Monthly Archives: October 2009

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

CF 154Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Weightless, A Free Quartet in a New Recording
Of all the instruments to play, the piano is one that poses particular challenges. You sit down to it and all the notes are available to you simultaneously. You only have ten fingers, plus your arms for clusters if you play like Don Pullen (or Henry Cowell), so choice becomes critical. The moment you push down the keys the piano immediately gives out with a sound, one group of sounds really, that has to do with that particular piano and its characteristics. To get “your” sound takes many years, if you ever get there.

A child when first fooling around with the instrument can immediately and un-selfconsciously pull off a bad Cecil Taylor imitation. Tinkle-slam-chop-blur. Again to get any good at going at it in this way takes considerable time and practice. To go beyond that second level, to be a truly individual stylist in this mode is even more difficult.

This brings me to the CD at hand today. It’s by a group called Weightless and the CD is entitled A Brush with Dignity (Clean Feed). Weightless consists of Alberto Braida on piano, John Butcher on tenor and soprano, John Edwards on double bass and Fabrizio Spera on drums.

Weightless engages in carefully executed sorts of free improvisations that owe something to new concert music though there is a strong foundation in the “jazz” orientation, whatever that means anymore.

Braida’s playing reminds us of what it takes to get a personal sound and a kind of free playing that goes leagues beyond the “kid-slamming-at-the-piano” fundamentals. He picks his way painstakingly through the possibilities. . . a cluster here, a phrase there, an overall attempt not to be automatic or banal and an avoidance of any overt key center. He has tangible success in the “what” category; the “how” category (the personal sound) is not fully present, at least on this recording according to my own take on it. That is not a problem to the music in any sense. Because also to consider is that Braida succeeds in interjecting himself into a set of collective ensemble improvisations, and in that context he is not supposed to stand out but to meld together with the others.

The four players as an organic whole succeed in creating group structures that are not uninteresting. Butcher’s tenor steps out alone on occasion, not to blaze with incandescent speakings of the tongues, but with more considered note making. That is true of the group at large as well.

I would not go so far as to say that Weightless has achieved total individuality as yet. That may come. What they have done here is created an hour of interesting free music. This is not a high-energy, high density slam-dunk sort of freakout. It’s a bit more thoughtful. Those who like the quieter areas of free music and sensitive group interplay will find it pleasing.

Lucid Culture review

CF 151The Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
This is what free jazz ought to sound like. While there’s definitely plenty of composition here, there’s also an extraordinary amount of listening and the smart, thoughtful playing that good musicians do when they’re all tuned into each other. Trombonist Samuel Blaser leads the crew and gets extra props for putting this particular unit together. This is one of those albums that the drummer absolutely owns: Tyshawn Sorey rumbles underneath, methodically like a subway (by turns a steady local train, a work train inching by or an occasional express roaring along) as guitarist Todd Neufeld and bassist Thomas Morgan add shade and color in a stunning display of minimalist precision. No wasted notes here!

Blaser gets the over seventeen-minute title track to work off a stately, thoughtful five-note riff punctuated by stillness and deftly placed accents by Neufeld and Morgan. As with the rest of the tracks here, there’s more following and echoing than there is actual interplay, the musicians taking turns building off a minute, intricate phrase, almost a contest where the winner is he who can say the most with the least. Which with generally quiet music is an admirable goal. On this song, guitar and then bass maintain suspense two steps behind the beat, which at a lento crawl is a lot harder than it sounds. Blaser’s unexpectedly triumphant windup to the song actually adds an undercurrent of unease (that device will recur later to rousing effect).

The second cut, Red Hook scurries without actually scurrying – Blaser’s trombone runs it alone as the rhythm section stays terse and deliberate with vivid washes of sound from Neufeld’s guitar. They follow it with the pensive, plaintive Choral I (which they return to as a concluding theme), and then the aptly titled Mystical Circle, Blaser remaining defiantly casual, even out-of-focus throughout a series of methodical descending progressions. The dark, murky, minor-key Mandala is nothing short of phantasmagorical; by contrast, Speed Game is tongue-in-cheek, more a series of relays than any kind of sprint. This quiet, deft display of talent is nothing short of a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of 2009.

Free Jazz review by Stef

CF 156Pinton / Kullhammar / Zetterberg / Nordeson – Chant (CF 156)
Recorded live in Coimbra, Portugal, this Swedish quartet and the enthusiastic audience do exactly what you would expect: play music and have fun. The four musicians have played together before in one or the other constellation. Alberto Pinton plays baritone saxophone, Jonas Kullhammar tenor, Torbjörn Zetterberg bass and Kjell Nordeson drums and vibes. As Zetterberg writes in the liner notes “This band is half of my own octet, half of Jonas’s quartet, half of Kjell and Jonas’s quartet “Nacka Forum” and more than half of Alberto’s quintet”, so there is no big surprise that there is a perfect fit, even if Clean Feed boss Pedro Costa asked them to perform together. The band does not break any new ground. Even if the music is largely improvised, themes and rhythms are part of the agreed musical concepts. But they play well, and what is more, with lots of intensity, interaction and enthusiasm, really enjoying themselves … and the audience, whether they play uptempo or downtempo, jazzy or bluesy, 60s or 00s, dark or light-footed. Fun.

Cadence Magazine review by Phillip McNally

CF 135WHO Trio – Less is More (CF 135)
The name of the Who Trio, while it clearly is made up of the band members’ initials, also seems to imply the group sound. This is not the Gerry Hemingway trio, or the Michel Wintsch trio. So even though this little collective might appear to be just another piano trio, The Who Trio is actually an extremely sensitive threesome playing mostly group improvisations. They are hearing one another and responding, intuiting directions and evolving the group’s music together. Wintsch has a very light hand on the piano, favoring few notes and slowly appregiated chords, but he has a strong single note melodic sense. What an impressive range of technique and color bassist Banz Oester brings to the trio, and always in the service of the music and the group sound. And of course Hemingway’s ability to “lift the bandstand” is well known. So “Less is More” is a sensitive recording by an amazing trio, and it leaves me wishing all collective improvisation could be this rich and coherent.
©Cadence Magazine 2009

Cadence Magazine review by Jason Bivins

CF 138
Paul Dunmall Sun Quartet – Ancient and Future Airs (CF 138 )

CF 137
Denman Maroney Quintet – Udentity (CF 137)

Dunmall’s visit to New York’s The Living Theater (1) finds him in a slightly unfamiliar setting given his recent work on Slam. With a trio of longtime associates, this Vision Festival set finds him in a more reflective mood alongside Malaby, whose blend of melancholy and fire has become ever more singular of late (not least in his work in Helias’ Open Loose trio). Norton’s vibes are absolutely central to the textural range of these long pieces. While “Ancient Airs” opens rather slowly, the race is on after a while, with contrapuntalism firing up the engine. Dunmall and Malaby make for a wonderfully contrastive tenor tandem, fierce in the right measure without resorting to mere burning. I reckon it’s hard not to wail once Norton hits the traps and gets things churning with Helias, but this music never loses its focus and there’s always something lyrical happening. As ever, I find it quite an exhilarating experience when Dunmall rocks the pipes, but he does so quite judiciously. After the piece plateaus, it sounds as if the band is cycling through some refracted version of Coltrane’s “One Up One Down,” audible especially with Malaby’s vertiginous solo at about the 35-minute mark. Helias’ sweet bass solo is pleasantly modal after the fury preceding it, and it cues up a somewhat (yes) airy ending. The second improvisation, at a mere 10 minutes, is a tad bitty and doesn’t really get going anywhere. But this one’s a keeper nonetheless.

Having long been a fan of Denman Maroney’s unique sound world—his “hyperpiano” is the most radically prepared innenklavier imaginable—I confess that it’s really only with this recording (2) that I realized how rhythmically acute a musician he is. His bowls, and buzzing devices, and blocks have created a richly tex-tured idiomatic extension of the piano, but these nuanced, percolating compositions are bouncing inventions that recall some fusion of Rothenberg’s Double Band, John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet, and Mark Dresser’s Force Green band from the 1990s (of which Maroney was a key member). This high praise is emphatically deserved. Beyond this general appraisal (and really, just go get this one), I have to give it up for the engine room specifically. Radding and the superb Sarin are so good, with power and grace combining almost imperceptibly, that you could risk overlooking everything else as you simply concentrate on their playing. But then there’s the exceptional contrast between the clarion lines Ballou reels out, and
Rothenberg’s intense playing, with horns as rhythmic generators fueled by circular breathing, overblowing, and more. And the tunes are pretty fabulous too, with the post Bop line on “II” sounding almost like a late 1960s Ornette tune. The loping pulse of “III” is a perfect context ready to be agitated by the heady sound of scraped metal, a continual staggering which eventuates in a stunningly inventive “piano trio” improvisation. Absolutely killer alien tones! There are soft percussive thwacks and layered tempi from the horns on “IV” and a post-Dave Burrell mutated stride thing that opens up “V.” The disc eventually loops back to the feel of beautifully fractured post Bop on “VII,” with a brilliant piano trio section again. A fantastic disc, and a strong candidate to show up on my year-end list.
©Cadence Magazine 2009

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

CF 159Nobuyasu Furuya Trio – Bendowa (CF 158)
The Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet and Flute of Nobuyasu Furuya
You can depend upon Clean Feed Records consistently to come up with interesting releases in the advanced free improv jazz genre. That doesn’t mean you’ve heard of everybody on the label. That’s a good thing because it means they are offering up some fresh faces to the international scene and that’s how growth happens in music. One of the ways, at least.

Nobuyasu Furuya. There’s a new name to me. He is a Japanese expat residing in Portugal. He’s studied Ottoman classical music. He plays vibrantly. There’s his new album Bendowa (Clean Feed). It’s a trio affair with Hernani Faustino on bass and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. They do a fine job.

Nobuyasu has a good sense of linear drama and absolute control over his sound. Some people say he sounds like Archie Shepp on tenor. Well, there IS that sort of near-speech inflection he sometimes evokes. But there’s a little Ayler there too. Maybe some Dolphy as well. On flute he has a shakuhachi like purity. His bass clarinet is snaky. To me though, it’s his dramatic sense of space, of sound and silence, of color and darkness that stands out. The phrasing lengths, the pauses and the trajectory of his drive show a great sensibility.

There is plenty of good music on Bendowa. It tends more towards the exploratory than the frantic. But there is plenty of energy to be had as well. Here is a player to watch. Or rather to listen to. This CD will give improv enthusiasts a good adventure. I would say to you “go get it” if you are looking for a different sort of free player.

Cadence Magazine review by Marc Medwin

CF 136
Michael Blake / Kresten osgood – Control this (CF 136)

CF 139
Trinity – Breaking the Molde (CF 139)

Check out these veterans of the diverse Alternative/Hardcore/Free Jazz scenes as they place two very different but equally engaging platters in Clean Feed’s ever-increasing catalog. The duo disc (1) comes courtesy of tenor saxophonist Michael Blake, whose alto work as heard here is new to me. His tenure with the fabled Lounge Lizards afforded him lightning-fast reflexes, and these are on display throughout these improvisations. Kresten Osgood is every bit his equal, stopping over and over on the proverbial dime Danilo Perez by Jimmie Jones seemingly with no path left behind him. The title track distills all that is best about the collaboration. Blake lays down some motivic
pointillisms, spitting forth multiphonic bursts along the way. Osgood picks up immediately on an almost hidden military vibe, rendering it apparent with some quasi-cadences. The veteran partners man-age to hold it all together as they dabble in Funk, new thing and Bebop tropes, often breathing as one musician. At other points on the disc, Osgood’s tuned drumming conjures the beautifully scorching Flaherty/Edwards duos on Cadence Jazz Records as a bassist becomes superfluous. Their sense of history is manifest in an unusual way as they glide through a version of the late 1920’s Ellington classic, “Creole Love Call,” which begins every bit as slinkily as the original before blasting into the stratosphere.

Trinity’s contribution (2) brings volume and raises the density factor considerably. When the quartet is in high gear, as they are from the first moments of this widely diverse disc, they’re in Ayler/Taylor/Trane mode, Moster even invoking Meditations with his shofar blasts. The second track finds the aggregate in entirely different territory, soft shards of electronic sound riddled with percussive puncture wounds and long-breathed multiphonics. All seems to be leading up to the final epic improvisation, enthralling in its sudden shifts in tempo, intensity, and non-conventional timbre. These discs are definitely for lovers of adventurous music, who will be rewarded with each listen.
©Cadence Magazine 2009

Jazz’n’More review by Jürg Solothurnmann

CF 143TRANSIT – Quadrologues (CF 143)
Improvisationen, die oft wie komponiert klingen. Die Karten werden neu gemischt; die Errungenschaften von europäischer Free Music und Free Jazz verbinden sich auf anderem Niveau mit vororganisierten Strukturen. Arnal, ein Schüler Milford Graves, publiziert bei Clean Feed die zweite CD seines Quartetts – mit dem Braxton-Schüler Misterka und mit dem Trompeter Wooley, seinerseits ein Schüler des immens unbewerteten amerikanischen Free Music-Pioniers Jack Wright. Die vier gehen sehr kooperativ und gleichzeitig selektiv zuwerke und bauen meistens transparente Ereignisse, wobei die Stilistik manchmal näher bei sparsam distanzierter Neuer Musik und manchmal bei groovend kommunikativem Free Jazz liegt. Die zwischen drei und neun Minuten langen Ereignisse enthalten interessante Klang- und Geräuschkombinationen, die getrennt durch Pausen ausgekostet werden. Dadurch ergibt sich eine Vielfalt von Gesten, Gestalten und Aktionen. Mal fliesst die Musik, mal stockt sie, erzählt kleine Geschichten und ist trotz Modernität und Zurückhaltung gut anzuhören. Vielversprechend.

Jazz’n’More review by Jürg Solothurnmann

CF 141LUCKY 7s – Pluto Junkyard (CF 141)

Ein Blech-dominiertes Bläserquartett und eine Rhythmusgruppe mit Vibraphon im Vordergrund. Für dieses eklektische Septett der neuen Chicagoer Generation haben besonders die Ko-Leader Bishop und Albert (aus New Orleans) und der Schlagzeuger Kirchner aufwendige Stücke mit allerlei Elementen von Postbop, New Jazz und Free Jazz komponiert. Da hat es Mehrthematik und arrangierte Backgrounds und Zwischenspiele, manchmal mehr mit dem Gusto einer satt klingenden Brass Band und manchmal wie moderne Kammermusik. Sie dienen als Schaltstellen und verhindern, dass sich einfach Solo an Solo reiht. Neu ist weniger der Stil als der vielfältige Einsatz der Mittel. Die Gangart und Stimmung ändern oft –mit verschmitztem Humor oder auch etwas zusammenhangslos, und improvisiert wird ebenso unbegleitet wie in Gruppierungen zu zweit, zu dritt und mehr. Zwei Posaunisten als Leader, das ist auch nicht so üblich, aber sie wissen etwas damit anzufangen. Doch irgendwie scheint die gerissene Mache dieser Divertimenti auch zu verhindern, dass die guten Ensemblespieler und Solisten mal richtig loslegen.

Jazz’n’More review by Jürg Solothurnmann

CF 144Dennis Gonzalez / João Paulo – Scapegrace (CF 144) 
Eine der wenigen CD-Produktionen auf Initiative des Label-Leiters Pedro Costa – mit zwei Hausfreunden, dem Pianisten Paulo (*1984), in Portugal bereits eine Zelebrität, und dem Trompeter, Linguisten, Maler und Jazz-Aktisten Gonzalez (*1954) aus Dallas, Texas. Die zwei kannten sich zuvor kaum, aber dies ist ein freudvolles Meeting, wie es eben unter flexiblen Jazzmusikern möglich ist. Die Besetzung lässt eine lyrische Musik erwarten, aber die zwei Improvisatoren mit einem ausgeprägten Sinn für tänzerische Rhythmik am Werk und kommen oft ganz schön in Fahrt. Die neun eigenen Themen sind eher nur kurze Kopfmotive, aus denen mit offenen Ohren Improvisationen gesponnen werden, deren Charakter an die frühen Keith Jarrett und Dollar Brand erinnert. Paulo schert manchmal aus der Diatonik aus und pfeffert seine perkussiven Soli mit dissonanteren Farben und Wecheln der Gangart. Gonzalez ist zwar mit allerlei Wassern gewaschen, von Salsa und Post Bop bis Free Jazz, bleibt hier aber in berührender Weise gesanglich und relaxt. Der gemeinsame Nenner der zwei ist ihre Latinität.

One of few CD productions initiated by label boss Pedro Costa – with two in-house friends, the pianist Joao Paulo (born in 1984), already a celebrity in Portugal, and trumpeter, linguist, artist, and jazz musician Dennis Gonzalez (born in1954) from Dallas, Texas. The two hardly knew each other before this, but this is a joyful meeting, as is always possibile with flexible jazz musicians. The casting suggests a lyric music, but the two improvisers put forth a pronounced sense of dance rhythms and often open up  completely into a beautiful, full swing. The nine themes, which they wrote themselves, are short motifs, from which, with open ears, improvisations are spun, in the spirit of  Keith Jarrett and Dollar Brand. Joao Paulo sometimes cuts swaths out of diatonic music and then sprinkles his percussive solos with dissonant colors and changes of pace. Gonzalez, splashing the music with all kinds of watercolors, from Salsa and post-Bop to Free Jazz, continually plays singing, relaxed lines, the common denominator of these two being their Latinness. (TRanslation by Dennis González)