Raymond MacDonald / Gunter Baby Sommer – “Delphinus & Lyra” CF 086
Here it is, naked to the bone, free jazz in all its glory, loose, intense and furious, not in hanger but with “joie de vivre.” A sax-drums duo like this, in which one of the performers is Gunter “Baby” Sommer, a hallowed name in European improvised music, makes you anticipate an essentialist approach to the communicative powers of improvisation. This is an encounter of generations, German percussionist and free-jazz pioneer Sommer meets a new presence on the international scene, Scottish saxophonist (and a psychologist, who uses sounds as a therapy for the mentally handicapped) MacDonald. We are all musical, the Glasgow-based MacDonald has lectured. From this universal musicality grow infra-music and hyper-music, music before and after music, nuclear and at the same time cosmic, on the path blazed by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali. The Sommer-MacDonald duo isn’t as spiritual, but the celebration of life is the same. Back in the 60s and 70s Sommer was part of the gang that included Peter Brotzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Kowald, Evan Parker, Leo Smith, and Cecil Taylor when the world was challenged by a new music that rejected both traditional jazz and academic classical composition. He, with his unusual drum kit and literary collaborations, is a living monument. MacDonald is far from being mesmerized by the personal history of his partner: he himself gained the status of one of the most important reedmen in the United Kingdom, with the Burt-MacDonald Quintet, the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and gigs with Keith Tippett, Maggie Nicols, Lol Coxhill, Harry Beckett, and other notables. You can’t ignore the energy and fresh perspectives in this joint venture.
Evan Parker/John Edwards/Chris Corsano – “A Glancing Blow” CF 085
Gee! An Evan Parker album with a new star of the drum kit, Chris Corsano, and one of the most intriguing bassists to emerge in the last few years, John Edwards? This is a record you can’t miss! “A Glancing Blow” is destined to make history. The instruments are the same of Evan’s “classical” trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, but the approach is quite different. The master saxophonist uses his trademark multiphonics and circular breathing techniques in a surprising, new context that only such resourceful musicians could provide. Although Edwards is now a central figure in the improvised music scene in London, playing with the likes of Phil Minton, Tony Bevan, Eddie Prévost and Lol Coxhill, among many others, he has other musical adventures that have little or nothing to do with the improv philosophy, ranging from the metal-noise-jazz band GOD to the “remixers” project Spring Heel Jack. Corsano established his name as a hardcore free player and an expert in sax-drums duos with the likes of Paul Flaherty. Neo-psychedelic rock and folk fans worship him due to his collaborations with the groups Sunburned Hand of the Man, Six Organs of Admittance, and Vibracathedral Orchestra. And noise freaks applaud his work with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Jim O’Rourke, and Nels Cline of Wilco. Prepare yourself: the music here is rough and raw and it takes no prisoners.
Martin Speicher/Georg Wolf/Lou Grassi – “Shapes and Shadows” CF084
Much has been said about the art of the improvising trio since the triangular interaction between Ornette Coleman, David Izenzon, and Charles Moffett. Now Martin Speicher, Georg Wolf, and Lou Grassi contribute another chapter to that long tradition. “Shapes and Shadows” is a wonder of musical integration of three diverse personalities investing all their energy in a common purpose. It is proof that real collective music is possible. This is structured improvisation, explorative, agitated, surprising, and yet always maintaining focus. German alto saxophonist / clarinetist Speicher has a composer’s sensibility throughout that injects a “classical” contemporary feel in these tracks, even in the freest moments, at times resembling Peter Brotzmann’s excursions. There’s some sort of telepathy between Speicher and bassist Wolf, the fruit of their long-time collaboration in several settings. But Grassi isn’t left on his own. It’s remarkable how the American drummer sustains motion and makes himself a fundamental part in everything. He acts and reacts, and you can sense the two Europeans keeping an ear turned to his every move. Expressionist and abstract, this is music of the first order, as dense as a lava river and as complex as a mathematical equation, yet inviting us to come a board with the seduction of a natural phenomenon.
Joe Morris / Ken Vandermark / Luther Gray – “Rebus” CF 083
Joe Morris plays guitar on this record, and that is good news. He certainly is one of the best players in that music called “free jazz” that traces its roots to the sixties and seventies. And if on recent records you have longed for Ken Vandermark’s tenor saxophone sound, here it is. After a period of focus on bass and soprano clarinets and on baritone sax, he returns to his first instrument. Only two other titles joining Morris and Vandermark exist, “Like Rays” and “Joe Morris with DKV Trio.” That’s a shame because they function seamlessly together. This third opus makes us believe that this partnership demands a future. And if you have ever wondered why the guitarist is so fond of drummer Luther Gray, “Rebus” explains it all: what a fantastic musician! You’ll find plenty to pick from here: hard-driven, furious music, but also some quiet moments; from sax solos packed with overblowing to almost mainstream finger-picking guitar figures. One moment will have you holding your breath and the next will spur you to relax and slowly let your breath go. These three players never choose the highways when there are other roads to travel; you never know in which direction they’re going to turn. When the trio arrive at its destination, you’ll want to make the journey again: back to the first track. Another listening, another impression of this detailed recording’s nuances.