Monthly Archives: March 2008

Free Jazz review by Stef

Scott Fields Freetet – Bitter Love Songs (CF 102)

With his guitar trio, the Scott Fields Freetet, the guitarist wants to get even for all the problems caused to him by people he trusted and especially the one he loved. The titles of the tracks leave nothing to the imagination : “Yeah, Sure, We Can Still Be Friends, Whatever”, “Go Ahead, Take The Furniture, At Least You Helped Pick It Out”, “My Love Is Love, Your Love Is Hate”, etc, etc. And with that knowledge in mind, you would expect some raw, frustrated, angry or even violent music, or at best some sad blues-drenched wailing. What you get is nothing of the sort, though. You get abstract and free music, nervous and agitated, often sounding like Joe Morris, all in the mid-tempo range, with the exception of the fifth track, “I Was Good Enough For You Until Your Friends Butted In”, which is a little slower and closer to a blues in form and feeling. Sebastian Gramss on bass and João Lobo on drums play well and supportive, because Fields is not always easy to follow. Despite many good ideas, the emotional disconnect between theme and form is too big a gap to bridge for me. This soft-toned, gentle, open yet nervous music is the opposite of the destructive anger you would expect. Fields would have done better by presenting is music “as is”, leaving more to the listener’s imagination, rather than pointing the direction with words. Now, it’s just a nice album which will certainly be of interest to modern guitar-players.


Anthony Braxton / Joe Morris – Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007

CF 100 (4 CD set)

This historic edition — Clean Feed’s one hundredth release — is a four-disc set that features two extraordinary musicians who before this session had never played together: multi-reedist Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris. “Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007” has other unique qualities. One is that Braxton has rarely recorded completely improvised pieces. More typically he plays compositions, his own or occasionally jazz standards, and improvises within their structures. His compositions can include open forms and spaces that require creativity of himself and his fellow musicians, but it is structured music. Morris, conversely, more frequently improvises freely, but he also often works within the parameters of composed pieces. On these discs, each one a continuous improvisation of approximately one hour, Braxton and Morris play free. We hear them discovering each other’s thought processes and musical strategies, while negotiating common places to interact. This first-time, marathon meeting follows in the tradition of other the duos between collaborations between woodwind master players and six-strings virtuosos, such as Lee Konitz and Billy Bauer, John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell, and Evan Parker and Derek Bailey.

to buy

All About Jazz review by Clifford Allen

Scott Fields Freetet – Bitter Love Songs (CF 102)

The Freetet is ostensibly Cologne-based guitarist Scott Fields’ “traditional blowing vehicle,” and Bitter Love Songs is his first in the guitar-bass-drums format since Mamet (Delmark, 2001), with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang. On Bitter Love Songs, he’s joined by German bassist Sebastian Gramss and Portuguese drummer Joao Lobo. What makes this date a semi- departure for Fields is that, in the last six years, most of his work has been for chamber ensembles with unique instrumentation; improvised but with challenging notation. These include Beckett (Clean Feed, 2006) and We Were the Phliks (Rogue Art, 2007).

”Yea Sure, We Can Still Be Friends, Whatever” opens Bitter Love Songs, an evermore scumbled improvisation on a simple-but-effective bluesy theme, from fleet mid-range choruses to muted smears interspersed with referential flecks. Gramss and Lobo make a solid post-bop pair, yet seamlessly enter into frantic collective interplay as Fields’ runs become blurred.

More pointillist is “Go Ahead, Take the Furniture, At Least You Helped Pick It Out,” occupying similar structural territory to Fields’ more delicate chamber pieces, while still sallying forth with a pliant groove.

What might separate this group from “traditional” theme-solos-theme orientation is that, for the most part, the leader is the only soloist (Gramss is spotlighted on “I Was Good Enough for You…”). Nevertheless, the Freetet’s approach is certainly unified—as Fields’ playing becomes more fragmentary and texturally diverse, Gramss and Lobo up the ante. Indeed, the bassist is frequently the first to follow Fields in speedy plucked lines, as mutual shading soon approaches a locking of horns.

”My Love is Love, Your Love is Hate” (winner of the shortest-title contest on this disc) finds the writing becoming progressively more seasick in a hellishly knotty melodic/rhythmic collision, Lobo’s suspended time gradually filling in momentum alongside the strings’ ornate picking, digs and scrapes. Sub-tonal jabs behind the bridge approach British guitarist Ray Russell’s territory, before the trio brings the tune into a muddy thrum. One must be prepared for relentlessness with this disc—even the brief calm of a dusky Grant Green-ish melody on “Your Parents Must Be Just Ecstatic Now” is quickly overtaken by a storm of fuzz and piercing shards.

When Fields and guitarist Jeff Parker convened a double-trio for Denouement (Geode, 1997, reissued on Clean Feed), the level of interplay from the “paired Freetets” astounded this writer. On Bitter Love Songs, multiplying the equation is unnecessary, as there’s so much music available here.

All About Jazz double review by Marc Medwin

Adam Lane – Buffalo (CIMP)
Magnus Broo / Adam Lane / Paal Nilssen-Love / Ken Vandermark – 4 Corners (CF 076)
These two recent releases prove, if further proof was needed, that Adam Lane is an original voice of which all bass enthusiasts should take note. His sense of groove is matched by his love of mode and penchant for stabbing at the dissonances just beyond.

The Buffalo set, a live date before a small but appreciative audience in that upstate New York burg, might have degenerated into a New Thing blowing session were it not for drummer Vijay Anderson’s affinity for shifting pulse. He switches it up several times throughout the first track, as we hear “Spin” being born out of collective listening. Sliding back and forth between swing and freedom, the quartet benefits from Lane’s solid guidance. Let no misconceptions abound though—he is no stranger to rhapsody, as the scorching but somehow meditative solo that opens “Without Being” makes plain. Saxophonist Vinny Golia and trumpeter Paul Smoker complement the rhythm section beautifully and if things are a bit loose throughout, the constant energy and invention keep things moving.

4 Corners, also recorded in performance but this time in Portugal, is an altogether tighter and harder-edged affair. This version of “Spin” broils and churns, thanks to Lane’s distortion pedal, but never looses a certain playfulness; Saxophonist and nominal co-leader Ken Vandermark bobs and weaves with sympathetic and airtight staccatos, no doubt due to his long experience with metrically-varied composition. When the groove dies down, there is room for wonderful duets between the extremely versatile drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and trumpeter Magnus Broo, the former able to change colors at the drop of the proverbial hat. The solos, largely of the “free” variety, never feel forced amidst the more rigorously composed passages—contributed almost equally by Lane and Vandermark—that pervade the energetic set.

Ranging from cool to red hot, these discs capture Lane and his fine work in the multiple roles of leader, soloist and composer. The jagged beauty of his compositions speaks to his knowledge of tradition and willingness to extend it.

Gaz-Eta review by Tom Sekowski

Mark O’Leary – On the Shore (CF 091)

I can’t remember a time over the past year that I was affected by a guitar player as much as the playing of Irish string-whiz Mark O’Leary.  Though over the years, he’s released a number of solid records for Leo imprint, none have come close to what O’Leary achieves with “On The Shore”.  Here, he’s able to create entire landscapes from scratch.  When he’s surrounded by ace players – percussionist Alex Cline and trumpeters Jeff Kaiser and John Fumo – there’s a delicacy that is heard rummaging on the surface of the strings of his guitar.  His playing is pensive but he’s never unsure of the direction he’s driving the band in.  Though on first hearing, O’Leary’s playing may be mistaken for someone like John Abercrombie, on closer listen, one hears a distinct O’Leary style.  He’s more forceful and at the same time, plays with more care and delicacy.  Kaiser and Fumo work in tandem, trading off trumpet calls in a subtle way, while Cline is best when he resorts to using stones, sticks and shells in his percussive palette.  Resulting music is quite moving, without resorting to clichés or working against odds at turning the listener onto something entirely new.  The season of O’Leary is long upon us and “On The Shore” will stand as the cornerstone that pushes his music into un-chartered territories.

Bagatellen review by Derek Taylor

Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book One (CFG 002)
Intentional or not, the title of Elliott Sharp’s latest Clean Feed entry shares striking similarity to that of a Mick Barr disc released last year on Tzadik. The common ground turns out more than just titular as the two guitarists, though quite different in mien, also share highly stylized, almost mathematical approaches to composition. In Sharp’s case, the name nods to the specific nature of his axe. He’s rarely contented himself with playing pedestrian sets of frets. This time out the custom-designed musical vehicle is a Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass. Sharp describes a voluminous set of gear particulars in his notes and while most improvisers reveal too little about their preparations and intent, he nearly ends up revealing too much. The disc’s eight tracks move well beyond the shop talk and reveal their secrets solely through sound.

Sharp’s musical personality has long been resistant to reduction. His interests are wide-ranging, but like peers Henry Kaiser and Marc Ribot he also harbors a healthy preoccupation with the blues. That elemental reservoir offers ample inspiration here as well. “Through the Wormhole” references Fahey with its fast picking and knotted loping lines that falter a little through relentless repetition. “Symmetree” brings the drones, Sharp’s strings abuzz with a translucent coating of amplification and sustain. A sharply arpeggiated motif at the piece’s center curiously reminds me of Angus Young’s immortal preamble to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. The folksy “Modulant” is even more arpeggio-infested as his fingers race across strings to create a tangle of divergently pitched tones orbited by slowly decaying harmonics. On “Intrinsic Spin” the patterns are so brittle and tightly wound that it sounds as if he’s playing a banjo.

The e-bow, one of Sharp’s signature tools, makes an appearance on “Strange Attractor” turning his hollow body instrument into a resonating chamber of overlapping drones. Again, the blues feeling is heavy amidst the ferrous fret buzz. He makes brilliant use of the bass strings on “Antitop and Charm”, generating a repeating helix of slapped and picked structures that reminds me of Cooper-Moore on diddley-bow. The piece chugs along a bit too long, but it’s still an impressive display of digital dexterity and rhythmic directness. “Quaternion” unsheathes the e-bow again in a bifurcated slide drone that sounds like a 21st century answer to Eddie “One String” Jones. Sharp may share certain superficial similarities to Barr, but there’s no danger of plagiarism here.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

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

There aren’t too many bass clarinetists in jazz who concentrate solely on this instrument – it’s usually part of an arsenal of axes whose language may or may not immediately translate to one another. Adding his name to a very short list of such technicians (Denis Colin, Michel Pilz) is Jason Stein, a Chicagoan by way of New York and Montana who recently came to notoriety through his work in Bridge 61 with Ken Vandermark, drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Nate McBride. On his debut outing leading an ensemble, he’s joined by cellist/sound artist Kevin Davis (who’s worked with avant-garde banjoist Uncle Woody Sullender) and drummer Mike Pride on six varied originals.

Though like many stylists who’ve approached the bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy was a formative influence (it inspired Stein to drop the guitar), what immediately attracted this writer to his work in Bridge 61 was that he really didn’t just string together Dolphy-isms. Rather, Stein is clearly occupying his own sound-world, more approximating a field of isolated blips and worried phrases than a linear thematic extrapolation. His improvisations are clearly less about the power of statements than a personal sonic investigation.

The gritty vamp of “Miss Izzy” might seem like a good place to stretch one’s R&B chops a la Julius Hemphill. However, Stein’s inner dialogue ranges from buzzing, raspy held tones to soft harmonics and burbling squawks out of the most abstract bags of Lacy or Giuffre, before harping on bent, metallic scrapes. The logic of such a construction is clearly an inner one, certainly not beholden to a tune or an obvious exploration of a single idea – Stein is investigating what the instrument can do and the possible areas he can inhabit. That’s not to say Stein shies completely away from themes or phrases – “That’s Not a Closet” is a fast waltz with a short, repetitive figure at its outset. Stein’s woody work is at its most Dolphy-like here, but there is softness to his phrasing, a delicate picking apart of his materials that seems almost “West Coast” in its pensive, concentrated facility.

Davis and Pride are certainly more than able companions, able to outline a rhythm section as well as provide grounding and engagement for the breathiness of a sound-and-space poem like the Town & Country-esque “Caroline and Sam,” on which Pride’s vibes are featured. On the basis of A Calculus of Loss and his work in Bridge 61, Jason Stein is clearly an improviser and composer to watch.