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Tanja Feichtmaier, Celine Voccia and Alexander Frangenheim

Sowieso, Berlin. June 2024.

Aki Takase & Alexander von Schlippenbach

Galiläakirche, Berlin. June 2024.

Camila Nebbia (s), James Banner (b), Max Andrzejewsk (d)

Jazz in E. Eberswalde, Germany. May 2024

Trio Oùat: Simon Sieger (p), Joel Grip (b), Michael Griener (dr)

Jazz in E. Eberswalde, Germany. May 2024

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Borderlands Trio - Rewilder (Intakt Records, 2024)

Calling the Borderlands Trio a “piano trio” doesn’t quite do justice to the marvels that are found on the group’s scintillating recordings. Pianist Kris Davis, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Eric McPherson are masters of their respective instruments, and they gel with the kind of cohesion one expects from longstanding acquaintanceship, but their music is also completely improvised—and therein lies the particular magic of Rewilder. Like the trio’s preceding releases, Asteroidea (Intakt, 2017) and Wandersphere (Intakt, 2021), this one revels in the process of spontaneous creation. And just as those previous efforts were not only adventurously unpredictable but also both accessible and inviting, Rewilder is one of the most engaging albums of free improvisation one is likely to encounter.

In case one has any doubts about the music being completely unpremeditated (and after listening to the album, they are likely), Crump explains in the liner notes that the trio convened for the one-day recording session, “played for an hour or two, then had lunch, and then came back. We played for exactly how long the record is.” Now such a description could probably apply to lots of freely improvised recordings; but what separates this one from run-of-the-mill free encounters is just how well-organized it is. There is a structure to these pieces, even if that structure is arrived at collectively and extemporaneously. Surely the players’ long-standing familiarity plays a role here, as do their superb listening instincts. But no matter the secret formula, one cannot deny the remarkable alchemy that takes place on these eight capacious tracks.

Crump and McPherson provide the pivotal axis on which the trio turns, given that so much of the group’s modus operandi involves finding catchy grooves to explore. After the opening moments of “Cyclops Mountain,” where all three musicians are pursuing their individual muses, McPherson and Crump gradually coalesce to form a tentative pulse, with Davis joining them as a nascent foundation is put in place. Davis’s initial meanderings become increasingly focused and expansive, while McPherson and Crump cement the music’s identity with a rhythm that is identifiable, yet just slightly off-center. Other tracks build from Crump ostinatos or arco passages, McPherson’s intuitions allowing him to stay in close rapport while Davis expertly finds moments for her own interjections.

One of the reasons the Borderlands Trio doesn’t fit the “piano trio” caricature is because there really is no lead instrument here; Davis allows her partners to make their contributions on equal terms, and as a result each track develops its own unique momentum, with McPherson or Crump as free to take the lead as Davis. So while the pianist finds the repeated phrase that serves as the melodic thread to the gently bouncing “Axolotyl,” on “Monotreme” Crump and McPherson establish a sinuous groove that Davis then navigates, finding her own pathways as the bassist and drummer deftly alter both tempo and rhythm throughout the track’s eighteen-plus minutes. And while most of the music on Rewilder stays within an understated, gentle temperament, Davis’s animated flights on “Monotreme” are invigorating, fueled by the energy created by her colleagues. Then we have her skilled use of prepared piano on “Tree Shrimp,” where she sounds as though two separate pianists are improvising over McPherson’s reggae-inspired rhythm. Davis’s creativity and virtuosity are as evident here as always, yet without a trace of ostentatiousness.

It's a lot of music to take in, to be sure—over 100 minutes, all told—yet there is an immersive quality to the trio’s explorations. On the back half of the album, Davis’s fondness for minimalist gestures adds to the trancelike aspect of the 23-minute “Lost Species,” once again featuring her prepared piano surging over the tenacious rhythms of Crump and McPherson, while “Echidna” offers a riveting study in texture, Crump’s darting arco sparring with Davis before moving into a walking bass line that somehow ushers the track into a gentle swinging section, only to conclude with Davis at her most extroverted, with tempestuous flurries and shards of notes riding over Crump’s dense arco and McPherson’s subdued support. “Commerce Sunrise” closes the album with the trio at its most accessible, finding a comfortable groove (or two) to sustain Davis’s lambent lyricism. It’s more than enough to satisfy us until the next superlative outing from this formidable group of improvisers.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Causa Efeito – Lisbon, May 23-25, 2024


By David Cristol
Photos by Nuno Martins

On the 50 th year of Portugal’s overthrowing of the Salazar dictatorship, it was only logical for the 2nd edition of the Causa Efeito to choose freedom as its theme. Like the previous year, the concerts unfold on the premises of Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. With its combination of key creative figures from Europe and the United States and young talent, this edition was again organized by Pedro Costa, with the help of Clara Rowland, pro-rector of Culture at the faculty.


In addition to premium-quality concerts, this edition pioneered masterclasses from the likes of Tim Berne, Alexander Hawkins and Michael Formanek, that provided food for thought, as well as a book presentation and a Europe Jazz Network gathering.

David Maranha and Manuel Mota

Electric organist David Maranha and electric guitarist Manuel Mota provided the opening act in an unusual venue: the downstairs (empty) garage of the university. The wide, low-ceilinged and windowless space is a perfect setting from their brand of ambient soundscapes, also involving expert foot pedal work. One is tempted to move around the space, were it not the fear of producing disruptive noises. The music unfolds at a snail's pace, presenting some dark and disquieting aspects, through considered and minimal means, between muffled organ sounds and portentous guitar friction, for a reasonably short duration. 

Alexander Hawkins, Michael Formanek, Ricardo Toscano and Tim Berne

Ricardo Toscano, Alexander Hawkins and Michael Formanek had never played together prior to the previous day’s rehearsal and, for a few moments, onstage during the afternoon’s enlightening masterclass. Portugal’s Toscano – the youngest of the trio, on alto sax – and USA’s Formanek on bass share the common language of jazz, while Hawkins, though no stranger to the idiom, comes from a different perspective on the music, which makes it all the more interesting. Their improvisations are swift and flexible, and different modalities of interaction are put to the test: response, opposition, plural proposition, parallel motions, rhythmic deconstruction… Toscano spontaneously veers towards the straight jazz soloing he’s known for, but manages to make it work with what his partners throw at him. Following the afternoon’s talk, we witness the praxis of the art of interaction and of fitting each member's aesthetic personality into a collective context, in real time. The three also play with textures. Hawkins appears as a leader of sorts, coming out with many ideas, which his accomplices either appropriate and develop, or stray from. The next piece seems based on a notion of ​​velocity while still moving in the abstract. Everyone is acutely in the moment, in a paradoxical state of great focus and letting go at the same time. We’re in for a surprise, as Tim Berne shows up, on the same instrument as Toscano. A duo between UK’s Hawkins and the New York alto ensues, the latter rising with delight to the level of challenge set by the pianist. That boosts Toscano’s confidence and allows him to take off, less tentative than before. The set culminates in quartet format, both saxophones either combined or taking turns, with Formanek’s steadily pristine support. 

Fade In

Italian trio Fade In performed music from the album “Live fast, die a legend”. The pieces are composed by bass player Pietro Elia Barcellona and drummer Marco Luparia and have an obsessive quality to them, with precise irregular metrics. The approach is percussive, with broken beats, an ostinato bass, clarinet hiccups courtesy of Federico Calcagno, at times reminiscent of the quartet أحمد [Ahmed]. The same principles are repeated on each successive piece, evoking some machinery of the industrial revolution, trembling with tension, expelling smoke and threatening to fall apart. The trio has been playing this repertoire for years and the cohesion is remarkable. Maybe the whole thing feels too much like a style exercise, the music locked into an immovable set of rules, and the exhilaration of speed that’s implied in the album title and often a temptation that’s hard to resist for young musicians. Let’s wish them a long life on the road to freedom. 

Tim Berne

One of the key characters in forward-looking jazz since the 1980s, Tim Berne has not played alone in twenty years. He’s an artist who loves company, and isn’t fond of extended soloing even in a group context. Berne is standing close to the audience, on the edge of the stage. After a humble, almost self-deprecating introduction, he proceeds to transfix the audience by a sample of his art, as wayward as it is unique. The unamplified glorious sound fills the auditorium. The Snakeoil leader explores the treble register, favors unpredictable turns that take on meaning as they unfold, in sequences that never feel forced, from saturated to velvety emissions and overtones. His research parallels that of reedsman Ivo Perelman, with whom he recorded recently. 

Tim Berne and Michael Formanek

Likewise, pals Berne and Michael Formanek, of Bloodcount fame with Chris Speed, Jim Black and Marc Ducret, hadn’t joined forces as a duo in three decades. This is a happy reunion, and one demanding of our undivided attention; those able to let go of their daily concerns and actively follow the discourse of the two artists are rewarded by musical poetry both complex and accessible, exquisitely played and benefiting from the veterans’ huge respective and shared experience. One for the ages.

Pedro Carneiro and Eduardo Raon

The pairing of Pedro Carneiro on marimba and Eduardo Raon on harp is innovative in several respects. First with an instrumental association that I’m not sure ever happened before in improvised music; secondly with the way the harp in particular is put to use. Virtuoso Carneiro’s demeanor is steeped in the classical music ethos, and his playing is on the demonstrative side. The large instrument certainly calls for ample gestures, even athletic, which may explain the impression of showiness. I had enjoyed his duet with pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, but in this case, closing my eyes in the darkness of the room, I found the harp playing to be more adventurous and engaging, Raon coaxing yet unheard-of sounds from his instrument, in subdued yet striking fashion. 

Benjamin Duboc and Edward Perraud

Eve Risser performed twice. The trio “En Corps” with fellow French citizens Benjamin Duboc (double bass) and Edward Perraud (drums) has been going on for twelve years, with only one self-titled album released in 2012, and reunions once a year for improvised concerts. Pedro Costa introduces the band, with a focus on Risser whose music grew up from her association with the Clean Feed label. From a cautious start, the impromptu music moves from slow and agile, elegant and sober, to wildly effervescent. Perraud has multiple tools which he feverishly replaces, without even thinking about which one to grab. His heavy gesticulation almost distracts from listening. Between storming drums and unruly piano, the unwavering Duboc maintains the course as a seasoned ship captain, keeping the boat from crashing on the reefs. The clatter and intensity don’t hamper a feeling of continuity, although Perraud’s excesses are responsible for breaking the balance and flow a couple of times. 

Eve Risser

More of Risser on the following day for a solo performance, in the spirit of her Après un rêve album. Audience and artist are facing an upright prepared piano which vertical mechanism is open for everybody to see. Glowing neon lights surround the instrument and help focus our gaze on the device. There are other elements such as a kick drum, and indeed, it all feels akin to a one-person tuned drums orchestra, with polyrhythms, clusters resonant or muted. It connects dots between two of Risser’s poles of attraction: unorthodox improvisation and African music. As inferred by the title, the process feels like a strange and beautiful dream, remote from any jazz reference. A recording of live shows using the same gear and concept was planned for release, but the hard drive got lost. The Lisbon audience however was not deprived of a concert that was at least double the length of the album. And like with Formanek and Berne, it was a privilege getting to hear it from up close.  

The festival appears more appealing to the cognoscenti than to the audience-at-large. Familiar faces from the Lisbon creative music community show up evening after evening to enjoy the concrete utopia of an uncompromising programming. The foundation is rock-solid, and time should cement Causa Efeito’s standing as a choice event for listening, meeting and learning, which, as everyone should know, is actually a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Charles Gayle/ Milford Graves/ William Parker - WEBO (Black Editions Archive, 2024) *****

By Stuart Broomer

Black Editions Archive was launched a couple of years ago with a devotion to the energy music wing of free jazz. Its first three releases have been a treasure trove of music with Milford Graves, that astonishing percussionist whose career had long periods without visits to a recording studio. The first release was a two-LP set of Peter Brötzmann with Graves and William Parker at CBGB’s 313 Gallery in 2002 one of the great archival recordings of the decade. It was followed by another two-LP set, Children of the Forest, by various groups, all with Graves and most including saxophonists Arthur Doyle and/or Hugh Glover. As substantial as those recordings were, this trio recording -- two performances from the short-lived NYC performance space WEBO on July 7 and 8, 1991, two hours of music spread over three LPs -- raises the bar. It may be (along with Touchin’ on Trane (FMP), recorded in Germany four months later with Parker and Rashied Ali) Gayle’s finest recorded work. It is also very likely the archival recording of the year, from the music to its presentation.

Gayle, who passed away in September 2023 at 84, emerged briefly in Buffalo in the mid-60s, largely disappeared into homelessness and playing on the street, then emerged again, circa 1988, a spectral figure, an insistent presence carrying on the extraordinary phase of free jazz – energy music, spiritual jazz – practiced by its greatest avatars, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, in the mid-60s before their respective deaths in 1967 and 1970. Listening to WEBO, the first release of Gayle’s music following his passing and a monument to his work, with likely the most powerful band with which he ever worked, the special character of his music comes through insistently. The music is far too powerful – its form is literally its intensity – to be regarded as mere imitation. Its sustained forays into high squeals, it’s dirge-like moments with heavy vibrato and its explosive overblown runs invoke the particular power of Ayler and Coltrane’s mid-’60s work. True to his spiritual mission, Gayle sounds like he’s channeling his sources: it’s as authentic, as intense, as cauterizing a wound.

Gayle will sometimes make that unique shift from momentary musing to full-blown energy mode in instants, William Parker describes in a liner note Gayle’s “ability to accelerate from zero to two hundred miles per hour in one minute.” It feels like a kind of possession, a possession that one felt in Ayler and Coltrane’s performances (the author is old enough to have been a witness), paralleling the trance culture of dervishes and other ceremonies (consider alsothe recording The Trance of Seven Colors by Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharoah Sanders’ (Zehra) where the sense of musical healing is as evident as in some gospel music).

The music’s power and urgency are evident from Side A, a 21-minute improvisation which begins with Parker’s ferocious, vocalic, upper register bowing, Gayle responding with a kind of low-register barking. Graves pushes forward with drumming as aggressive and complex as drumming could ever be, sounding at times like a drum corp. The group creates a maelstrom that will characterize much of the coming two hours of music, music named only by its place on the record sides, A1, B1, etc., no after-the-fact titling added on.

In his background note to the first LP, William Parker situates his own playing in the tradition of Wellman Braud. A relatively neglected figure of early jazz, Braun was the founder of the walking bass style and a fixture through the early decades of the music with bands led by Duke Ellington and Kid Ory. Parker’s pizzicato playing here is one of the elements that so deeply roots this music, an anchor in the tumult, while his arco work embodies the tumult itself, the nearest a bass might sound like Gayle’s own work here.

The presentation is a fine tribute to the musicians’ art. Sides A, B and D are single tracks running between 19 and 22 minutes. Shorter tracks are assembled on sides C, E and F. The tracks aren’t given a chronological order, the spoken introduction to “C2” confirming it when Graves refers to the moment as the beginning of the fourth set of two nights. The order seems to optimize the listening experience, while the packaging couldn’t be more respectful and celebratory. The quality of the recording, arranged by the musicians, is very good. The LPs are in a heavy cardboard box with an illustration by Jeff Schlanger that captures the vibrant energy. The LP sleeve portraits of the individual the musicians effectively combine abstract expressionist drips with representation. The liner notes are by William Parker and guitarist Alan Licht, who attended the first concert as a young man. There’s also a reproduction of the original concert flyer and a set of photos from a 2021 reunion at the WEBO site. It’s also available as a download at https://milfordgraves-blackeditionsarchive.bandcamp.com/album/webo .

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Magda Mayas' recent albums

By Eyal Hareuveni

German, Berlin-based keyboard player composer Magda Mayas explores in her compositions and collaboration the sound of the piano as well as of other instruments and has developed a highly individual language of her own. She has developed a set of techniques that draw on the history of prepared and inside piano vocabulary, but are individualized and expand the language for internal piano music making.

Magda Mayas’ Filamental - Ritual Mechanics (Relative Pitch, 2024)



The debut album of the Filamental ensemble led by Mayas was recorded live at the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria in November 2019 (Confluence, Relative Pitch, 2021), when Mayas was one of the co-curators of the festival’s program. Mayas seized the opportunity and fulfilled a long-term dream, putting together an international, eight-musician ensemble, comprised of like-minded idiosyncratic improvisers, with two reeds players - French alto sax player Christine Abdelnour and German clarinetist Michael Thieke, two cellists - Mexican Aimée Theriot-Ramos and Australian Anthea Caddy, two harpists - American Zeena Parkins and British Rhodri Davies, Welsh violinist Angharad Davies and Mayas on Fender Rhodes and harmonium.

But in today’s economic reality, it is impossible to take such an exceptional, experimental ensemble on the road and into the studio. So the sophomore album of Filamental, Ritual Mechanics, was recorded remotely with the musicians recording themselves separately, except Davies and Mayas, who were recorded by Mayas’ partner, Tony Buck (of The Necks fame, who collaborates with Mayas in the Spill duo), who later also mixed all the separate tracks.

But Ritual Mechanics, like Confluence (which refers to two rivers that meet and merge in Geneva), suggest a delicate and mysterious stream of magical sounds and is a singularly cohesive unit that subsumes individual style. Mayas composed two extended pieces, “Re-contour” and the title piece. “Re-contour” highlights the distinct and nuanced voices of the ensemble and their imaginative and unconventional sonic palettes and it unfolds organically and patiently with a dream state’s inner logic, slowly weaving and exploring its intriguing and often gently resonating sonic secrets. The title piece solidifies the collective larger-than-its-sum ensemble work and adds a dramatic and often chaotic percussive dimension to the enigmatic, dream-like and drone-like stream of exquisite sounds. But like the previous piece, it suggests a profound emotional impact and the most beautiful aesthetics of this unique ensemble.


Thuluth - One Third of the Sun (Al Maslakh, 2024)


Thuluth (one-third in Arabic) is the Berlin-based acoustic trio of Mayas on the prepared piano, Lebanese double bass player Raed Yassin (of the “A” Trio) and German vocal artist Ute Wassermann. These three musicians have collaborated in different contexts and formats for many years, and Wasserman played in Yassin’s Praed Orchestra!’s Live in Sharjah (Morphine, 2020), but their first performance as a trio took place at Irtijal Festival in Beirut in 2016. The debut album of the trio, One Third of the Sun (a title that references the apocalyptic prophecy in the Book of Revelation), was recorded at Morphine Raum in Berlin in January 2022 and is released by the experimental Lebanese label Al Maslakh (run by Yassin’s partners in the “A” Trio”, trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui).

Mayas, Yassin and Wassermann have established profound trust and unique aesthetics during their many collaborations. All of them employ objects and various microphones that expand their sonic palettes, and Yassin lays the double bass on a stool and bows on all its body. The music is freely improvised and flows intuitively and is driven by a constant need to explore and blend enigmatic and imaginative timbres and textures, almost in a ritualistic manner. Often it is impossible to know who is playing what and how as all operate in such a dynamic, vivid and subversive-ironic approach that shifts the conventional palettes of the piano, the double bass and the human voice into abstract sounds that magically resonate and extend each other. Beauty is often a very strange thing and not apocalyptic at all.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Christoph Erb and Veto Records

Christoph Erb/Franz Loriot –Wabi Sabi (2023, Veto Records)

Wabi Sabi (which, to my pleasure, is on vinyl) came out very late in 2023, making a perfect candidate for 2024 best recordings… The duo of Christoph Erb on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and Franz Loriot on viola offers the listener and uncompromising vision of modern improv through drone textures and, sometimes, energetic playing.

In all nine tracks of the album the focus of both musicians is to present and alternative (best call it theirs) way of the odd (again best call it a duo that rarely happens in jazz based musics) interaction between a wind instrument and a viola. And they definitely succeed. Their interaction is amazing, the way they use the instruments –aggressively but not saturating the listener with sheer volume- offers a breath of fresh air in free improvisation and, I must comment, this is not the first time it happens with a release from the label.

It is so attractive for the listener (especially after repeated listening) the way they move from presenting drone sounds, articulating timbres of cosmic music, up to total, free improvising that involves a lot of listening between them.

Take a listen:


Christoph Erb/Christian Weber/Emanuel Kunzi – Spazio Elle (Veto Records, 2024)

The approach on Spazio Elle (again on vinyl) is somewhat different and much closer to the “traditional” free jazz trio. The link between the two recordings is label head Christoph Erb, here on tenor and soprano saxophones. The trio also is made from Christian Weber on double bass and Emanuel Kunzi on the drums. Another link is the pop aesthetics on both albums, a playful choice that subordinates the music into something less “serious”.

But is this the truth behind the two side long tracks of Spazio Elle? Pity the listener-reviewer who is never sure if he or she understands things right, but seriousness isn’t one of the questions posed by Spazio Elle. Now that I think of it, I strongly believe that this is a question the three musicians never cared to pose.

What do they care for? Listening to both tracks they seem eager and determined to present their take on free improvisation through the prism of free jazz. If this seems like too much, it is always difficult to verbalize something you enjoy musically as much as it is to comprehend how the musicians play and interact.

The trio act and react as if they have been playing together for many years. A “free jazz trio” can be a misleading title for the music on Spazio Elle, as it is equally aggressive fire music and playful, humble non-hierarchical playing. As each track progresses the energy lever rises (talking about fire music, right?) but the flexibility of the musicians never ceases to lead them into new paths. Spazio Elle, too, is a strong candidate for the final lists of 2024.

Listen here:


@koultouranafigo

Monday, July 8, 2024

Rob Mazurek - Milan (Clean Feed, 2024) *****

By Gary Chapin

Mazurek is one of the most expansively-minded improvisers/composers/condition creators out there in the world, with the number and variety of settings within which he places himself being vast (yeah, that feels like a fair word). Here the ostensible trumpeter—and he is a great trumpeter—takes on his horn, piano (prepared and un), sampler, and a horde of little instruments (including a “yellow bucket”) to stack up 53-ish minutes of improvised quest music.

According to the notes, Milan is part of a series or ongoing project of Mazurek’s to record solo unaccompanied extravagances at radio stations throughout the world. I quibble with “unaccompanied,” because Mazurek is accompanying himself throughout — it’s unimportant to the parameters of the project or its “authenticity,” but important to the outcome. The music has a reckless coherence, disparate things rhyme with each other, they speak with similar accents. These come from Mazurek having conversations with himself. It really is the best of both worlds, the purity of a solo vision, with a simultaneous, wildly imaginative interlocutor.

The piano is the stand out voice for me, though the jangly, rattly, asonic percussion is most pervasive. The piano seems to be the gravity well of a number of the tracks, creating a thick, dense thread that runs throughout. Ametrical repetition creates a ritualistic break from reality. Since the early days of the AACM, I’ve loved “little instrument” excursions. Mazurek carries that tradition through this work.

Milan is walking on a different side of the street from Mazurek’s Exploding Star work (which I’ve fallen deeply in love with) or his São Paulo Underground (ditto), but it’s the same street. Execution, arrangement, and production are all outstanding. Five stars.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Dave Rempis - Sunday Interview

Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    To me it’s the combination of physicality in the playing and finding ways to truly be in the moment in the deepest sense. But that also combines with intelligence, wit, and strategic thinking. The best improvisers to are ones who don’t just “play what they feel” at a given point in time, but can actually recall the motifs, forms, and structures that have developed over the course of a piece, whether it’s 5 minutes or 90 minutes. They then make decisions based on that knowledge, which is a whole lot to balance at once – playing an instrument, dealing with the immediate input from other musicians, and navigating and contributing to the longer-term compositional elements of a piece. Seeing a band who can do all of those things at the same time is truly exhilarating. 

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

    A commitment to the music, no matter what the context. Whether you’re playing on a big festival stage, or a quiet Monday night at a bookstore in your hometown. I admire the folks who take every situation with the same level of seriousness and find ways to make a contribution to the music every time.

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

    There are so many, I don’t know where to begin. I hate top 10 lists, and desert island choices. I am who I am as a musician because of so many different people I’ve had the fortune to hear over the years, both live and on recordings. They’re all important to me and it’s the combination of all of those ideas, practices, and approaches that help make me who I am as a musician. 

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

    It’s an interesting concept, but I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. That person may be quite happy where they are, or where they “aren’t” depending on your perspective. I’d hate to take the gamble that they wouldn’t be real happy to get dragged out of there and have to play with my dumb ass. We can always meet up later if the situation allows.

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

    I’d still really like to be able to put together a large ensemble to record and tour at least once. But financial realities of this music make that pretty challenging unless you’re one of the anointed few who have grant or other money showering down on you from above. It’s challenging enough to make a trio tour work out ok financially for everyone nowadays.

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

    Yeah, I like tons of different music. There’s no one right now in pop music who I’d say I’m loving, but there are plenty of folks across the years. I used to bartend at a couple of large Chicago rock venues when I was younger and got to see everyone from Prince to Bob Dylan to Slayer to Tori Amos. There’s great work in all different genres, it just depends on who it is.

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

    Always a work in progress…plenty of things to work on.

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

    As an improviser, I’m not sure that records are really the final outcome of something to be celebrated and analyzed and adulated. To me they’re very much more of a snapshot of a particular moment in time. The real work to me is the ongoing learning process of live performance across many years. With that in mind hopefully the most recent ones are the “best.”

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

    Since I run my own record label, and produce 90% of the recordings I’m on, by the time a record comes out I’ve heard it so much through the process of choosing material, mixing, mastering, double checking masters before manufacturing, etc etc that I generally don’t want to hear it ever again. That said, I listen once when it comes back from the manufacturer (or to several copies if it’s an LP) to make sure there aren’t any manufacturing errors. And then I usually go back about 6 months later once I have some distance from it to see if I still think it’s any good or not.

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

    Tough one. When I was younger it would probably have been a Coltrane or Ornette record, but at this point I’d guess it’s a Yusef Lateef record – probably Live at Pep’s

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    Silence. I just came back from tour and am enjoying a little space before I go out again in 10 days or so. I read a lot when I’m home, and I find it tough to both read and listen to music at the same time. It overwhelms my brain! I can’t wait to get in the van for this upcoming US tour with a new quartet called Archer with Terrie Ex, Jon Rune Strøm, and Tollef Østvang though. I love driving on the road, and those are the times when I can really listen with some focus, since I’m not answering emails or doing other admin work when I’m driving. There’s a ton of stuff on my list including a couple of new releases from my friend Mars Williams who passed away last fall, both of which just came out on Corbett vs. Dempsey.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    My partner turned me on a lot to Piet Oudolf over the last few years. He’s a Dutch gardener/landscape architect who’s done a ton of major projects including the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, and the Highline in New York. He has some remarkable concepts about gardening, particularly regarding the dynamic nature of his work, which seem very relevant to the music.

Dave Rempis on the Free Jazz Blog:

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Aaron Wyanski - Schoenberg: Drie Klavierstucke, Op.11 (Speculative Records, 2024)

By Sammy Stein

Aaron Wyanski is a pianist, composer, and musicologist based in Maine where he is Assistant Professor of Music Composition at the University of Maine. He has been fascinated with the atonality and compositional style of Arnold Schoenberg since he was young and this album continues his exploration and homage to Schoenberg, via the medium of jazz.

‘Drei Klavierstucke’ (Three Piano Pieces) Op 11 (Speculative Records), which follows Sechs Kleine Klavierstucke ( Six small piano pieces) Op 19, and Schoenberg Suite Op.25, is just over twelve minutes in length and contains many elements of Schoenberg’s style. It also adds strummed open strings on piano, atonality, mismatched rhythms that work at cross purposes until eventually they merge, swinging rhythm patterns, contrasted with eclectic ones, and playful short interludes but it is not a copy of Schoenberg but rather a tribute to the various styles Schoenberg utilized.

Arnold Schöenberg's atonality theory and structure have been deemed one of the most influential on modern music. Respected today as one of the great musical theorists, Schoenberg enjoyed dissonance and unconventional arrangements. He picked apart classical arrangements and found hidden notes, timings, and sounds and realized that sometimes, it is the unconventional that works. Wyanski understands that too. Schoenberg’s work has influenced and empowered modern composers of classical and jazz music, from Zappa to Glass. The elements common to Schoenberg and jazz are apparent and here, Wyanski exposes and elevates them creating a novel take on the link between classical and jazz music via this concept of atonality. Schoenberg’s argument that even with the triad that is the building block of tonal harmony, every note is present in that triad, and it is the relationships between them that create dissonance or consonance – and how this is explored here is wonderful. Schoenberg created music that seemed atonal and unconnected but revealed the connections as it developed and here, Wyanski does the same with tracks such as Mabige where elements of swing are interspersed among the disjointed and surprising inclusions such as sudden blasts for the trumpet and brass, or the gentle melodic riff on the guitar. Once you get the concept of all notes being present, it is the relationship between them, intervals, and clashes, that affect our sense of tonality. Free jazz appreciators will understand. This music makes complete sense and is an exceptionally engaging listen.

Friday, July 5, 2024

The Straight Horn of Rudi Mahall (Two Nineteen Records, 2024)


In 1961 Candid released the Steve Lacy album, The Straight Horn Of Steve Lacy, where the legendary soprano sax player led a quartet with baritone sax player Charles Davis, Double Bass player John Ore and drummer Roy Haynes, playing compositions by Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, with a liner notes by Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff.

The Straight Horn of Rudi Mahall, obviously, nods to Lacy’s classic album and its iconic artwork. German clarinetist Mahall (of Globe Unity Orchestra, Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra and Die Enttäuschung fame) focuses on a different straight horn, the B-flat clarinet (with a motto by Benny Goodman: “It’s an awful lot of work playing the clarinet. You have to practice!”), is joined by the Paris-Berlin Oùat piano trio - pianist Simon Sieger (alternating on the trombone, also in the current line-up of the Art Ensemble of Chicago), double bass player Joel Grip and drummer Michael Griener (who was responsible for the recording and the insightful liner notes), which focuses on swinging bebop verities, and already evoked the sound of brilliant eccentrics like Elmo Hope, Herbie Nichols, and Thelonious Monk on three previous albums. Now this quartet offers its own interpretations of popular jazz standards from Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington to Jimmy Giuffre and Eric Dolphy.

Mahall has a sound of its own on the clarinet (and the bass clarinet), and maintains a disciplined daily practice routine focused on the jazz standards but claims that “Everyone hates the clarinet. It was then, and still is today, a pretty much out-of-favor instrument in jazz music. You can't get anywhere with the clarinet”. Like Mahall, Oùat is well-versed in the legacy of jazz and is a perfect partner to this wise, often provocative moving musical journey into iconic pieces that shape jazz as we know it today and the role of the straight clarinet in these pieces.

Side A of The Straight Horn of Rudi Mahall begins with one of the first iconic bebop pieces, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” from 1944, interpreted in a similar powerful, fast and almost chaotic manner like its original version. Tadd Dameron's playful and driving “Good Bait” highlights Mahall's beautiful solos that according to Griener, keep “the tactic of compressing and stretching the time against the rhythm section, resulting in rhythmic overlaps that could possibly be explained by Einstein's theory of relativity”. The following “Sechseinhalb Brüder” melts Giuffre’s 1947 “Four Brothers”, a tribute to the saxophone section of Woody Herman's second big band based on the chords of the Harry Warren composition “Jeepers Creepers”, Mahall’s “Vier Halbe” (four halves in German, from Die Enttäuschung album by the same name, Intakt, 2012) and Gerry Mulligan's 1949 “Five Brothers”, and turns this imaginary sum of six and a half brothers = “Sechseinhalb Brüder” into a wild ride. The interpretation of Ellington’s “The Mystery Song” from 1961 nods to Lacy’s version of the song (from Evidence, with Don Cherry, New Jazz, 1962), with more room for improvisation over the 16-bar form. This side ends with a composition of another pioneer of the straight horn (clarinet and soprano sax) Bechet’s iconic “Petit Fleur” from 1952, after moving to France, and having a French pianist in the quartet seemed perfect. Mahall explores the full expressive potential of the clarinet, from the most traditional jazz to the free jazz.

Side B begins with “Unbewusst im Puff” (Unconscious in the brothel), merges cleverly Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (slang for brothel) and Lee Konitz’ “Subconscious-Lee”, both are abstractions of Cole Porter’s "What is this thing called love", to show that "hectic" bebop and "cerebral" cool jazz have a lot more in common than jazz critics would have you believe. Pee Wee Russell’s signature piece “Pee Wee's Blues” allows the double bass and clarinet to introduce it in free pitches before singing the familiar theme. Mahall’s bass clarinet playing has earned him many comparisons to Dolphy, and in 1992 he and Griener played in a project of pianist Rolf Sudmann, and later he recorded with pianist Aki Takase Duet for Eric Dolphy (Enja, 1997), which opened with “17 West” (a former Manhattan address of Dolphy) with Mahall performing it on the bass clarinet. Now with a “normal” clarinet, this piece receives a free, urgent version, with Sieger's piano solo is reminiscent of early Cecil Taylor. This beautiful album concludes with “ In-stable Mates, an adaption of Benny Golson's “Stablemates”, a little less stable version of Golson’s piece with its unusual structure”, that highlights the strong individual voices of this great quartet.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

James Brandon Lewis Trio in Berlin, July 3, 2024

James Brandon Lewis Trio

By Paul Acquaro

I realize now that I had written the word 'punchy' quite often in my notes. It was "James Brandon Lewis' punchy melody" and "Josh Werner's punchy bass lines" and even "Chad Taylor's deft kick and punch of drums." How violent, how limited of a vocabulary, and how true. Every note, every musical idea that the trio played was delivered with striking intensity and precision.

The setting was a small, intimate gig at the opening of a two week tour that finds this tight trio playing at a few festivals and dates around northern Europe. Lewis picked up his horn and unceremoniously began show by easing into a rousing Coltrane-inflected melody. It was a short piece but like a spiritual incantation, it prepared the space. Along with the saxophonist's hearty, clear tone, Werner's animated bass lines and Taylor's strong but supportive dumming found a direct channel to what makes one's head bop.

As Lewis explained, the songs were being drawn from his recent (though not most recent) album, Eye of I, which gave us the moving interpretation of the Donny Hathaway tune 'Someday We'll All Be Free', as well as some soon-to-be released music. Judging by the funk-infused grooves, hook laden melodies and intense improvisations, the forthcoming album, Apple Cores, named after Amiri Baraka's column for Downbeat magazine, will be something to look forward to.

A concise solo piece from Lewis seemed to contain multitudes. During this brief detour, abstract melodic shards were juxtaposed with musical quotes. A Charlie Parker line here, the refrain from 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' and others that I knew but couldn't name. The set ended with a song that Lewis says he plans to play with all his collaborators, 'Sparrow', which appears on Eye of I as well as his other recent album For Mahalia. As Lewis began the evocative melody began in tandem with Werner, it became obvious why he would choose this one. Taylor, who had been waiting paitently, entered with a concentrated gust and helped lift the earnest song to a triumphant peak.

The taut, three piece exemplified a barebones aesthetic where every note, every coloration, every impulse counts. They played a single set, a bit over an hour, but it was an encounter whose reverberations are felt as much the next day as when in the moment of creation.