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Chris Corsano (d), Kelsey Mines (b & voice), Casey Adams (d)

Casa del Xolo, 1/16/2024, Seattle, WA. (pic: Gregg Miller)

Absolutely Sweet Marie: Alexander Beierbach (s), Anke Lucks (tb), Steffen Faul (tp), Gerhard Gschlößl (Tu), Lucia Martinez (d)

Panda Theater, 12/2023, Berlin

Dead Leaf Butterfly: Els Vandeweyer (v), Maike Hilbig (b), Lucía Martínez (d), Lina Allemano (t)

Jazzwerkstatt, 12/2023, Berlin

Han-earl Park (g), Camila Nebbia (s), Yorgos Dimitriadis (d)

Morphine Raum, 12/2023, Berlin

Monday, March 4, 2024

Ballister - Smash and Grab (Aerophonic, 2024)


By Martin Schray

Seven minutes of hellfire. That’s the way Smash and Grab begins, the new, now eleventh album by Ballister, possibly the best band in the world. From the first second Paal Nilssen-Love’s drums pound away mercilessly, Fred Lonberg-Holm beats his cello as if it were a heavy metal guitar and Dave Rempis performs a veritable St. Vitus’ dance on the saxophone, up and down the scales, horizontally, vertically, right up to the pain threshold. There is no escape, you have to go through it. It’s like being thrown overboard a ship to keelhaul. The only difference is that this is not a punishment, but a pure pleasure.

And then - after purgatory - there’s an abrupt stop. As if the engines were switched off, as if everyone was looking around, having no idea what was going on. A drumbeat here and there, the cello scratches and mumbles to itself. The saxophone is completely gone for three minutes, then it trills its way back into the improvisation. It sounds as if the three of them have a hangover after the furious start and are staggering through lonely alleys. Left alone by his rhythm section, Rempis then takes off like a drone, soars into the air and hovers above the clouds - only to ignite the same fire as at the beginning three floors higher. What a monster track! What glorious pleasure! What a heavenly maelstrom! Even though Smash and Grab is divided into three tracks, it’s obviously one set (“Smash“ and “Even More Smashing“) plus an encore (“Grab“). “Even More Smashing“ extends the consistent ups and downs of the first part of the improvisation. Intensity, brutality, intimacy and subtlety alternate absolutely elegantly, the apparent opposites are seamlessly linked. “Grab“ then summarizes the first two pieces in a nutshell.

The album was recorded in December 2022 at the Catalytic Sound Festival in Chicago - and it was the first concert for the band after a six-month break. In April of the same year, they had completed a two-week tour of the USA, their first performances together after an almost three-year break due to the pandemic. And as is often the case, you don’t know what will happen with freely improvised music. It can range from mediocre routine to pure magic. Here it’s definitely the latter.

“On Smash and Grab, a punk aesthetic wraps itself into the mature sensibility of seasoned improvisers to create one of those rare sets that simply unfolds calmly in front of you like an origami flower“, the liner notes claim, and there’s certainly some truth in that.

2023 was a sad year for the free jazz community. Some of the last of the old guard have left the ship - for example Tristan Honsinger, Tony Oxley and Peter Brötzmann. But Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paal Nilsson-Love and Dave Rempis have captured and breathed their souls. There’s no need to worry about the new torchbearers. They know what they’re doing. After Fire!’s Testament, Smash and Grab is the second album released early in the year that is guaranteed to end up in the Top 5.

Smash and Grab is available on vinyl (in a limited edition), as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to it and order it here

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Tim Berne - Sunday Interview

Tim Berne. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Introduction by Gary Chapin

I first heard Tim Berne around 1986. His first album was 1979. I’ve waxed lyrical about that time, when I was hanging around the Knitting Factory, spectating the most amazing music I’d ever heard—up til then. It suited my temperament perfectly.

I recently saw Tim Berne with Hank Roberts and Aurora Nealand at the Portland Conservatory of Music, in Maine, and had that same feeling. The most amazing music I’d ever heard. An hour that improved life on Earth. Maybe this points to the absurdity of any sort of quantitative accounting of “greatest music” (what’s your unit of measurement?) but I also think some “sense of greatness” accrues from the body of work.

I’ve noticed this happening with a lot of musicians that used to feel like “the new guys.” By 2024, their oeuvres—yeah, I said it—are of a quality that could drag you down with fascination like a gravity well. If you never emerged, you’d still be content. This is “lifes’ work” in the Bach sense, where you can map out eras, functions, concepts, collaborators, techniques, instruments, etc.

From the answer to the first question below you’ll see that Tim does not think like this (or he doesn’t let me see him thinking like this), but I do. In fact, at the Free Jazz Blog, it’s exactly what I do. Like it’s my job, or something.

Tim Berne was gracious in his answering these questions. Enjoy, and then read the reviews linked below.


  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    A nice gig

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

    Humility

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

    Julius Hemphill

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

    Clyde Stubblefield

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

    Get better

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

    Karen Dalton

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

    My belt

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

    I try not to compare

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

    Not much / Rarely

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

    Dogon AD (Julius Hemphill)

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    My kitchen

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    Charles Burnett

Recordings with Tim Berne reviewed on Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Umlaut Chamber Orchestra - Zodiac Suite (Mary Lou Williams) (Umlaut Records, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Please pardon this interruption of the site’s usual content for a review of a record that is unlikely to be thought of as ”free” or even, in some of parts, “jazz”, but it has a connection to it, documenting a work that radically expanded the materials and methods available to jazz and significantly insisted on who could make jazz, with how much freedom they might do it, and where they might do it. As such, it has a special historical relevance to the music regularly celebrated here. In terms of the sociology of jazz, Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite (1945) might be placed close to another work of its era, Billy Holiday’s recording of Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit”.

Protest is not explicit in the work or its materials, but as a full-length orchestral work written in an idiom integrating authentic jazz elements, composed by an African-American woman whose musical career was based entirely in the world of jazz, it was a remarkable harbinger of things to come, as well as a work of significant distinction. Like Holiday, Williams drew special support from the radical community surrounding Café Society where she too performed regularly, including record producer Moe Asch, later to found Folkways Records, who recorded the original concert and released portions of it on his eponymous Asch label.

The score has been restored, and the orchestra here formed, by Pierre-Antoine Badaroux, a devoted researcher and advocate for Williams’ music and, perhaps not incidentally, also known as a free jazz saxophonist (the drummer is Antonin Gerbal, familiar from work with أحمد [Ahmed] and اسم [Ism]). The Umlaut Chamber Orchestra heard here is distinct from, though related to, the Umlaut Big Band, a “traditional” big band, also conducted by Badaroux, that explores music from the swing era, including that of Don Redman. In 2022, Badaroux and the Big Band released the two-CD set of Mary’s Ideas (Umlaut UMFR-CD3435), first fruits of Badaroux’s remarkable research into, and reconstruction of Williams’ big band and orchestral music. That set still reflects Williams in the context of the big bands for which she composed and arranged (Andy Kirk, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman) and correspondingly includes some improvisers. Zodiac Suite was an opportunity to explore further the advanced harmonic knowledge she was absorbing from the scores of contemporary European composers like Schoenberg, Berg and Hindemith.

The Umlaut Chamber Orchestra really is a chamber orchestra, combining eleven strings, a jazz rhythm section and seven wind players, among them flute, oboe, bassoon and French horn. Even with a conductor, everyone involved requires a sense of period phrasing, while a few of the band members extend idiomatic command to late swing improvising, most notably Geoffroy Gesser, who in addition to clarinet and bass clarinet section work turns in a thoroughly convincing tenor saxophone solo on “Cancer” in the style of the original performer, Ben Webster. Trumpeter Brice Pichard, trombonist Michaël Ballue and omnipresent pianist Matthieu Naulleau assume similar responsibilities.

The original work was drenched in references to Williams’ special position in the jazz world as someone whose associations eventually stretched from Jelly Roll Morton through Ellington, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell to Cecil Taylor, literally a complete history of jazz piano in her lifetime. “Libra” is dedicated to Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Powell and Monk. Other dedicatees range from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Billie Holiday, from Leonard Feather to Lena Horne. The concluding “Pisces” belongs very much to a tradition of art song and is sung convincingly by Agathe Peyrat in her only appearance.

While the original concert proved to be a disappointment for Williams, with inadequate rehearsal time seriously affecting the orchestra’s performance and requiring that many of the pieces be rendered as piano trio performances, this thoughtful reconstruction gives a convincing impression of Williams’ original conception and developed musical language.

I’ve previously written at some length on Badaroux and the Umlaut Big Band’s recording of Williams’ music on Mary’s Ideas, as well as her famous (or infamous) work with Cecil Taylor. It’s available here.


Friday, March 1, 2024

Signe Emmeluth - A Bonanza of Creativity

By Eyal Hareuveni

Danish, Oslo-based hyperactive alto sax player Signe Krunderup Emmeluth seems to be all over the map. She leads her Danish-Norwegian quartet Emmeluth’s Aooeba, co-leads the Owl duo (with partner guitarist Karl Bjorå) and the new quintet Bonanza of Doom; She plays in Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra, Paal Nilssen’s Love’s Circus, Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra, Andreas Røysum Ensemble and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra; and tours with Belgian baritone sax player Hanne De Backer and with The Ex’ guitarists - Terrie Hesserls and Andy Moor.

Signe Emmeluth - BANSHEE (Motvind, 2024) 

The Norwegian Vossajazz Festival commissioned the composition BANSHEE from Emmeluth and it was premiered by a seven-musician ensemble in the 2022 edition of the festival, and later performed in other venues in Norway. A banshee is a mythical figure from Irish folklore that heralds death, destruction and grief with a shrill scream and powerful voice, but Emmeluth sees this composition as a “fearless tale of presence and moments” and a way to come into contact with the time that flies by, as death reminds us of life. By composing BANSHEE, Emmeluth asks what we want to experience while we exist. What did we leave behind? Are we actually present?

The ensemble featured uncompromising and experienced female musicians who worked together for the first time, and all sing and scream - Emmeluth on alto sax and electronics, Maja S. K. Ratkje on vocals, electronics and violin, Guro Skumsnes Moe (of MoE) on electric bass and double bass, Heiða Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck (who played in Emmeluth’s Spacemusic Ensemble) on tuba and electronics, (Lithuanian, Oslo-based) Guostė Tamulynaitė on piano and synth, Anne "Efternøler" Andersson on trumpet, and Jennifer Torrence on percussion and vibes.

The album BANSHEE is a revised version of the composition, produced into a vinyl-length album. At times, it sounds like it updates the rebellious yet uplifting spirit of another, iconic female ensemble, Les Diaboliques (Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer, French double bass player-vocalist Joëlle Léandre, and British vocal artistMaggie Nicols). It is a cycle of 13 restless and intense fireworks that investigate, in their seductive, subversive and pixie-like manner, the physical aspects of communal music with harmonious voices. At the same time, this composition also offers acrobatic juggling with elements of free jazz, free improv, contemporary music, the rhythms and trance tendencies of techno music and noise.

BANSHEE will throw you into a wild and totally unpredictable ride made of the wild imagination of Emmeluth. Most likely, at the end of it, you will still ask yourself what was this really about and how did you get here.



Emmeluth's Amoeba - Nonsense (Moserobie, 2024) 

Nonsense is the third official album of Emmeluth’s Aooeba (Emmeluth released independently a solo-out, limited edition of 25 discs of live performances from 2022 and 2023). The quartet features the same line-up since its inception - Emmeluth is the composer, Norwegian Bjorå and drummer Ole Mofjell with Danish pianist Christian Balvig. The album is released by the Swedish label Moserobie, run by sax player Jonas Kullhammar, who plays with Emmeluth in Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra.

The dynamics of the quartet are powerful and stress the complex and restless yet democratic choreography of Emmuleth’s musical dances and games. Emmeluth’s Amoeba plays with fast and almost telepathic interplay but leaves enough space for individual solos. It often sounds as if it is about to collapse on the verge of chaos, but always keeps its cohesive and coherent core (check the opening piece “Chic Blip” and the last one “Are you cross”). Emmuleth, with her idiosyncratic language and passionate sax playing, is clearly the driving force of this quartet. You can sense how Emmeluth’s compositional ideas are enriched by the quartet's concise, sometimes even subversive improvisations. and how these pieces radiate boundless energy and ecstatic feelings. But Emmeluth’s Aooeba also shines also on the more introspective piece like “Flickering”, or the poetic ballad “Zelda”.





Bonanza of Doom - s/t (Sheep Chase, 2023) 

The quintet Bonanza of Doom features Emmuleth, doubling here on synth, guitarist Bjorå and drummer Mofjell of Emmeluth’s Amoeba, bassist Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard (of Plot Monkey and Delish), who also credited with noise, and drummer Martin Langlie, who doubles on modular synth and did the cover artwork (and plays in the folk ensemble Valkyrien Allstars and the folk-metal band Gåte). Emmuleth, again, is the force behind this monster-like unit. This quintet recorded its self-titled album at Hotbox in Oslo in July 2022.

The music of Bonanza of Doom is more raw and wild. It is a volatile and uncompromising brew of free jazz, punk, post-rock, no-wave and noise, pushed to its extremes. Bonanza of Doom takes its time to build massive walls of trance and alien-like drone sounds (check the 19-minute “bonanza of doom (don't die)”), relying on repetitive, hypnotic riffs and pulses and vintage synth sounds. There is something liberating in total surrender to such manic sonic attacks with so much power and energy that guarantee to kick off all your gloom and doom visions (but will leave you exhausted).

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Palle Mikkelborg, Jakob Bro, Marilyn Mazur - Strands (Live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall) (ECM, 2023)


By Don Phipps

On their album Strands, Guitarist Jakob Bro and his cohorts, percussionist Marilyn Mazur and trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, offer up a meditative landscape of music which evokes red desert sunrises, blue ocean vistas, and sparkling celestial skies. The album, recorded live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall in February 2023 is a testament to collaborative playing, as each musician brings a combined sensitivity to coloring and phrases.

For the most part Bro takes an understated approach. It is only in his and Mikkelborg ‘s composition “Returnings” that he projects a forceful modern and piercing line. Elsewhere, however, he stays low key, creating an air of intimacy with the notes he generates. Mikkelborg also stays with a reserved approach, preferring long legato notes that perfectly capture the music’s broad themes. But the real star here - if such a colloquial expression can be proffered - is Mazur, who uses her percussion to create tension, foment motion, and add splashes of bright colors to the often wide-angle panoramas.

What strikes one most about this music is its ebb and flow. It paints the reddish glow of a morning sunrise over a rocky desert canyon, the quiet solitude of a dark nook, or the glowing embers of the night sky. There’s both joy and sadness here, a subtle complexity obscured within delicate lines.

On his composition “Strands,” Bro begins with a pastoral theme and Mikkelborg reiterates it. One feels immersed in the sound – like laying at the bottom of a pool and staring up through the water at the sky shimmering above. The effect is intimate beauty. An interaction occurs here in its own language – a language shared by each of the three musicians. Mazur’s cosmic percussion concludes the piece with whale-like howls.

Bro and Mikkelborg began playing together over a decade ago. They began their collaboration with Mazur in 2020. Bro said of the collaboration, “It seemed a natural extension of the music, which has continued to develop since then…. There is air in the music, great freedom, and a shared desire to create something that cannot necessarily be explained but felt.” True that. The feelings here are always genuine, never contrived, and touch the deepest parts of whatever one considers the fabric of reality.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Stemeseder & Lillinger - ANTUMBRA (PLAIST, 2024)



When it comes to earnestness, Christian Lillinger cannot be faulted – he takes himself and his vision extremely seriously, leaving him wide open to ridicule from anyone who chooses not to come along for his ride. Cruel YouTube and Instagram comments liken his drumming style to an epileptic fit, slandering his atonal music as “pretentious” and “shit.” Thankfully, he has developed a (velour) suit of armour, ignoring the sea of up-turned noses, pushing relentlessly forward, with no “trace” of a fuck to be given.

Releasing one album after another, numerous collaborations, running his own label (PLAIST), playing and conducting “research” in locations as diverse as Cairo and Johannesburg, how Lillinger has any time left to coif his signature pompadour in between is a mystery.

On the other hand, equally prolific keyboard/synth/electronics maestro Elias Stemeseder shuns all forms of social media, and opts rather to build his accolades in the shadows. Aside from playing in countless ensembles among the jazz scene in Germany, he has quietly collected esteemed titles such as the Deutscher Jazz Preis Keyboardist of the Year 2023, and fourth place in the El Intruso award for Keyboards, behind winner Jozef Dumoulin, (then Craig Taborn and John Medeski).

Together in the last year, Stemeseder and Lillinger have taken their duo concept on the road, performing and recording in a plethora of different studios globally: Mexico City, Athens (Georgia), New York, Cerkno, Bezau, Florence, and more. Last year the pair closed out Lillinger’s own PLAIST Festival in Munich with PENUMBRA: a polarising audio/visual assault on the senses, complete with colourful, strobing visuals by Mr & Mrs (Katrin) Lillinger. Not all patrons remained, to leave was their prerogative. Live, loud, experimental sounds, rumbling bass tones, and flashing pictures over busy, complicated music. Not for the faint of heart.

The second part of the trilogy, UMBRA, consists of guest collaborations, the duo inviting Peter Evans (piccolo trumpet), Russell Hall (bass), DoYeon Kim (gayageum), and Brandon Seabrook (banjo, guitar) to contribute. This sophomore album is more of an outlier in that regard, released on a different label (Intakt), featuring cover artwork that is not in line with the other two in the series. But as far as the concept is concerned, inside an Umbra shadow one experiences total occultation, not partial. There is a collective “wholeness” in standing behind the object and watching the light peek out from the sides, together.

It’s difficult to know what to expect when the press release for an album is so wordy it almost becomes redundant. Lillinger and Stemeseder have attempted to explain what happens when you listen to ANTUMBRA but the read itself is so complicated, it prompts an uneasy feeling of trepidation. Talks of “utopian vision," “folk musics," and beats that should be “unfailingly embodied while ambiguously gravitational” conjures up expectations of “…wtf?”

But this should not be a deterrent to ANTUMBRA – its description is just as labyrinthine and trippy as the music itself. Rest assured, you do not have to fully understand what is going on in order to be able to fully enjoy it.

Through acoustic instrumentation (gayageum, banjo and lautenwerk) together with creative sampling and sound curation, Lillinger and Stemeseder have elevated the production in ways previously unimaginable. It’s so far from an incoherent mish-mash; rather, a meticulously selected mosaic, deeply intense, for those prepared to open their hearts. Not to downplay the original, but ANTUMBRA is sonically and conceptually so well executed, it makes the former innovations of part one (PENUMBRA) sound like mere jam sessions in comparison.

The bells and glockenspiel plinks that open Lux create a kaleidoscopic, disjointed Fantasia, with Squarepusher-esque drums & bass. It creates a particularly reverb heavy space with abrupt, present drumming, that's warm, lush and expansive – you are inside it, and it is happening all around you. All that is left is to let it guide you. Drums and bells spontaneously drop out leaving only a mere solo “pluck” – the equivalent of an avant-garde trance breakdown. This weirdness is paired with a familiar and beautiful piano, and proceeds with distortion: it’s epically cinematic. There is even time for a reverse-bass womp-fest towards the end of the song, which has absolutely no right to be as phat as it is. And this is just one of a myriad of songs. One song, multiple worlds.

Drop Shadow offers a different type of portal: Lillinger’s impeccable drums leading the way through musical corridors with “splashes” of clustered, bright samples, accompanied by a carpet of strangely detuned instrumentation. This culminates in a finale that conjures up images of an intergalactic traffic jam, complete with imaginary whirring sirens and stuttering car horns.

Album closer Umbra Granularis another piece that packs an enormous punch for its 1:31 runtime. Gritty, thick, dark electronics thoughtfully paired with some kind of LSD-infused mandolin solo that sounds like That’s Amore after the drugs have well and truly kicked in.

The album artwork by Thissen and Katrin Lillinger is, therefore, completely appropriate: The combination of the light source hitting the head works itself brilliantly into the “Antumbra” concept. From Bandcamp: Antumbra (pre-shadow; from Latin ante, „before“, the region from which the occulting body appears entirely within the disc of the light source) . Translation for those who don’t speak high brow? “That’s some brain-bending stuff, man” . But is the light hitting the head, or is the head projecting the light? Through the act of opening the mind enlightenment can be achieved. This is not reserved for scholars. Give it a try, see how it makes you feel.

Indulge yourself in the full audio spectrum – the dynamic range extends all the way to the very peripherals of your speakers’ capability. One does not simply sit and listen to the noise, rather, one is consumed by it. It is a beautiful form of surrender, to be taken by the hand and trip-sitted through an ever evolving “utopia”. Sonic worlds are presented as snapshots, sometimes vast reverberant universes, sometimes tiny rooms with tiny blips and taps. It is a glorious blend of organic vs mechanic, and one which, despite its weird overall nature, feels viscerally harmonious. The fact that it all comes together and somehow works is nothing short of a triumph.

Christian, Elias – voll geil gemacht, Jungs.





Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Jelle Roozenburg & Han Bennink Live At Galloway Studio (SON, 2024)



By Sammy Stein

My Dutch is limited, so when I got the blurb about a recording from JIN Vinyl Club and Sound of Niche Productions, I was finding it hard to read (until Desiree from the label took pity and sent it in English at my request), but my attention was caught by some things: Han Bennink for one thing, and vinyl, live recording, and limited edition.

Sound of Niche (SON) is a collaboration between the Galloway Studio and Lay Bare Recordings. They aim to produce high-quality vinyl albums by original artists. They have struck gold with their first recording and release. Han Bennink needs little introduction as one of the foremost drummers of the current age. He can turn his talents to other instruments but is known mostly as a drummer. Bennink has played with most luminaries of the jazz world and also lesser-known musicians in collaborations that span the decades. Jelle Roozenburg has yet to solidify his place as a legendary jazz musician but is on the journey that so many have travelled before. He is a composer and participator in many different projects and ensembles, including the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, Bonsai Panda, Showbills, and more.

The title says it simply on this first release from SON - Jelle Roozenburg & Han Bennink Live At Galloway Studio. The album features Bennink swapping ideas with Roozenburg, swapping ideas, changing rhythms, dropping vocal lines in the mix as and when it feels right, and creating music that is the stuff of improvisational dreams. Live, in the moment, and inspired.

The album was recorded in one take in front of a live audience, at Galloway Studio, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and produced for JIN Vinyl Club (part of Podium JIN: Jazz & Impro Nijmegen) with a limited edition of just 300 vinyl copies. JIN Vinyl Club organizes adventurous and unique live concerts in the Nijmegen Galloway Studio and big names from jazz are combined with young talents, recorded live in one take, and released on vinyl in a limited hand-numbered pressing of 300 pieces. Such an undertaking could have been folly, but their first high-quality pressing looks set to become a collectors’ item.

There is tension, intimacy, quality, and above all, intuitive improvisation in this recording. Bennink affords Roozenburg space and freedom to make his guitar expressive, while effortlessly re-acquiring the spotlight at others and re-directing the momentum toward his percussion. He does this effortlessly because Bennink has the ability to pick up the slightest alteration in rhythm and set off with it as his own. A stand-out track on this nine-track album is ‘All or Nothing At All’ where the two musicians are in deep sonic immersion, with each introducing individual takes on the repeated theme.

Throughout tracks, there are also classic and familiar rhythms, from swing to a sassy, rocking beat which Bennink thumps out with enough energy to fill any room. While it is Bennink who captures the ears with his diversity, Roozenburg throws many challenges to the veteran drummer, each of which is either ignored or returned with what feels like glee. Roozenburg develops some of the tracks, the guitar’s warping notes carrying emotive quips and at times working his themes across Bennink's sustained rhythm pattern which he sets up and continues until the guitar works something equally rhythmic across the top. Roozenburg is a revelation and times, particularly on ‘Prairies Cowboy’ and in other sections, where his fast-fingered delivery is impressive.

The album is a fascinating exchange of rhythms, ideas, and noisesome delight. There are glorious moments when the listener cannot help but marvel at the complexity of rhythms that co-exist in Bennink’s head. He seems to create patterns and rhythms with lives of their own. Sometimes his playing feels like an eavesdrop, particularly on ‘De Sprong O Romantic Der Hazen’ (rough translation is ‘The Leap of Romantic Hares’), where he sings nonchalantly along to his intricate rhythms. The artwork is Bennink’s too. With just 300 copies, this is a find for any vinyl, jazz, or improvised music enthusiast.


Monday, February 26, 2024

Kate Gentile - Drummer-Composer Goes for Broke

Kate Gentile & International Contemporary Ensemble - b i o m e i.i (Obliquity Records, 2023)

Andrew Smiley & Kate Gentile - Flagrances (Obliquity Records, 2023)

Kate Gentile - Find Letter X (Pi Recordings, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Earlier in 2023, drummer/composer Kate Gentile kicked off her and pianist Matt Mitchell’s new independent label Obliquity Records with two remarkable releases, one a chamber symphony for the International Contemporary Ensemble—flutist Isabel Lepanto Gleicher, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, bassoonist Rebekah Heller, violinist Jennifer Curtis, pianist Cory Smythe, percussionist and vibraphonist Ross Karre, and Gentile on drums and percussion—the other an improvised duet with Gentile and guitarist Andrew Smiley. Later, Pi Records then dropped what is, to date, her magnum opus, a three-volume book of compositions for the quartet Find Letter X, with Mitchell, bassist Kim Cass, and reeds player Jeremy Viner.

The opportunity to have of b i o m e i,i, Flagrances,and Find Letter X all at once are a perfect platform for digging into what sets Gentile apart. In short, there are extremely few composers who are pushing themselves to such engagingly rich, abstract spaces. The touchstones are all there in the music—as well as other coverage—prog, metal, swing, blues, bop, free improvisation, through composed material; there’s a thrilling density to Gentile’s music, delivering on all the above with humor, wit, and, often, yearning. If b i o m e i.i is the chamber symphony, Find Letter X is the symphony, in three discs in the place of three movements.

 

International Contemporary Ensemble dazzles right from the opening of  “drobe,” with its slowly building waves of trills and bell-like percussion. Classifying b i o m e i.i as a chamber symphony may be slightly, but unintentionally, deceiving. Unlike canonical chamber symphonies, b i o m e i.i clocks in at nearly an hour, with 13 distinct movements. The piece, however, is scored for chamber ensemble of seven players, and Gentile crafts striking, resonant lines. Throughout, Rubin and Heller harmonize expertly, with Karre and Gentile play winding percussion lines across the entire composition.

Flagrances presents a suite-like set of improvisations from Gentile and Smiley. A combination of songs assembled in post-production and duets composed in realtime, the music is rich and evocative, as Smiley’s guitar occasionally skitters, weeps, and snarls. Longer tracks, like “Shrinking Games,” “Ingrained Deviance,” and “Grousing In Turn” show Gentile’s knack for creating billowing clouds of sound.

And then there’s Find Letter X, a monumental achievement in a year of them. As mentioned above, the quartet of Viner, Mitchell, Cass, and Gentile tackle three discs of music composed especially for this group. Fans of Gentile’s will note the group is similar to her Mannequins quartet, with Cass replacing Adam Hopkins. The music feels markedly different, as evidenced by the tense clusters on “laugh magic,” which opens the first disc, after the brief throat-clearing “pulse capsule.” Much like “trapezoidal nirvana” from Mannequins or “stretch goal” from Mitchell’s own Phalanx Ambassadors, the extended soloing and addictive melody of “laugh magic” invites listeners in for a fantastic ride. Later, on the lyrical ballad “subsurface,” Cass slips into something like a Ray Brown mood, while Viner channels John Carter and Mitchell plays a series of delicate, angular chord structures. Gentile’s compositional fearlessness pushes the players right to the edge, and it’s amazing hearing how far they stretch out. Where disc one highlights the band’s acoustic chops, discs two flips to a more overtly electric mode, and disc three presents the band finding a kind of settled balance between the two. Fans of Tony Williams Lifetime and Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society will especially love discs two and three. The band absolutely rips; give a listen to the epic “raze” or “open epoch,” both of which feature brilliantly turbulent rhythms and from Cass and Gentile. Throughout all three volumes, motifs seem to recur, like resonant, novelistic symbols. Certain tonal clusters and refracted melodic lines call you back—for example, I’ve listened to the full set five or six times through, some individual tracks upwards or 10 or 12 times. A surefire classic.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Lara Jones - Sunday Interview

Photo by Jess Rose

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    The sharing of an unspoken language and the ability to express and communicate with people you might hardly know before playing together. It’s magical and after you know that you have shared a part of yourself with each other. It takes a lot of trust and when it works, it’s beautiful.

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

    Their boldness

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

    Ahhh I find it so hard to pick one musician or composer or a favourite anything. I’ve been inspired by so many incredible composers and performers and I don’t think I can pin it down to one. I suppose I’ll never forget first listening to John Coltrane ‘Love Supreme’ as cliche as it is, that was a pretty pivotal moment for me.

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

    SOPHIE, may she rest in power.

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

    I’d love to perform in more countries around the world. I’ve always wanted to travel and traveling with my music is definitely a dream of mine.

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

    I like a lot of popular music, i think it serves a purpose that the world needs. I rate Troye Sivan and Kylie and Britney will always be my gals.

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

    Lots of things hah! Mostly I have a terrible memory, i’d love to be able withhold information for longer and also I would get rid of my anxiety!

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

    Mm probably ‘Enso’ which was my first solo release and the first time I started to prioritse making what I wanted to make.

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

    No, never. I spend so much time listening to my music when producing and mixing that once it’s released it’s a marker to me that it’s done and my time with it is complete. It’s no longer mine, it’s everyone else's. You gotta hand it over and let it all go.

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

    I don’ t think I can answer this, there are soooo many albums I’ve listened to on repeat and many albums I’ve transcribed which means i’ve listened over and over intently. It honestly could be anything from Paul Desmond to Eminem…

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    Recently i haven’t been able to stop listening to ‘Playing Robots into Heaven’ I’ve played it so many times a day since its been released. Also Lowkey.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    I’m really inspired by athletes mostly women's football - that’s an art right?

Lara Jones' Saxophone - Ensō was reviewed in the compilation "Solo Sax".

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Fire! - Testament (Rune Grammofon, 2024)

By Martin Schray

On the one hand, Fire! (as always Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin) are absolutely predictable. That’s not meant in a negative way at all, it’s a bit like drinking a spectacular wine you know, but you haven’t had it for three years - and now you’re looking forward to tasting it again. Anticipation is the greatest joy, we all know that. Also, because on the other hand, Fire! albums are never the same.

On Testament, their eighth album, the trio concentrates on the essentials for the first time: saxophone, bass, drums. No flutes (which Gustafsson has recently discovered for himself in his other projects), no electronics (actually an integral part of Fire!), no guests and no other bric-a-brac. The album was recorded live in the studio on analog tape at Steve Albini’s studio (of Nirvana/Shellac/Stooges etc. fame) with the master himself at the controls. It’s a bit as if what belongs together has come together here.

Fire! have always been about finding the essence by getting to the core of the music. On Testament, it becomes clearer than ever before how strongly the trio literally refers back to the roots of ancient jazz and blues structures. Field hollers, call-and-response, an interplay - in this case of three instruments - that have a kind of conversation with each other and thus create a certain density and tension. This is particularly evident in the opener “Work Songs For A Scattered Past“ (but also in the following three pieces). Johan Berthling’s bass is the basis, Werliin's drums support him more stoically than usual, and Gustafsson lets his dark lines buzz over this base. Intensity, tempo and sound are then varied, Gustafsson pivots on Berthling’s bass motif to give Werliin room for excursions. In its simplicity, this is simply great art and almost tears your heart out.

This approach is further refined in the second piece, even more minimalist, three notes on the bass, the drums almost like a metronome. Gustafsson plays long, lonely lines, interspersed with an interlude of short outbursts that seem as if a guest musician has snuck in. A highlight of the album is “Running Bison. Breathing Entity. Sleeping Reality“. The bass is as light as a feather, the drums almost free of tom, bass drum or snare, even the saxophone floats free of suffering or longing. It’s the continuation of Fire!’s masterpiece She Sleeps She Sleeps, especially when the obligatory outburst comes in the middle of the track and the bass then returns with even more verve. You might even want to jump from your sofa and dance - just to realize that the last track, “One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again“, is different. All three instruments spin freely, there is no longer a gravitational center, it seems as if one is drifting completely free through the orbit. The piece is a throwback to the band’s other mainstay, namely krautrock/progrock - and here Can in particular (coincidentally, the review was written the day after Damo Suzuki’s death). Like Can, Fire!’s music also oscillates between demonstrative boredom and ecstatic outbursts, you think you know what’s going to happen - just to find out that your expectations won’t be fulfilled.

It’s only February, but are we talking about an album of the year? Hell yeah. 100%.

Testament is available as an LP (in a limited edition on clear vinyl), as a CD and as a download.