Monthly Archives: November 2008

Dusted Magazine review by Derek Taylor


Joe Morris & Barre Phillips – Elm City Duets (CF 130)
Predating the pivotal Four Improvisations with Anthony Braxton by a year, Elm City Duets 2006 documents guitarist Joe Morris in equally auspicious company with a doyen of improvisation. Barre Phillips’ credentials go back to the 1960s as a pioneer in extended techniques on the bull fiddle. His sphere of influence remains expansive, having at least peripheral impact on Morris’ own investigations on the instrument. Here, Morris sticks to his other axe. Though mainly known for a singular single-note style, Morris has been morphing his guitar into facsimiles of other sound implements since at least as early as the “Mnemonic Device” series on Flip and Spike (1992). That chameleonic ability is in full effect in this context. There’s also a direct line drawn to an earlier collaboration in Morris’ discography, Invisible Weave on the long defunct No More imprint that paired him with William Parker. On that date, Morris played electric. Here, it’s all acoustic and that decision sharpens the dry, sometimes stark flavor of the improvised interplay.
“Ninth Square” builds from an abrasive chatter of scraped and sawed strings in mapping a playing field of wide dynamics. Morris evinces amazing arco control, sounding like a metallic violin and holding his own with the master Phillips, who plays an instrument inherently conducive to it. The sardonically-titled “Normal Stuff” has lots of rubbing friction and knocking patter to yield the semblance of industrial machinery. These texture-oriented pieces alternate with more melodically-grounded ventures, like the disc’s delicate centerpiece “June Song,” where Phillips warmly articulates pizzicato contrasts with Morris’ ringing string harmonics that take on resonant properties akin to Gamelan bowls. With “Spirals,” it’s the reverse; Morris picks bright note parcels against the more plangent constructions of Phillips’ pumice-grinding arco. “Translate” measures frequent pauses between collective passages with Morris’ customary tightly-packed clusters unwound to better reveal constituents.

“Recite” turns attention to the familiar elliptic patterns that have been part of Morris’ vernacular for decades. Phillips plumbs the spaces between the brittle progressions with bulbous pizzicato, the elasticity of his plucks gleaning full advantage of the room’s acoustics and natural sound decay. Even the bassist’s breathing is audible in the quieter miniature moments. On “Saved Stones,” Morris’ blue notes pile up like bent bottle caps, vested with similarly corrugated edges. Phillips responds with a barrage of bridge-slapping and low buzzing. Only in the closing minutes of the lengthy and otherwise action-packed finale “Got Into Some Things” do the two seem slightly uncertain as to direction, ultimately landing with more of a resigned sigh than emphatic shout. While nothing as yet in the guitarist’s catalog can match the magnitude of the Braxton set, this disc is a good companion in illustrating the heights kindred improvisers can scale in tandem.

4 Corners Iberian Tour

Photo by Rodrigo Amado

November 25th – Apolo, Barcelona, Spain 21:30h
November 26th – San Juan Evangelista, Madrid, Spain 21:00h
November 27th – CCC Caldas da Raínha, Portugal 21:30
November 28th – Culturgest, Lisbon, Portugal 21:30

November 29th – CAP Portalegre, Portugal 21:30
November 30th – Casa da Música, Porto, Portugal 22:00

Tour promtoted by Arco Y Flecha and Clean Feed.
Special thanks to Olga Abalos.

All About Jazz review by Wilbur MacKenzie


Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)
Bob and Ellen Weller – Point of Contact (Circumvention Music)
In the few years since his departure from daily life in New York, bassist Mark Dresser’s activities have been very well documented. Two new discs feature him in trio format, one with East Coast musicians, including longtime partner drummer Gerry Hemingway, and the other with fellow San Diego improvisers.

Mauger is a collective trio comprised of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dresser and Hemingway. Dresser and Hemingway have a 30-year history, having first worked together in the late ’70s and most notably in the quartet Anthony Braxton led from the mid ’80s until the early ’90s, with Marilyn Crispell on piano. In terms of energy level and musicianship, The Beautiful Enabler shares much with that quartet. The most striking characteristic is the players’ ability to make complex music grounded in spontaneity. All three members brought challenging compositions to this project, but the skillfully executed ink also serves as a setup for the stunning pyrotechnics that the trio produce in performance.

The opening track is Hemingway’s “Acuppa” and the lead-in is a melodic bassline around which the rest of the trio wraps fragmented melodic and textural constructs, finally arriving at a robust swing feel for Mahanthappa’s solo. The latter’s explorations into alternate fingerings are the focal point on his piece “Intone,” with some swirling microtonality that sets up the ensuing abstract ensemble interactions. There are characteristics of the Dresser-penned title track that recall contemporary chamber music, with a form that features sections of notated material interspersed between open improvisation. Dresser and Hemingway are experts at integrating total freedom with difficult notated material and this provides a different environment for Mahanthappa’s work, which usually involves compositions that have more structured improvisations. Nonetheless, the trio functions with a profoundly deep level of interaction.

Point of Contact features the husband-and-wife duo of Bob and Ellen Weller, who have operated together in many contexts, often with members of the San Diego-based Trummerflora Collective. With Ellen on a variety of woodwinds and Bob using unlikely string preparations inside the piano, the timbral palette is quite vast throughout the record and the sensitivity of the interaction is meaningful and engaging. The influence of Paul Bley and Jimmy Giuffre is often apparent, with a subdued patience that brings a measured pace, though contrasting tempi and radical shifts in density await around every corner. The tracks that include Dresser expand the sonic and rhythmic spectrum, though the two Wellers do a wonderful job of creating rhythmic drive and textural intrigue on the duo and solo cuts. Ellen’s flute playing is colorful, with unexpected turns and vocalizations on the solo track “Mandlebrot” and the duo with Dresser, “Cassini Huygens”. “Concatenation” is a trio track with a great groove from clarinet and bass and noisy string rumblings and cascading dissonances from the piano. On “Aftermath,” the prepared piano makes for some highly engaging flurries of sound, contrasting with the cool tone of the flute.

Squid’s Ear review by Jeph Jerman


Memorize The Sky – In Former Times (CF 122)  
Matt Bauder (reeds), Zach Wallace (double bass) and Aaron Siegel (percussion) have been performing and recording as Memorize The Sky for about a decade, and their music has the sense of refinement such longevity can bring. It is a music of carefully placed “notes” and “sounds” wherein both notions become blurred. It drifts slowly, but not aimlessly, and it is often difficult to tell just what the source of some sounds is.

After a low-key opening of buzz-rolled snare and rising/falling tones, a slight rhythmic suggestion like a spoked wheel turning is overlaid with slight melody, breath sounds and what could be water. The piece grows seemingly of it’s own accord.

All of the untitled tracks on this disc were recorded live in Austria, but very little information about them is given. I am assuming these gentlemen are improvising, and if so the restraint displayed in these five untitled tracks is admirable. The second piece begins with plucked bass notes and scrabbly drumhead scratchings, joined eventually by popping notes from tenor sax. The interplay is slowly intensified but never reaches fever-pitch, more like smeared free jazz, the recollection of a band through the haze of memory. The third piece has high-pitched harmonics and metallic ringing with flutter-key overblowing, each player’s sounds raising and sinking like waves. It has a resemblance to electronic music in its modus of sonic layering, but with acoustic instruments… and no electronic effects that I can discern. Toward the end of the piece one is reminded of Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians’ in the timbre and quick bowing of the bass; the billowing chords here are especially beautiful.

The final offering definitely resembles a song, like an old ballad played exceedingly slowly, and it gives the whole disc a sense of moving toward this, as if the players were creeping ever so glacially toward a theme, which is stated briefly and then it’s gone. Not an after-thought, but a culmination.

All About Jazz review by Greg Camphire


Michael Dessen Trio – Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)
Between Shadow and Space is an aptly named release from trombonist and computer manipulator Michael Dessen’s trio, which creates oblique and evasive soundscapes that can’t be easily categorized. As Dessen writes in the album’s liner notes, “the past half century has produced a staggering array of improvisational music…my music draws energy from overlapping musical communities and histories.”

Over the course of this record’s duration, the music has points of reference such as European musique concrete as well as languages heard among the AACM and M-Base movements; not to mention the unique Warp Records brand of electronica represented by artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre. These are just several strategies that the Dessen Trio employs as they move outside the traditional jazz lineage, while retaining a sense of rhythmic momentum that may well fit under a more expansive definition of swing.
With bassist Christopher Tordini and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey on board, the band is capable of switching it up from skittering, broken-up densities of notes (“Duo Improvisation”) to their own brand of prickly funk (“Anthesis”). Perhaps inspired by George Lewis’ pioneering interface of trombone and electronics to frame improvisation as a method of intellectual inquiry, the group utilizes synthesized textures and squiggly percussion to create moody, mysterious sound collages like “Chocolate Geometry” and “Granulorum.”
There seems to be a minimal amount of melodic content strewn across the album, but the slack is picked up by extraneous computer-generated effects and bursts of athletic, brainy virtuosity. Among the more accessible tracks is “Restless Years,” established by Tordini’s groove-heavy yet angular bass ostinato, from which Sorey extrapolates a wealth of fractured ideas.
Overall, this is gestural music, with its own obscured inner logic and drama. The closing “Water Seeks,” dedicated to the passing of Alice Coltrane, is a sort of space-age tone poem; a shimmering, insect-like swarm of cymbals, bowed bass, muted trombone and the metallic drone of electronics. It leaves a ghostly of question marks as the album ends.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins


Daniel Levin Trio – Fuhuffah (CF 129)
Fuhuffah is a departure of sorts for cellist Daniel Levin. His fourth recording as a leader dispenses with the chamber oriented instrumentation of his regular quartet (with bass, trumpet and vibraphone), in favor of a more conventional line-up. Accompanied by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Gerald Cleaver, Levin leads his trio through six original and one traditional tune that ebb and flow with previously untapped vigor.

Encapsulating a broad range of dynamics, this session occasionally veers into the somber atmospheres of Levin’s quartet albums while pushing further into vivacious rhythmic territory. The propulsive bass patterns of Flaten and the lively percussive interjections of Cleaver provide ample forward momentum, yet there is no shortage of tonal subtlety. Levin and Flaten utilize every string technique available to them, plucking and bowing with unfettered resolve, while Cleaver demonstrates sublime nuance, using both sticks and brushes with dexterous finesse.

Like a warning shot, Levin opens the album’s title track with a harsh descending motif that plummets into a thicket of dissonant intervals and jagged angles constructed from fervid double stops, bright pizzicato and strident harmonics, while Flaten’s hyperkinetic bass chases Cleaver’s restless trap set through a labyrinthine maze.

“Shape” is an exceptional study in rhythm; a slinky swinger driven by a cool, grooving bass line and a funky, insistent hi-hat that fuels a slew of sonorous cadences from the leader, as well as a lyrical closing statement from Flaten. “Metaphor” finds Levin embarking on a series of plangent excursions supported by Cleaver’s discerning cymbal accents and Flaten’s hypnotic bass ostinato.

Brimming with emotional catharsis, the traditional tune “Hangman” is delivered as a haunting dirge. Levin’s strident bowing invokes the tune’s mordant lyrics with heartrending intensity. “Woods” is equally fervent; Levin and Flaten weave sinuous arco phrases into resonant overtones.

Delving into free territory, “Open” showcases the trio in a texturally rich pointillist improvisation, while “Wiggle” closes the album with a passionate tribute to saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. Negotiating harsh angles at a breakneck tempo, Levin bows with manic virtuosity while Flaten and Cleaver push relentlessly forward, each taking individual solo statements in turn.

A vibrant and assertive detour from his usual chamber oriented quartet offerings, Fuhuffah offers another facet of Levin’s growing abilities as an improviser and writer of note.

Free Jazz review by Stef


Sean Conly – Re-Action (CF 124)
It takes guts to invite reputed musicians such as Pheeroan akLaff (drums) and Tony Malaby (sax) for a debut album, because they have created their own approach to music over the years. Add the second tenor of Michaël Attias to that, and you can only admire bassist Sean Conly to make this musical project really his own. He has a composing style which is very coherent : very rhythmic and often angular themes with stops and starts for dramatic effect. Yet on the other hand, he gives his band members sufficient space to work around the compositions, and it is in listening to the improvisations that you start to understand why he selected them. Not only because they are good, but because they understand Conly’s musical approach without relinquishing their own style, especially Attias and Malaby fit well together, both free and sensitive players, stylists who know how to express emotions, with akLaff using his incredible wealth of ideas and experience to provide the necessary depth and contrast. The compositions are accessible without being mainstream, with long unison themes, and relatively controlled improvisations. On “Concrete Garden”, ambient sounds are used, with some post-production, and it is the most overt sign of rock influences on the album, but they are present throughout the pieces, giving a powerful drive to the music, as on “Ulterior Motives”, an uptempo rocker with a great theme and some wild soloing. The same approach is to be heard on the dramatic “Saitta”, a real tension-builder, as is “Suburban Angst”. Yet the music is as good on the slower pieces, as on “Luminiferous Ether”, an duo improvisation between Conly and Attias, or “Refutable”, allowing the saxes their full sensitive expressivity. This latter track is a beauty of restrained emotional power, with the two saxes circling around each other, tentatively, sensitively, played over a repetitive bass vamp and some subtle accentuating on the drums. And that’s possibly Conly’s strongest achievement : to make the whole band perform great music, with lots of variations, but it’s primarily on the slowest pieces that the best results are achieved, possibly because of none of these pieces have clear melodic themes, and hence free-er in their concept. But again, it’s without a doubt the variation that makes this album a great piece of music. And apart from being a good composer and band-leader, Conly is a great bass player too. We want more.

Free Jazz review by Stef


Townhouse Orchestra – Belleville (CF 125)
This is the kind of chemical lab environment situation : put Evan Parker on tenor saxophone in a test tube, together with Scandinavia’s power rhythm section, consisting of Sten Sandell on piano, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, then wait and see what happens. From a chemical reaction perspective, actually the strangest thing happens : you don’t need to add energy (heat, electricity, movement, …) before something takes place. Before you know it, the four start heating up, exchanging molecules and atoms, sizzling, boiling, smoking, splashing in all directions, overflowing at times, then, after lots of heat dissipation, the whole coagulated thing starts cooling down and desintegrating again, into a sax solo, a bass solo, some plucked piano strings, the odd cymbal clash, for some odd slow intermingling of colors and lines, mixing without energy, with a flash here and there, yet cooling down into an almost absolute calm. All jokes aside, it is in this superb variation of subtle sensitive and intimate moods which evolve into powerful expansive outbursts and then back again, that this music gets its unbelievable vitality. But there is more, the way these four musicians move together into the same musical direction is at times hard to grasp, especially because they move into uncommon regions, where sensitive hesitation and assertiveness reign together, creating interesting dialogues and, well, great and very coherent music. The two lengthy pieces, each 45 minutes long, allow for the musicians to take their time to create and expand.

Downbeat review by Bill Shoemaker


Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)
Rudresh Mahanthappa has a plangent, hardedged alto saxophone sound, one that is made more searing by hard-hitting, knotty themes that have been his stock in trade on his own recordings and those with his most empathetic collaborator, Vijay Iyer. If there is any criticism that could be levelled at the saxophonist’s recordings to date, it is their emphasis on complexity, albeit in the service of an incisive cultural critique. These two recordings (Mahanthappa’s “Kinsmen” review doesn’t appear below) flesh out crucial aspects of Mahanthappa’s sensibility, leaving one with a fuller picture of a musician on a threshold of major artist status.

Bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway write demanding pieces, but they also pen tunes conducive to expansive, convivial blowing like the four they include on “The Beautiful Enabler”. With more than thirty years experience playing together in a multitude of settings, they are one of the most telepathic bass-drums tandems active today. But, far from being the odd man out, Mahanthappa plays like he spent years in the shed with them. His “I’ll See You When I Get There” benefits greatly from Dresser’s furious arco and Hemingway’s shadowing phrases  and abrupt groundswells, while the plaint of “Intone” is constantly pulled by their undercurrents. Throughout the album, Mahanthappa sounds like he has at least a decade more experience than he actually does, a great measure of the energy and mutual support created on Mauger’s sterling debut.

All About Jazz review by Martin Longley


Kirk Knuffke Quartet – Bigwig (CF 107)
Trumpeter Kirk Knuffke has been living in Brooklyn for three years, originally hailing from Denver. Once arriving, he set about forming a trio, but then met up with trombonist Brian Drye and wisely decided to expand into quartet form. The combo’s lineup is completed by bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis. As a debut disc (or as any kind of album) Big Wig is a crucial work. Knuffke wrote all of its tunes, daggering into just the right juncture between hurtling-together themes and broken-up chaos. His chief compositional influence must surely be Steve Lacy, with a marked predilection for perambulatory bouts of optimism, cheerfully rolling, but always gripped with a nervy tension.

On the opening “Enough,” Knuffke is curt and impatient against Radding’s grimy bowing. The group sound is akin to a smoked-out apiary, and in the track’s 3mins 52secs plays host to a remarkable amount of curves and jagged switches. On “The Same,” they’re barreling and bluff, the brass rounded with a military band swagger, constantly squirming into new shapes as the leader flutter-mutes at speed.

Some of these pieces (“Page 1 # 1,” “Charp,” “Truck”) achieve perfection (though that’s never smoothed-out or regimented: this is perfection as organized chaos). The first of these three tracks becomes progressively more fragmented, leading into an oleaginous trombone solo, creaming with grace. Then the combo comes together again, followed by a climaxing drum solo of controlled flailing. The rhythm team set up a tough thrum on “Charp,” helping out the cast-off freedom of the horns. A good-humored belligerence prevails throughout “Truck,” barging then blowsy, then back to barging, before closing with a brawl.

The album’s remaining nine numbers are almost up to this phenomenal level and there’s a real fear that the quartet’s November, 2008 gig at New York’s Park Slope’s Tea Lounge will push it’s intensity up to an uncontrollable level.