Monthly Archives: May 2012

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.

Jazz en la Web review by Soyo

Scott Fields Freetet – Bitter Love Songs [CF 102] ****
Scott Fields es un guitarrista que demuestra particular atención por la composición y los arreglos, empleando ensambles con formaciones poco frecuentes para una banda de jazz. Dicho ésto, su Scott Fields Freetet es un trio de guitarra. Claro está, que dista de ser uno convencional. La aproximación de Fields a su instrumento es similar a la de Joe Morris, tocando líneas de notas individuales crispadas, cortantes, plenas de staccato, que en Bitter Love Songs, nombre del álbum objeto de esta reseña, son ejecutadas en un medio tiempo hasta desencadenarse, espasmódicamente, como torrentes a gran velocidad. La base rítmica que componen el contrabajista alemán Sebastian Gramss y el baterista portugués João Lobo sigue de cerca al líder, entablando un diálogo que manifiesta alteración, irritación, enojo. Semejante exposición encuentra sentido en el eje temático del disco que son las sensaciones tras una separación. Sólo “I was good enough for you until your friends butted in” es interpretada en forma más lenta y refleja un cierto sinsabor. Los nombres de los temas son muy graciosos y se tratan de esxpresiones en tono sarcástico dirigidas a una ex-pareja. Es una pena que la guitarra de jazz no sea más apreciada en un rol protagónico a excepción de aquellas bandas asociadas a la parafernalia del jazz-rock, lo que permitiría valorar en mayor medida el aporte de un artista como Scott Fields, quien continúa añadiendo peldaños a la evolución del instrumento.

Jazz Word review by Ken Waxman

The Ames Room – Bird Dies (CF 231)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver – Family Ties
Free Jazz has no geography or language as these two CDs of outstanding trio improvisation prove. Seemingly any musician(s) from anywhere can organize an exceptional session just as long as the spirit is there. But that’s the key caveat. For unless the performance includes an indefinable helping of inspiration and cooperation, the results is endless blowing.

The younger group of players who make up the Ames Group understand this and, perhaps pointedly don’t make free expression their only methods of expression. Paris-based alto saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet for instance, is not only is involved with electro-acoustic compositions and pieces for organ but he’s one-fifth of Hubbub, France’s most recognizable reductionist band. Confirming the geographic separation, The Ames Room’s other members are Australians who have expatriated to different parts of Europe. Nantes, France-based Will Guthrie, is a percussionist who moves between Rock, Electronica and experimental solo expression; Berlin resident, bassist Clayton Thomas is as likely be found as part of an experimental duo as a big band playing complex arrangements.

There’s no sign of that versatility on Bird Dies, which in essence is 46 minutes of unstoppable, balls-to-the-wall improvisation, with no explanation of whether the deceased bird in question is a fowl or Charlie Parker. Guionnet sticks the horn in his mouth at the beginning, and almost never stops stretching sequences of staccato segmented split tones, slurs, screams and siren-like squeaks throughout. Meanwhile Thomas keeps things together with resonating thumps while Guthrie matches the saxman’s extended glossolalia and tongue jujitsu with cross-sticking counterpoint expressed in ruffs, rolls and bounces.

Building his solos with pointillist intensity so that partials and extensions of individual notes are apparent along with the roots, Guionnet’s altissimo screams and basso honks are anything but out of control. Marking time with repeated phrasing and hooks, his output cunningly mingles with Thomas’ and Guthrie’s pressures and vibrations until the intermingled lines come to a satisfactory end. One would expect that “Bird” Parker would have been impressed with the trio members’ audacity, if not all their methods.

There are similar circumstances in place on Family Ties. But here the slightly older improvisers keep the free-form intensity going for almost 75½ -minutes, albeit among six tracks. Another dual country situation, in this case bassist Joe Morris and drummer Gerald Cleaver are Americans while saxophonist Ivo Perelman is Brazilian. Each has worked with a cross section of advanced stylists in the past, most prominently bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp.

Cleaver who straddles supposed contemporary and so-called avant-garde Jazz gigs most of the time uses blunt accents throughout; while Morris, equally proficient as a guitarist, has an expected tendency to mix arpeggiated licks with steadying string pops. As for Perelman, his supposed avant-gardism doesn’t preclude involvement in the song form at various junctures. Especially in this classic configuration of saxophone-bass-and-drums, his pacing and timbre intersections often reflect decisions Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins made in corresponding situations. Get an idea of this on “The Buffalo”, the only creature memorialized here.

In effect there are sections in “Love”, the album’s nearly 25-minute climatic showpiece that Perelman’s supposedly irregular reed variations take on lyrical inferences in the Stan Getz-Gerry Mulligan tradition. Bird may figure in too. Mid-range and moderato, Perelman’s sputtering textures are backing by Cleaver’s ratamacues. Soon afterwards though bugle-like spetrofluctuation, pressurized honks and repeated tongue slaps are the order of the day, with the saxophonist blowing several choruses through his mouthpiece alone. The drummer responds with shattering ruffs and cross patterning, while the bassist sprints up and down the strings to introduce the saxophonist`s tongue-stopping and shrilling. As a climax within a climax, Perelman eventually produces two streams of sounds; one which piles shrieks upon shrieks; the other accommodating and mid-range. The later connects to the pseudo-ballad which launched the sequence and appropriately completes it.

Throughout the rest of the session the three engage in more cat-and-mouse-like games and chases, with multiphonics as prominent as American songbook inferences and, in the saxophonist’s case, bitten-off tones and vamping cries that go beyond Rollins-like strategies without being offensive. Tessitura broadening to insinuate lyrical underpinning even lurks in a piece such as the title track. Although Perelman begins his improvisations on kazoo [!], there are still references to simpler pop melodies in the midst of the instrument’s nasal whines. When he switches back to tenor saxophone, his output is initially paced and mellow, until he deconstructs what melody there is with staccato snorts and bell-muting slurs. As Cleaver ruffs and rattles alongside Morris’ stentorian bumps, Perelman uses thick reed pressure to rappel from nephritic sound dislocation to grating altissimo tongue flutters before locking into a chromatic summation punctuated by guitar-like twangs and a concluding thump from the bassist.

Protracted or segmented explorations of the polyphonic limits of concentrated improvisations, both of these Brazilian-American and French-Australian trios offer uncompromising but satisfying CDs.