Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Lena Bloch & Feathery, Rose of Lifta


As I write this article the winter has begun to bluster where I am. And that first blustering reminds you to keep safe, if nothing else has in the past few years. And then listening to some good music reassures how good things help you through less good things. That transcends all seasons. Today the good something comes in the form of a new album by tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch, who I have appreciated over the years, reviewed on these pages (type her name in the index box above), and now comes at us with Lena Bloch & Feathery in an album entitled Rose of Lfta (Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 5115).

A poetic phrase on the back cover by Iman Annab puts us in mind of a thematic view: "Against all odds the rose will continue to climb." And perhaps that's a kind of parable for all of us? That life now perhaps as ever but maybe never so much as now--that life requires us to continue against all odds? I suspect so.

The music comes to us in the form of a ready-to-hand quartet of Lena on tenor. Russ Lossing on piano, Cameron Brown on bass and Billy Mintz on drums. The band and compositions by Lena and Russ call to mind in some ways the old Jarrett Quartet with Redman, Haden and Motian, in its lyrical and dramatic sprawl, except perhaps a bit more of a Mideastern flavor in the minor tinge of it at key points. And too each player and the group as a whole remains beyond that Jarrett precursor, remains steadfastly original in good ways.

It is music played with a loose freedom that nonetheless is grounded in each composition and retains the general form of the song/changes/tonality. The improvisations are seamless with the compositional parts so it all flows together--and it that way is a group showcase more so than a sort of solo centered approach. Bloch and Lossing acquit themselves nicely in the ad lib aspects nonetheless and the rhythm team swings with a looseness that is modern and appealing.

The mix of cogent composition and ear opening expressive looseness and improvisation is very appealing and substantial. It is a happy album to hear repeatedly and reminds us that Lena has artistry in reserve. Bravo! Recommended highly if you are in a Modern Avant Jazz mindset.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Sara Schoenbeck, Sara Schoenbeck, Free Improvisational Encounters for Bassoon


Karen Borca in her recordings with Jimmy Lyons and others first impressed me as a world class avant improvisational Jazz bassoonist. I still appreciate her pioneering style. Today there is someone happily new for me, another Free Jazz bassoonist with her own fleet and concentric power, one Sara Schoenbeck. Her self-titled album (Pyroclastic PR16) is recently out and I must say I am impressed.

She is a bassoonist with a robust, full throated tone, with excellent sound color control, limber delivery and inventive line weaving abilities. And with this ambitious album of chamber avant improv she shows herself to be an ideal improv partner who listens and adds just the right interaction to push the music forward, which is saying a great deal. And what an impressive and exciting roster of improv mates.

We are talking about drummer Harris Eisenstadt, flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Nels Cline, saxophonist  Roscoe Mitchell, pianist  Matt Mitchell, bassist Mark Dresser, the keyboards and electronics of Wayne Horovitz, cellist Peggy Lee, and pianist vocalist Robin Holcomb.

I will not try to describe each of the nine duo interactions except to say they are vibrant, happily varied, contrasting and superlative. You come away with a real appreciation for Schoenbeck's artistry, imagination and happy collaborations without fail.

You might not at first blush think this a game changing album. But no, put it on a few times. It is excellent in all ways, whether you are a bassoon aficionado or just a music lover in search of new and good things. Sara makes me want to hear more, lots more. Hurrah!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Ave B Free Jam, 1967, Cook, Coursil, Gale, Robinson, Tintweiss


Surprises can be good. Unless it is a spam call for a car warranty or "you just charged $900 onto some credit card"? Oh? Musical surprises are usually a good thing. Just lately something of that nature came in the mail. It is a CD of a 1967 reel-to-reel tape of some important Free Jazz players jamming in New York. It is entitled aptly Ave B Free Jam or to give it its full title Avenue B Collective Free-Jazz Jam Session (Inky Dot Media IDM 2020 CD 005).  It was one of those special sessions where bassist Steve Tintweiss had a decent Tandberg tape deck and all five players came ready to play as they installed themselves in an apartment in the alphabet section of lower Manhattan. 

This is a happy outcome of those heady New Thing days in New York, where ESP disk was documenting the scene in a series of important releases. This tape might have been released by ESP then--like New York Eye and Ear Control, it has that total spontaneity, a leaderless, five-way collective of closely aligned free group improvisations. with exciting and effective mass sound expressions from the likes of Laurence Cook on drums, Jacques Coursil and Warren Gale on trumpets, Perry Robinson on clarinet and Steve Tintweiss on contrabass. Each contributes a great deal to this continuous wash of fire and energy. The Coursil-Gale trumpet twosome give us a flaming expressionist density that Perry Robinson adds to in his sound-colorful barrages of sound. Tintweiss and Cook give us tintense and continuous freetime that urges the other players onward and ensures that proceedings remain at high energy levels throughout.

Anyone who appreciates the New York New Thing explosion from those days will doubtless find this a substantial and rewarding romp. Each player contributes significantly to the whole while giving us a model of how such open improvs can generate excitement and great energy. Bravo!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Pago Libre & Sooon, Friendship


In the world of music coming out these days, anything goes if you let your mind remain free of rigid preconceptions. And so as I so do, things come to my ears and bring me some happiness if good. For example here today is a group by the name of Pago Libre & Sooon and an album entitled Friendship (Leo CD LR 919). Now whatever one expects in new things we recently have been made available Pago Libre & Sooon might not be what you might ordinarily expect to hear. It is a sextet

To be precise, it consists of Sonja Morgenegg as vocalist and guitarists on a couple of tracks, then there is Arkady Shilkloper on French horn, alphorn and elephant horn, Florian Mayer on violin, John Wolf Brennan on piano, melodica and arrangements (which are always special, interesting), Ratus Flisch on bass, and Tony Majdlani on voice and percussion, specifically on various hand drums.

And as can be the case in a good situation they are more than just the sum of their parts. Sonja is an outstanding vocalist. She and the band take us through a  Jazz inflected Folk mélange ranging from Norwegian (to my ears) through to Eastern Europe, Baltic and even a touch of Mideastern.

The arrangements along with the instrumentation set everything up and Sonja's lead vocals bring it all home. Listen to their 5/4 version of the Beatles' "For No One" or even "Hey Bulldog" and you will get it. But there is lots of good music, some apparently original but all bearing the stamp of original and authentic rootedness.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

PAN Project, Korean, Japanese and Chinese Stylistic Interactions and Traditional Music Heritage


Taking on the present-day musical world in all its vastness can be exhilarating, yet too it can be a humbling thing. We must always be open to the new and the not-yet-intimately known. We should not be afraid to grow, to understand more. Today's volume seems especially relevant to that idea, as it is an adventure in considering from a new perspective the traditional music realms of Korea, Japan and China. The ensemble and the album both are dubbed  Pan Project (Neuma 148). The Pan is taken from the Korean Pansori musical form, the "Pan" being a gathering together, in this case of the cross-cultural and intercultural elements, the rich intercultural East Asian in instrumental performance, in ritual and in vocal, in theatre.

What I will readily admit is my "outsider" knowledge of such things. I hear a primary influence of Korean Pansori, some elements from Chinese opera and Japanese shakuhachi and other stylistic elements, some of which go back to Gagaku, or at least my ears pick up on that possibility here. All this I loosely hear and appreciate without a kind of detailed expertise. The musicianship is very much first rate, the music endlessly fascinating to me. So it is a happy confluence of musical elements to me regardless of a blow-by-blow tracing of roots. There is the general gestalt of a wide confluence on this program and it is rewarding to hear.

The artists come together with great elan and interactive brilliance. Jeff Rogers gives us a finely played guqin, a Chinese seven-string plucked instrument, Ned Rothenberg appears on the Japanese shakuhachi and bass clarinet (many readers will doubtless know his seminal Avant Jazz work), Ying-Chieh Wang plays the Chinese bowed erhu, Woonjung Sim gives us some exciting rhythmic thrusts on Korean percussion, and Sae-Yuon Jeong gives us dramatic vocals with a definite Pansori flair at times. Last but not least there is Gamin Kang on the Korean double-reed piri, the sheng-like mouth organ called in Korea the saenghwang and the double reed Korean taepyeongso.

So even if I do not have a definitive bead on the exact provenance of each musical utterance, I get it and the more I listen the more I hear those cross-fertilizations. It gets your ear involved either way.

An album you East Asian traditional music enthusiasts will no doubt savor and appreciate as I have. If you simply have open ears and do not know much about these traditions, listen anyway and you will no doubt grow with  your exposure.


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Simon Nabatov, Loves

Jazz composer-pianist Simon Nabatov impresses with an eleven member band doing a series of eight interrelated compositions on Loves (Leo CD LR 818). The overarching theme is romantic relationships and the two vocalists Rebekka Ziegler and Tobias Christie alternately  sound as vocalese "instruments," sing in song oriented phrasings or as vocalists holding to a spoken-sung part, or for that matter reciting text poetics and evocative word interjections, all of which help further the theme and add an important component to the total group sound.

The remaining nine artists have three-fold importance--as part sounding compositional exponents, as collectively free improvisors and as individual soloists in an attractive, open-ended framework.

Simon has created an ever changing textural abundance of avant jazz that favorably reminds of some of the JCOA gems and perhaps Bley-Haden large band collaborations, yet holds its own as freely original.

Each band member contributes to the whole, each a flexible artist to work in compositional realization and free improv spontaneity that Nabatov requires for such music. He of course is the pianist throughout. There is a dramatic cadenza-solo spot for him towards the end and it adds to it all greatly. But there is so much going on throughout that one opens up to it all happily--if one is like me, anyway. There is continually a regeneration of furtherance that makes it all a very absorbing listen.

So the band is nicely rounded out by Leonhard Huhn on saxes and clarinet, Sebastian Gille on tenor sax, Udo Moli on trumpet, Janning Trumann on trombone, Axel Porath on viola, Nathan Bontrager on cello, Stefan Schonegg on bass and Dominik Mahnig on drums. A goodly gathering of players comfortable with free playing or following a chart with a complimenting loose freedom.

It all works together remarkably well. In fact I must say it ranks among the best of such things these days. Simon Nabatov shines as composer, pianist, as bandleader. It is a kind of Avant Jazz triumph, memorable with its melodic surety, ensemble power and contrasting tender sort of poetics, too. This is an album to savor. Check it out without fail if you appreciate a wall-to-wall exceptional New Thing experience today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Jean-Pierre Jullian Sextet, Ma y Ma


What this posting is about is the newly released 2012 recording of the Jean-Pierre Jullian Sextet. The album is entitled Ma y Ma (Mazeto Square CD 3770005705398). It is one of those albums that jumps out and hits you as exceptional. Or it does that to me, anyway.

There are cycles of circularity-repetition that extend throughout the compositional aspect that remind me of and extend nicely the sort of things that Circle, Braxton, Holland, Mitchell (e.g. Nonaah) have done. It is made something personal and flowing into through-parts and quasi-sequential and quasi-contrapuntal aspects that the Sextet handle well. And when rhythmic displacement is involved there is an absorbing rhythm vibrancy that gives you another level of musical expansion to mind and appreciate.

So we have Jean-Pierre at the drums, Tom Pablo Gareil on the vibraphone, Lionel Garcia  on alto sax, Adrien Bennefeld on cello, Aurelieu Besnard on bass clarinet, Guillaume Seguron on upright bass. This is a good reading and good improvising outfit--and of course that is critical for Jazz Composition charts that actively seek maximum instrumentalist interactions. The sextet has an improvisatory originality that goes well with Jean-Pierre's compositional flourishes. Everybody is good to hear including Jean-Pierre with his subtle and swinging drumming.

I am telling you this is no joke. Julian and Sextet are primed and the music is revelatory! Do not miss this one if you are serious about New Jazz and Jazz Composition. A huge hoorah for this album!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Falkner Evans, Invisible Worlds, Solo Piano


When listening to new music we all have some set of expectations. Sometimes when it is something we did not expect, we can get hung up on that and maybe neglect to value what it IS. I think those thoughts as I listen to Jazz pianist Falkner Evans and his album Invisible Worlds (CAP 1070). It is a solo piano set played as a kind of tribute to his late wife who passed in tragic circumstances in May of 2020. It is a kind of working through of his sense of loss but also a kind of snapshot of who she was for him. warmly so.

It is music with a compositional but also an improvisational aspect, so it seems to me. It thrives on the sort of basic Jazz, Bop-and-after  assumption of a chordal left hand and a right hand for melodic passages and runs. The album begins and ends with versions of the title cut, which ravishes and stands out while it sets up the listener for the six other sequences we hear with interest.

While I was searching for a cover JPEG on line for this review I stumbled on some critical commentary on him and on this album. He is like Bill Evans, somebody says. Well, yes he shares with Bill a highly evolved harmonic sense, and the sort of poetic stance of "Peace Piece."

But if you expect to hear technically demanding soloing you might put that aside and just listen. It is not a matter of a right hand that comes across as horn-like in a post-Bud way. The compositional and improvisational elements are very musical and beautifully wrought but not a vehicle for virtuoso intensity. There is rather a mood that is balladic and introspective all the way through. Now what matters here is that he sculpts it all with care, with musical intelligence and feeling, something richly inventive as a whole.

It is a moving portrait of his wife and some of the most harmonically brilliant music I've heard lately. Approach it on its own terms and think of a twilight world of remembrance and you will doubtless get the feeling of a pointedly articulate harmonic expression that one does not often hear in such a context. Brilliant!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Maria Finkelmeier, MF Dynamics, Descended


Once again I am glad to write about an album I probably would never had gotten in the pre-review days yet turns out on detailed inspection to grow into an unexpected flower pot of good things. It is one of those not-so-easily classified offerings, so much so that I had to think a minute to decide where the review article belonged. 

The album is by marimba-percussionist Maria Finkelmeier and her MF Dynamics doing Descended (Bright Shiny Things BSTC -157). She further describes the project in the subtitle as Exploring the Supernatural Legacy of Lafcadio Hearn through Sound, Light and Story. It features Maria on marimba, electronics, toy piano, voice, melodica and percussion, Jean Laurenz on trumpet, voice and auxiliary percussion, Greg Jukes on drums, accordion and auxiliary percussion and then Buzz Kemper doing the spoken word/recitation.

And thinking as I listened it has something in common with the influential and superb group Oregon--in that it gives us "music of another present era." It puts to our ears a musically contentful kind of New Music that is like a Folk Music of its own. There is tonality, there is a winding and wonderful sense of rhythm, there is a pronounced presence of inventive line weaving. There is from what my ears tell me improvisation now and again but it is the sculpting of compositional movement that seems key to how this music unfolds for us.

Like in the case of Oregon there is no confusing what happens on each piece with New Age--there is ambiance, for sure, but everything within that framework transcends a heightened lyricism in itself for something a good deal more profound, more musically well wrought, well worked through, with a loose togetherness of the improvisatory element but a tightly structured whole, too. She conceives of the music as taking place inside a thematic performance art totality. There are elements of Jazz, Afro-Caribbean, club music, electronics and "primal cathartic vocalisms." And it all works together nicely so you get a convincing chain of musical sections  that total up to a listen that stays in the mind and satisfies the need for something truly new.

Ms. Finkelmeier teaches at Berklee College of Music, one of my alma maters. Is it ironic that the music she makes is like what I and some other fellow students back then dreamed of making? No, it is fitting that she does. It is some of the music of now, after all. A very rewarding batch of such things. Kudos.

Friday, September 24, 2021

EFG Trio, Transliminal Rites, Eyal Maoz, Frank London, Guy Barash


You can never be sure what is next, be it in music or anything else. But surprise can be good sometimes. That's how I feel about the EFG Trio and their album Transliminal Rites (Orenda  0090). It is some very together outside free improvisational music with Eyal Maoz on guitar, Frank London on trumpet and Guy Barash on live electronics.

Now if you are like me you form in your mind what such an album might sound like. The interesting thing is that you listen and it does NOT easily fit into what you might expect, no Derek Bailey bloops and Evan Parker torrents, nothing in the live electronics you might have heard a few years ago.

It is boldly original in other words. It is very inventive, unexpected in its sonic palette, unusual in what the trio chooses to do. Eyal alters his guitar signal in interesting ways. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are hearing guitar and electronics together, other times Eyal makes the guitar sound more guitar-ish, and that too in ways that keep your interest. What is true of Eyal's work here is true also of London and his trumpet and Barash and his electronics. 

That fact helped me decide to post this review here in the Gapplegate Music Review rather than the Gapplegate Guitar blog, where I have reviewed a fair number of Maoz sides, quite gladly in fact. Here it is the blend of the threesome that prevails and so it will get the attention of guitarists, sure, but also anyone who is up for avant improv electronics.

That this was recorded in New York City makes sense, for it unmistakably seems to fit in with the "hey we do not expect to do anything but scuffle so we play what we hear in spite of all that" school.

The newness of what they are up to makes it a little bit of a challenge to describe. Sound color is at the forefront and they excel at exotic and rewarding mixtures, but it is also true that they play around with tonal centers and get multiple lines going too. It is the sort of thing you need to pay attention to if you hope to understand what is up with it. Once you do, well there you are, right? I think so.

It is a rather stunningly fresh venture into the Avant Improv present. You will doubtless not mistake it for something you've heard before. And so all the better for that. I hope they record some more and keep at it with this lineup. Bravo!

Monday, September 20, 2021

Eunhye Jeong, Nolda


Those who follow advanced Improv/Avant Jazz know that solo piano outings form an important genre within the style. Certainly Cecil Taylor made some of the greatest of all such albums, but then of course there are many others, many excellent ones.

With a new week, a new creative season upon us as I type these words, I accordingly turn  to the very new. This morning it is Korean pianist Eunhye Jeong and her solo album Nolda (ESP-Disk ESP 5068). The title literally means "play," as in "playful activities" and most specifically for Jeong, "a fun, free-flowing action on the piano," as well as the "magic of music making." It is music meant to be heard on a musical as well as a psychological plane. Eunhye's first 20 years coming of age in South Korea is naturally a formative foundation for who she is as an artist today. In particular for this album the traditional painters of the mountainous landscapes of her homeland influence this music, as well as the many hikes she took into those mountains with her father.

Nolda embraces a brilliant inventiveness, a pianism that draws upon creatively open expression to cover a wide embrace of mountain-inspired feelings with no trace of the sort of cliches a lesser artist might rely upon to fill out the aural space. Eunhye Jeong is an original, a pianist with genuine creative thrust, with deeply exploratory expression. Take a listen to this and feel a new immediacy. I look forward to more from her. Meanwhile do not fail to hear this one.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Ros Bandt, Medusa Dreaming


The music world today, perhaps in spite of the economics of it all, is wide open. There are a nearly infinite number of ways to go when it comes to creating some kind of contemporary presence. Although it can be dizzying it also can be rewarding and adventurous. The latter is the case with today's new CD, Ros Bandt's Medusa Dreaming (Neuma Records 145). This comprises a very varied eleven work suite, an ambient  meditation on water and its properties, on a cistern and its resonant acoustics. As the composer puts it, "The space is the thing. It's the key player. Medusa Dreaming is a site-specific water symphony in honor of one of the most beautiful water tanks in the world: heraldic, grand mythic, scintillating." It is all about the Basilica Cistern  that lies beneath Istanbul as it has for many centuries. Each movement deals with its history and personality, acoustically and otherwise.

The music is partly written out, party scored for the Hedusa Ensemble consisting of harp, tarhu (Australian spike fiddle), flutes and air whistles, electric "guitarviol" and live processing, plus percussion.

There are very resonant ambiances, heavy metal guitarviol expressivities, and all kinds of exploratory moods and modes, including some very dramatic and appealing harp parts ringing alongside tuned percussion instruments among other things.

In the end we are surrounded by multi-stylistic contrasts, from quasi-Turkish ethnic to new music to undulating, droning sustains to improvisational immediacies. It's collective sonic summation gives us a distinct set of timeless and spacious sonic narrations.

Strongly recommended for those who look for adventure.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Muhal Richard Abrams, Soundpath, The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound


As I write this composer-pianist AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams has been gone from us some four years. Yet of course his music lives on and sounds as wonderful as ever to me. With the upheaval of the Pandemic I may have gotten to an album of his big band music a few months later than I should have. Nonetheless the Soundpath Big band doing his composition The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound (Clean Feed CF556CD) transcends time and feels as evergreen as anything as I listen again this morning, so "never too late" seems to apply.

Soundpath is a talented gathering of Avant Jazz all-stars, a choice selection of improvisers and readers, all with the proper grasp and brilliance to make this 40 minute score come alive nicely and swingingly. Marty Ehrlich sounds great on alto and he conducts the whole as well. Bobby Zankel also gives us significant altoing and puts together the whole as the Musical Director. Steve Swell comes through as always with some wonderful trombone, Graham Haynes does his cornet-ing with excellence and you cannot beat the rhythm team of Tom Lawton on piano, Michael Formanek on bass and Chad Taylor at the drums.

The whole band is well rehearsed and on top of it all. The many-faceted score gives us the bite of Modern harmonies and multilayered contrapuntal Jazz in the open zone.

It is a marvelous example of the Abrams ultra-musical stance, his detailed approach to large group music along with a goodly space for improvisations that send the music forward.

This one is a must have for all Abrams enthusiasts, Modern big band appreciators, Art Jazz proponents etc. You cannot go wrong with it, in my opinion. Bravo!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Rodrigo Amado, This is Our Language Quartet, Let the Free Be Men


Over the years I cannot remember a bad Rodrigo Amado album. They are all worthwhile. His tenor is always on top of things, animated, inspired and articulate. His bands are well chosen and committed. The freedom of expression is always to the point and focused. And the sequence is ever flowing, exciting.

There is a new one with Rodrigo and the "This is Our Language Quartet," an all-star gathering of Rodrigo with Joe McPhee on trumpet and soprano, Kent Kessler on double bass and Chris Corsano at the drums. The album is titled Let the Free Be Men (Trost Records TR208). It paces nicely between barn burners and more slowly unwinding trajectories. The tenor-soprano, Amado-McPhee collective improvs have a beautifully energetic two-way dynamic, or rather of course four-way when it is rhythm and front line charging forward together.

Amado's full throated, gritty and edgy tenor sound is a wonderful thing to hear and Joe McPhee of course brings his own edge to his playing, whether soprano or trumpet. Kent Kessler sometimes joins the two with a harmonics laden bowing that sounds just right. His pizzicato punctuates everything well as always. And then of course Chris Corsano brings his full spectrum of drum sounds and velocities to keep things stoked. He kicks the music up several notches when it seems right. So it all grabs onto your ears and one goes away happy.

The album carves out a stylistic drift for a kind of state-of-the-art freedom we come to expect from Rodrigo.

If you are new to the Amado art or an old appreciator, either way this album fills your ears with good things from start to finish. You do not want to miss it. Yes indeed!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Wadada Leo Smith with Milford Graves and Bill Laswell, Sacred Ceremonies


An artist of stature grows in time if he or she has the time, the opportunity and of course the vision. Trumpet master and composer Wadada Leo Smith is an excellent example. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since those early Anthony Braxton Trio recordings with Leroy Jenkins. Wadada grew into a formidable band leader and composer, then there was the electric Davis tribute Yo Miles! that saw him encompassing and going beyond that initial open electric field.

And after all that great music Wadada has apparently been synthesizing where he has been and now we hear a kind of wrapping of it together in a substantial three-CD improvisational box titled Sacred Ceremonies (TUM Box 003). 

Each CD maps out a series of free improvs. On CD1 Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet melds with edgy, rolling and  tumbling drumming from the late Milford Graves. CD 2 features Wadada and Bill Laswell on electric bass. Then CD3 brings all of them together in a climactic set of three way expressions.

Wadada maintains top form here, quite apparently inspired in turn by Milford and then Bill, then all three. Graves gives us a prime slab of his open stance rolling freetime, often divided into cymbal-bass drum washes that contrast in advanced terms with Graves' special independent and poly-complicated trap drum lines. Put it all together and it gives Wadada and Bill a multidirectional urging forward where there are a great variety of things that can and do work atop the drums. with a vast array of possibilities that Wadada and Bill can react to. And react they do with some beautifully open phraseology.

For all the successful dates and appearances he's made on electric bass, we sometimes might forget that there is a good reason why he fits into a great many possible combinations--because he is ever inventive, forward flowing and always somehow right with what he fashions via-a-vis the musical now.

Wadada plays some of his strongest lines here. It is as if he has had the time after Yo Miles! to incorporate and synthesize that aspect  of his playing into the wider Wadada model of free playing.

Given the sad loss of Milford this past February, the set becomes that much more precious in how it gives us a long listen to the Graves drumming way near the very end of it all. But this is regardless crucial for the three-way dialog that gradually and luxuriously unfolds across the three disks.

It is a session to linger over, something to appreciate in its unrushed focus on the evolving moment, in its way a masterpiece of free invention. Wadada continues to be serious business, a master among masters. Check this one out for sure. And RIP Milford Graves.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Roscoe Mitchell, Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter, A Railroad Spike Forms the Voice


Jimmie Lunceford and his band long ago hipped us to the idea that "it ain't what you do it's the way that you do it." This is no more true than in the realm of Free Improvisation / Free Jazz. Nearly everything centers around how freedom transpires, how anything goes does go. I've been happily reminded of this on a new free quartet date entitled A Railroad Spike Forms the Voice (uG EXPLODE uG82 Balance Point AcousticsBPALTD13013). It is a particularly striking four-way venture-adventure.

The quartet grouping on this one turns out to be especially good for creative chemistry. On soprano sax is the always bracing, ever inventive Rosco Mitchell, central initial member of the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, jazz conceptualist, composer, free improviser of great stature, doing for us his stylistic abstraction thing that he has consistently developed over the years, with a special turning marked especially after mastering circular breathing.

On electric guitar is Sandy Ewen, a very much rising star of free and experimental guitar improvisations, here turning in some especially excellent noise-centered sound-colored expressions.

On acoustic bass is a master of outside bass freedom, magician of extended technique and sound sensibility, as head of Balance Point Acoustics the creator of interesting and challenging free ensemble possibilities and a great player in any right. 

Finally on drums is the very personal stylist of free drumming, a keen eared creator of free-drum outpourings that are often enough neither quite in an abstraction of timekeeping nor in a sort of drum solo mode, but in a kind of third place that greatly helps this quartet defy gravity and go deeply into a cosmic space.

What is remarkable about this music is how specially together and consistently forward moving is this quartet over the continuous 72 minute uninterrupted performance. There are arcs of pointed staccato eruptions rather thrilling to hear coupled with long-toned washes mostly inside the staccato envelopes. Than there are climactic swoops of energy that command your attention in winning ways. It is a stunning example of the art of Free-Modern improvisations by four exceptional exponents in a togetherness that is most rare to hear on this high a level.

Taken altogether this is an exhilarating and exemplary example of open improvisations at this point some sixty-odd years into the history of avant freedom. This has all the markings of a milestone recording of the very contemporary. By all means check it out.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Robbe Gloaguen Quartet, International Free Dance Music Orchestra, Gardez Votre Sang Froid, Compositions de Francois Tusques

There are albums in the review cycle that take a while to digest, that I at first do not quite know what I have in front of me. That has been true of the volume at hand today. It is a two-CD set, the first disk recently recorded by the Robbe Gloaguen Quartet playing the compositions of French Avant Jazz pianist-composer Francois Tusques. The second volume is by Tusques himself in a live 1984 recording with the International Free Dance Music Orchestra (Mazeto Square 3770005705244 2-CD).

What we come to appreciate (at least I do) is an emphasis on the compositional collectivity of Tusques in various moods and modes, more emphasis on this than merely a constant focus on improvisational continuity, which is secondary though important of course in keeping with a "Jazz" actuality.

The first disk, Gardez Votre Sang Froid  ("Keep Your Cool") fields a very together quartet of Eric Leroux on saxophone, Fabien Robbe on piano, Tanguy le Dore on bass and Jerome Gloaguen on drums. Ten compositions get vibrant and free-going treatment in a very convincing loose-free ensemble setting. As you listen repeatedly you begin to lock into the frame of mind of each piece and in the process also get locked into the "testificatory" soulfulness of the totality. It is music to in time appreciate increasingly. The melodic element is strong and not exactly predictable either. Perhaps it might qualify as one of the best albums made by people you probably never heard of? Seriously this CD alone grows on you more and more. But then so does the second. If you are reading this you no doubt already know of Tusques? If not all the more reason to check it out.

The Theatre de Jazet 1984 live disk gives us a kind of Avant Free dance suite played by an eleven member big band with some eccentrically "ethnic" vocals and a forward moving dance continuity that is infectious as well as being offered with a sense of humor. It's as if we experience some music from an unknown local folk world. The audio sounds good in part thanks to Julien Palomo's restoration of the original sound of the set. The improvisations at hand here are consistent with a folkish openness and a loose conjoining that brings a smile. The composed tutti parts have a kind of Modern-Avant quality that belie in interesting ways the sort of ethnicity that hangs together as a premise. 

I come away from this set very glad to have it, to hear it. I will doubtless be listening again many times. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Denny Zeitlin, George Marsh, Telepathy, Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations


Music can heal. It can be a personal thing, depending on your musical profile sometimes. 

Pianist-electroacoustician Denny Zeitlin and drummer George Marsh have made some incredible music together for many years, so much so and so productively so that they have developed a Telepathy together. It is fittingly the title of their latest collaboration (Sunnyside CD). This as the third Electroacoustic duo outing for the two since 2015. I've covered the others and many of his additional projects as well on these pages. Look him up in the search box above for the other reviews.

It is music so improvisationally limber that it gives off a kind of healing vibe, at least to me. There is a joy of duo closeness and a making the electroacoustics sound spontaneously in performance space. And the continual open-form brilliance of Denny's adroit key realizations and George's swinging and inventive drumming, it just emits a kind of soul healing vividness.

Sometimes Denny's keyboard programming choices sound nearly orchestral, other times it has that club duo reaching-out thing happening, but always it works and George is right there responding with lots of great drumming. And needless to say it is also a matter of the free improv prowess of Maestro Zeitlin, his vivid harmonic-melodic-rhythmic inventiveness that makes this music exceptional.

This one is no afterthought. It is essential. Nobody mixes up the synth and piano like Denny. And George is the perfect foil, a master drummer at the top of his game, totally attuned to what Denny is doing. Very recommended.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Joel Futterman, Intervals, Solo Piano Improvisations


Joel Futterman has over the years proven himself to be one of the most consistently interesting and innovative post-Cecil-Taylorian Free pianists, yet he seems to get less recognition than he deserves. There is a nice album of solo piano from him that has been out for a little while and it has attracted my ears to it just lately. It is entitled Intervals (Fundacia SLUCHAJ FSR 15/2020).

On the CD jacket it is noted that the three-part improvisation was recorded all in one take in the order presented, and needless to say the spontaneity is at the forefront. There is a theme that recurs from time to time, setting up the mostly free passages as a contrast. Joel sounds especially convincing in his scatter velocities but also the pedal chord tremolo patternings. No need to attempt a blow-by-blow description of the musical happenings. What matters is that Futterman makes it all count. Not a note is wasted. It has all the expressive impact of "Jazz" freedom with an inner connectivity the spurs everything forward and creates excitement.

There is a nice asymmetry and polyrhythmic fluidity at times between left and right hands. Each improvisational avenue flows out of the last so that all has a kind of narrative sense to it.

If you know Joel Futterman's music well or if you know it not at all, either way this is a good one to experience. It is Avant Progress, so to speak, a worthwhile step ahead and you should hear it, have it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Sylvie Courvoisier, Ned Rothenberg, Julian Sartorius, Lockdown


All of us who have experienced the recent year or so (as I write these lines) will no doubt look back upon it all as a definite trial. Our artists, musical or otherwise, like all of us have not remained untouched, but reacted to the time--with creative output if they could remain in their productive zone. So today for instance there is the recent trio open form Jazz album Lockdown (Clean Feed CF560CD) as recorded this past October 2020 in the thick of the Pandemic, by Sylvie Courvoisier, Ned Rothenberg and Julian Sartorius. Many readers will no doubt be familiar with at least some of these artists, but if not then here is a chance to get to know them.

Sylvie Courvoisier is the pianist, Ned Rothenberg plays alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet and shakuhachi, and Julian Sartorius in on drums and percussion. By virtue of the album title Lockdown we understand that the music responds with immediacy to the Pandemic circumstances. And for sure the music has a somewhat more contemplative attitude than perhaps a live club date in a pre-Pandemic time might have had.

Of the eight segments that make up the album, three were composed by Ms. Courvoisier, one is by Ned Rothenberg and the remaining four were jointly composed and/or collectively improvised by the trio as a whole. As a whole there are composed lines that form a group melody-harmony-rhythmic ringing out, then there are at times some ostinato-riff figures that underpin things, then as we might expect there are telepathic and telekinetic three-way improvisations.

Remarkable as you listen are the sorts of reflective smarts this music conveys, and not surprisingly a seriousness that comes with the lived experience, as seconded with such titles as "Deep Rabbit Hole," and "Quarantina."

Julian Sartorius's drumming is inventive, sonically well developed and free while also commenting on the piano-reed soloing that sets apart the drumming and allows it to have an avant discursive rather than a time-keeping role per se.

Both Courvoisier and Rothenberg are limber, lucid, inspired, free-wheeling and expressive on many levels. 

The trio convinces with sure-handed confidence and musicality without trying to engage in virtuosic showboating and it all works. The trio here functions as a fountainhead of interesting musical ideas. This is one of the most musically expressive free trio dates I've heard yet this year. Get this if you want to keep up with what is happening out there. Very recommended.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Special Edition Box


Over the past decade the various duet recordings between Ivo Perelman (tenor sax) and Matthew Shipp (piano) have unquestionably been some of the most advanced and together new Jazz-Free recordings of our time, a duet for the ages. Happily they continue to play together. Most rewardingly there is a Special Edition Box (SMP Records 2020) with more excellent music from the two. 

The box contains a studio CD of the duet entitled Procedural Language, a Blu-Ray of the duo Live in Sao Paulo at SESC, a video capturing them at said event on July 11, 2019. Then there is an informative booklet, Embrace of Souls by Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg.

I no longer have the capability to view Blu-Ray disks on any of my devices so I was not able to watch the DVD. I am sure it is worthy but I have not been able to check it out.

The booklet has an appreciation and chronology that puts the music in perspective, followed by an annotated discography of interest to any collector-enthusiast.

The whole package is quite handsome but it is the CD Procedural Language that grabs my attention especially and attracts my ears with each listen. There are twelve improvisational segments for Ivo's tenor and Matt's piano, every one a significant improvisational utterance, freely articulate and ever filled with a Jazz joyfulness. Ivo testifies, declares, while Matt responds with free structuring towers of pianism that beautifully open up the moment with great ideas that spur Ivo on all the more.

It is some of the most remarkable of their duets, which is saying a lot since we have been blessed with some real gem sessions from the two in the last five years. Tumbling, driving, contemplating, exclaiming, decrying, balladizing, harmo-melodic stratosphering, they spontaneously travel the musical spaceways in ways that ring true always. If you need rejuvenation (and nowadays who doesn't?) this music appears as an oasis in sometimes an all-too-arid wasteland of the everyday. Here are Ivo and Matt in the full maturity of where they are right now, savoring each moment of music filling the air, letting the interlocking ideas flow unhindered. for optimum constancy of "telling it."

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Francois Carrier, Alexander Hawkins, Nirguna, John Edwards, Michel Lambert

There are days when life intervenes, when it gets in the way of a set routine. If ever one might get distracted, that would be the case in the last year with the Pandemic and etc. So at some point, today's two-CD set arrived in the mail, I noted it with interest, set it aside and...well here we are and it is later. Never too late, though. I now with close listening realize how interesting, important, good, etc. is this album named Nirguna (ColYaKoo Music). It is a live date from the Vortex Jazz Club in London from June 2017. 

It is a very auspicious gathering of Francois Carrier on alto saxophone, Alexander Hawkins on piano, John Edwards, bass, and Michel Lambert on drums. This is the primo Free Jazz we have come to expect from Francois Carrier, with a most remarkable continuity of total freedom flow, of endlessly inventive lining by the full quartet, tumbling outwards, inspired and without a set pulse, so that the four can take off and soar without the least restriction. 

Nirguna in Hindu religious practice means without form or without qualities. That is quite appropriate in the sense that this music is virtually that, though playing with intention does indeed have some kinds of spontaneous form and qualities, yet here we think in terms of no set form or quality. Just like is implicated in post-Freudian psychoanalytic parlance, where a human utterance "means" sometimes in some possibly unconscious way, so this music also means without setting out overtly to intend, though too it may defy some easy set of words to describe it.

The two CDs carry two long improvisations each. The overflowing four-way output can be torrentially heated, pointillistically jagged, fluidly mercurial and/or percussively insistent. Never for a moment does this music flag. And clearly one feels the instantaneousness of it and it exhilarates in the doing!

The Carrier plus Hawkins, Edwards, and Lambert quartet combination is one of Francois' most productive groups to my mind, most inspired, and the live London club setting seems to add to it so that everyone is set into a freedom that has no end in terms of good spontaneous ideas and interlocking power. Carrier, Hawkins, Edwards and Lambert each turn in remarkable performances in both their intrinsic worth and their ability to respond creatively and intelligently each to the other. And never for a moment do you forget that "this is Jazz" for whatever that means ultimately. Never for a moment is there not a central stream of driving expression.

It is a triumphant performance from first-to-last. If you wonder about Carrier or Free Jazz here is a great place to start, If you already know it is a must nonetheless! Hoorah!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio, Moon On the Lake, with Takashi Sugawa, Iuetsu Takemura


I cannot recall hearing a Satoko Fujii album that I did not like, though the instrumentation can vary widely and there have been quite a few albums. Still she consistently realizes music at a high level of artistry, imagination, and advancement. That does not mean I regard them all equally. Some stand out even at this superior level. That is the case with  a Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio album I've been enjoying lately, Moon On the Lake (Libra Records 203-065).

What puts this one in a very good place is in part Satoko's utilization of the trio format to allow a lot of breadth of expression So we get a nicely complex composition, "Hansho," to start things off, then there are balladic moments, a piano solo spotlight, free sections and so forth. Her running partners on this one--Takashi Sugawa on bass and cello, and Iuetsu Takemura on drums, make crucial contributions to the overall matrix that mark a well considered originality, a spontaneous sympathy, where articulation is directly to the point like a Haiku or somewhat more expansive, depending on the moment.

The album from first-to-last has an omni-directional unfolding that characterizes Satoko at her best. The a-to-b-to-c sequence makes the album excel in the interconnected deliberation. Such is the case with the five segment sequence that comprises the totality of the album. The overt busy, brilliant freedom of "Keep Running" has perhaps a pivotal role to play in moving us from the starting sequences to the end point of the closing title cut and its contemplative Zen-ish facticity of thereness.

Satoko and her talented trio plug into the vocabulary of avant and free jazz yet manage to utilize space, plus a variety of means and articulation to be original and meaningful throughout. This is a thing of beauty, a beautifully present trio that speaks to us now and no doubt will stand the test of time in the future I do believe.

Listen to this and get a feel for what is happening today, what is worthy, coming at us  right now! Satoko Fujii remains very much herself whether interacting freely with the trio or setting up then executing compositional elements that act as guideposts and help our listening selves to situate in the vast, sprawling sound matrix. Bravo.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Flow Trio with Joe McPhee, Winter Garden


Combine Free Jazz tenor giant Joe McPhee with the Flow Trio (Louie Belogenis, soprano and tenor saxes, Joe Morris, bass, and Charles Downs, drums) and you have something. Their album Winter Garden (ESP Disk 5040), recorded in January of 2020 just before the Pandemic hit, fills the ears with wonderful sounds. 

They make great music here because in part they have a good deal of common ground that they share readily and brilliantly. McPhee and Belogenis are both carefully attuned to the full richness of sax timbres that one can hear through the history of Jazz and so they both channel the development of thickly overtoned sax emanations from Coleman Hawkins' day through to Ornette and Ayler and beyond. In the way they do this they become a unique amalgam, themselves.

They have over the years developed their sound so fully that the two-sax front line syncs in and the two realize a wonderful rapport as they simultaneously create dual solo layerings. It is a freedom that cares to find interesting note paths in addition to the timbral sculpting so nicely alive throughout. And they clearly listen and shape the sound around each the other.

And so one of the primary elements that openings onto expressive sequences centers on the importance of the collectively tight-looseness of the two sax front line.

Creating contrasting and comingling bass lines with a nicely woody tone is Joe Morris, who can always be relied upon for rhythmically apt interactions with the drums yet open and freely challenging note choices that allow the horns to go virtually anywhere in response--be it advanced tonality, polytonality or pronounced tonal ambiguity.

Charles Downs cascades in ever varying, ever inventive freetime drum barrages that creates a multi-valent rhythmic ambiguity that helps the quartet traverse vast panoramas of open articulations.

Perhaps it is obvious to anyone who hears this but the quartet maintains the pre-free and now-free expanded role for each in the quartet--which ultimately identifies this music as of the Jazz camp rather than say, a New Music Improv date. It works because all four embody so deeply the tradition of such music without at all repeating what might have come before. 

What pulls it all together is the sureness of articulation from all concerned and in that way, the extraordinary commanding presence of Joe McPhee's tenor. The unfolding of the collective note/timber spontaneities never flags. Bravo. Hear this one! Get it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Nate Wooley, Mutual Aid Music


Good things of course may come in small packages. With standardization though after a while everything may come in small packages--as in the case of the CD at large in the world today. My job in part is to alert you to some of the good things in that line.

And so today we have trumpeter-composer Nate Wooley and his Mutual Aid Music (Pleasure of the Text Records POTTR1309 2-CD). It is surely one of the good things. It comes together out of an Avant-Jazz-meets-New-Music point of view with a chamber ensemble of notable players--Ingrid Laubrock, saxophone, Joshua Modney, violin, Mariel Roberts on cello, Sylvie Courvoisier and Cory Smythe on pianos, Matt Moran on vibes, Russell Greenberg on percussion, and Nate Wooley on trumpet.

The title Mutual Aid Music gives us a clue to how the music is conceived. Mutual aid in the most general sense assumes a community in which each member takes stock of his or her abilities or gifts if you will and then how in any situation they each can make use of their gifts to benefit the group as a whole.

For the strictly musical group at hand Wooley wishes each player to make improvisatory contributions that make the totality of the ensemble sound better, open up new possibilities and/or inspire all to make choices that are selfless.

Wooley puts all together in an effort to move beyond the "dialectic bubble" of composition/improvisation, while encouraging the idea of spontaneity and empathy, to provide each musician with the opportunity to make decisions, to "find the right kind of architecture for the musicians to push themselves to the transcendent collectivities inherent...in new music and improvisation."

How this takes place, to hint at something more complex than space allows us to fully discuss here, basically comes out of assigning for each work, for each musician a set of notated musical elements from which they make choices and decisions as to what they will play and when. The liner notes go into much greater detail and you should read them to get a more precise idea of what is transpiring. Each musician has for any given composition one or two sets of notations and/or graphic scores, textual instructions, etc. That is the case for seven of the eight musicians in each concerto. Then there is the eighth player who is invited to contribute a completely improvised part.

The first CD presents four "Mutual Aid Music" Concertos. The second CD gives us another version of those four works.

In the end is a series of complex and open-ended segments of music where each member of the ensemble and then the concerted improviser is free yet all has a direction that is neither rigorously specified like some New Music can be, nor is it entirely "free" as some Avant Jazz of course can be.

The novel means by which this music comes to us, after you understand how that is the case, helps you to appreciate it all the more, but then if you knew nothing of it the music would I suspect retain its communal efficacy.

Nate Wooley gives us a landmark set of what at one time might have been called "Third Stream" offerings. The musicians perform remarkably well. They turn what in other hands might have become a kind of experimental exercise and breathe real musical life into it all. And the framework itself seems to inspire and vary the results very nicely.

Very much recommended.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Pak Yan Lau and Lionel Malric, Duo Pour 454 Chordes


If you look at the cover above you can see why I might have had this on my "to listen" stack longer than I should have. It tells you less than usual about what could be contained within. Luckily I grabbed it this weekend and gave it a first listen. Wow! It is Pak Yan Lau and Lionel Malric on two prepared grand pianos doing inspired spontaneous improvisations they entitle Duo Pour 454 Chordes (el NEGOCITO Records 12" vinyl/CD or download Bandcamp).

They start with two Erard mini-grand pianos from 1903 and 1908, respectively. They prepare the pianos with thought and care and then create a series of rather glorious soundscapes while playing with the keys, bowing, strumming and picking inside the pianos, using various plectrums on the open strings.

What we get is seven ambient and evocative segments that show an enormously keen sense of sound color and adventure. It is a brilliant series of New Music-Free Music-New World Music contemplations-each one distinct, each one a fascinating and bracing fresh breeze of creative thrust. It may have been out for a while but it has a timelessness that makes it absolutely current for the world we are in and no doubt some future worlds as well.

Some have rhythmic pulsation, at times in a trance-hypnotic vein, all fill up the aural canvas with a keen sense of sound sculpting. None seem casually tossed-off or random in a non-Cagean sense.

It is a wonderful listen, landmark music for prepared piano! Very recommended.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Dave Sewelson, More Music for a Free World


Baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson shows what he's made of on a quartet date he leads that's worth checking out. It's called More Music for A Free World (Mahakala Music MAHA 20-002). It features three collectively improvised, expansive tracks that allow all to stretch out and explore open-ended quartet possibilities.

Each of the quartet operates in a meaningful free musical space that plays off against the others to create long-form dialogs both exciting and moving. The quartet is in a finely creative frame so that all rise above the mundane world and make great improvisational sense. So Sewelson's baritone sax asserts itself and enters in a sublime musical conversation with Steve Swell's trombone, William Parker's contrabass and Marvin Bugalu Smith's drums.

It's freedom with a substantial dose of jazz inflection--Sewelson cleaving to open yet bluesy and soulful phrasings that loosely yet surely unfold to bring space for Swell's always open excitement, William's always meaningful bass lines and Marvin Bugalu's swinging but loose drum shaping.

It is music with that happy togetherness where each artist understands the space they are occupying and work their way to a mutual hipness, a set of expressions that mark the best of Jazz-directed freedom.

Baritone and trombone carve out a special front line, but then bass and drums take up rhythm team movements that have both a free time playing and a complimentary third and fourth line role to play in the totality.

As we listen we get an excellent slice of Dave Sewelson the consummate baritonist with a beautifully gruff tone, a spontaneous tumbling and swinging sureness and an inventive presence that Swell, Parker and Smith respond to wonderfully well in kind and in contrast.

This is inspired music making from first to last.  It confirms Dave Sewelson as an important voice on the baritone while giving us one of the finest improvisational quartet sets that I've heard in a long time. Each solos meaningfully and the sum total is a climbing over the top of possibility to extend a collective meaning rewarding and exciting to hear.

Bravo! Check this one out for sure if you can.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Edward "Kidd" Jordan, Joel Futterman, William Parker, Hamid Drake, A Tribute to Alvin Fielder, Live at Vision Festival XXIV


Alvin Fielder (1935-2019) was an important and influential drummer, a pioneering charter member of the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago as well as the Black Arts Musical Society. He was an essential force on Roscoe Mitchell's first album, played and recorded with the Improvisational Arts group with Kidd Jordan, appeared with Ahmad Abdullah, Charles Brackeen and Dennis Gonzalez, gigged with Joel Futterman and Andrew Lamb, and etc.

New York's Vision Festival XXIV in the summer of 2019 honored Maestro Fielder in memoriam. Happily it was recorded and released last year as A Tribute to Alvin Fielder Live at Vision Festival XXIV  (Mahakah Music CD 086, Digital DL at Bandcamp). It is a lively gathering of four artist colleagues, friends, collaborators with Fielder over the years. 

So we have Kidd Jordan on tenor saxophone, Joel Futterman on piano, William Parker on contrabass, and Hamid Drake on drums. It is one continuous set, a free improvisation lasting 45 minutes. 

Everyone sounds motivated, committed, filled with ideas and mutual flow. Though Kidd Jordan was no "spring chicken" when he took the stage with the quartet, he was totally on the case, warm, post-Trane in depth and ideas, fired up. Joel Futterman's piano playing too is lucid, slam bang on top of the world, filled with ideas that combined well with the others.

William Parker as always has energy, fire and note-choice smarts that firmly anchor everything with immense strength and imagination. Hamid Drake is a firebrand throughout, putting in one of his very best mid-sized group wash performances of explosive drive.

In short this is a fabulous set you may well want to hear frequently. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Larry Ochs Aram Shelton Quartet, Continental Drift


After more than a year of social distancing we should appreciate more than ever our artists, musical or otherwise, for they keep on in spite of  extraordinary hardships. Performing artists have special challenges with the temporary loss of the all-important in-person audience as a key means of earning daily bread.

So we continue anyway and of course for the music makers recordings and in some cases live internet feeds keep on to give us direct access to what is new as well as what is classic. An excellent piece of newness can be heard in a recent release of the Larry Ochs Aram Shelton Quartet and their album Continental Drift (Clean Feed CF555CD).

The audio program consists of two recording dates, one from July 2013 and the other from July 2018. They feature lively and fitting compositional frameworks by both Aram and Larry, which set up the improvisations nicely and help allow each player to assert his identity and meld together cohesively as a unit. Shelton co-heads the front line on alto sax; Ochs holds up his end on tenor and sopranino. Both players are not only distinctive in their approaches and sound, they also have made noteworthy advances in their open-form ability to play with others in notable melding, Ochs most famously with the ROVA Saxophone Quartet among others, Shelton equally notably in various contexts as well.

Aram began his playing career in Florida, had an important phase in Chicagoland and eventually resettled in the San Francisco Bay area. Ochs has been California rooted much of the time. The mutual California confluence of course formed a happy coincidence-circumstance for their collaborative quartet--and we hear the results gladly in this set.

Swedish drummer Kjell Nordeson nails down the percussion section single-handedly throughout. He has a recognizable sound and an adventuresome attitude whether playing time or breaking free of absolute pulse. Mark Dresser gives us his contrabass presence nicely for the first session; Scott Walton anchors the bass on the second. Both sound perfect for this special quartet format. 

The dual saxophone interplay between Aram and Larry forms the most extraordinary element in this album of music. Their close rapport coupled with the always forward moving rhythm team makes for something very good, very original. If you recall the trombone tandem of JJ and Kai or of course the twin tenors of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, well imagine something equally together but with a thorough update in tune with the advanced Avant Jazz of today and you would not be far off in preparing yourself for what you will hear on this moving album.

Outstanding solo sax presences and sterling moments of dual reed excursions with first rate modern rhythm set this album apart as exceptional.

Listen to this one by all means. Ochs and Shelton win the day and I hope for many days and years to come. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Lisa Cameron, Damon Smith, Alex Cunningham, Dawn Throws its First Knife


A year into the pandemic and it is still far from an ideal world for music and music making but that does not negate its centrality for those that are called to make it, talk about it, hear it, live it. 

So today an album to consider, something available now in the realm of Free Jazz, by Lisa Cameron, Damon Smith, Alex Cunningham. It is entitled Dawn Throws Its First Knife (BPALTD 11811). It has a serious and creative ring to it all.

The threesome on this album may not be totally familiar to you, or then  again you may know of them. Regardless all three work together to create a free music of considerable technical and expressive extension. It is a sort of series of spontaneous sound sculptures, five excursions with poetic titles taken from Lysander Kemp translations of Octavio Paz poems, for example "The Endless Instant."

Of the three artists in this trio Damon Smith on double bass may well be the most familiar to you. He is a master of free bass extended technique and poetics, both pizzicato and arco and has a sizable discography and an impressive series of interactions with some of the avant improvisational greats. Go to my Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog and type his name in the search box for a number of reviews of his releases. For this trio date he is nicely himself, adding a good deal to the three-way dialog at all times.

Alex Cunninghan is a violinist and visual artist based in St. Louis. He shows a great range of sound color on this album and a good deal of aural imagination. Lisa Cameron is a drummer new to me, but shows herself to be a extraordinarily sensitive artist who listens carefully and responds with soundings that help propel the music forward in ways that put everything in continuous gear and give us a kind of all-over continuity of timbral variation without overtly swinging.

Indeed the three make rewarding sense out of the challenge of total freedom as a remarkably close knit trio that doew not so much try to produce torrents of applause but rather to bring an inside introspection to an outside spontaneous expression of great subtlety. This is the sort of improv which does not draw obvious lines backwards into Jazz history so much as it uses the idea of the Jazz trio to remake the music anew.

As one listens one finds oneself getting increasingly drawn into the musical dialog. That is perhaps the ideal situation for the listening--a music that sounds better with each repetition. There is much to appreciate in this program. Congratulations to all three for giving us this specially lucid free immediacy! Very recommended.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Burton Greene, Damon Smith, Ra Kalam Bob Moses, Life's Intense Mystery


Burton Greene, most readers will know, was a key pioneer of the Free Jazz piano back when only a handful of players were doing it. He is a survivor and a thriver, for he still gives us an explosive mix and over the years he has refined it without losing the power of the moment-is-now expression.

He has many excellent recordings over the years and I try to keep up. He sent me a new batch the other day and I've been digging just now one I am especially glad to catch up with. It's a trio date from 2017 when he was in the States. Life's Intense Mystery  (Astral Spirits MF 193/AS090)

It is an all-star trio with Burton meshing with the lucid bass of Damon Smith and brilliant drummer Bob Moses.

The trio tackles wonderfully well a series of moods and modes, quiet dark tinklings, post-Monk-Chopsticks staccato humor, drumming piano immersions, sustain washes of free sound, all in six parts.

This is excellent piano trio freedom, an essential disk in the Burton Greene discography. Get it!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Martin Kuchen & Landaeus Trio, Mind the Gap of Silence


Saxophonist Martin Kuchen has been making some joyful Jazz noises over in Europe for a while now. I've covered him on these pages from 2009-2017 (type his name in the search box for reviews) and now he is back with something recent in company with the Landaeus Trio for an album called Mind the Gap of Silence (Clean Feed CF552CD).

It is a full set of structured freedom based on springboard Kuchen compositions that have a kind of folk elementality (minor mode at times) yet an expressive thrust to set the band on its way, six times in all, recorded before the Pandemic, 2019 in Sweden.

Martin mans the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones with a mastery and sureness that pulls the music forward. He has a full throated, overtone laced sound that at times recalls favorably Bechet's soprano and perhaps early Ben Webster tenor, only without a lot of vibrato.

As I write this morning I am listening to the last track, the final "Sounds & Ruins." It manages to situate in a place somewhere between a rhapsodic later-Trane-meets-Ayler, with maybe a bit of the thrust of an Archie Shepp, and ultimately pronounced roots that hearken to our deepest universal folkways. 

The opening "Sorkifsta" is memorably minor-folk balladic and plunges us into worthwhile musical territory that keeps up throughout.

Matthias Landaeus on piano is a carefully but soulfully lyric presence that gives Martin a productive foil and contentful response throughout. Double-bassist Johnny Aman gives out with a very whole expression, a woody tone and consistently fitting solo and accompanying thrusts. Drummer Cornelia Nilsson can push a freetime percussiveness or a nicely loose swing, and it all sounds right, always.

"Old Harriot Hat" is the most overt swinger of the bunch and it brings out the extroverted best of the quartet, especially Martin and Mathias. Martin could be playing with Hawk on 52nd Street for that dramatic swing-bop largeness you hear with such immediacy. And Mathias bounces along himself into very solid swing territory. Good show!

The title cut has balladic torque and further shows us Kuchen's lively retapping of roots. 

"East Hastings Satian Slow Stomp" gives us an almost hymn-like testification and some very soulful soprano along with a nicely brushed drum solo. I still enjoy listening to drums and bass solos, so thanks for some nice ones on here. 

"Love, Flee Thy House" continues all with a very intense soprano and a kind of post-Trane rhapsody followed by a free-riffing undulation that grows dramatically in intensity for a definite statement of high expression.

After  passing through the entirety of this album a bunch of times I must say it gets me nodding and smiling,  smiling and nodding. Everybody puts it together here both indivudually and collectively. It is one of the best I've heard from Martin so of course I recommend that you check it out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies, This Land


Vocalist Theo Bleckmann I have come across in the Jazz singing realm (see my review here from August 26, 2015). Until now I have not come to know him much as a composer and artist on the edge of Jazz and New Music, with the notable exception of his effective appearance as vocalist on Phil Kline's Zippo Songs (see post of May 20, 2010). We get to experience another side of him on his latest, Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies and the album This Land  (Westerlies Records).

It is unusual fare. Theo Bleckmann brings his voice and live electronic processing for a close collaboration with the Westerlies, a brass quartet of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpets, Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombones. The program is some 14 songs that emerged as a result of the five artists' collaborative residence at Yellow Barn chamber music center in Putney, Vermont during June of 2018  

As a kind of a natural outcropping of the unsettled political and physical world of recent years they turned to the idea of a music of resistance, of protest, of solace, of a search for refuge and belonging. Alternately, as trumpeter Riley Mulherkar puts it, it comprises "songs old and new that encompass satire, love, sorrow and fear in our shared musical language."

The striking thing about all of this is the situation and/or resituation of diverse songs for originally conceived conjunctions of the specially integrated brass choir and Theo's very musically nuanced voice. All this comes together with a handful of compositions forged anew along with an eclectic selection of songs from folk roots and songwriters of engagement such as Woodie Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Phil Kline and others. 

The situation/resituation strikes one immediately with the opening rearrangement-recomposition of Joni Mitchell's old Clouds era song "The Fiddle and the Drum." Theo's bell-like vocal hews closely to the melody while the brass quartet harmonizes and periodizes it into a new experience, wonderfully rejuvenated.

Similarly innovative things take place in various ways and shades with the Woody Guthrie "I Ain't Got No Home in this World Anymore," and "Two Good Men" along with the Spiritual "Wade in the Water," and various others, including Phil Kline's moving "Thoughts and Prayers." 

The originals are absorbing and worthy. "Grandmar" by Andy Clausen combines brass choir with jazz leanings via some nice trumpet soloing. "Land," also by Andy, has tensile strength and anthemic memorability. "Another Holiday" came forth as Theo Bleckmann came to grips with the horrors of the Pulse nightclub shooting of 2016. It jars through its wish for a normalcy that events belie, contra various assertions out there of the "new normal."

The rare mix of Folk, New Music, Contemporary Song and Jazz elements defies easy description but upon hearing ravishes and moves us to thoughts of new horizons. It is music that consoles as it rejuvenates and always with an ultra-musical sensibility. I do recommend this one strongly if you seek a capital /n/ in your New! Bravo.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Burton Greene Trio, Peace Beyond Conflict

Those who have followed the trajectory and development of "Free Jazz" in some depth should be familiar with the music of pianist Burton Greene. He has been a vital force on the scene since his first albums on ESP in the mid '60s. (Type his name in the search box above for a number of review discussions on this blog.)

His discography is extensive and filled with some excellent sessions. I am happy to say that things keep on. Today I am on here to consider a New York live trio session from 2003.  now only recently available, that is entitled Peace Beyond Conflict (Birdwatcher Records). The conjunction is an excellent one with Burton of course on piano, Adam Lane on bass and Dave Brandt on drums.

Adam Lane anchors the trio with strength and flexible interplay, whether soloing overtop or sharing the aural space in a three-way. Dave Brandt sounds right on the drums, helping spur the music on with freetime looseness and sound color sensitivity. Burton is in great form, percussive and effervescent (like on "Gnat Dance") or lyrically legato and balladic in turn (like on the title work "Peace Beyond Conflict"), always with his own sound, his own sort of fire and grasp.

Four pieces grace the session, three Burton compositions and one by Ali Akbar Khan. The eighteen minute "Carnival of Mother Kali" uses Khan's line as a springboard for a quasi-Indian openness that intrigues and gives you much to consider.

In the end we have a vibrant set that forms a welcome addition to the Greene corpus and will no doubt give you much to enjoy in extended listens. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Luisa Goncalves, Unno

Portuguese pianist Luisa Goncalves steps forward with her album Unno (Trem Azul TA014CD), a solo outing. She has classical training, which certainly makes itself felt on the seven composition-improvisations that comprise the album. All compositions save one are by Ms. Goncalves.  A rolling and tumbling rendition of the standard "Laura" is the other that fills in and gracefully informs us of this part of her roots. So in this and other extended ways there are classical elements yet quite often a jazz feeling in the harmonies and rubato melo-harmonic thrust of this music.

Like Keith Jarrett (and perhaps a bit of Bill Evans) she spans the two genres but after several listens you do not confuse her with others, for she spins a lyrical but hard-edged personal approach that is most definitely her own. On the classical side there is like with Jarrett a channeling of the Grand Tradition of sensitive and somewhat tempestuous piano a la Chopin, Liszt and Debussy-Ravel, yet again her channeling is her own.

With the exception of the brief and arpeggiated closing piece "Circle," this is not a recital that brings to the forefront a demonic quickening of right hand lines, for she is here mainly after cluster-melo-harmonics of a more unified and more contemplative sort.

It is very easy to flow with this music. And it may well grow on you as it did me. For all piano lovers I would think. Recommended. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Scott Lee, Through the Mangrove Tunnels


By the time that Rock began intertwining seriously with Jazz and New Music Classical as a three-way meld, the term "Third Stream" to describe Jazz and Classical combinations was somewhat on the wane. But the various possibilities of two- and three-way amalgamations continued to develop through to today. Frank Zappa was a foundational pioneer and a brilliant practitioner of the three-fold possibility and of course there were others. Fast forward to the present and a new release worth considering.

So what, then, about today's music, a CD of a long Scott Lee composition entitled Through the Mangrove Tunnels (Panoramic Recordings  PAN20)? It comprises the title work of eight movements featuring a premier New Music string ensemble--the Jack Quartet, plus pianist Steven Beck and Russell Lacy on the drum set. 

The all-acoustic ensemble functions as a "group" in the Jazz and Rock sense--they perform mostly together with the drums playing a Rock or Jazz-Rock beat as the foundation with piano and string quartet there to play out the primary composed parts that deliberately contrast and alternately conjoin with the drums for a continuingly fascinating blend.

Through the Mangrove Tunnels flows together in its eight-part sequence to illustrate in music the experiential and historical flow of things in the swamps and bayous of Florida where the composer grew up. 

The ensemble engages rhythmically in ways that combine New Music Classical abstractions along with figures that suggest Rock and sometimes Jazz phrasings. Melodically and harmonically there are at times suggestions of relatedness to Jazz-Rock but nearly always while referencing New Music elements. 

Sometimes harmonically and rhythmically there are more direct Rock-Pop referencing in the strings and piano, for example on "The Ballad of Willie Cole." which goes its way without drums. "Playthings of Dance" gives out with a kind of old school pop-jazz theme that then expands outward into Modern territory before returning as a kind of "Sweet Band" gush. It is unexpected and amusing to boot. "Engine Trouble" for quartet alone has definite rhythmic bite to it.

The music consistently stimulates and retains its refreshing originality throughout. I highly recommended this one for all who like to explore the possibilities of genre gap spanning. Bravo!