Thursday, February 21, 2019

LFU: Lisbon Freedom Unit, Praise of Our Folly

I have been covering the Lisbon Avant Improv Jazz Scene on these blog pages essentially since I began the blog these now pretty many years ago. Fir anybody who has been following it (or are already following what is happening there without aid of this blog) there is a kind of summit meeting of some of the very most important practitioners of the art in Lisbon, the first of what one hopes will be many recordings of the group. They are dubbed LFU or Lisbon Freedom Unity and the album is named Praise of Our Folly (Clean Feed CF 480 CD).

It is a set that lives up to the promise of such a gathering. There is Luis Lopes on electric guitar, Rodrigo Amado on tenor, Bruno Parrinha on soprano and clarinet, Pedro Sousa on tenor sax, Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano and Rhodes, Ricardo Jacinto on cello, Hernani Faustino on double bass, Pedro Lopes on turntables and electronics and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums and percussion.

And the four-part program makes for the best sort of free improvisation, where all are attuned to one another and listen while also having each an important vision of what they can bring to each moment. Part One sets the stage with a kind of soundscaped panorama, Part Two rockets off to a pointillistic brilliance by the stringed instruments (that includes piano) and drums and on from there, without looking back and taking no prisoners. The horns join in, we launch skywards and there is memorable and riveting sojourns to places far beyond earth. The sound colors are rainbow-like and the collective contributions are far beyond, more than the sum of each individual part, though everyone can be listened to in focus with profit as well. It exemplifies what a larger group can bring to the freedom ringing.

In short, this is a summit worthy of the name, a rather monumental adventure that anyone who appreciates free improvisation will respond to. If you want to get a feel for what is happening in Lisbon, or even if you already know, this one is star-full! Yes, indeed. Grab this one!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Rodrigo Amado, A History of Nothing

I have followed happily the emergence of Portuguese tenor sax titan Rodrigo Amado from the very first releases. And so the latest one does not surprise me, but very much pleases me, for it is substantial. It is entitled A History of Nothing (Trost TR 170), and an insightful history it is.

The group is a powerful one, with Rodrigo of course on tenor, the master Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet and soprano sax, Kent Kessler on double bass and Chris Corsano on drums. It is all-star in its musical content as well as name.

A gamut of freely alive sound moods surround us, from the open balladic to a high-energy testifying. Rodrigo sounds quite inspired and Joe adds his always exciting front-line contributions, with a bit more trumpet that one usually hears, and that is of course a good thing. Kent and Chris bring up the rhythm end with creative fire. In short, everyone is having a good, a very good session here and it is a kind of monument to how free improvisation in the right hands and at the right time is as awesome as it can get.

If you do not know Rodrigo Amado's playing you can start with this one and get a wonderful view of where he is now. Those who know Rodrigo's music already will be very glad to hear this I warrant. It is an excellent album. Do not miss it!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mars Williams, An Ayler Xmas Volume 2

Some things strike one as a sort of no brainer. They just make sense. Such is the CD at hand, An Ayler Xmas, Volume 2 (ESP/Soul What SWR-0004). Mars Williams heads up the two ensembles featured on this outing, on saxes and toy instruments. Why a no brainer? As many readers will know Albert Ayler was a tenor saxophonist who was an important guiding force behind the advent of "New Thing" aka "Free Jazz."  The thematic bedrock of his melodic launching vehicles as often as not were rather homespun folkish melodies, even at times "Spirituals," straightforward tunes that then opened up to tonal expressiveness to a color palette of brilliant washes of sound, the tenor sax leading the way through mazes of free open expressions, testificatory, soulful flights that were the opposite of the chugging sort of swing feels that much Modern Jazz was at times about. He opened up the possibilities for Jazzmen going forward, so that even Coltrane found himself liberated from chord changes and at times even modalities to instead fly forward into virtuoso inspirations of sound.

I have not heard the first volume of this as of yet but this Volume Two revives some Ayler head melodies and some earthy Christmas Carols like "Oh, Tannenbaum" and "Joy to the World," even "O Come Emmanuel" as springboards to avant maelstroms of joy.

The two bands are good, very good ones. The first a Chicago-based avant all-star lineup playing live in Chitown, with Mars and Josh Berman, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jim Baker, Kent Kessler, Brian Sandstrom, Steve Hunt and Jeb Bishop! Then there is a European contingent of Mars plus Thomas Berghammer, Hermann Stangassinger, Didi Kern and Christoff Kurzmann. They are in great spirits as well so there is no drop off in zeal and energy.

Hence you who love Ayler will find this to your liking as those who have dug the Chicago-centered NRG Ensemble will as well. It is delightfully off, completely warped and yet breathes joyfully and basks in a holiday glow.

Anyone who suspects they would like this, by all means grab it and get it rolling this winter and for years to come! It's going for cheap out there from what I see.  Bravo!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Democratic Republic of Congo, Nyali Music, OCORA

Traditional African music that you can experience on recordings from the Congo has special qualities, often a particular musical focus you might never hear exactly like this anywhere else on the continent. A key element is the infusion of "Pygmy" vocal elements and their productive infusion into "Bantu" musics and conversely the influence as it then feeds back into its source to blend into a regional pan-stylistic complex. I assert this merely on the basis of long listening to available recordings.

There is a new disc out from the region, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is entitled Nyali Music (OCORA C 560285). In the fine tradition of OCORA African recordings it offers fairly long examples of authentic musical practice on the ground level of villages and tribespeople.

Anyone who loves traditional African music is likely to find this program stimulating and enjoyable, especially if you know and love Congo traditions.

The strength of this program is especially in the choral call and response examples it has in abundance. The Nyali is a tribe located in two areas of the northeast, adjacent to the Ituri Forest. They have had close interactions with the Efe Pygmies. And musically you can hear their cultural interactions in some beautifully musical ways. The polyphony of the area is nicely present with choral blocks that many times call for a separate male counterpoint to the female vocal line or lines, and sometimes, even often the result is not a separate rhythmic line growing out of the polyphony but rather a sort of multi-stranded homophony, only each line is not tied in some direct chordal way to the others, but instead thrives in its independent horizontal trajectory--so then a sort of homophony-polyphony happens. And then too there are full-blown Pygmy-like cycles of rhythmically distinct independent, multiple lines sounding simultaneously at times, and that is something to hear. All this takes place with lively and complex undercurrents of hand drumming and other percussion that you can focus on too with profit. There can also be kalimba or guitar-harp-like string elements involved.

The choral examples are outstanding and highly interesting (to me anyway), but perhaps you might find them most intriguing if you have other examples in your mind of the region's legacy? But  I do think this is music of interest for anyone who might want more exposure to regional traditions even if you are not highly conversant with such things. The lead vocal parts are highly interesting too, with variational things happening and sometimes more than one solo voice creating another counterpoint! There is one especially intricate set of vocal counterpoints using kazoo-like sounding devices and it is ornate and very Pygmy-like, which is a very happy thing to hear. There are hocket ensembles of flutes with vocal and drums too, and that is quite a beautiful panorama of sound as well.

There are also to be heard solo vocals with string, percussion, and/or etc. accompaniment.  These too are very worthwhile to experience and get to know.

I do very much recommend this one to all who already know they would be interested. And if you are plunging into African traditions for the first time, it is as good a place to start as any. Bravo OCORA and their excellent coverage of village Africa! I am happy to have this one, truly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Catarina dos Santos, Radio Kriola, Reflections on Portuguese Identity

The Portuguese roots and Afro-diaspora flowerings over time have been beautifully significant from a musical point of view. The Portuguese musical transplantations (in many directions) sowed fruitful seeds with everything from Portuguese Fado to the diaspora developments in Brazil, Cape Verde, and Angola. We hear reflections on Portuguese identity and its transformation on a lively new album Radio Kriola (Arc EUCD2802) featuring singer Catarina dos Santos and a worthy assemblage of acoustic instrumentalists in a program of songs that touch on essential grooves and melodic beauty.

In a program of some 14 memorable songs we feel the gentle but insistent plunge of acoustic guitar, percussion, bass and accompanying instruments in a world where pan-African rhythms gently pulse with samba and folk strains in a poetic mixture, and Catarina's swinging sweetness ultimately carries the day.

So in "Ondja" a Brazilian afaxe turns into an Angolan semba while the lyrics pay tribute to the Angolan writer Ondjaki. The liner notes map out what we are hearing and when, and we can learn while we appreciate the music in itself, deeply soulful, filled with lyric melody, music of the highest caliber.

Both those who might know something of where this music comes from and those who do not can get much pleasure from this set. It does not matter if we come prepared or just open to musical adventure. 

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sarah Bernstein Unearthish, Crazy Lights Shining

Violinist-vocalist-recitationer Sarah Bernstein never ceases to engage me with her special dark and expansive music. The Sarah Bernstein Unearthish album Crazy Lights Shining (Phase Frame PFR004) is now upon us. This latest is a duo featuring Sarah as the violin-voice-text-composition person and Satoshi Takeishi on drums and percussion.

I have followed Sarah's musical unfolding and blossoming for around a decade I believe at this point. This new one continues logically what has come before. There are free-ish episodes, full-blown and memorable downtownish songs, soundscapey broods, and text-sound work. The 35 minutes of the program is very well-paced and poetic. Satoshi can lock into a folksy pulsation or weave sound color webs that correspond to Sarah's moodish forays.

Perhaps this is the souundtrack of our lives if you are NY Metropopologistically oriented. It is not especially a happy sound but it is exacted and brilliant, contemporary modern in its unfailing insightful soundings.

She to me is a treasure, albeit a local treasure but everything in the end has some locality attached to it, no? I recommend this unfailingly.  She is an original, a true original. Get this one.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Bob Gluck, Tani Tabbal, At This Time: Duets

 
The thing about Bob Gluck? He is a glorious pianist and electronician. And he writes wonderful books on important jazz-historical topics. We get another chance to appreciate the former expression sets on the recent album he made with world-class drummer Tani Tabbal, namely At This Time: Duets (Ictus 181).

It is thoughtful kind of freedom to be heard in this set. Bob wields the acoustic piano and live synth with articulate vision, pacing through logically meandering improvs and focal renditions of some classics like "Sanctuary," the Chilean anthem "The People United", and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (associated with  Miles Davis and Gluck's latest book The Miles Davis "Lost" Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles).

Tani Tabbal can always be relied upon to grace a session with very musical drumming. He does so here, providing parallel percussion lines and timbres that come up alongside Bob's intricate piano and electronics freedom with a drum set freedom that remains independent of the Gluckian arc of improv yet is not at all divorced from it. It is not a line imitation but instead a formidable second line.

The electronics part of Bob's improvisations are special. He to my mind is one of a handful of improvisers today who has mastered the electronics idiom as one of special timbres and wide spatial outpourings. Jean-Marc Foussat, Denny Zeitlin, Rob Mazurek and George Lewis come to mind as other very significant practitioners. I am sure I inadvertently leave out others.

The piano-drums segments show too that Gluck is very much his own free yet rooted 88.

At This Time: Duets is surely one of the primo key outings of the past year. Needless to say I recommend you listen carefully. It is very much worth your time.