Monthly Archives: February 2010

Le Son du Grisli review by Luc Bouquert

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
La quasi-systématique des chorus croisés du trompettiste Kris Tiner et du saxophoniste Jason Mears se rapproche plus du Masada de Zorn que du quartet Coleman-Cherry-Haden-Higgins (mais Masada ne puisait-il pas à chaudes gorgées dans les partitions d’Ornette ?).

Pourtant, le jeu tout en nuances et vibrations de Paul Kikuchi semble venir en droite ligne de Billy Higgins. De même, les précis contours harmoniques d’Ivan Johnson disent beaucoup de ce qu’ils doivent à Charlie Haden. Alors qu’écrire concernant le nouvel opus d’Empty Cage ? Que depuis 2003, date de sa création (le quartet se nommait alors le MTKJ Quartet), ils n’ont cessé d’explorer des chemins souvent buissonniers, d’emprunter des étonnantes pistes, d’en rejeter d’autres. Avec détermination, les voici immergés dans le concept numérique du calendrier Maya.

S’en détachent deux compositions (Gravity Sections & Tzolkien) exécutées alternativement ici. On y trouve des préludes, des mises en conditions ou plutôt des tremplins-pistes d’envols pour que s’organisent des plages d’improvisations de peu de contraintes et de beaucoup d’inspiration. Avec, toujours, un support rythmique appuyé -parfois binaire-, les voici investis en de beaux entremêlements ; dialogues souvent passionnés et passionnants. On attend la suite…

Jazz Review review by Ken Waxman

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)
Conscious Mental Field Recordings (Satelita 002)
Olivier Thémines Trio – Miniatures (Yolk Label J2044)

Once relegated to sessions that attempt to revive Swing Music or Classic Jazz, members of the clarinet family have moved front-and-centre on the improvised music scene, at least since the early 1990s. This ends the reed hegemony of the saxophone which has been paramount at least since Bebop’s birth around 1939.

As these CDs demonstrate though, the newest generation of woodwind players is versatile enough to use technique and imagination to overcome the instrument(s) supposed soft tone and lack of suppleness when performing difficult music. At the same time, creating with equally committed players is a necessity – as is choice of proper material – or the woodwinds’ admirably pliable qualities turn squishy and spongy.

This certainly isn’t the case with Conscious Mental Field Recordings. Thick resonating vibrations from the bass of Norwegian Adrian Myhr make common cause with the microtonal timbres emanating from the clarinets of Paris’ Joris Rühl as well as the twanging distortions creaking scrapes and signal-processed electronic pulses from the guitar of Köln’s Maciej Sledziecki.

With Rühl, who often plays with other French improvisers such as pianist Eve Risser, alternating among angled chalumeau flutters, strident pockets of altissimo trills or restrained flat-line air expelling, the others have plenty of textures with which to deal. However at some points, the clarinet’s legit vibrato is seconded by watery string rubs; at others, the woodwind player’s strident peeps and screams are undermined by percussive guitar-string strums or knob-twisting amplified flams.

Careful to evolve contrapuntally throughout, however no trio member’s resonance overwhelm the others’, although the oscillated pulsations and clattering rubs that characterize Sledziecki’s work provide the percussive bottom to most of the tracks. Hocketing, fluttering and twanging, the guitarist, who also develops computer-based composition, produces sturdy balanced ostinatos throughout. The droning centrality of his licks are challenged on individual tracks when the reed man outputs gravelly striations, squealing yelps or pointed tongue slaps.

Cooperation is in evidence as well on Three Less Than Between from three Chicago improvisers. But there’s no denying that bass clarinetist Jason Stein is the senior partner. For a start, all the compositions are his, as is the name of the trio – honoring his late grandfather and the older man’s profession. Drummer Mike Pride was along for the first Locksmith Isidore CD, but bassist Jason Roebke – who has backed everyone from trombonist Jeb Bishop to cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm – wasn’t. Now with an even-more-unified and powerful rhythmic base, Stein has his work cut out for him to avoid being overpowered. Recall, though, he is someone who held his own as the other horn player in a quartet with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark.

Using his reed command to bring forth references to the work of bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, Stein and his compositions are firmly in the jazz tradition, unlike the kinetic collages which make up Conscious Mental Field Recordings. In fact, the trio frequently recaps the head after playing shout choruses. At the same time the CD’s compositions and performance are definitely post-modern, taking atonality and exploration as touchstones.

That means that timbral reed extension, rather than the often-chalumeau sound of the bass clarinet is on show here. Plus for every piece such as “Amy Music”, which sounds as if Stein is resuscitating a previously unknown Dolphy line, there are others rife with skittering and slipping tongue flutters, shrill tones sounding above the instrument’s highest pitches and stuttering basso lows.

Compositions such as “Stevenesque” for instance expose many variants. Beginning with a high-register evocation of Lacy’s soprano tone, Stein moves to hesitant and accented shakes and flutters – played a capella – subsequently alternating sluicing lyrical lines with reed bites. Behind him Roebke adds sul ponticello scrapes and Pride a shuffle beat. The drummer’s polyrhythmic pattern encompasses clips, clacks r ratamacues and rim shots elsewhere. Again, the session is traditional enough to make room for drum and bass solos.

Traditionalism of a less enlightened fashion appears to enthrall French clarinetist Olivier Thémines and his trio on Miniatures, which true to the title encompasses 20 tracks, the majority of which cleave to the three minute mark. Well-played trifles, the tracks are supposed to include linkages to Buster Keaton, Giuffre and composer Johnny Carisi.

Unfortunately, even with a track out-and-out labeled “Giuffrian Sketch”, the concepts of the American master of trio interaction don’t appear to be reflected in anything except brevity. Giuffre did improvise concisely – and for longer periods when he felt so inclined – and he did contrapuntally match his clarinet in a trio which alternately featured guitar or piano and bass. But Thémines’ associates on this essay on chamber jazz are pianist Guillaume Hazebrouck and vibraphonist Kit Le Marec. Rather than evoking the austere minimalism of the Guiffre3, this blending of piano and vibes calls forth memories of the often baroque Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) – which did record with Giuffre – or the contemporary lyrical tones of vibist Gary Burton and pianist Chick Corea. At its weakest some of the voicing and harmonies from clarinet, vibes and piano suggest the burnished timbres George Shearing groups of the 1950s which often abutted background music.

Hazebrouck’s harder touch and bluesy modulations on show in several spots appear to be buried under baroque-like formalism most of the time. Submerged too in the sometimes precious arrangements are Thémines’ occasional slinky chromaticism and the ringing waterfall of sounds Le Marec capably creates.

“Satellite” is typical of the program. A composition that could have been composed by the MJQ’s John Lewis, it’s an allegro shuffle that harmonizes clarinet and piano lines. Although the interaction is polyrhythmic, flat-lined sluggish is evident as well. Also along those lines is “Le basilic” where tender piano arpeggios ricochet off identically timed vibe plinks, until the romantic-styled narrative builds up to reed flutter-tonguing soaring over the other instruments’ double counterpoint.

Much more impressive are the low frequency trills the clarinetist produces on “Court et muet” which complement Hazebrouck’s stroking of his piano harp string following a theme elaboration. Also notable is “Rossinate” where the pianist’s high-frequency dynamics and double timing makes room for slinking trills from Thémines and feather-light pops from Le Marec.

While the teeny themes the French trio creates on Miniatures are a bit too diminutive to do more than pass by pleasantly, Thémines does expose one method of clarinet improvisation. Stein’s and Rühl’s trios on the other hand are part of fully realized sonic projects. Each also expresses exceptional command of his preferred member(s) of the woodwind family.

Tomajazz review by Pachi Tapiz

Jorrit Dijkstra – Pillow Circles (CF 166)
De homenajes en esencia sin perder la identidad. De clásicos del jazz, compositores contemporáneos, grupos de pop o músicos de vanguardia. Esos son algunos de los homenajeados por Jorrit Dijkstra con sus “Pillow Circle”. Compuestas por encargo del North Sea Jazz Festival y el Muziek Centrum Nederland, Pillow Circles se estrenó en la edición de 2009 del festival holandés. Su música se mueve por los terrenos de ese jazz contemporáneo que no echa demasiado la vista atrás, que se abre a inspiraciones ajenas al jazz, y en el que son tan importantes las composiciones (que se inspiran magníficamente en la obra de los homenajeados), como los solos. A lo largo del disco no sorprenden las participaciones de Tony Malaby o Jeb Bishop, que están en un momento magnífico. No se puede decir lo mismo (en cuanto a la falta de sorpresa, no de la calidad), de Oene van Geel con la viola. Un instrumento no demasiado habitual en el jazz, y que aporta una sonoridad magnífica.

Escuchando obras como ésta surgen varias preguntas. La primera de todas es por qué las creaciones por encargo de los festivales no son algo más frecuente en nuestro país. La segunda, por qué es tan difícil encontrar a músicos nacionales que se atrevan a realizar su trabajo partiendo de tradiciones como las que utiliza Jorrit Dijkstra. Y para finalizar, si sería posible que las discográficas nacionales hiciesen un hueco a propuestas como ésta o similares.

Ni Kantu review by Clifford Allen

WEIGHTLESS – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Weightless is the combo of Italian pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera and the English saxophone-bass team of John Butcher and John Edwards. Both pairs of musicians are restless international collaborators, though Spera and Braida might be new names to some (their groups have included saxophonist Jack Wright, bassist Lisle Ellis, and reedman Hans Koch). In a way, it’s refreshing that A Brush with Dignity sounds like one would hope, minus the air of iciness that can be attached to Butcher. The addition of a harmonic instrument lends a particular cast, not necessarily “bringing the boys home,” but responding with bluesy Paul Bley-like turnarounds and fleshy rhythmic clang as Edwards and Spera flail and thrum around Butcher’s sputtering stiletto. The centerpiece is the nearly thirty-minute “Centri” (not eight, as the sleeve says), beginning with long breathy tones and metallic jitter commingling with throaty voices from Edwards’ hull. It would be easy for such sparseness to become rarified, but that doesn’t happen – chordal outlines and Spera’s terse, high-pitched bowing are mated to the Brits’ gritty agitation. Unaccompanied, Braida has a way of making massive sonic areas halting and squirrely, though without much speed (again perhaps the influence of Bley’s later work). Furious pizzicato strum and Spera’s angled, brushed ricochets fill out a suspended and turbulent trio. Cottony circular breathing, flutter tonguing, bowed cymbals and muted piano clunks echo the moments of kindling in the Schlippenbach quartet, soon dropping away into thwacking tenor and bass. Without going into a play-by-play, it is here that the group clearly subverts its name without looking back.

Prices under crash for some CF releases at the CF website

All About Jazz Italy review by Vittorio Albani

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
Sono ormai diversi anni che “The Wire,” una delle migliori ed intelligenti riviste specializzate al mondo, cita l’Empty Cage Quartet (che alcuni ricorderanno sotto il nome di MTKJ Quartet, dalle iniziali dei cognomi dei suoi membri – clicca qui per leggere la recensione di Making Room for Spaces) quale una delle formazioni più illuminate ed illuminanti del new jazz.
La seriosa redazione londinese non ha torto. Quello che molti hanno bollato con il vecchio termine di free jazz è in realtà un nuovo modo di vivere il “sistema improvvisazione” in toto. Nelle utili note di copertina di questo nuovo lavoro uscito per l’attentissima Clean Feed portoghese, Kris Tiner, emblematico e misuratissimo trombettista del quartetto, spiega per bene che molto del lavoro del gruppo si basa su palindromi armonici e sequenze melodiche direttamente mutuate dallo studio dei cicli del calendario Maya. Ma, attenzione, non c’è nulla di cervellotico, di esoterico o di solo fondamentalmente intellettuale in questa musica. Non è accademia, in poche parole, ma solo ed esclusivamente voglia di possibilità, di strade potenziali.

L’energia nascosta che contraddistingue Gravity è sostanziale e indica chiaramente la purezza degli intenti. La qualità delle scelte è palpabile così come le forse risultanti messe in gioco. Il sottile gioco delle combinazioni e delle ricombinazioni non è ovviamente una novità ma è sempre straordinario annotare come, nel vasto mare della musica, l’avventura riesce sempre ad avere un logico seguito. La capacità di ognuno dei quattro componenti di questo progetto è indubbia e la creazione di strutture improvvisative in grado di espandersi o rapprendersi con sorprendente semplicità è dannatamente vincente. Un gioco per la mente più che per il cuore, ma alla fine della fiera, una festa di colori e una dimostrazione di forza creativa fa vincere l’idea che questi siano veramente nuovi concetti con i quali la grande storia dell’improvvisazione debba rapportarsi.

Gli amanti del genere hanno ben quattro album di questa formazione con i quali confrontarsi. Il fatto che la band viva poi priva dell’apporto del pianoforte (in molti altri casi vero pilastro di operazioni similari), la riconduce semmai ad altre importanti esperienze, prima fra tutte quella di un signore che si chiama Ornette Coleman. Mi divertirei a pensare a un neologismo come quello di una novella “estetica labirintica,” ma – rimettendo poi i piedi per terra – mi rendo allo stesso tempo conto che – con nelle orecchie sonorità simili – la mente fugge alla ricerca di icone in grado di dare spiegazioni che in realtà non dovrebbero sussistere anche se poi le parole tornano ad essere necessarie per presentare particolari forme d’arte.

Usando meglio la testa, l’unico consiglio da dare è quello di connettersi idealmente alle linee di questi brani, lasciando che la mente si adagi liberamente alla estrema modularità musicale che li contraddistingue. Atmosferica o pensante che questa musica sia, se per un attimo si riuscisse a catturarne almeno la coda, ci si potrebbe sorprendere ad intuire un possibile ma reale sviluppo del jazz moderno.

Stash Dauber review by SD

A Whole Bunch of New Stuff from Clean Feed
A fat envelope arrived last week from Clean Feed Records, the Lisbon-based label specializing in creative improvised music whose name has become as reliable a guarantor of quality for this jaded listener as Smog Veil and Aztec Music are, in different ways. Here’s what they sent.

Scott Fields Ensemble – Fugu (CF 171)
Guitarist Scott Fields is a Chicagoan by way of Madison, Wisconsin, who now resides in Cologne, Germany. He had a “countercultural” adolescence and started out playing blues in bars while still underage before falling under the spell of the Windy City’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. (“A Poem for Joseph,” which opens his album Fugu, is dedicated to Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist Joseph Jarman, with whom Fields has performed.) He put down his guitar when he was 21 and picked it up again 15 years later, earning a journalism degree in the meantime, although you wouldn’t know it from his infuriatingly convoluted liner notes. Fugu is a reissue of a 1995 date first released on his own short-lived Geode label. The pieces were written to accompany dancers but their tricky, irregular meters proved unsuitable for that purpose. The music’s subtly stunning on its own terms, though, performed by an unit of mainly classical players whose fiery interpretations of Fields’ compositions belie their academic backgrounds. Cellist Matt Turner and vibist Robert Stright particularly shine.

Fight the Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdon (CF 169)
A cursory glance at the band shot on Fight the Big Bull’s All Is Gladness in the Kingdom caused me to wonder, “WTF is this, ‘freak folk’ shite?” I needn’t have worried. Far from it, they’re a robust and forward-thinking ensemble from Richmond, Virginia, of all places, helmed by guitarist-composer Matt White. They sound like the Gil Evans Orchestra with a screw loose, or one of those freewheeling Euro outfits like Willem Breuker’s Kollektief. Like the ’70s Evans outfit, they aren’t above incorporating rawk influences (including the foulest sounding fuzztone I’ve heard in several years) to their tumult of squalling saxes and growling trombone. Elsewhere, their woodwinds sing as smoothly and sweetly as the ones from Ellington’s Blanton-Webster band. The secret ingredient on All is Gladness… is trumpeter-composer Steven Bernstein (Sex Mob, Millennial Territory Orchestra), who traveled to Richmond from Da Apple for ten days of rehearsal, performance, workshops, and recording. On “Mothra,” they sound like a futuristic sci-fi soundtrack gone haywire. And I just can’t resist their wild ‘n’ wooly cover of “Jemima Surrender” from the Band’s self-titled sophomore LP, an album they apparently dig real much. Which, come to think of it, _was_ pretty freaky (if only for its out-of-timeness) and folky (if you accept the premise that Ray Charles and Bobby Bland could be considered “folk music”).

Jorrit Djikstra – Pillow Circles (CF 166)
Speaking of large ensembles and Europeans, on Pillow Circles, commissioned for the 2009 North Sea Jazz Festival, Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra (based in the U.S. since 2002) leads an all-star octet that includes saxman Tony Malaby, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Frank Rosaly. Imagine if you will an ebulliently percolating jazz that’s expansive enough to accommodate rustic touches like guitarist Paul Pallesen’s banjo, moments of spacious experimentalism and even a soupcon of indie depresso-rock (dig the segment dedicated to Fred Frith). This is visceral music with intellect and a fair amount of humor. What’s not to like? (And by the way, how’s your Dutch?)

RED Trio – RED Trio (CF 168 )
RED trio is neither (as far as I can tell) a group of doctrinaire Communists or a King Crimson tribute band. Rather, it’s a collaboration between three adventurous improvisers — pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernani Faustino, and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini — all of whom have worked with saxophonist Nobuyasu Furuya; the bassist and drummer appeared on Furuya’s Bendowa album for Clean Feed last year. They claim the heritage of the Bill Evans-Paul Bley trio, not so much for the sounds and moods they create as for their instruments’ roles as equals rather than foreground-and-background. This is daring, edge-of-seat stuff.

Kirk Knuffke Trio – Amnesia Brown (CF 167)
On Amnesia Brown, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke leads a trio that features two of his bandmates from Butch Morris’ Nublu Orchestra, drummer Kenny Wollesen and multi-instrumentalist Doug Wieselman (Lounge Lizards, Flying Karamazov Brothers). Knuffke’s a searchingly lyrical trumpeter, while Wieselman switches off between a mellifluous clarinet and a guitar that spans styles from surf to skronk. Wolleson’s a thinking, listening percussionist. The music they make together is alternately contemplative, exploratory, and abrasive, but always incandescent. The 16 tracks that comprise Amnesia Brown are short but flow together seamlessly.

Sei Miguel – Esfingico (Suite for a Jazz Combo) (CF 170)
Sei Miguel plays pocket trumpet a la Don Cherry and, on Esfingico: Suite for a Jazz Combo, leads a group that includes alto trombone, bass guitar, electronics, and small percussion. While the group’s episodic interplay is interesting, the connections they strike never seem to generate much heat or light. This is the kind of thing that’s best experienced live, when you can observe the physical dynamic between the players.

The thickness of the Clean Feed catalog that accompanied these releases provided heartening evidence that there’s a thriving audience for this kind of music — in Europe, at least, if not here.