Daily Archives: May 28, 2012

The New York City Jazz Record review by Robert Iannapollo

Nacka Forum – Fee Fi Rum (Moserobie)
Zanussi Thirteen – Live (Moserobie)
Kullhammar/Zetterberg/Aalberg – Basement Sessions, Vol. 1 (CF 246)
With his first album Salut (2000), recorded with his quartet, Swedish saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar came seemingly from out of nowhere to make a major impact on the Swedish jazz scene. Released on his Moserobie label, Kullhammar soon established the label as an operation documenting similar-minded players on the Swedish jazz scene (trumpeter Magnus Broo, singer Lina Nyberg, et. al.). Kullhammar’s quartet has been the mainstay of the label and in 2010 celebrated its tenth anniversary with the release of a superb eight-CD boxed set.

Nacka Forum is one of Kullhammar’s alternate bands. A piano-less quartet, it features Goran Kajfeš (cornet, trumpet, electronics), Johan Berthling (bass) and Kjell Nordeson (drums and vibes). In addition to tenor, Kullhammar appears on baritone and bass saxes, piccolo, clarinet and mini-moog. A little more diverse than his standard quartet’s modus operandi of rousing freebop, there’s still a healthy dose of that on Fee Fi Rum as well as the musical wit for which Kullhammar is noted. Several of the pieces are ostinato-based and handled with a plomb. These ostinatos never get tedious due to Nordeson’s expansive, fluid drums, always keeping the rhythm interesting. Kajfeš’ spiky cornet seeks out weird trajectories and he intertwines nicely with Kullhammar’s reeds when they are playing in tandem, with the cornet/baritone sax combination particularly effective. While much of this is strong, energetic contemporary jazz, when they slow down for a ballad ( “Jimmy”) or a group textural exploration, the contrast is effective. Also mention must be made of the surprising use of timpani on “Borkum Riff”. Although Kullhammar’s freebop-based quartet has the cachet, Nacka Forum at its best sometimes eclipses Kullhammar’s main group.

Zanussi Five is one of Moserobie’s more popular groups, with three albums to their credit. Usually a quintet (three saxophones plus bass and drums) helmed by bassist Per Zanussi, for Live he adds a trombonist, guitarist, extra drummer and five more saxophonists (Kullhammar among them). With this expanded line up, the group becomes a wild, braying beast with beautiful massed choruses, screaming boisterous passages, plenty of creative soloing and more. When he is audible, guitarist Stian Westerhus adds an unexpected, edgy electronic tension, particularly effective when the saxophonists are going at it full-tilt. The compositions showcase the larger ensemble well. Several are rearranged from earlier releases (Ghibli, Body And Zeuhl, Zoanthropy 2) and an arrangement of Ornette ‘s “Street Woman” is one of the more unique handlings of the Coleman composition. Special mention has to be made of drummers Gerd Nilssen and Per Oddvar Johansen, who push this lumbering beast of a group to staggering heights. To his credit, Kullhammar works within the ensemble and is not the star of the set. The real star is the full 13-piece ensemble.

Kullhammar the improviser is heard at length on Basement Sessions, Vol. 1, recorded with bassist Torbjorn Zetterberg (a charter member of Kullhammar’s main quartet) and drummer Espen Aalberg. One gets the impression that Kullhammar just likes to blow and there’s always a joyful cadence to his playing. He seems to relish challenging himself and playing away from his main group is one way to get refreshed. On this disc, the absence of a pianist frees him up for more stratospheric flights, especially on the opener “As Tajm Goes By”. But for all the energy expended on the uptempo blowouts that dominate the disc, perhaps the best track is “Den Stora Vantan”, a baritone exploration, taken at a funereal pace. Kullhammar seems to wrench every sound he can from the instrument during the track’s nine minutes. The album’s skeletal themes allow for plenty of open space and seem to inspire the entire trio, making for a satisfying listen.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Clifford Allen

Wooley/Weber/Lytton – Six Feet Under (No Business)
RED Trio + Nate Wooley – Stem (CF 249)
One of the crucial things about this music is that the concept of a band’s instrumentation is, ultimately, less important than who is playing. We think of the format of a piano trio, an organ group, or a piano-less quartet as given, into which one plugs the holes with artists who have (or can have) a good rapport and the music works itself out in that context. Such ideas have defined ‘jazz’ to some degree for generations. But the last few decades have introduced an incredible amount of flexibility both in how ensembles approach the music, as well as the possibilities inherent in each instrument. Two of trumpeter Nate Wooley’s most recent releases are poised to defy any traditional assumptions about ‘trumpet and rhythm’ even if he’s the only horn.

Six Feet Under joins Wooley with a frequent collaborator, English percussionist Paul Lytton, as well as Swiss bassist Christian Weber on a program of five improvisations. As a trumpet and percussion duo, Wooley and Lytton have circumvented any notions of a drum-and-bugle corps through extensive use of electronics, amplification, voice and close mic’ing, to the point that sound sources are indistinguishable. SixFeet Under isn’t that kind of record, though – Lytton’s kit is more or less traditional, albeit played with light, open concentration and controlled metric wrangling. Wooley’s screams, growls, circular breathing and unsettled chuffs are out in full effect, but tressed by Weber’s massive arco on the opening “Pushing up Daisies”. If it is a fracas, it is conscious of the logic behind group motion. “Nickel Eyes” opens with a syrupy cry, the kind not quite heard from Wooley in this way. He’s translated the harrier-ache of Albert Ayler from tenor to trumpet and he pulls it into a dry, laconic swing against precision flits and a meaty pizzicato anchor. Much of “La Grande Mort” is rootedin long, murky tones and ancillary subversion – the latter almost comedic when bright, muted trumpet and scratched drumheads supplant a protracted, guttural pinch. As both a power trio and an exploratory vehicle, Six Feet Under is a brilliantly equilateral recording.

Stem finds Wooley in the company of one of Europe’s most interesting small groups, Portugal’s RED Trio: pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. Somewhat akin to ARC (Corea/Holland/Altschul) or the Howard Riley Trio, RED subverts the traditional roles of piano, bass and drums to create a continual hum of percussive-melodic activity. Pinheiro uses the full resources of the instrument, muting and plucking the strings while generating a stark, tense environment from obsessively repeated clusters. Toward the end of “Flapping Flight” he creates a steely drone underneath Wooley’s shrieks and sighs, outlined with brush patter and Faustino’s low harmonics. Swiping whistles across some flat object on “Phase”, Wooley mirrors a palimpsest of feedback and piano resonance before crumpling into a distorted whinny, as the trio’s muscularity is positioned front and center. Subversion is part of the RED aesthetic too, Pinheiro matching the trumpeter’s terse, hot monochromes with well-behind-the-beat chords and rhapsodic head-butts. RED are highly economical and well apprised of the Tradition – at least one can hear it in the pianist’s ringing melodic stabs, which somehow occupy a region between forcing a series of phrases and sweetly caressing them. This coy aggressiveness mates well with Wooley’s clear, instantaneous responseand hackle-raising explosions. The foursome are constantly in action even when ostensibly ‘hushed’ -pursed exhalation, bowed cymbals and low rumblearen’t alien to their palette, maddeningly approaching Nuova Consonanza extremes on the closing “Tides”. Each of the five pieces presents a different group axis, often discomfortingly set between the well-marked poles of brash expressionism and coiled reflection.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Fred Bouchard

Palle Mikkelborg/Thomas Clausen – Even Closer (Arts Music)
Dennis González/João Paulo – So Soft Yet (CF 243)
Giovanni Falzone/Bruno Angelini – If Duo – Songs (Abeat)
Three duos between veteran trumpeters and pianists come in from Denmark, Portugal and Italy. Veterans of cold wars and glacial ice-bound ECM silences, pianist Thomas Clausen and trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg weave ice-fogged, watercolors of shining aqueous hues and drifting interplay on Even Closer. Their melodic offerings, distilled into eerie exhalations and carved in icy sculpture, are straight forwardly crystalline. Glinting, spooky muted Miles Davis (cryo preserved from 1957) looms gently over the minimalist “When Lights Are Low” and “My Funny Valentine”. Anything but fragmented, these miniatures evoke Arctic winters: the cryptic “Do Not Speak” fades with unearthly whale whimpers, the flamenco-tinged “To Read Is To Dream” blurs on a shimmery horizon and the outer-spacey title track echoes Gershwin’s strawberries, freeze-dried on a glinting floe.

So Soft Yet is cantabile poems in a classic Euro-folkstyle. Texas trumpeter Dennis González plays four-square with little vibrato and affectation; Lisbon pianist João Paulo sounds classically schooled with a down-home bent. They weave in special effects from track to track, fueled by motoric rhythm loops. González pre-programs thirds on “Broken Harp” and the spooky closer “Augúrio”. Paulo strokes electric plunking basslines on “El Destierro”, folksy accordion stutters on “Deathless” and “Taking Root”, electric loops on “Broken Harp”. A couple of tracks recall the Enrico Rava/Paolo Fresu Italianate school, with blue fado wisps; one is reminiscent of Jill McManus’ Hopi melodies played sotto voce by Tom Harrell. Yet the duo’s sliding from one easy vamp to the next, rather than building their case with strong melodies, results in a date of pleasant if aimless noodling.

Following the Danes’ chill intensity and the Transatlantic duo’s breezy atmospherics, the team of Sicilian trumpeter Giovanni Falzone and Marseilles-born pianist Bruno Angelini convey nine edgy pieces, credited to Falzone, in a mutually sparking, downright theatrical atmosphere. By dint of varying tempos, timbres and moods, this highly accomplished pair succeed in putting across a vividly dramatic, witty, consistently engaging set. “Marì” leads with splashes of edgy avant guardia, as chance-taking improvisations whirl and fragment. Falzone shows splendid tone and superior melodicism while Angelini dazzles with double-time runs and darting notions that push on into “Salto nel Vuoto” as Falzone opens up handsome flutter-tongue figures. They shuffle “Maschere”(stately) and “Terra” (legato arpeggios) with comically grumbling quasi-scat (“Pineyurinoli”) and a manic off-Broadway two-beat rag (“Wizard”). Other poignant effects are Falzone’s diminutive wah-wah mute expanding to a sweeping legato on “Guardando illago” with Angelini’s comically chirrupy piano, a fast bluesy ostinato named after “Jean Cocteau” and a closing ballad that might complement a genially offhand Charlie Chaplin vignette.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Wilbur MacKenzie

Ballister – Mechanisms (CF 245)
Terrie Ex/Paal Nilssen-Love – Hurgu! (PNL)
Slugfield – Slime Zone (PNL)
Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has been exceptionally prolific in the last 12 years, appearing on numerous releases each year and traveling constantly throughout the world. First gaining international attention as a member of The Thing, Nilssen-Love has built lasting associations with such ubiquitous improvisers as Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann, Otomo Yoshihide and Americans Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee. Nilssen-Love is in possession of prodigious technical skill, but what distinguishes his work is the constant ebb and flow between subtlety and extreme intensity. He manages to function like the drummer in a group while essentially operating more like a sound generator. Three releases find him in different contexts, each reflecting his distinctive musical personality.

The standout from this batch is Mechanisms, the debut from a collective trio with two of Chicago’s most noteworthy improvisers – saxophonist Dave Rempis and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. The three extended improvisations find the former switching between alto, tenor and bari, with the latter incorporating his distinctive use of electronics. The extended structures provide ample opportunity to explore myriad sound worlds, to build intensity slowly, with purpose and intent. Lonberg-Holm manages to incorporate electronics in a way that transforms his instrument to the point of being completely unrecognizable as a cello- though still managing to sound like the same player he is with his colorful acoustic playing; the play between the two approaches is quite flexible and his fluency with both is inspiring. Rempis is a forceful player whose long phrases can generate dynamic contours out of minute shifts in the timbre of his instrument. So often Rempis and Lonberg-Holm create a profound sonic tandem, with Nilssen-Love approaching the drums not so much as a large instrument, but a handful of extremely varied sounds that can each be explored, separately or together.

Nilssen-Love and Dutch rock band The Ex have a long history and on Hurgu! he is joined by guitarist Terrie Ex in a set of arresting duets. The proceedings remain at a high level of intensity throughout, this being more of a brazen romp than the extended ruminations of Ballister. The textural palette is more consistent throughout and as such the general architecture relies more on the interplay between the two musicians. The emphasis here is on sustaining a level of intensity over a long period of time and the effect is more trancelike. Quiet moments like the opening of “Bedele” offer some of the most unexpected twists in the duo’s interplay while still ultimately delivering the goods with some intense blasts of sound.

Slime Zone by the collective trio Slugfield highlights the growing relationship between free jazz, noise music and so-called ‘non-idiomatic improvisation’. With Lasse Marhaug (electronics and turntable) and Maja S.K. Ratkje (vocals and electronics), this record is an amazing museum of unlikely sounds, at times recognizable or completely alien. Here Nilssen-Love’s approach to his instrument(s) is particularly focused on the collection of sounds each object is capable of producing. The line between rhythm and texture is all but non existent, assounds and gestures blend together or cohabitate in ways that constantly confound listeners’ expectations. The tracks here are generally shorter, with the opening cut “Get Out the Traps” being just under three minutes and most of the rest around ten minutes or shorter. This is noteworthy in that it reflects a much more abstract trajectory than Ballister’s collaborative development of structure or the punishing relentlessness of the duo with Terrie Ex. Bizarre soundscreep in and mutate – fitting that the artwork focuses on a sea of green slime and a parade of goopy slugs, as this is how the music often moves along. There is a joyfulness that calls to mind a child’s fascination with gross things; these sounds tend to suggest an affinity for tactile stimuli and sense that the best place to lookfor something pleasant is in very unsavory places. “Bring ‘Em On” is the outlier, extending well past the 20-minute mark and here the structure has more incommon with Ballister – despite the remarkable contrast between Ballister’s jazz-inflected phrasing sand Slugfield’s sheer noise factor. Taken as a whole these three records offer very different looks at the possibilities of Paal Nilssen-Love’s sound world and each view is vibrant and deeply compelling.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Stuart Broomer

Joe McPhee/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – Brooklyn DNA (CF 244)
Live Remi Alvarez/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – First Duet (JaZt TAPES)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Dennis González – The Hymn Project (Daagnim)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has rapidly become one of the most prominent bassists in free jazz, in part due to his openness to varied musical situations, but much more so for the sheer power of his playing. First achieving a significant European profile in the late ’90s with Bugge Wesseltoft’s New Conception of Jazz, the first major ambassadors of Nu Jazz, Håker Flaten has since brought his ferocious drive to a host of prominent bands, often in company with the drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (The Thing, Atomic, Ken Vandermark’s School Days and Frode Gjerstad’s stellar improvising big band Circulasione Totale Orchestra) while showing off his softer side in duo with countryman saxophonist Håkon Kornstad. He’s now a significant musical presence in Chicago and Austin – where he resides – as well as Europe. These recent CDs track some of Håker Flaten’s American passages, all close to the beating heart of a fundamentalist free jazz.

Joe McPhee has been a frequent guest with The Thing and the senior saxophonist/trumpeter has previously recorded in duo with Håker Flaten (Blue Chicago Blues, Not Two), so there’s clearly developed musical chemistry on Brooklyn DNA. The duets hinge on the special musical character of Brooklyn, with pieces invoking various individuals and scenes prominent in its musical history. The two musicians craft a compelling vision of community. Håker Flaten’splaying is both empathetic and prodding as he sometimes maintains very fast tempos while expanding his own expressive range. “Crossing the Bridge”, dedicated to Sonny Rollins, suggests compound points of view, with McPhee’s honking alto recalling AlbertAyler, until Håker Flaten enters and the piece assumes the Caribbean lilt of “St. Thomas” and Rollins’ roots. There are fine invocations of Brooklyn visits by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and homages to residents like the late saxophonist Dewey Redman, but the most arresting music is also the most radical: “Enoragt Maeckt Haght”, named for the Brooklyn motto of “Unity Makes Strength”, is a probing exploration of bowed bass and airy pocket trumpet that represents the borough as terra incognita.

Remi Alvarez is a Mexico City-based tenor saxophonist whose work, like McPhee’s, has a direct expressiveness that’s immediately compelling. First Duet Live chronicles an Austin performance by the two musicians. On the 22-minute “First Duet”, Alvarez reveals himself as an incantatory tenor player and one hears his work as testimony, whether it’s creating a song-like stream, worrying a motif into new shapes and meanings or suddenly erupting into multiphonic cries and wails. Håker Flaten roots this discourse intime, surrounding, encouraging, framing and driving it forward. On “Second Duet”, the bassist comes to the fore with some wonderful bowed playing. Alvarez has a strong sense of voice, but he can touch on very different moods and different areas of his horn. There are moments when he finds a new effect in a series of high register yips or, alternately, wisps of sound, ably matched by Håker Flaten’s sudden flights into upper-register harmonics.

Håker Flaten’s aesthetic includes a kind of brutalist spirituality, certainly evident in his work with The Thing, but there’s a far subtler take on the legacy of Albert Ayler and other energy players embodied in The Hymn Project with the great Texas trumpeter Dennis González, his sons, bassist Aaron and percussionist Stefan Gonzalez, and cellist Henna Chou. The CD opens with the hyper-resonant sound of Stefan Gonzalez’ balafon and one eventually has a sense of this resonance echoing globally, touching spirits of Håker Flaten’s native Norway and the Gonzalez family’s Latin American heritage. There’s a sense of continuous melody here, a stream of sound running from instrument to instrument. It’s a chance for Håker Flaten’s lyricism to emerge and it does so in guitar-like lines and subtle pitch-bends, dove tailing with the other strings, the percussion and Dennis Gonzalez’ own inspired, soulful trumpet. Highlights abound, from the pensive mix of instrumental voices on“Doxology” to the rising tension of “Sweet Hour of Prayer” with Håker Flaten’s spare and intense solo.But it’s the cumulative power of the whole program, imbued as it is with an exalted musical nobility, that stays in memory.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Kurt Gottschalk

Elliott Sharp Trio – Aggregat (CF 250)
Even given the broad diversity in the numerous records Elliott Sharp has released over the last 35 years, one could be forgiven for thinking they know more or less what to expect from a new issue. From skronk rock to chamber ensemble, a mathematical rigidity and a remarkable precision has generally dominated the guitarist’s work. Even in his looser moments, playing Monk or blues improvisations unaccompanied, there is an exquisite control. His work is not always the same. Far from it. But there are rules that run through it, as proven by the exception that is his new trio. Hiring a rhythm section like bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith almost guarantees a sort of intricate swing and that’s clearly what Sharp was looking for in the dozen tracks that make up Aggregat. Having worked extensively with the likes of Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Coleman and Roy Nathanson, Jones is well versed in taking a diversity of material and reading it as blues or swing, cinematic or vaudevillian. And while being the youngster of the group, Smith has had similar sensibilities called upon while working with Tim Berne and Marc Ribot or the rock band Xiu Xiu and his own Good for Cows and These Arches. Together they make, with no intended understatement, for a tight little trio. As such, Aggregat is probably Sharp’s most easily-labeled- ’jazz’ record to date, although it’s far from simply playing dress-up. His fast guitar geometries are certainly at play on some of the dozen tracks that make up the disc, although more of the tracks feature more emotive, nimble soloing. But to say Sharp can play any style he sets his mind to on the guitar is hardly a revelation. The bigger shocker here is his saxophone playing. In the past, his tenor and soprano horns have almost invariably had a harsh edge employed as a sustained, arcing squall over a predetermined complexity. But here, the saxophone is moody, even soulful, from the outset. Album opener “Nucular”(referring either to an old neologism or an even older name for a section of a fruit) has its moments of sputter and dissonance, but at the same time comes yards closer to a Stanley Turrentine side than anyone might ever have expected from Sharp. Such surprises recur throughout the record at such a pace that even when his familiar flat-fingered clusters (which is not to suggest a plodding quality but to describe his evocative technique of muting and playing harmonics) emerge, the expected has become unexpected. The summation of such factors makes this not just a satisfying record but Sharp’s happily jazziest.

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

Baloni – Fremdenzimmer (CF 237)
Valutazione: 4 stelle
Il trio è cosmopolita (Frantz Loriot è nippo-francese, Joachim Badenhorst è belga, Pascal Niggenkemper è franco-tedesco) ma è di stanza a New York. Dettaglio non trascurabile, forse decisivo, nel definire le coordinate di Fremdenzimmer. Perché in questa ostica, aggrovigliata ma stimolante incisione si fondono in maniera decisamente originale, e con passione quasi selvaggia, le pulsazioni uniche che solo la Grande Mela è in grado di offrire con le derive avant, le suggestioni contemporanee e l’allure accademica del Vecchio Continente. Musica da camera, noise, radicalismo, free, sono etichette che faticano a definire il contenuto di Fremdenzimmer, perché le undici composizioni istantanee che lo compongono sono tutto questo e molto altro, nella loro onnivora sete di ricerca e sperimentazione. Con strumenti che forzano la loro fisicità, espandono risorse timbriche, intrecciano tecniche canoniche con utilizzi lontani dall’ortodossia, si confondono, si scambiano ruoli, si trasformano in veicoli ora primitivi, quasi rudimentali, ora sofisticati, quando non spaziali, per trasportare pensieri fuori del comune.

I clarinetti di Badenhorst sono così eterei da apparire inafferrabili e altrettanto materici da sembrare magma incandescente in fuoriuscita dalle crepe dell’anima. Niggenkemper estrae dal suo contrabbasso il possibile e l’impossibile, lavorando spesso di archetto e ancor più spesso di sconfinata fantasia. Loriot e la sua viola, ossia la bisbetica domata, corde pizzicate, maltrattate, circuite, amate follemente, portate a vibrazioni quasi maledette per l’orecchio ma così salutari per l’anima.

Fremdenzimmer, la stanza per gli ospiti preparata da Baloni, può apparire ostica e un poco inquietante come la foto di copertina, ma una volta abitata rivela piaceri e prospettive che vanno ben al di là degli angusti spazi fisici.