Daily Archives: October 8, 2007

Free Jazz review by Stef

Mark O’Leary – On The Shore (CF 091)
I have already praised Mark O’Leary before for his great sense of music, and he proves it again on this record, and how! With Alex Cline on drums and a double trumpet front line consisting of Jeff Kaiser and John Fumo, the line-up is definitely unusual (apart from Jacek Kochan’s “Another Blowfish”, with Eric Vloeimans and Piotr Wojtasik on trumpet, I’m not aware of any other quartet with a double trumpet front line). The music on this record is light, spacious, elegant, … I would almost say the musical equivalent of high quality champagne, very tasty, with bubbles, something to savour with every sip. The guitar plays a very prominent role on the whole CD, often with a very low tone, reminiscent of some of John Abercrombie’s albums, but more avant-garde, more creative, with the two trumpets and the drums adding shades of sound that bring depth and sculptural relief to the music, even if they’re pushed a little to the back in the sound editing, a nice touch which adds to the overall atmosphere. The whole quartet is absolutely brilliant. Alex Cline’s playing is precise, accurate, accentuating loosely, performing the difficult feat of drumming on music that is essentially without explicit rhythm. The two trumpets use every shade and sound their instruments can produce, in various intensities, volume changes and lengths, because there is mostly no melody to hear – texture, tonal changes and contrast is all there is, especially exemplified by the long title track. O’Leary himself gets every possible sound out of his guitar as well, and whether it’s plain acoustic, or one of the many effects on his electric guitar, his playing is not focused on the playing itself but on the musical moods he creates, and it’s also coherent throughout the album, regardless of how he uses his instrument. O’Leary doesn’t hesitate to push his foot switches once in a while, bringing sorching fusion-like solos, pushing the trumpets and the drums to high levels of intensity as in “Point Sketch”, but most of the music is subdued, tentative, fragile, creating open-ended soundscapes, composed with skill and feeling, building layers of music to create a very distinct mood, which is nostalgic, sad, but also reverent, jubilant or mysterious at times.You can hear seagulls and whales, or even sirens, the surf in the distance, or lapping waves close-by, … that’s how evocative the music is without needing to try to imitate those sounds. Another mystery of the record is whether it has been dubbed or not (that’s the problem or disadvantage of downloading, there are no liner notes to guide you in your appreciation). Most of it sounds too beautiful to be the result of spontaneous improvization, too carefully crafted to have been left to chance, but then again, it sounds too open to be composed, and these are great musicians, so you can’t tell. One could also argue whether this is jazz or not, but asking the question is irrelevant. Answering it even more. This is absolutely excellent music. That’s the most important thing.

Free Jazz review by Stef

Alipio C Neto – The Perfume come before the Flower (CF 093)

Here’s another stunning free jazz album. Trumpeter Herb Robertson and bass player Ken Filiano are obviously well-known names, saxophonist Alipio C Neto is probably less known, although he’s one of the driving forces behind the IMI Kollektief and Wishful Thinking. Neto is a Brazilian who moved to Portugal to have a doctorate in literature, yet who stayed in the country and started seriously engaging himself in music. The quartet is completed by Michael TA Thompson on drums, and Ben Stap joins on tuba on three of the five tracks.

Apparently Neto’s credo is that “music must always be transcendental”, and that’s clear from the very first sounds of the record. High tempo drumming introduces very slow sax tones and arco bass, with absolutely frantic trumpet soloing by Robertson, creating a feeling of wide expanses and deep emotional contrasts, and then suddenly all sounds converge into a totally unexpected unisono melody that shifts a few seconds later into Filiano’s well-known incredibly precise and adventurous bowing, with an hesitant, yet strong sax solo by Neto, and he is absolutely excellent in his playing: raw yet soft and warm-toned at the same time. Then the sax becomes the frantic voice, while Robertson takes over the slow background on trumpet. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s ingenious. “The Will – Nasarana” starts with a long bass solo, and when you think it’s high time to turn up the volume, the three other musicians start playing a joyful abstract melody, which shifts into free bop of the best kind, with both horn players demonstrating their best skills. And I must say that on many records Robertson goes beyond what I find bearable, but not here : his playing is more accessible than we’ve heard in many years, and it is truly great. The most beautiful track however is “The Flower – Aboio”, which is a slow, minor key, bluesy composition, starting with layers of similar sounds by all musicians, evolving into a tear-drenched, funeral-march-like mood, with all instruments wailing and weeping, incredibly intense, incredibly sad, incredibly beautiful. Bengt Berger’s “Bitter Funeral Beer” comes to mind when listening to this song, and that’s a great compliment. Stap’s inclusion on this track is a stroke of genius, because the dark tones, even when playing in the upper register add an intensity and coloring which moves the song to even greater heights. The fourth track is a structured free jazz work-out where all musicians let loose the tension and go for it, and the last one continues in the same vein, but adding a lightly dancing joy to the music. Again, a great record, because of the great musicianship, but also because of the great balance between compositions and improvization. Get it!

Paris Transatlantic review by Clifford Allen

Scott Fields Ensemble – Dénouement (CF 088)
This may very well be the year that puts Chicago guitarist Scott Fields firmly on the improvisational map. His Clean Feed Records debut, Beckett , occupies a tense poise between measured and somewhat theatre-inspired movement and free immediacy. Joining him on the tightrope walk are percussionist John Hollenbeck, tenorman Matthias Schubert and cellist Scott Roller. On the heels of Beckett is the reissue of Dénouement , a double-trio recording initially waxed in 1997 for Fields’ tiny, now-defunct Geode label. He’s joined by guitarist Jeff Parker (here in a pre-Thrill Jockey guise), bassists Jason Roebke and Hans Sturm, and drummers Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang (who appeared with bassist Michael Formanek on Fields’ excellent Delmark disc Mamet ).
Fields characterizes the music as “the bastard child of King Sunny Adé and Ornette Coleman” and he might not be incorrect in that assertion. Luckily not recorded in mono, each trio is audible in separate yet interweaving channels, Fields, Sturm and Drake on the right and Parker, Roebke and Zerang on the left. From the opening plinks and strums of “Her Children,” plaintive and nearly detuned, Parker and Fields underpin, addend and fragment their own dialogue, a delicate conversation in language about to collapse on itself. Pulled out from dissipation by a seemingly abrupt arrival at martial swing, the twin rhythm sections offer a steadily oppositional groove, basses and guitars walking in contrasts and a unison of throaty grasps, linked mostly by absence. After all, one reason for using two bassists or drummers in opposing rhythms is that the contrast will, rather than stagnate create a third and less deterministic pulse, stemming from “both” and “neither.”
Like musical forebears the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, these lengthy improvisations (albeit with brief written signposts) should be taken as a whole, with individual areas popping out and grabbing one’s senses – dueling arco-ponticello basses catch the ear mightily, percussion hanging overhead in implied fits of near-waltz as Fields and Parker skitter from the front porch to somewhere way, way underground. A charged, fuzzy rock phrase is worried in damning repetition, Sharrock-like overtones brought out as basses, toms and a second guitar both goad and placate. It’s the simultaneity of sounds, phrases and rhythms and their conflicted outcomes – or, rather, the space between these things – that makes Fields’ ensembles work. Luckily for us, this early example of his music is available again.