Monthly Archives: September 2008

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Angles – Every Woman is a Tree (CF 112)
Swedish alto saxophonist-composer Martin Küchen is most known for Exploding Customer, a pianoless quartet that functions more like a rock band in intent and delivery, less in the choice of material. His latest project, Angles, is an expanded effort in more ways than just personnel. Joining Küchen here are drummer Kjell Nordeson (Exploding Customer, School Days, AALY), trumpeter Magnus Broo, vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl, bassist Johan Berthling and trombonist Mats Äleklint on a program of six originals. In parts, this sextet is somewhat reminiscent of School Days/The Thing re-imagining of Norman Howard’s music (Anagram, 2002)—fire and brimstone abound, but with a distinctly modernist, architectural sense of organization. Yet Angles moves in a way funkier and less heavy-handed than The Thing and others of its ilk.

The set begins with “Peace is Not for Us,” a bluesy dirge for low, bowed bass, biting, sharp alto and Stahl’s delicate metallic flecks. Restated with the full ensemble, a tremendous weight becomes the theme, Nordeson pulsing in shimmering waves a la Sunny Murray, opening shop for martial orchestration. Äleklint is a muscular soloist, slushy tailgate and meaty flicks of the bugle. He puts so much mass behind his statement (and such forward motion) that the rhythm section seems torn between continuing its tidal wave or letting blistering tempi glint off sliding brass. Berthling starts “Don’t Ruin Me” unaccompanied, Ståhl and Nordeson providing loosely swinging metallic accents. Küchen brings the cavalry; as a player, he has integrated a number of different hard-edged altoists to his plate—Jackie McLean, Charles Tyler, Gary Bartz, and Roscoe Mitchell all figure into his braying, sinewy vocabulary (though he name checks one less known Stateside: Swede Lars Göran Ulander).

It wouldn’t be a Küchen project without large, slinky backbeat pieces and they’re here in the second half of the program. In the whiplash-inducing bounce of “My World of Mines,” horns pile onto one another, reading the theme in different tempi in an organic and gradual assertion of statements not dissimilar to the mid-song tune calling of Ayler or Cherry. As elsewhere, Ståhl is given significant room for his muted mallet cascades and tide pools—it seems as though other members of the ensemble are curious to hear what world he’s going to inhabit, and sit out to listen. Though all of the writing is Küchen’s, this is most importantly a collective ensemble in the truest sense of the word. Every Woman is a Tree is not only as solid a slice of contemporary Scandinavian free jazz as one could hope for—it’s rhythmic as all get-out and accessibly infectious.

All About Jazz review by Dean Christesen

Fight the Big Bull – Dying Will Be Easy (CF 108)
Fight the Big Bull’s debut record begins darkly, with a fear brooding in the growl of a distorted trombone, unsettling bass and haunting shakers. It ends in a similar, yet tweaked tone, with an epic chorus making way for one last statement of defeat (or is it victory?). Amidst the rest of the work emerges a big band heavy on the slop—like jazz found in the back woods, blues from dirt road nomads and hymns from the swamps of the bayou. But the band executes precisely from the ink on the score, as if the sounds were directly out of guitarist and bandleader Matt White’s mind.
His creations are arranged for the nonet—an array of horns, bass, drums and percussion which are often interchangeable terms—and a subtly placed, often absent guitar. Within the fertile harmonies and heart-wrenching melodies lie plenty of holes to fill for the improvisationally gifted nine.

“In Jarama Valley” has the soul of a blues with grit. As instruments foreshadow the impending onslaught, a free-for-all soon clicks into the eye of the storm when saxophonist J.C. Kuhl recites newly felt urges to a captive rhythm section. As the orchestration grows with new parts and canonly echoes, the instruments fall apart into a vehement hurricane. White’s guitar stands alone before others join to lament.

Drummer Pinson Chanselle and percussionist Brian Jones leave their marks on found metals and skins on “Grizzly Bear,” in a short battle scene. Bassist Cameron Ralston joins to reap the rewards of the victor, playing the claves and other percussion. After a quick recapitulation of the theme, trombonist Bryan Hooten rips into the 8-bar blues with undying intensity.

“November 25th” acts as an anthem to what could be considered a well-conceptualized album. Spanish flavor is abundant in a flamenco rumba-esque trumpet solo from Bob Miller, backed by handclaps and bass. Much of the music on the album lends itself to Spanish semblance, and images of conquistadors and toreros are easily evoked from the group’s music.

Originally packaged independently by the band as an EP, Dying Will Be Easy is short, but not regrettably short. The four dramatic pieces give significant room for the musicians to stretch out, which they seize with a vigor that is sure to slay any beast.

All About Jazz Italy review by Libero Farnè

Mark O’Leary – On the Shore (CF 091)
Dopo collaborazioni con Paul Bley, De Johnette ed altri, negli ultimi tre anni il chitarrista irlandese Mark O’Leary ha autoprodotto una quindicina di CD a suo nome, per la Clean Feed, la Ayler e soprattutto la Leo. Il che mi fa presupporre che egli abbia deciso di investire energie e denaro in una sistematica e ambiziosa operazione di autopromozione, dando un’immagine il più possibile completa e sfaccettata della sua ampia visione estetica e delle sue capacità di compositore, organizzatore e solista. Tanto più che, soprattutto nell’intrecciare trii solidi ed equilibrati, ha avuto l’accortezza di contornarsi di volta in volta di musicisti più quotati ed esperti di lui: Mat Maneri (Self-Luminous) e Matthew Shipp (Chamber Trio), Tomasz Stanko e Billy Hart, Uri Caine e Ben Perowsky (Closure), Steve Swallow e Pierre Favre (Awakening), Cuong Vu e Tom Rainey (Waiting} oppure Eyvind Kang e Dylan Van Der Schyff Zemlya)… Sta di fatto che questa ingente produzione discografica ci rivela un personaggio di talento, dotato di un’ottima tecnica, spinto da un mirato eclettismo ad affrontare progetti differenziati, di musica ora totalmente improvvisata, ora attentamente preordinata.
La musica di On the Shore, composta dal chitarrista ed incisa nell’ottobre 2003 in California, evolve con molta sapienza attraverso varie atmosfere. “Staring at the Sun” e “Point Sketch” sono i brani più movimentati, ritmicamente marcati, ed il leader emerge con assoli sorprendenti per velocità e piglio deciso. Gli altri episodi del CD sono circoscritti in suggestioni più pacate, modulate in una lenta meditazione, ora ieratica e quasi liturgica, ora onirica ed evanescente.

Indubbiamente O’Leary tiene sempre in pugno la situazione ed è il responsabile del buon risultato complessivo. I tre partner si attengono alle sue direttive, somministrando cadenze, contrappunti e colori. Jeff Kaiser e John Fumo appartengono a quella genìa di trombettisti attuali, misurati e intimisti, avviata in America da personaggi come Ron Miles, Cuong Vu ed altri. Alex Cline si conferma maestro di una percussione raziocinante, tenuta sotto controllo anche nei momenti di maggiore energia.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)
Mauger brings together the trio of drummer Gerry Hemingway, bassist Mark Dresser and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (for his first Clean Feed session) for eight original compositions. Mahanthappa is noted for his highly “structuralist” work, some of it through-composed, with figures like pianist Vijay Iyer and altoist Steve Lehman. Naturally, bringing him into a situation with Hemingway and Dresser loosens things up considerably; though of a different stripe, they are also rigorous improvising composers. The Beautiful Enabler runs the gamut from rousing free bop to pensive textural explorations, and like many sessions with this instrumentation, it allows a particularly naked view of the range of the horn player’s approach.

The opening “Acuppa” is tart, rousing heave-ho swing, opening with gentle purrs and tonal exploration before the three settle into a jounce, Mahanthappa picking apart rows of notes in between the tune’s down-home rondo. The way the altoist approaches the material, stretching out on particulates and harping upon fragments with measured intensity until they’re exhausted is reminiscent of Braxton soloing on “Ramblin’.” The album’s lone collective improvisation, “Bearings,” allows even more introspection on Mahanthappa—as much as he obsesses on phrases or series of notes, he doesn’t overuse this tactic. Rather, he moves with near objectivity through different motives, exploring their nuances yet not exhausting them. It’s a different sort of detail and precision than one would find in peers like Lehman, and contrasts heavily with the earthy mass of Dresser’s ponticello bowing and Hemingway’s own dissections of time and phrase.

On “Intone,” Mahanthappa’s bent notes and circular breathing allow him to channel a South Asian double-reed instrument and a hint of Lee Konitz at the same time, as though the latter were charming his way through tonal molasses at an easy lope. All this is not to say that Mauger are entirely a heady brew; quite the opposite, it’s a gas to listen to Mahanthappa’s instantaneous mazes and simultaneously be carried along by the knotty waves of Dresser and Hemingway. The Beautiful Enabler is an extremely rewarding listen, and alongside a number of alto-bass-drums trios released this year by Clean Feed, Mauger shows how varied a single approach to instrumentation can be.

Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Conference Call – Poetry In Motion (CF 118)
Pianist-composer Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist-composer Joe Fonda have been working together for nearly two decades in various aggregations; two of the most regular have been the Fonda/Stevens Group and Conference Call. The latter ensemble, active for the past ten years, joins the pair with German reedman Gebhard Ullmann and drummer George Schuller (other occupants of that chair have included Gerry Hemingway, Han Bennink and Matt Wilson). It’s an appropriate name for a group with two New Yorkers, another from Tennessee, and one from Berlin, though at this point they’re hardly the only regularly active band with an interstate or intercontinental cast. Featuring seven titles, Poetry In Motion is their fifth release and first for Clean Feed.

Fonda’s arco glisses pierce the martial pounding of Ullmann’s “The Shining Star,” Stevens’ left hand weighted and right arcing outward as Schuller hangs in midair. Ullmann’s an alternately throaty and disarmingly clean player, weaving with cloudy precision through his self-penned dusk and bounce. Even as he yelps and pesters with chewed phrases, there’s quick and almost scholarly fluidity around fire-music tenor phrasing, culminating in a brief cornering with Fonda before the tune dissipates. The title piece, penned by Stevens, finds the composer and Ullmann’s bass clarinet exploring filmic East-European corners and slinking their way around in woody darts, Fonda and Stevens subtly hacking at those very same curves. As the quartet opens up, Stevens’ runs become fractured and pointillist, stop-start jabs beside a litany of post-Out To Lunch reed squawk. Schuller’s “Back To School” recalls Burton Greene’s recent re-explorations of Bartok (as well as some of Carla Bley’s Liberation Music writing), and perhaps not coincidentally, Schuller has recorded with Greene for CIMP. The theme seems built for Ullmann, whose brightened edges match Stevens’ poise, and it isn’t until his solo spot two minutes in that dirt gets under the fingernails. It is here that the saxophonist seems the most unbridled, blowing without a hint of slickness. The rhythm section is extraordinarily lyrical, Stevens positively lush in his solo as he’s fleshed out by bells and surly pluck. When four musician-composers with this level of technique and creativity get together, it’s sure to bring quality playing, but the most interesting moments on Poetry In Motion occur when the quartet forgets what they know and just do.

Brain Dead Eternity review by Massimo Ricci

ANTHONY BRAXTON / JOE MORRIS – Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 
The current picture of the world of improvisation shows multitudes of different perspectives, several stimulating currents, an abundant batch of cardsharpers in the foreground and those who inevitably get classified among the holy cows, although not always due to effective artistic merits. Yet Anthony Braxton – either a name that puts in awe due to his mercurial mind and forward-looking musical thought, or a “too difficult” musician to be “avoided at any cost” – manages to escape expectations, except one: everything he does unloads in fact a burden of consequence on the audience’s shoulders, like it (aesthetically) or not. This can’t possibly be denied, if not by utter ignorance.

When Braxton decided to publish the entire session that he and guitarist Joe Morris recorded on July 30 and 31st in the Crowell Auditorium of the Wesleyan University, both artists were positively conscious of the historic importance of this issue. The saxophonist has expressed a wish for utilizing this music “as a way of talking about composition in time and mutable space” to his students in the future. That says a lot of this duo’s character, its main feature evidently being a stunning stability, a blend of liberated opinion and structured development of concepts that the discerning listener can unmistakably compare to fresh water springing from under a mountain rock bottled in beautiful crystal profiles. This is purity of intents, also known as “creativity at the uppermost level”, allowing unpredictable events to be instantly digested, reshaped and exposed without the gloss of a formula, or the ennui born from typical “jazz progressions”.

Morris himself ranks among the guitarists – let’s just say “players”, mental and corporeal boundaries extending well over the sheer mechanics of the six strings – destined to puzzle many addressees, principally those used to standard reckoning (pun intended). In those hands the instrument becomes the proverbial means to an end, not necessarily a method to portray virtuosity (which, in this context, would be all the more futile despite the obviously superior technical expertise of the participants). There are parts of the improvisations in which we seem to hear Braxton’s now graceful, then raucous flurries accompanied by African mbira patterns rather than guitar arpeggios; elsewhere, clustered chords and scarcely malleable phrases are bound to the sense of frustration that a number of non-sympathetic listeners will surely experience (“What’s that? No diminished 7th? Where’s the augmented 5th?”). The man, supposedly, doesn’t care a iota. No need to refurbish chops and licks when all’s needed is chainless imagination and a correct brain architecture.

The reciprocal respect between the principals is palpable, regardless of a noticeable dissimilarity: Braxton utilizes seven saxophones (for the archivists: Eb sopranino, Bb soprano, alto, C melody, baritone, bass and contrabass) versus Morris’ solitary axe. The former’s insightful cleverness and, for want of a better word, culture is manifestly perceptible from the manner in which he wraps, cuddles and caresses the latter’s lexicon, the existent difference in terms of dynamics notwithstanding; a bass sax is enough to make a living room’s silverware jingle quite a bit, you know. But this is not a one-way transaction of course: both suggest and listen to the echoing modification of their very proposition, mutual skill and responsiveness intertwined in a prolonged conversation whose fecundity is treasured from the first note to the last. Four hours streaming without problems, many highlights to relish all over the four discs: as a hypothetical symbol, the quiet dialogue starting around minute 15 of the second could be perfect. “Lyrically inquisitive” is probably an appropriate description. Don’t think for a minute that it’s all flowers, though: when the going gets tough, roses morph into corrosive thistles. Still gorgeous, acutely stinging, ever treacherous for the uninformed, ballad-only “late-coming aficionado”.

Maybe the most pertinent observation – especially when thinking of personal communication being at an all-time low nowadays, in the face of myriads of instruments helpful to the contrary – came from my wife, who synthesized the whole with the following words: “these guys are definitely talking”. Indeed they are, yet detecting the substance of what’s being expressed falls exclusively on us.

All About Jazz review by Carla Cornejo

Fight the Big Bull – Dying will be Easy (CF 108)

Fight the Big Bull describes itself on MySpace as “champions of curiosity”. This candid qualifier is doubly introspective because it denotes both the whimsy and the intellectual maturity of their latest recording Dying Will Be Easy. The Richmond-based nonet, who played at Issue Project Room Aug. 6th, is led by guitarist Matt White, who also composed the album’s four tracks, which span a little more than half an hour. It is a wholly remarkable feat that an album with so few tracks can be so captivating. “November 25th” is meat-and-potatoes jazz, smoky and thick in sonic bands with slinky bass bursts that make up its resonating backbone. “Grizzly Bear” shows off the glittery appeal of old-time showmanship, with an aggressive inter-band sonic throwdown. It begins with a celebratory ferociousness and tempers down to a clever, if long, connector until the next climax. This connector, marked by a maniacal tippity-tap of the drums, teases listeners into anticipation. Notes run into each other in a playful collision that results in a tiny explosion that is smoothed, but encouraged, by the bass line. “In Jarama Valley” is dignified and heartbreaking, a mellifluous treat that, reflecting an admirable sense of self-awareness and good judgment, is almost twice as long as the preceding two tracks. It quickly gives way to a conversation among instruments resulting in a purely synchronic fusing of notes. But once the listener has settled in, accepting every note as organic and inevitable, a violent surge of fury penetrates the track and infects the song, threatening any notion about its supposed mood and tempo being mournful. It sprints to a finish, suddenly but triumphantly. There are no attention-grabbing gimmicks here. Nothing is irrational, abstract to the point of being confusing or egalitarian to the point of being archaic. In the pursuit of being provocative, many musicians obsess about the art and forget about the matter. Not so with Fight the Big Bull. White is obviously a skilled guitarist, but it is his vision as a composer and orchestrator that makes the record refreshingly original and, at many points, breathtaking.

Jazzreview review by Dave Wayne

Joe Fiedler Trio – The Crab (CF 092)
You see a lot of jazz trio recordings with either piano, guitar, or saxophone accompanied by bass and drums. A trombone-led trio recording really stands out, simply by virtue of the relatively unusual lead instrument. The Joe Fiedler Trio proves that, in the right hands (and on the right set of lips), the trombone is an extremely expressive, supremely malleable instrument that is capable of conveying every bit as much emotion and virtuosity as a saxophone, guitar or piano. The Crab is this trio’s second recording – the first being a collection of tunes written by the late great German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. To be a trombonist and to do an all-Mangelsdorff tribute CD is akin to a tenor saxophonist doing an all-Coltrane tribute CD. Joe Fiedler is one of only a few trombonists I know of who could successfully pull off such a venture – he has the chops, the knowledge, the understanding, and the sheer audacity needed to do it. The Crab, a collection of Fiedler originals, is no less audacious and ambitious.

The mega-talented rhythm duo of drummer Michael Sarin and bassist John Hebert bring each of Fiedler’s sharp, witty compositions to life. Sarin – whom I know from his work with the late Thomas Chapin, Mario Pavone, Dave Douglas, Drew Gress, and many others – is simply masterful throughout The Crab. He deftly manages the extreme tempo changes in ‘Don’t Impede The Stream,’ lays down some supremely quirky funk on ‘Trout Stream,’ and plays a Second Line-inspired rhythm like a New Orleans native on ‘Jessie’s Little Freakout.’ I especially admired his super-dexterous, extremely tasty brush work on ‘Split Tone.’ Hebert is right there with Sarin throughout, all the while providing intelligent and fascinating tonal counterpoint to the leader’s trombone. He solos, at least briefly, on nearly every tune and proves that he is one of those rare bassists – like John Lindberg, Dave Friesen, and Fred Hopkins – who can groove a rhythm section and really shine in the lead role.

Fiedler’s tunes are a varied lot – most of his pieces are multi-sectioned, with multiple themes stated over restlessly shifting rhythms, but they have an irrepressible humor, warmth, and looseness about them as well. The title track starts out with Fiedler blowing a choppy ostinato that Hebert picks up in time for Fiedler to play the brief multiphonic-rich head. The tempo slows down somewhat for a reflective, almost free-ish improv section that gradually picks up steam as the rhythm section intensifies underneath Fiedler’s spiraling, climbing solo. Fiedler’s trombone multiphonics also figure prominently in ‘For Albert’ – an elegaic, almost skeletal ballad dedicated to Albert Mangelsdorff, the man who pioneered the use of multiphonics for low brass instruments. Here, Fiedler solos sweetly, almost resignedly, over Sarin’s near-magical drumming – seamlessly moving from brushes to mallets to sticks and back. ‘A Frankfurter in Caracas,’ possibly another Mangelsdorff tribute, is a mostly uptempo romp that refers to Latin rhythms without being a ‘Latin jazz’ tune. At the same time – upon hearing this tune, I wasn’t surprised to find out that Fiedler also plays in a Captain Beefheart tribute band!

The Crab is certainly one of the best jazz trio CDs I’ve heard this year – a must-buy for anyone interested in the state-of-the-art in jazz trombone. Fiedler’s stylistic breadth, attractive tunes, great playing, and super-talented backing are sure to please any fan of modern jazz.

Dusted Magazine review by Jason Bivins

Anthony Braxton / Joe Morris – Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (CF 100)
Portugal’s Clean Feed has rapidly become one of the finest labels documenting jazz and improvised music at the intersection of what once was called NY Downtown music, the lineage of 1970s loft jazz, and European free improvisation. For its 100th release, they’ve dropped a real dilly: a four-disc summit meeting between Anthony Braxton and guitarist Joe Morris.

How to unpack a review like this? How to find a way into four hour-long improvisations (Braxton’s favored format currently, for which he actually uses a good old hourglass)? Duo improvs are some of the hardest, the most naked, the most challenging in which to sustain ideas without avoiding mere chattiness. It depends not only on compelling instrumental languages, but also on contrast, meaningful discourse, and provocation.

Braxton has recorded a vast number of duos over the years, from the little known (with pianist Giorgio Gaslini) to the widely celebrated (his stellar performances with Max Roach). Whether these sessions have involved improvisations exclusively or have feasted on Braxton’s compositions (or even standards), it’s long struck me that the best of them (with Roach, with Derek Bailey, with Richard Teitelbaum) have succeeded to the extent that they aren’t simply Braxton music. Those players who are strong enough, distinctive enough to shake the great man from his singularly obsessive musical focus are the ones capable of turning in great duos.

The quick judgment here is that Morris is up to that level, on each of these counts. In fact, it’s amazing how resourceful he is. Whereas Braxton can change mood and tone simply by pulling out one of his dozens of horns, one of the things I’ve always loved about Morris – and he remains one of my favorite guitarists – is how gifted he is with touch, attack, articulation and so forth. The concentration it takes to play in this way, and to sculpt such careful, harmonically interesting lines over such lengths is exceedingly impressive.

In some sense, it’s a shame not to hear Morris tackle some of Braxton’s charts, but that’s a small knock since their interactions are so tart, so fresh, and filled with surprise. The guitarist’s clean style is perfectly matched with Braxton’s reeds (for those keep score at home, he brought the following to this music: sopranino, soprano, alto, C-melody, baritone, bass, and contrabass). With such resourceful musical personalities and such wide imaginations, each hour ends up being packed to the gills with good moments (and of course some inevitable dull spots). The best moments are when the two are either shaken out of their comfort zone (the wisps of smoke that open the first piece or the final disc’s lovely, dark-hued ballad) or when they thoroughly own their more customary styles and approaches (spiky intervallic work from both players throughout, high gear chromatic passages, the honking elephantine grooves that issue forth regularly). But this isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of other excellent moments that fall outside this scheme. Indeed, the two seem particularly well suited to long passages for rhythmic variations.

Braxton and Morris really do play well together, with tough and meaningful contrast where others might coast on tedious mimesis. They leave just enough space for individual statements, and they cool things out just often enough with some reflective balladeering. Of course with so much music, in this particular format, things get desultory at times. After all, a mini-box with four hour-long improvisations is not the kind of thing even an ardent Braxophile like me will pull from the shelf too often. And again, I can’t help wishing that they’d varied the release by including two discs with shorter pieces. But this is the release we’ve got. And despite some longeurs, this is a bracing document of two superb improvisers.

All About Jazz review by Mark Corroto

Every Woman Is A Tree – Angles (CF 112)
Good can triumph over evil. It’s just that evil is just so well organized by the political parties, oil corporations, and media conglomerates that the voice of dissent is often overshadowed. Like Woody Guthrie or Charles Mingus utilizing music to protest the sins of their time, today, bubbling in between the cracks of popular culture is the requisite dissent to war, racism, nazism, and imperialistic hate. Enter the Scandinavian sextet Angles with a true gem of a live recording.

All six tracks were written by saxophonist Martin Küchen, who also penned the liner notes which explain the wordless compositions. Küchen, a member of Exploding Customer with Kjell Nordeson, plays with a such a searing power, there is no need for lyrics to explain his protest music. This post-bop approach is born from the spirit of Mingus. The players, trumpeter Magnus Broo and drummer Kjell Nordeson (AALY Trio), are certainly familiar to listeners and fans of Chicagoan Ken Vandermark’s projects and both can be heard on the Atomic/School Days session Distil (Okka).

The disc opens with the processional “Peace Is Not For Us” with Nordeson rolling thunder beneath the marching lines of Berthling’s bass. Run! The troops are coming! is the ominous feel as Mats Äleklint’s trombone covers the battleground. “My World of Mines” marches also with a funky groove, matched by some tight horn arrangements. When the piece breaks into solos, it’s Mattias Ståhl’s vibraphone that tears through a powerful statement, enough so, to quiet his playing partners. The Eastern feel of “The Indispensable Warlords” is a great vehicle for Küchen’s muscular saxophone to be heard. Part wail and part siren, he rivets your ears to his call. The title track doubles the intensity, not only with a relentless African groove, but with more scorching solos.