Monthly Archives: December 2008

Free Jazz review by Stef


Darren Johnston – The Edge Of The Forest (CF 133)
Ever since I heard “Third Impulse” and “Reasons For Moving”, I was hooked on Darren Johnston’s trumpet playing, and when I noticed that Clean Feed would be issuing an album by him, expectations ran high for what I thought would be an avant-garde jazz album. Yet again, I apparently assume too much. This is modern jazz at its best : rhythmic, with strong compositions, clear themes and structure, great arrangements, and above all, a list of top-notch musicians, with Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Sheldon Brown on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Devin Hoff on double bass, and Smith Dobson V on drums. Rob Reich joins on accordion on the second track, and he fits perfectly to set the tone of the piece. The music has a high degree of complexity, in that various orchestrated things can happen at the same time, at different speeds, with several melodies being interwoven, often with a solo or two on top, and this then changes the whole time, within the same piece. Another great thing about the album is that despite the complexity and the musicians’ skills, this music swings, it is joyful and exuberant. It swings (“Cabin 5”), it funks (“Broken”), it bops (“Apples”), and they improvise through history from old to new and back, there are references from Ellingtonian music as much as to Dave Douglas, but in a way, I don’t think Johnston needs those comparisons. He is a stellar trumpet-player, with a warm tone and a broad range, and these are equalled by his skills as a composer. Truth be told, I had expected more avant-garde, but he brought a surprise of warm, very creative and captivating modern jazz. And that’s a great achievement.

Clean Feed Records on All About Jazz Best 2008 List

Honorable Mention – Best New Release 2008
Conference Call – Poetry in Motion
RIDD Quartet – Fiction Avalanche
Townhouse Orchestra – Belle Ville

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – A Calculus of Loss
Tony Malaby/William Parker/Nasheet Waits – Tamarindo

Best New Release (selected by David Adler)
Angelica Sanchez – Life Between

Best New Release (selected by Laurence Donohue-Greene)
Mauger  – The Beautiful Enabler

Best New Release (selected by Andrey Henkin)
Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo – Nididhyasana

Best Record Label
Clean Feed

Best Debut
Sean Conly – Re:Action

Best Original Album Artwork
Sean Conly – Re:Action

Stef (Free Jazz Blog) 2008 Best of List

I think 2008 was a great year for modern jazz, and it may take some years, like good wine, before it’s really appreciated.

Some record labels did really great things. Four labels immediately come to mind :

AUM Fidelity managed to order great compositions from some of its regular musicians : Bill Dixon, Roy Campbell, William Parker, leading to three stellar albums, with music that might otherwise not have seen the light of day without the label’s support.

Clean Feed continues to amaze me with their openness of ears for new and upcoming musical visions, together with their courage to sign on new talent. I’m thinking about Fight The Big Bull, Memorize The Sky, RIDD Quartet, Mauger, Angles, Kirk Knuffke, Sean Conly, Luis Lopes, Empty Cage Quartet, but also with great albums by Braxton, Adam Lane, Mark Dresser, Conference Call, Harris Eisenstadt, … What a list of names, but most of all, what a list of great quality albums.

CIMP is of course one of the long-standing true values in the modern jazz, but they keep delivering great stuff, with the Trio X box being my absolute favorite, but there’s also Bill Gagliardi, Stephen Gauci, Joe McPhee & Dominic Duval. The quantity is less, but the quality remains high.

Ayler Records kept offering great live performances, branching out into wilder territory, often involving electronics, and why not? They also released great boxes, with François Carrier, Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, and great albums with Frode Gjerstad and Abdelhai Bennani to name just a few.

But of course there are also the new labels: Amor Fati, Sans Bruit, NoBusiness, NotTwo, Skirl, … who released great and adventurous albums.

Here are the must-haves for 2008 in random order:

Steve Harris ZAUM – A’ Is For Ox + I Hope You Never Love …
Trio X – Live In Vilnius + 2006 US Tour
Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii – Chun
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do – Heat Wave
Junk Box – Sunny Then Cloudy
Larry Ochs, Miya Masaoka, Peggy Lee – Spiller Alley
Vincent Courtois – As Soon As Possible
Joëlle Léandre & Akosh S. – Kor
Harris Eisenstadt – Guewel
Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris – Four Improvisations
Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Milford Graves – Beyond Quantum
Kris Davis – Rye Eclipse
Nuts – L’Atelier Tampon Ramier
Matthew Shipp – Cosmic Suite
William Parker – Double Sunrise Over Neptune
Wadada Leo Smith – Tabligh
The Stone Quartet – DMG@TheStone
Roy Campbell – Akhnaten Suite
Dans Les Arbres – Dans Les Arbres
Frode Gjerstad, Kevin Norton, Paul Rogers – Antioch
Paul Rogers – Being
Bar Kokhba – Lucifer
Bill Dixon & Exploding Star Orchestra
Bill Dixon – 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound/Darfur
Chris Gestrin – After The City Has Gone: Quiet

Now it is extremely hard to name the best albums in this list. With some records I laughed out loud because of the sheer musical joy they offered (despite the sadness), and those include Harris Eisenstadt’s Guewel and William Parker’s Double Sunrise, and I listened to those two albums the most of the above list, possibly together with the double trumpet front line of Nuts. I was emotionally overwhelmed by Paul Rogers Being and Bill Dixon’s Darfur. I was impressed by the new musical avenues demonstrated by Dans Les Arbres, Larry Ochs/Miya Masaoka/Peggy Lee and Vincent Courtois. I was perplexed by Satoko Fujii’s musical breadth, depth, energy and vision (and she’s only 50!), I was stunned by Kris Davis’ Rye Eclipse, and to be sure, Tony Malaby figures on many of my favorite albums of the year, as does Roy Campbell, I was charmed by Bar Kokba, as always before, I was happy that Matthew Shipp came out with an album that I could relate to (I love the guy’s stubborn search for new things!), I enjoyed every second of Trio X’s endless recordings of the same material, because it’s so fantastically moving, I am sad because a musical visionary like Steve Harris is no longer among us, and really at the height of his possibilities …

In the end, musical lists are futile. Paul Rogers’ Being is to me like Lou Reed’s Berlin: it has such emotional depth and range, that the moments you will listen to it are far and wide apart, but you know one thing: in ten years from now you will still listen to it. And just to show how futile these lists are: in many years from now, I will still listen to records that do not figure on this list, including “Fight The Big Bull”, “Angles”, to the albums that were released this year by François Carrier, Erik Friedlander, Chris Kelsey, Mark O’Leary, Franz Hautzinger, Taylor Ho Bynum, Daniel Humair, … and many other albums. A great year!

Manuel Jorge Veloso 2008 Best of List

Angelica Sanchez – Life Between (Clean Feed)
Bill Stewart – Incandescence (Pirouet)
Bobo Stenson – Cantando (ECM)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band – Seasons of Change (Verve)
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band! – Appearing Nightly (Watts)
Charles Lloyd – Rabo de Nube (ECM)
Chick & Hiromi – Duet (Stretch)
Dave Douglas & Keystone – Moonshine (Greenleaf Music)
Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani The Third Man (ECM)
Esperanza Spalding – Esperanza (Heads Up)
Evan Parker (Transatlantic Art Ensemble) – Boustrophedon (ECM)
Conference Call – Poetry in Motion (Clean Feed)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Avatar (Blue Note)
Jane Ira Bloom – Mental Weather (Outline/ArtistShare)
Jason Palmer (feat.Greg Osby+Ravi Coltrane) – Songbook (Ayva Music)
Joe Lovano – Symphonica (Blue Note)
Loren Stillman – Blind Date (Pirouet)
Marc Copland – Another Place (Pirouet)
Marcin Wasilewski – January (ECM)
Mark Dresser/Ed Harkins/Steven Schick – House of Mirrors (Clean Feed)
Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (Clean Feed)

Miguel Zenon – Awake (Marsalis Music)
Patricia Barber – The Cole Porter Mix (Blue Note)
Saxophone Summit – Seraphic Light (Telarc)
The Nuttree Quartet – Standards (Kind of Blue)

Temporary Fault review by Massimo Ricci


Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
The systematic annoyances originating from delayed mail are a crucial characteristic of Italian routine, in particular as far as reviewing records is concerned. This explains the reason for which only recently I was able to take pleasure in listening to the brilliant Stratostrophic (Clean Feed) by the Empty Cage Quartet. The group consists of four youngsters whose mind is filled with serious ideas, expounded through eleven tracks that mix a multiplicity of coordinates and influences; essentially, their style can be placed in a province bordering on present-day jazz and rather curbed improvisation, with hints to Charles Ives-like superimpositions of different conjectures and junctures. Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet) and Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn) are the composers, while percussionist Paul Kikuchi and double bassist Ivan Johnson build their contribution upon everything you would look ahead to by a technically dextrous rhythm section.

When an ensemble needs not to recur to metaphoric paraphernalia and short-lived tricks, we immediately realize that the direction is right. Quite often during the playback I found myself thinking of charts made of very long lines and exploded views, music leading to places where expectations are met without fretfulness and transitions are clearly visible. This sense of structural intelligibility, in conjunction with an evident respect for tradition, is the most considerable attribute of the album. We glance at the young faces of the artists in the inner sleeve’s picture, compare them with the maturity shown by these fairly challenging pieces, and all of a sudden the perspectives of jazz-derived languages look pretty bright, provided that one doesn’t start daydreaming about groundbreaking visions and on-the-spot innovations.

Free Jazz review by Stef

4 Corners – Alive in Lisbon (CF 134)

This first DVD by the Portuguese Clean Feed label captures this great band, consisting of Adam Lane on bass, Ken Vandermark on bass clarinet and baritone sax, Magnus Broo on trumpet and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, during a live performance in Lisbon. All pieces come from the “4 Corners” CD, except for the last track, “Sanctum”, which is on the “Drunk Butterfly” album. Great music and great band, great performance too. The performance was recorded by various cameras and is well-edited.

All About Jazz review by Clifford Allen


Sean Conly – Re:Action (CF 124)
Bassist Sean Conly is an extraordinarily busy player, perhaps somewhat of a yeoman—he’s worked with figures as diverse in approach as the violinists Sam Bardfeld and Regina Carter. But if he has a particular mettle, it might just be in the unruly, driving and highly plastic music of this ensemble. Conly, saxists Michael Attias and Tony Malaby and drummer Pheeroan akLaff take on on a program of ten originals and a cover of Eric Dolphy’s “Gazzelloni.”
There is something audacious about starting a set off with Dolphy’s tribute to Italian classical flutist Severino Gazzelloni (from Out To Lunch, Blue Note, 1964), a tune that is rarely interpreted and even more rarely interpreted well. However, the quartet attacks it brilliantly, Attias’ alto and Malaby’s soprano tearing into the knotty, odd intervals with equal amounts of flame and reverence, Malaby’s sputtering cycles implying a young Braxton as Attias’ lines are a loose-stitched inner dialogue, evaporating and reforming as quickly as they begin. The pair is clearly a formidable match, ducking and diving in quizzical poles as Conly and akLaff set supple implications of time around and underneath.

But placing Dolphy’s work at the head of an album does create some difficulty, too, as Conly’s writing resides in a different area—the ruddy tango of “Daily Mutation” and its evolution towards multiple parallel lines and disassociative thrum, loose patter and brassy keen or the contrary motion of “Suburban Angst.” The tart unison lines of “Ulterior Motives” are thrown asunder by a vamp that seems to heave itself in the line of fire at every turn. It’s a subtler tug-of-war that drives the music, which leapfrogs multiple lines at once rather than scaling the crags of a Dolphy-esque flight pattern.

Certainly, bringing the explosive technique of Malaby and the quixotic, childlike patterns of Attias into the frontline act heavily on this record of contrasts, as does Conly’s pliable meat and akLaff’s brushstroke architecture. Their freedom can be delicate and meditative, or jarring, but one mustn’t let the company Conly keeps on this date overshadow his composing, which is interesting and can only strengthen with time.

All About Jazz review by Clifford Allen


Memorize The Sky – In Former Times (CF 122)
Reedman Matt Bauder, percussionist Aaron Siegel and bassist Zach Wallace have worked together for almost a decade, but In Former Times, recorded live in Austria at the Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon, is only their second full-length disc. Siegel is, in addition to applying his pared-down kit of snare, bass drum and vibes to this recording, a composer of electronic music. Though one might, from the instrumentation, assume this to be another power trio/free-bop outing, Memorize the Sky focuses on sparse and often droning chamber improvisation somewhere between Morton Feldman and the “sustain” pieces of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. This approach has been coined “lowercase” improvisation, of the brand practiced by saxists Jack Wright and Bhob Rainey or percussionist Sean Meehan. However, this trio somehow manages to turn small gestures into very large sonic areas.
The set starts with rumbling press rolls as Bauder’s tenor pulses with energy alternately pillowy and gruff, Wallace’s arco harmonics heaving underneath. Though the architecture may seem narrow, the trio is able to weave a warm and enveloping largeness, a specificity that must have filled the concert hall’s every nook. Low purrs and gauzy subtones recall Bill Dixon in aesthetic, if not in organizational intent (indeed, Bauder has worked with Dixon through the Exploding Star Orchestra). At six minutes in, the tension subsides rather than releases, a brief pocket of bass drum rattle before Bauder returns with more sparsely-placed muted tones and, amid bells and (drum) head rubs, Wallace picks up the repetitive ken with a driving col legno figure. “I Am the Founder of this Place” finds high, jittery harmonics and bull fiddle at the fore, a canopy of metal from ringing alarms and vibraphone popping out like floaters on a color field. These spatial relationships, as well as subtle shifts in timbre, are the essence of the trio’s rhythm. Memorize the Sky deserves wider recognition as their alphabet includes a broad range of sonic fonts.

Carlos Zíngaro’s 60th anniversary at Trem Azul

December 15th, Trem Azul Jazz Store, Lisbon.
Photos by Nuno Martins

What a party !

The Man !

The Band

The Cake

Dusted Magazine Best of 2008 list by Derek Taylor


In a market where nearly all signs point to the compact disc’s impending demise, the Lisbon-based Clean Feed label soldiers on. Their release schedule is unmatched in creative improvised music: 35 releases in 2008 and the quality-to-quantity quotient remains high. A few of my picks from that ample and enviable number include: Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris’ Four Improvisations, Joe Morris & Barre Phillips’ Elm City Duets 2006 and Mauger’s The Beautiful Enabler. The last is every bit as good as its roll call of Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway would suggest.
Complete list at