Monthly Archives: February 2011

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

CHARLES RUMBACK – Two Kinds Of Art Thieves (CF 152)
Drummer Charles Rumback’s music is informed by a mild detachment that over the 49 minutes of this CD translates into a kind of gently impassive mood. This makes me picture an extremely controlled person who would not react badly even if someone came and hammered his big toe. The quartet, which features bassist Jason Ajemian and saxophonists Joshua Sclar (tenor) and Greg Ward (alto), moves elegantly and effortlessly, a sluggishly meditative observation of the outside world from an attic’s window. The parallel reeds leave lots of spaces to drums and bass, not only to sustain and dictate the pace but also for having a go in the thematic propositions. Slow swing or sparse pulse belong to the main rules’ list, the musicians looking both pensive and totally unflustered. It’s a bit of a mystery. I detect a lack of significant action: no bloodshed, no trace of sufferance whatsoever. Still, one can’t really say that the record is not agreeable. The decisive factor might reside in the group’s ability in maintaining a cool atmosphere, a late-night reflection deprived of several of the commonplaces typically coupled with this sort of pensiveness. All things considered, this is nothing but an unspectacularly polite jazz album.
http://touchingextremes.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/charles-rumback-%e2%80%93-two-kinds-of-art-thieves/

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

JASON STEIN’S LOCKSMITH ISIDORE – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)Incontrovertibly struck by Eric Dolphy’s melodic jumpiness, bass clarinettist Jason Stein doesn’t wish that influence to take complete possess of his artistry. Having chosen a difficult tool for being remembered – in order to tackle a greater number of creative challenges, he says – Stein works in the alley where memory and newness fight, producing a kind of cunningly disjointed linear matter that sounds both antagonistic and lucid. In Three Less Than Between he’s flanked by equally clever companions, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride; the resulting hour of interplay exudes vibrancy and authority. Three personalities of equal weight share a collective profit; the most prominent constituent – the leader’s incessant search for different ways of saying something meaningful via a scarcely diffused reed instrument – does not detract from the feel of utter functionality elicited by Roebke’s inspired experimentations and Pride’s appropriate rhythmic dislocations. Needless to say, in such a milieu there’s practically no room for melancholy or fond reminiscence: the trio looks constantly forward, assuming that angular counterpoints and opinionated witticism do best in a world where men who sweat with eyes closed pretending to be connected with superior entities hide a shortage of inventiveness behind the façades of those invocations. Better staying concrete and bright, a lesson that Locksmith Isidore have learnt without flinching and, for our good luck, keep applying.
http://touchingextremes.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/jason-steins-locksmith-isidore-%e2%80%93-three-less-than-between/

Free Jazz review by Paul Acquaro

Scott Fields / Matthias Schubert – Minaret Minuets (CF 213)
****
There is a great deal of space for electric guitarist Scott Fields and tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert to fill on this recent duo outing. Clean Feed offers this description on their site: “In the Minaret Minuets system there are two separate but equal branches: the electric guitar and the tenor saxophone. Composer slash instrumentalists — those roles smear — Scott Fields and Matthias Schubert find myriad methods to blend and contrast, to appear to be at one moment a larger ensemble and then to sound as just one.” I do not think I could have composed a better summation of the music within — the tracks feel organically grown and composed by the spontaneous reactions between the musicians, running the gamut from tiny sounds produced by the acoustics surrounding the instruments to playing at their extremes. Without the grounding of bass or percussion and sans any traditional song structure, all emphasis is shifted to the musician’s interplay and sonic atmosphere. For example, there is a passage about halfway into the extended “Will’s Billy Beer” where the guitar melody skitters over light saxophonic flatulence. So intimate, barely making a sound, the woodwind’s breathiness provides just enough subtle support for the delicate melody. Soon, everything from key clicks to short snippets of melody from the sax begin interacting with string scratches and muted pickings. It’s the textures of sound bouncing off each other that make such sparse moments so effective. Their approach seems to capture emotions and subconscious thoughts more than overt statements. But all is not calm, while there are great expanses of ruminative rambling, there are also moments of rambunctious raucousness. The 7-minute “Multi Trill” begins exhilaratingly – all skronk und drang – but eventually settles into a more lyrical flow. “Santa on a Segway” has moments of sweetness and synergy where the rhythms and tones between the two players meld delightfully. This is a long recording – clocking in around the 75 minutes mark and while it takes some determination to sit through the whole event, it takes its time to unfold and contains many interesting passages that make it worth the listen. At any one point the guitar may be laying down a rhythmic single note figure and then drop in some chords while the sax bounces melodic figured off the morphing structures, then the roles may shift or transform into other shapes and sounds. This is a conversation that never ends – it’s one held in music and while there may be lulls and heated moments, there is no time when the ideas dry up.
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/

Tomajazz review of MOPDTK in Huesca


Mostly Other People Do the Killing in Huesca
Fecha: 15 de febrero de 2011
Lugar: Centro Cultural del Matadero, Huesca
De un modo similar a lo que pasa en la física de partículas, la música del cuarteto Mostly Other People Do The Killing funciona (de momento) en tres niveles de energía. En el primero, el menor, está la de sus discos en estudio. En el segundo están las grabaciones de sus conciertos, discos en directo como el recién editado The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed). En el tercero, el más elevado, está su directo.

En cada uno de esos niveles encontramos una serie de elementos comunes con el nivel siguiente. En el más bajo están las composiciones de su líder Moppa Elliott y también su habilidad en elegir las versiones; un gran sentido del humor (las portadas parodiando a discos clásicos; los títulos de las canciones que no son otros que nombres de ciudades de Pensilvania, o las delirantes liner notes de Leonardo Featherweight); también cuatro instrumentistas sobresalientes.

En el segundo nivel aparece la combinación de esos temas del líder del grupo con composiciones instantáneas y citas de clásicos, así como estilos de lo más dispar en un tótum revolútum que, en teoría y según los cánones, posiblemente no tenga mucho sentido, pero que en forma de grabación no sólo genera una música arrebatadora, sino que ha logrado que el grupo dé a luz su mejor obra.

En el tercer nivel la suya se transforma en la música de la sorpresa. Ahí están esos músicos impresionantes. En Huesca destacó especialmente Peter Evans, que demostró ser un virtuoso de la trompeta. Sobre el escenario del Matadero dio una lección de dominio técnico de su instrumento a todos los niveles, pero sin que su discurso quedase supeditado u oculto por ello. El segundo gran protagonista fue el baterista Kevin Shea. Sobre él no se puede decir que sea un virtuoso o un fino estilista. Sin embargo su discurso encaja a la perfección con el del grupo. Es nervioso, inquieto, y ayer con sus sonidos pregrabados se dedicó a dirigir por momentos al conjunto en sus improvisaciones. También fue el protagonista del momento más divertido de la noche con un original solo de codos sobre los parches ejecutado con una intensidad propia del más energético de los grupos del rock más energético. Hasta sus gafas, que salieron volando y por lo que parece terminaron indemnes, sintieron la high-energy que es capaz de acumular. El saxofonista Jon Irabagon fue el compañero ideal de viaje de Peter Evans. Además de con sus solos se enzarzó en unos magníficos intercambios con el trompetista, idea va-idea viene, aunque no estuvo tan potente como se le ha llegado a escuchar en alguna grabación reciente, en concreto en Foxy.

En  cuanto a la música, no se miente si se afirma que es la de siempre (las composiciones de Moppa Elliott con sus estructuras de blues y giros habituales en el jazz como lanzaderas), como tampoco se haría si se dijese que es totalmente nueva. Las piezas se forman a partir de la recombinación no prefijada de antemano de las composiciones de Moppa Elliott que hace que los temas se sepa cómo empiezan pero no cómo terminarán, versiones sorprendentes como la interpretada en Huesca de un tema de David Sanborn, las citas de temas clásicos del jazz y también de la clásica o la mezcla de estilos: New Orleans, be-bop, cool, hard-bop, libre improvisación, free, funk.

Finalmente está Moppa Elliott. En segundo plano, sonriente y tranquilo, es el líder que sin dejar de dirigir deja hacer a sus compañeros, confiado y feliz puesto que sabe que todo está en buenas manos.

Acaba de comenzar 2011 y ya tengo a un candidato más que firme a concierto del año. Moppa Elliott comentaba al final del concierto que en verano es posible que vengan a dar unos cuantos conciertos en festivales, citaba el de San Sebastián, aprovechando su gira estival europea. Si se me acepta el consejo, si alguien tiene la oportunidad de ir a verlos en directo que no se los pierda.
http://www.tomajazz.com/conciertos/2011/02/mopdtk_huesca.html

Pop Matters feature on Clean Feed by Will Layman

Clean Feed Records and Mary Halvorson: Promises of Good Things to Come in Jazz

If you’re looking ahead in 2011 at what the year—or the coming decade—holds in jazz, then 2010 gave us two stories that portend thrilling music ahead.

First, there is a relatively new record label that seems dead-set on unleashing the full-on floodgates of adventurous improvised music at every turn.  Clean Feed, based in Lisbon and founded in 2001, has become nothing less than a force of nature, releasing exciting music in big, fat batches.  Snaring big name artists, yup, and also promoting the little guy, Clean Feed is supernatural.  Clean Feed is my hero.

Among the artists showing up on Clean Feed in 2010 (and elsewhere too, importantly) was guitarist Mary Halvorson.  Halvorson is the furthest thing from another Berklee-trained pentatonic wonder.  She’s all edge and all charm at the same time, someone whose pedigree includes Wesleyan University and Anthony Braxton bands, but also a gentle duo or two.  And in 2010 she released what may have been the most surprising—and promising—disc of the year.

Two trends to watch, right here.

Trend One: Clean Feed Can’t Be Ignored
When your regular, everyday jazz critic comes home from a day of doing whatever he does to make some scratch for rent and food and the occasional new pair of Pumas, he finds a package leaning against his door.  If it’s a skinny package, then it might be a new recording from Blue Note or Sunnyside—a good day, for sure.  But if it’s a big thick package jammed with seven or eight new releases at once, baby, it’s from Clean Feed.

He tears the manila envelope open and finds beautiful art adorning thin cardboard CD packages, and beyond that nothing is predictable. He might not know Matt Bauder (an adventurous reed player), but he sure does know James Carney and Stephan Crump.  Unfamiliar with James Robinson?  But he’s playing with the pianist Anthony Davis, one of his favorites.  The Convergence Quartet is new to him, but—Holy CRAP!—look at the band Tony Malaby has put together on Tamarindo Live.

He’s tired, so he’s excused if he doesn’t get around to putting on any of these many discs right away.  But he’s just got to hear them.  What is the deal with Clean Feed records anyway?

Clean Feed’s website is modest and slightly out-of-date.  Who has time to update the “About Us” page when you are putting out almost 50 recordings in 2010 by bands from all over the world, recordings that span styles and sounds with flying abandon?  Here’s some of what the label says about itself:

“Clean Feed was founded in 2001 to release Portuguese and foreign musicians in separate and cooperative projects.  The label was also created facing the whole world as its operating ground, taking advantage of the Internet revolution and the increasing global music market.  Very quickly, Clean Feed found itself at the vortex of the international creative jazz scene, releasing projects that reached far beyond what we could initially imagine…  Clean Feed aims at recording innovative contemporary jazz projects that can make a difference, building a catalogue that will be internationally recognized by its quality and coherence.”

The judgment is George W. Bush-isms simple: Mission Accomplished.

It would be impossible fully to do justice to the work of Clean Feed in 2010 in a single column, but here is a limited snapshot of some (and way too few) of my favorites.

Clean Feed Gives Musicians Room
Take the Crump/Carney duet album, Echo Run Pry.  Like some classic jazz LP from the ‘70s, this recording consists of just two tracks, 20-plus minute free improvisations that unspool gradually and beautifully.  (The model for Crump and Carney may have been the 1976 recordings on Improvising Artists by Sam Rivers and Dave Holland.)  These duets are free and sometimes dissonant, but they are clear and melodic too—patient and surprising and uncommonly gorgeous.  Carney is reaching into his instrument to pluck or mute strings, turning the piano into something exciting but not snarling, and Crump is rich in tone and every bit the piano’s equal.  Grooving, swinging, free, mind-blowing.

Clean Feed Let’s Stars Play Around 
For a small label, Clean Feed sure is hauling in some big jazz names.  Maybe not the Diana Kralls or Wynton Marsalises, but few jazz players have risen faster in the last few years than alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.  But here he is recording for Clean Feed along with another big name—Steve Lehman.  The two alto players share a sound and sensibility, of course: a jagged but precise kind of linear blowing that transcends “inside” and “outside” clichés and thrives on new kinds or arrangements, complex patterning, and acid-toned energy. 

So Dual Identity, which pairs the two in a quintet with Liberty Ellman’s guitar, Matt Brewer on bass, and Damion Reid on drums, is both a jazz event and a bit of an indulgence.  The two leaders snake around each other on nervous fast tunes and obtuse ballads, sounding quite similar in some ways, working out like kindred spirits who need to push each other hard.  Ellman gets to play plenty of beautiful textures, but he also moves in tandem with Brewer to create grooves.  This wasn’t my favorite disc of the year, but it has a thrilling all-star quality to it, like watching Lebron James and Dwayne Wade finally play on the same team.  Like the Miami Heat, it mostly works.

Clean Feeds Give Us New Names, Old Names
Some musicians hide from the public.  They disappear and teach.  Or they play locally and never quite get on your radar.  Or they play outside the center of one style somehow.  For me, one of the “lost” jazz masters of the ‘70s and ‘80s is pianist Anthony Davis.  Davis made a series of recordings for India Navigation featuring flutist James Newton, trombonist George Lewis, vibist Jay Hoggard, and others that defied category in delicious ways. 

Then, quite deliberately, Davis—trained classically at Yale—started composing music that was not jazz in any meaningful way, including pieces for his ensemble Epistome and eventually opera as well (X about the life of Malcolm X).  Once in a blue moon he would appear playing jazz, each time seeming like a long lost, but favorite, uncle.  Cerulean Landscape pairs Davis with saxophonist and flutist James Robinson, now a professor at Amherst (and a former student of Davis’s at UC San Diego).  It’s a lush and expansive set of seven tunes by both men, reflecting influences from Ellington to Cecil Taylor to classical and folk music.  It gives you the sense that original, thrilling music is awaiting you beyond the clubs and concert halls.  Anthony Davis is still here, pulsing with life, and musicians you’d never heard of are pulsing right along with him.

Clean Feed Encourages Surprising Collaboration
In real life, there are working bands, sure, real bands that stay together for years and develop on records over time, scrutinized by fans.  But in jazz there are even more bands that come together for one night or one tour, one project, create some magic then split.  Those special occasions too often miss the ears of even the ardent fan.  But Clean Feed is giving many of these assemblages a chance for immortality.  How about this band:  Tony Malaby on tenor, Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, New York bassist extraordinaire William Parker, and Bandwagon drummer Nasheet Waits.  Tamarindo Live catches them live at the Jazz Gallery from June 2010, playing free and fantastic.  Malaby sounds unleashed on soprano sax, buzzing and twirling, Smith is clarion at times and always a rhythmic marvel, and the rhythm section feels like a trampoline: pliant and yet firm.  You missed this gig because you weren’t in town that day?  Clean Feed brings it to your door.

Clean Feed Crosses Oceans, Easily
Based in Lisbon, Clean Feed isn’t hung up on nationality, race, location, culture.  In the Clean Feed playground of improvised music, the monkey bars are open to all.  A good example is Pool School from the Tom Rainey Trio.  Rainey is a delicious drummer who I associate with the aggressive and wide-open playing of Tim Berne, but who has the skill and sensibility to play just about anything, funk to free and back again.  This trio brings in US guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, born in Germany but based in London.  And while this is certainly “free jazz”—in that Laubrock plays with little regard for standard harmony or tonality, Halvorson plays textures as much as she does chords, and Rainey is constantly fracturing any steady sense of swing or straight time—the tunes are brief (mostly four-five minutes) and concise, with each player committing to a framework and not just going on-and-on-forever-already.  While they sound freely improvised, the clarity of each track suggests a magical guiding hand.  If only all jazz, free or otherwise, played by musicians from around the globe had this focus.

In 2011, Clean Feed already has five releases, including a live date from Mostly Other People Do the Killing (with a hilarious cover parodying The Koln Concert).  Are you drooling a little bit?  You should be.

Trend Two: Mary Halvorson Is Coming For You
The Tom Rainey Trio disc on Clean Feed features the guitarist Mary Halvorson, and in 2010 she is the other emerging story.  Halvorson has been playing in New York since 2002, after studies at Wesleyan and The New School.  But the chance that you would mistake her for, say, Pat Metheny or John Scofield is zero percent.  Halvorson’s style is fragmented and cuts utterly loose from conventional jazz patterns.  And while she plays a huge hollow-body Guild guitar with a fairly clean sound, she is quick to bend her notes, frazzle her lines, leap and crackle, pluck and pull and strike her strings against convention.

But here’s the thing:  for all the veering away from conventional melodic form, you can’t stop listening.  Halvorson captivates.  And I’m not sure you’ll be able to figure out why.  For all her lack convention—indeed, her self-described “weird”ness—she is extraordinarily musical.

Though Halvorson leads several bands and plays regularly in (and records regularly with) a dozen others, the news in 2010 was her first recording with The Mary Halvorson Quintet, Saturn Sings.  This disc is special in Halvorson’s catalog because it gives fuller expression to her fascinating compositions.

“Miles High Like (No. 16)” is underpinned by typical Halvorson guitar work: stabbing patterns, oddly timed jabs and scratches, droning repetitions.  But riding atop this is a coolly harmonized set of keening melodies played by Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet and Jon Irabagon on alto sax.  As Finlayson solos, Halvorson grows more and more agitated beneath him, bending her chords, scratching at the strings, then finally playing what amount to mad rock chords.  This music is weird, sure, but with Finlayson it’s also deeply melodic and rollicking fun.

“Sea Seizure (No. 19)” is just for the trio, and it actually just rocks.  Halvorson starts by a playing a single distorted note in a hammer of repetitions while drummer Ches Smith provides solid backbeat, then they both shift into a syncopated groove beneath an oddball arpeggio.  When Halvorson improvises, then, there is no chord pattern to follow but just a rhythmic blueprint that could go almost anywhere.  And as with all of Halvorson’s music, things do go anywhere and everywhere.  Could she play a straight bebop line if she wanted to?  That certainly is not in the DNA of her style, but who really cares?  She plays with plenty of precision when she wants to, and this band proves that repeatedly as bassist John Hebert or the horns lock in with her notes.

Saturn Sings proves that the idiosyncratic shapes of Halvorson’s melodies are not merely the sounds of someone freaking out on the guitar.  Her odd melodic forms can sound vaguely random (if thrilling) on the trio tunes, but the cascades and marches, Blakeyisms and singsong ballads that she composes for the horns become wonderfully balanced counterpoints to her guitar.  In fact, as “avant-garde” as Halvorson’s basic aesthetic may be, a tune like “Crack in Sky (No. 11)” is flat-out lovely.  Irabagon’s alto solo lilts and dances, and the guitar accompaniment comes close to sensitive comping while still retaining certain trademarked bends and flutters.  Amen, Mary!

The reason Mary Halvorson is giving jazz a nice little thrill about now goes beyond the quality of the music.  Partly it’s that she is different.  Not insignificantly, she is a woman in an art form that—despite how little we write and talk about it—is weighted madly toward men.  She’s not a singer or a pianist but a guitarist with a caustic sound.  That is very different.  And her sound does not come from and then deviate from jazz’s mainstream of bop and post-bop orthodoxy.  Halvorson’s art begins with an assumption of huge freedom, so it doesn’t become “free” by violating the norms she learned in music school.  This second generation liberty, in not being a reaction against anything, feels utterly sincere and balanced.  It’s the closest thing in jazz guitar playing to the piano styles of Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer, and Jason Moran that have been the other main story of the last five years in jazz.

Mary Halvorson smiles.  Her music sounds like a fresh, brisk rain shower.  She works noise and charm into the same track with ease.  She plays with anyone and everyone who needs a new sound on guitar.  And—of course—you can find her on Clean Feed releases.  The promise of 2011 in jazz is bright.
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/136606-two-2010-stories-to-remember-in-2011/

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Ken Filiano and Quantum Entanglements – Dreams From a Clown Car (CF 207)
Ken Filiano is one of those bassists who have established bonafide credentials in the advanced jazz network as one of the leading instrumentalists of his generation. If you know his playing you know it is dead centered on communicating all facets of the complete contrabass experience.

Listen to his Dreams From A Clown Car (Clean Feed 207) and you’ll hear all of that. Bowing or pizzicato he tears forth into an expressive zone and stays right there throughout.

He knows what cats to get on his team too. The one-two punch of Michael Attias and Tony Malaby on reeds, formidable both singly and as a team, virtually guarantees that a high level of musical thought and deed will be reached early on and wont disappear through the course of the entire disk. Michael T. A. Thompson brings in the right combination of power and finesse to this thoughtfully free session. He can create hard-edged washes and rumbles of percussive density, he can lay down a swinging pulse that has variation and drive, and he can sensitively complement the quieter moments too, all in ways that testify to his big ears.

Then there’s Ken Filano the crafter of good free playing frameworks, Ken the jazz composer. That’s the third piece of what makes the disk at hand stand out. He writes motifs that bring out the potential and considerably realized kinetic energy of the players involved. There are the long-lined pieces like “Baiting Patience” that roll through like a long freight train, continually picking up collective momentum. There are the angular stabbing jabs of melodic distinction too, pieces that set up open-ended blowing possibilities.

In short Dreams From A Clown Car gives you highly evolved, direct yet intricate collective creativity and dynamics. It’s one of the finest free dates I’ve heard so far this year. The right cats, the right material, the right time. A beautiful moment in the new decade and a testament to the continued vitality of the new jazz. That’s what we have here. If you are serious about where we are right now this should be on your short list of music to nab. Ken Filano triumphs. Attias, Malaby and Thompson outdo their considerable musical selves. The present is made salient. Jump on this one, no kidding.
http://gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com/

Chain D.L.K. review by Steve Mecca

SKM (Stephen Gauci, Michael Bisio, Kris Davis – Three (CF 189)
Rated: ****

We don’t get much in the way of jazz here at Chain D.L.K., but trio SKM (Stephen Gauci- tenor saxophone; Kris Davis ‘ piano; Michael Bisio ‘ double bass) is a free jazz collaboration with some very noteworthy moments. All have impressive credentials in the field of jazz with numerous collaborations and recordings under their belts. The big difference on ‘Three’ is the lack of drums allowing for a much freer improvisational atmosphere. In fact, all tracks are improvised, except #6 (‘Now’) by Michael Bisio.

The result of this collaboration is a wide variety of expression from track to track where although the instrumentation is obviously the same, the form is not. On ‘The End Must Always Come,’ which opens the album, Davis take the lead with a wildly rhapsodic improv that spurs on Bisio’s bass to counter from every angle. It’s almost like sparring the way the instruments dance around each other and Guaci’s sax doesn’t even enter until the 2 ½ minute point, tentatively at first, then more definitively as the piece progresses. Davis seems to get temporarily stuck in this one repetitive musical figure that has the effect of propelling Guaci’s sax all over the place. Davis later employs the same technique to actually soothe the sax and wind things down to its conclusion.

‘Like a Phantom, a Dream’ begins with a beautiful sax solo from Gauci and even when the piano and bass come in (and the sax drops out), seems almost melodically conventional. Lots of extended runs here move very quickly eventually rejoined by the sax. Davis drops out and the piece turns quite moody with just sax and bass. The moodiness is replaced by agitation for awhile, before it turns back to being moody at the end. I really kind of grooved on this one.

‘Something From Nothing’ proves that you don’t need a drummer to carry a rhythm as piano, bass and sax provide muted percussion sounds. To a large degree, it seems like an exercise in creative restraint, and things only show any sign of busting loose when the 9:36 track is two-thirds over. Still, it never quite gets out of hand, and is interesting from start to finish.

‘Groovin’ for the Hell of It’ is an oddly enigmatic piece that changes directions more times than a soccer ball on a football field. At one point when Davis starts pounding out these offbeat dissonant chords, it really seems to shake things up. It’s hard to quantify this one; when Davis gets going on another one of her repetitive cycles toward the end, she is nearly alone in her own world.

‘Still So Beautiful’ is a lovely abstract ballad that may seem loose but the playing is tightly interconnected as the instruments weave an amazing braid around each other. Bisio’s composition ‘Now’ is the most unusual piece on the album, with a mad arco technique that exhorts all manner of twisted sounds from is double bass. It hardly seemed as long as the 5:20 it is. ‘No Reason To or Not To’ is a sparse balladesque moody piece that finds Davis’s piano plunking around percussively in the lower register to begin with, while Bisio’s bass and Gauci’s sax tentatively dance around each other to establish a motif. Bisio is the more active of the two even though he often plays off Gauci’s sparse riffing. At this point things are rife with possibilities. It is well over three minutes before Kris’s piano decides to enter with some counter-melody, and it gets into a pretty cool post-Bop groove, courtesy of Bisio’s trad-jazz baseline. Gauci’s sax work is smooth as silk, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s more soulful and introspective work. Things really heat up and take off at half past six with in all directions divergent yet converges back together for the balladesque finale. ‘Just To Be Heard’ begins with sax and bass in a riffing race while Davis throws in the occasional chordal fragment or phrased accent. Bisio’s running like a wildman possessed propelling Gauci’s agitated sax into a region of mewling squeals and squalls while the piano keeps knocking at the door of this melee right up til the end.

The album is hard to describe in words. It has a lot more to do with musical feeling than anything purely technical or aesthetic. There are moments of absolute brilliance on it, and at other times you get the impression the musicians are searching for something not easily found. Through most of it Michael Bisio exedues an intuitive confidence and direction I’ve not often heard from a bassist (except maybe Charlie Haden) in this type of free jazz collaboration. Kudos to Kris Davis too for her willingness to take risks and skirt the fringe of the oblique. As for Gauci, I got the impression that at times he was holding back, perhaps for good reason to let the other players take a more dominant role. Still, there is no question that his work here is impressive when he wants to step out, and supportive when he deems it best to lay back. A challenging listen by any means, lovers of free jazz should find this quite engaging. I look forward to their next collaboration together.
http://www.chaindlk.com/reviews/?id=6257