Monthly Archives: February 2008

New Clean Feed releases IV

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – A Calculus of Loss (CF 104)

Jason Stein, bass clarinet / Kevin Davis, cello / Mike Pride, percussion

Recorded on December 11th and 12th 2006 at the the Shape Shoppe, Chicago IL by Benjamin Balcom / Mixed by Benjamin Balcom / Mastered by Luís Delgado
Produced by Jason Stein / Executive production by Trem Azul / Design by Rui Garrido

Fan’s of the Chicago free jazz scene may recognize Jason Stein from his work in Ken Vandermark band Bridge 61, collaborations with Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jeff Parker, and featured roles in other Midwestern ensembles. Stein started his musical life as a blues-and-rock guitarist, but Eric Dolphy changed his life. After hearing the groundbreaking woodwind innovator, Stein replaced his guitar with a bass clarinet. He later studied with Charles Gayle and Milford Graves. A flexible performer, he can go “mainstream” in the post-bop and free traditions or exploit novel situations, as, for example his work oboist Kyle Bruckmann in the experimental chamber jazz ensemble Wrack. His hard-driving presence on sessions with Peter Brotzmann and Fredrik Ljungkvist and his nuanced pitch and color manipulations for Lonberg-Holm and Parker demonstrate his versatility. The trio’s name, Locksmith Isidore, comes from Stein’s grandfather, a master locksmith who didn’t trust banks and hid his money inside an old sofa in his attic. The “loss” in the title refers to the calculations he made for the costs and benefits not having a bank account.

New Clean Feed releases III

Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)

Jason Mears: alto saxophone, clarinet / Kris Tiner: trumpet, flugelhorn / Paul Kikuchi: drums, percussion, electronics / Ivan Johnson: double bass

Recorded at Luna Records in Los Angeles, CA, August 13-14, 2006 by Jamieson and Roxy Trotter, assisted by Bryan Pettibone / Mixed and mastered by Wayne Peet at Newzone Studio in Los Angeles, CA / Cover art by Kio Griffith / Band photo by Allen D. Glass II /
Produced by The Empty Cage Quartet / Executive production by Trem Azul / Design by Rui Garrido

The Empty Cage Quartet consists of four musicians — saxophonist Jason Mears, trumpeter Kris Tiner, percussionist Paul Kikuchi and bassist Ivan Johnson — who have been praised consistently by critics as one of the most powerful and substantial new jazz groups to emerge from the American West Coast. Recorded during a hot summer in Los Angeles, Stratostrophic is a fiery set of original compositions that ranges from shuffle swing to free jazz blowouts, minimalist percussion loops to complex modernist gestures, funky stomps, odd-meter marches, robotic grooves, heavy rock, and nearly everything in between. The music is vigorous and methodic yet tender and reflective, dead-serious yet open to the occasional wry, sideways irony. As Wadada Leo Smith expresses in his liner notes, these young musicians are certainly on a path “to reach the whole truth of a creative music”.

New Clean Feed releases II

Scott Fields Freetet – Bitter Love Songs (CF 102)

Scott Fields, electric guitar / Sebastian Gramss, double bass / João Lobo, drums

Recorded 30 September and 1 October 2007, mixed 9 October 2007, at Topaz Studios, Cologne, Germany by Reinhard Kobialka / Mixed and mastered by Reinhard Kobialka / Produced by Scott Fields / Executive production by Trem Azul / Design by Rui Garrido / Cover art by Letitia Gaba — / Group photo by Geoff Lawrence

“Bitter Love Songs” is the first of Scott Fields’ recordings whose goal is extended blowing in the free-jazz tradition. All but one of the tracks on this CD follow the classic free-jazz model that masters such as Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy established. Catchy heads set up improvised sections, fragments taken from the head or outro interrupt the solos, and finally the original head, a variation, or an entirely new outro closes the composition. In the Coleman tradition these compositions are harmolodic in that they don’t follow chord changes.

In spite of his adherence to this now-classic style (2008 marks 50 years since the release of Coleman’s début album “Something Else!!!!”), Fields does add his own twist. The compositions swing, but not in the traditional sense. Quarter-note walking-bass lines are avoided like the plague. When they do surface, they are quickly beaten back into submission by a dizzying array of odd time signatures, fractional beats, skips and stutters, and quirky turnarounds.

The music is also stripped to its core to produce a kind of free-jazz reductionism. Fields set aside his collection of specialized bows, foot pedals, and implements of guitar torture, and instead plugged his guitar straight into a thick cable that was connected directly to a small amplifier. Gramss left his bow in its case and plays every note pizzicato. Lobo spurned brushes, mallets, bamboo rods, and their like and in favor of sticks throughout. The idea, Fields says, was to create a monochrome musical world in which the focus would be on subtle shifts in time and pitch.

Fields had long thought about forming a Freetet and who might best fill the drum and bass chairs (he had settled on himself for guitar). The solution was provided during a series of gigs in Lisbon. For the release of his Clean Feed CD “Beckett” he had performed with musicians who were living in Portugal at the time. One was the drummer João Lobo. During the rehearsals for these gigs, and the performances themselves, he started to sense how well Lobo, with his quick wits and sensitive touch, would fit together with the power and determination of Sebastian Gramss, a bassist with whom Fields had played together in Cologne, Germany, where both live. His suspicions were confirmed when the three gathered in Germany first to explore ideas and later to record this CD.

New Clean Feed releases I

Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book One (CFG 002)

Elliott Sharp, Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass

Recorded, mixed, and mastered at Studio zOaR , NYC – August 2007 by Elliott Sharp / Produced by Elliott Sharp / Executive production by Trem Azul / Design by Rui Garrido

“Octal: Book One” is Sharp’s second solo recording for Clean Feed. The first was his all-acoustic take on Thelonious Monk. This time around, however, he tackles his own compositions and plays them on a custom-made electroacoustic “guitarbass,” which is a hollow-bodied electric guitar with two extra bass strings. Sharp has long worked with solid-bodied, double-necked guitar-basses, most notably in his noise-rich group Carbon. This new instrument is certainly more manageable than the earlier two-headed monsters, but its real advantage, and the one the Sharp exploits notably on this recording, is its acoustic qualities. He combines the acoustic and electric qualities of the Saul Koll guitar by placing one microphone close its sound hole, processing its built-in acoustic pickups, and running its magnetic pickup into a small amplifier and putting a microphone near that too. The result is a rich sound environment in which Sharp’s every snap, tap, pluck, wiggle, drone, and ebow activation feels completely organic. The eight notated, but spontaneously interpreted, Sharp originals on “Octal: Book One” sing as though they are alive.

All About Jazz review by Ciro Riccardi

Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo – Nididhyasana

“Basso Continuo” è il progetto più recente del sassofonista Stephen Gauci, un prolifico esponente dell’avanguardia jazzistica newyorkese, che si è imposto al pubblico del free jazz con un buon numero di dischi a suo nome – otto (tra cui Wisps of an Unknown Face) – pubblicati negli ultimi due anni, e numerose collaborazioni con musicisti di un certo calibro – William Parker, Lou Grassi e Graham Haynes tra gli altri. Il titolo del lavoro è Nididhyasana, ed è uscito per l’etichetta portoghese Clean Feed.

Il nome del gruppo, “Basso Continuo” appunto, non si riferisce alla pratica di accompagnamento estemporaneo del periodo barocco, bensì alle sonorità prevalenti di questo disco, tutto improntato su due contrabbassi, suonati da Mike Bisio e Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, cui spetta il compito di tessere il background sulle frequenze gravi.
Una pulsazione quasi ininterrotta, anche nei momenti di minore intensità dinamica. Un humus primordiale, su cui si innestano le improvvisazioni dei solisti: Gauci appunto, che suona il tenore, coadiuvato dal bravo Nate Wooley alla tromba.

La formazione è piuttosto particolare, anche per il free: non prevede strumenti a percussione. Solo il contrabbasso, per il modo in cui viene suonato, sfiora questa definizione. Eppure, questa scelta timbrica non lascia spazi vuoti, non si sente la mancanza della batteria, anzi l’improvvisazione si apre a nuove prospettive: dall’ascolto del disco traspare un approccio meditativo, concentrato, un grande interplay dinamico, e non a caso i titoli delle quattro tracce che compongono il lavoro sono in sanscrito, presi a prestito dalla pratica yoga.

In ciascuna c’è una diversa attitudine: la prima, “Nididhyasana (Uninterrupted Contemplation)”, è la più lunga del disco, ed esplora tutte le possibilità timbriche del quartetto, la tromba aperta oppure con la sordina, i due bassi suonati con o senza l’archetto, il sax che ricerca effetti onomatopeici. La seconda, “Dhriti (Steadfastness)”, invece ha delle sonorità meno free jazz, più post-bop, e parte da nuclei tematici, frasi spezzate, per svilupparle in un crescendo libero che si fa sempre più esasperato, fino al rumore. Nel terzo pezzo, “Chitta vilasa (Play of Mind)”, ci sono lunghi momenti in cui i musicisti sperimentano vari incastri possibili: prima sax e contrabbasso, poi tromba e contrabbasso, poi i due contrabbassi insieme, per raggiungere un climax rumoristico quasi giocoso, che sembra un chiacchiericcio umano. L’ultima, “Turyaga (Beyond Words)”, l’unica del disco che non supera i cinque minuti, è la più lineare, con tromba e sax che si inseguono mentre in contrabbassisti alternano veloci walkin’ in stile free a ostinati rumori di sottofondo.

A dispetto dei nomi spirituali, tutti e quattro i pezzi sono accomunati da un approccio fisico all’improvvisazione, energico, anche se molto controllato. C’è una grande attenzione alle dinamiche e a tutti i possibili incastri tra gli strumenti, esplorati nelle loro sonorità più inedite.

Salta all’orecchio l’enorme versatilità dei due contrabbassi: corde battute, sfiorate, suonate con l’arco, che a tratti accennano walkin’, frasi spezzate o pedali ostinati, per poi immergersi nel caos dell’improvvisazione collettiva. In ogni caso, il continuo incastro tra i due giganti bassi non è mai troppo urlato, o invadente: lascia spazio alla ricerca timbrica di tutti gli strumentisti.

Si può sentire il soffio di Wooley nello strumento, il rumore delle pelli del sassofono schiacciate dai tasti, qualcuno che tossisce ad un certo momento. Anche nei punti di maggiore intensità il suono è controllato, e per questo in tutto il disco si sente una tensione continua e coerente. La concentrazione, e di conseguenza l’esecuzione ispirata, rende merito alle pregevoli doti timbriche del sax di Gauci, che è possente, ma sobrio e asciutto, anche quando si lascia andare a effetti onomatopeici. Allo stesso modo, Wooley è sorprendente, per le qualità tecniche e la libertà improvvisativa della sua tromba. Insomma, Nididhyasana è un disco suonato bene, originale, da ascoltare anche se non si è appassionati del genere.

All Music Guide review by Michael G. Nastos

Ravish Momin’s Trio Tarana – Miren (A Longing) (CF 087)

Drummer/composer Ravish Momin has been searching for an identity as a leader since his days working with Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre’s trio The Light. It would seem he has found a substantive part of that with his Trio Tarana, as their ethnic and world fusion concept meets the modern creative improvised world squarely. Sounds of the Balkan countries, the Far East, neo-classical chamber music and Africa are clearly heard, while Momin himself allows violinist San Bardfeld and oud player Brandon Terzic to take center stage. Rarely is Momin dominant in rhythmic insistence or colored timbres, whether playing the drum kit, cajon or talking drum. The sound they achieve collectively is quite arresting, and similar though more muted to several of the precedent setting New York City downtown bands like Matt Darriau’s Paradox, Brad Shepik’s Commuters and Slavic Soul Party. Bardfeld takes the lead for the most part out of the box on “Tehrah,” which is at once Mediterranean, gypsy folk-like, funky and replete in fractured multiple time signatures. In the complex 9/8 melody of “Miren” he adopts a stance akin to that of Leroy Jenkins, while “Ragalaya” hints at Indian music, but is more Middle Eastern in lengthy discourse from free and modal to atypically funky and tuneful. Terzic’s oud, mainly in a support mode throughout the CD, is in one instance, outright dirty, as if the strings are loosened to the max on the three bar modal blues “What Reward?” “Fiza” is a diffuse free floater with very few iconic phrases to glue it together, while a second version adds viola player Tanya Kalmanovitch during an up-and down chamber improv that is lively and brash. Momin certainly has emerged as a musical illustrator and theorist on this original program that is eminently listenable, and comes highly recommended.

All About Jazz Italy review by Libero Farnè

Alípio C Neto Quartet – The Perfume Comes Before the Flower (CF 093)

Ecco un ennesimo cd, bello anche se non innovativo, che propone un free sano, consapevole, ben strutturato, confermando la persistenza e l’attualità di questo movimento in ogni angolo del mondo. Tipicamente free (nel senso strutturale del free jazz storico) sono le composizioni del leader ed il modo in cui esse si traducono nelle improvvisazioni, motivandole. In un brano come “The Flower – Aboio” si avverte l’influenza del mondo poetico di Ayler, con l’archetto di Filiano che ricorda molto le sonorità sfibrate di Alan Silva. Un altro riferimento, più recente, può essere quello a Tim Berne, evidente soprattutto nel tema ritorto e complesso dell’ultimo brano, che forse potrebbe essere esposto con una determinazione ed una nitidezza ancora maggiori.

Free sono anche le voci strumentali e il tipo di interplay. Il tenore del leader dalla sonorità porosa e problematica, ricca di opportune sfumature, procede con circospezione nella ricerca della via giusta, estendendosi in una narrazione variata che raggiunge, quasi sempre con gradualità, l’esposizione più convinta ed estroversa. In particolare, il rapporto tenore-tromba viene scandagliato nelle varie possibilità combinatorie; in una fase del primo brano per esempio è efficace il connubio fra il fraseggio corrusco e frammentato del tenore e le note lunghe e distese, concilianti, della tromba. L’originalità del linguaggio di Robertson, l’esponente più noto e riconoscibile della formazione, emerge sempre in evidenza: la sua pronuncia avanza ora titubante ora determinata, ora crepitante e fremente ora lirica.

Ancora tipicamente free è il ruolo di basso e batteria, che spesso tramano una pulsazione continua, fitta, procedendo parallelamente quasi fossero inflessioni timbriche diverse di uno stesso strumento. Negli ultimi tre brani emerge qua e là la tuba di Ben Stapp, che costituisce un colore aggiuntivo, ma non determinante: un colore scuro, spesso contrapposto agli esili filamenti del flauto, imboccato sporadicamente e alternativamente da Neto o Robertson.

The Wire review by Andy Hamilton

Martin Speicher/Georg Wolf/Lou Grassi – “Shapes and Shadows” CF084
The sleevenotes cite Ornette Coleman‘s trio with Izenzon and Moffett as a model for Martin Speicher on alto sax and clarinet, Georg Wolf on bass and Lou Grassi on drums. But Speicher is also, unusually, a saxophonist influenced by Anthony Braxton‘s sound, in contrast to his compostional concepts. The seeming hesitancy, tone-coarsening and multiphonics are uncannilly familiar, but Speicher‘s playing is fuller toned and less detached from the pulse or groove. The close of the title track, with its desperate lowing on clarinet, shows how powerful it can be. Clean Feed have high standards and this is the pick of their recent releases. (Andy Hamilton)

Dennis González’s Yels at Eels + Rodrigo Amado in Poland

drigzyelz1.jpgClean Feed artist and trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez takes his group on the road in Poland in March.  His trio Yells At Eels includes Humanization Quartet members Aaron Gonzalez on contrabass and Stefan Gonzalez on drums.  Special guest on this tour will be Lisbon  mprovisation Players leader, Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado.
The tour dates:
-7.03 : Warsaw, CSW Club, Museum of Modern Arts
-8.03:  Poznan, Estrada Poznanka – Made in Jazz Series
-9.03: Bydgoszcz, Cub MOZG (live recording)
-10.03: Gdynia, Club POKLAD (live recording)
-11.03: Olsztyn, Club BOHEMA
-12.03: Krakow
-14.03 / 15.03: Warsaw, Club AKWARIUM

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

JÚLIO RESENDE – Da alma (CF 095) 
There is some measure of poetry in the music of pianist and composer Resende, in this occasion accompanied by João Custódio on double bass, Alexandra Grimal and Zé Pedro Coelho on tenor sax (in different tracks), João Lobo and João Rijo on drums (idem). “Da Alma” is a humble album that seems to voluntarily shroud thoughts and reflections with a veil of naiveté. Themes and harmonic relations are deployed with respectful delicacy, at times winking at the nostalgic factors (so to speak) that composers like – say – Lyle Mays might have hinted to in their past artistic choices. Elsewhere, like in “Filhos da Revolução” or “Move it!”, this is meshed with melodic intuitions that travel as fast as kids’ fantasies do when they hear a strange yet attractive lullaby. This mixture of candid simplicity and technical expertise works finely for the large part of the program, giving life to sensations ranging from relaxing to quite touching in short time spans. It’s pretty straightforward sonic painting, nothing that requires a degree in rocket science to be enjoyed; and it’s quite easy to digest, moments of refined intensity testifying about the deceptive trait of ingenuousness that characterizes it. There’s no trace of posing from the musicians; a fresh disposition to the interpretation of the scores, even a few uncertainties in a couple of tortuous sections are also evident. It all makes sense, though, the whole amounting to nearly one full hour of problem-free listening.