solo-drum piece “Solitudine.”

The ominously titled “Dark Optimism” is one of the surprise treasures on this album. It begins with Barcella’s squealing arco bass, soon followed by tentatively rummaging drums and a surprisingly restrained Gayle on piano. A fan of Time Zones, I found his piano work here more disciplined, effective, and, well, dark. Except for a brief twinkling of upper register keys at the end of the piece, I find little evidence of optimism, but maybe that is the point: the lightness comes imperceptibly and only as the darkness retreats. Barcella steps in for the next piece, “Balosismik,” a slow solo-bass meditation that leads into the final piece, “Sun Sin.” Here, the group reconvenes in their original formulation as Gayle returns to the alto and his truncated, contorted phrasings overlaying a propulsive, deeply synergistic rhythm section. All in all, a well-balanced recording of the frenzied, clunky free jazz that has granted Gayle renown.

And, speaking of soaring alto screeches knifing through a synergistic rhythm section…

Charles Gayle, John Edwards, Mark Sanders - Seasons Changing (Otoroku, 2019) ****½

Seasons Changing is pure Gayle fire-spitting riding atop densely latticed, knotted groves of John Edwards (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums). Given their extensive, compelling history together, Edwards-Sanders might just be England’s answer to America’s William Parker-Hamid Drake, or maybe Parker-Rashied Ali of By Any Means and Touchin’ on Trane fame. As much as those latter releases offer some context particularly for Gayle’s approach, however, this November 15, 2017 concert at London’s now legendary Café Oto documents a very different outing.

Seasons Changing takes me back to my first few spins of my first Gayle album, Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe. That is not because it rehashes, but because of its unfaltering drive, its free-bop-reprised dynamics, and its sheer intensity. Clearly, Gayle has still got it. And, clearly, Edwards and Sanders have got their own thing going on that intertwines so impeccably with Gayle’s. Six-minutes into the first piece on this two-disc live date, Sanders and Gayle step aside and let Edwards show his angular chops. What sticks out on this live recording is not just Edwards’ dexterity, speed, and sense of rhythm, but the contrast between the static and manic sections of this extended run. Soon, Sanders recaptures the grove and Gayle squeaks his way back into the fray, falling into a sharp, spirited melody.

Intersperse adjectives such as “soulful,” “squonky,” “pained,” and “beatific” here and there, and the description above describes the entirety of these two sets, whether Gayle is on sax or piano. Whether Edwards is playing a jagged walking blues or meticulously percussing to elicit creaks and clamps. Whether Sanders is laying down a rolling groove or playing around the melody a la Tony Oxley and Sunny Murray. This album is packed with spiked improv punch. It is replete with erudite references (I am sure) that I am too daft to tease out. And, it is oddly, at times somber, at others joyfully exuberant. This is classic free jazz chiseled for the present by decades (in Gayle’s case, eight decades) of musical history, exploration, and awareness. Absolutely riveting.

This album is available as a double CD and download.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Singular Vision of Swedish Pianist Lisa Ullén

Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén is a free spirit and a versatile composer-improviser with a singular vision. Some of her recent collaborations include one with long-time collaborator, double bass master Nina de Heney and another in a the trio with reeds player Johan Arrias and violinist Angharad Davies, both demonstrate, again, her unique vision.

Lisa Ullén & Nina de Heney - Hydrozoa (Found You Recordings, 2020) *****

Ullén and de Heney Duo have been playing as a duo since 2007, soon releasing their first album, Carve (LJ Records, 2009), and later expanding the duo with like-minded innovative collaborators - vocalist Mariam Wallentin on More (Disorder, 2012), cellist Okkyung Lee on Look Right (LJ Records, 2013) and violinist Charlotte Hug on Quarrtsiluni (Lamour Records, 2016). The double-album Hydrozoa was recorded in two intense, free-improvised sessions done in the Haga Church in Göteborg in March 2017, one evening with a live audience, the other one without, and offers almost two and a half hours of music.

Hydrozoa refers to aquatic organisms, amazing in their diversity and in the complexity of their life-cycles, “swaying forms uplifting their tentacles in the vast wings of the surrounding oceans”. Accordingly, the improvisations of Ullén and de Heney attempt to sway in the vast oceans of tantalizing, delicate sounds.

The interplay is immediate, totally intuitive and free-associative. The ongoing, rich dialog between Ullén and de Heney streams with natural ease and organic, emotional power, allowing both to just let the music breathe and speak for itself, in its own reserved but highly poetic manner. Ullén and de Heney opt here for a minimalist, intimate and very quiet interplay that plays, shapes and sculpts the light dissonances and the elusive, abstract sounds. They often employ preparations, objects and extended bowing techniques that enable both to expand their range of sounds but also to sketch only the fragile contours of their imaginative textures, triggering, in their turn, evocative, seductive sonic visions.

Sometimes, the patient dynamics gravitate slowly towards an eccentric yet playful, song-like format, as on “Leatolina” or ‘Plumularia”. On other times, Ullén and de Heney simply court and spark each other as on the enigmatic- sensual “Athecata” and “Laomedea”, playfully exploring new timbral qualities and dynamics on “Trachylina” and “Liriope” or weaving surreal, dream-like textures on “Catablema” and “Aglantha”. There are countless, instantaneous-telepathic games that Ullén and de Heney play with each other, often sounding as one sonic organism that colors its constant shift of rhythmic pattern with a spectrum of light, melancholic colors as on “Thuiria”.

A true masterpiece of deep-listening free-improvisation.

Johan Arrias / Angharad Davies / Lisa Ullén - Crystalline (ausculto fonogram, 2020) ***½

Ullén with fellow-Swedish clarinet and alto sax player Johan Arrias explored their options as a duo before deciding to invite Welsh violinist Angharad Davies in February 2014 to work as trio towards a concert at London’s Cafe OTO. The trio reconvened again in February 2017 for a residency and concert at The Gerlesborg School of Fine Art on the Swedish west coast, and again in September 2018 to record their debut album for Arrias label at the Atlantis studio in Stockholm. In the meantime Ullén and Angharad Davies have kept working together and released soon after the recording of Crystalline a duo album, 14.10.18 (OTOroku,2019)

All three musicians contributed compositions to Crystalline and all employ distinct preparations to their respective instruments. Ullén's “Undercurrent” sets the chamber, restrained atmosphere of this album, where the sparse and resonating, percussive touches of Ullén's piano blend gently into the ethereal breaths of Arrias’ clarinet and through the light, overtones of Davies and all flow together in a delicate and transparent stream. Davies’s “Rydal Mount'' suggests an abstract drone, sketched by her careful bowing and plucking of the violin strings. Arrias’ two-parts of “Rituals” offers a more physical and tensed interplay where his extended breathing techniques create lyrical, darker undercurrents. The improvised “Etude” deepens the close sonic experiment of this trio and the last “Coda '' offers playful, emotional comfort.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Yiorgis Sakellariou – Nympholepsy (Noise Below, 2019) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

History can very often be a burden. Your past comes back to haunt you, to remember the great John Fahey. Living in Greece there are two realities you have to endure. First is the narrative of the Greek state. The Greek authorities are eager and willing to sell the classical times any way they can. Everything else becomes a blur, just a note in history’s long trajectory. The mainstream needs the “democracy of ancient Athens” and all that comes along with it. Secondly, it is a matter of scale. Everything is measured up by the size. Numbers, buildings, antiquities. Having worked, very lately, in the field of tourism, all the people coming to Greece get the idea that only kings, queens and people of the upper classes existed here. There’s no reference of everyday life and its people, the images, the sounds, the boring normality and the burdens of it maybe. Many times some very beautiful and important sites seem totally empty in any meaning, if you ignore the real people that lived there, touched the marbles, changed and determined the landscape.

This site specific recording came into my attention during my own personal procedure of reassessing my past to continue into the future. It is inspired by the history and the immediate environment of ancient Messene. In the liner notes you will find the key to Nympholepsy, which is the link between the sound of now and the materials which date many centuries ago. Like music is a non verbal language, Nympholepsy provides a bridge, a communiqué maybe, between the present and past. But who is to say that time is linear? And why do we measure everything, so obsessed, by time? Nympholepsy stays in the middle, not wanting to give definite answers.

Nympholepsy uses the voice of Savina Yannatou as a core material manipulated and combined with site- specific field recordings. Yannatou is a well known greek singer, one of the very few with strong ties with the greek folk tradition and European improvisation as well. This fact in a country that music tradition is a do not touch affair is really difficult. The cd only last for 23 minutes. I caught myself wanting to hear more. Sakellariou, apart from the personal nature of this recording, seems to understand really well the balance needed. Nympholepsy could very easily be an audio guide to the ancient Messene site. It walks with you, reveals the audio qualities, hidden voices, current noises of the site. Guides you even. It has the relaxed vibe of someone (not a tourist in a hurry to see as much as possible) who is willing to integrate and, at the same time, the intensity the weight the past (glory days, days of happiness and disasters) carries for any place.

This site-specific recording was presented at an event produced by Onassis Cultural Center in 2018 and even though I hate the way they patronize modern culture in Greece, OCC is one of the very few that tries to present a different non-mainstream side of modern Greece. Not everything is just black or just white it seems.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Palynology - Axel Dörner & Agustí Fernández (Sirulita Records, 2019) ****½

By Stephen Griffith

A few years ago, an online friend sent me a note urging me to pick this up. Since that guy's musical tastes dovetail with mine and he wouldn't recommend something willynilly I quickly ordered it. After all, Mark Sanders was an excellent drummer on things I liked on Emanem and other labels and I liked Dörner's playing with Die Enttäuschung and on Monk's Casino. There's no need to restate anything in the earlier review other than it opened my ears to Dörner's use of advanced trumpet techniques and electronics in a duo setting to create very interesting soundscapes.

Fast forward to 2019 and Sirulita releases a 2001 recording of Axel and Agustí Fernández called Palynology, a term meaning the study of plant spores or pollen, both ancient or modern. Since the three song titles are all plant names perhaps there's one item successfully explicated. Bandcamp seems to be the key to unlocking a lot of older unreleased performances which, at least in this case, show no signs of being musty period pieces. Rather this proves that effective use of advanced techniques and electronics have been employed by these two musicians for at least two decades.

"Poinsettias" gets things off to a jarring start as Agustí's woodblock over strings scraping is immediately overtaken by rapid fire electronically manipulated pulses by Dörner in each of the channels quickly creating alternating herky jerky rhythms. Fernandez briefly plays the keys but most of the playing in this piece is rubbing the strings creating reverberant sounds. Axel alternates soft acoustic techniques with the electronics to add slowly changing movements with a tension throughout. At the 14 minute mark Fernández plays a brief rumbling motif in the lower register with seemingly damped strings and an extremely resonant soundboard. From here the piece winds down ending with an electronic hum. "Azaleas" is a more ethereal piece featuring mostly soft noteless exhalations of varying intensity by Dörner as Agustí almost imperceptibly builds a rhythm across the strings that at times sounds like a ghostly train going through a dream.

The 20 plus minute "Saruma" features one of those jaw dropping performances that fans of the Catalan pianist are somewhat conditioned to but never fail to get fresh pleasure from each new experience. From the beginning he creates a sonic howl in the lower and middle registers within which melodic figures flit in and out as the intensity ebbs and flows. Dörner mainly plays a harsh noteless blast of white noise in the center constantly (I think I detected one break). There's enough variation going on throughout that interest never wanes; I have no idea if the piano was prepared specially for this or adroit use was made of the pedals to have such easy to detect melodies within the squall. Finally as the piano winds down you hear soft higher note embellishments of the low keys. After wondering if it was odd harmonics of the piano, it's Axel quietly adding the accents from his trumpet as the song fades out. Nearly twenty years later it sounds fresh and great.