Monthly Archives: January 2013

All About Jazz interview by Hrayr Attarian

Sara Serpa: A Musical Journey

Sara Serpa

Vocalist and composer Sara Serpa is one of the most original and innovative musicians to emerge since the turn of the century. She has already made an indelible mark on the modern music scene in the span of a mere four years. Her unique style of vocalese allows her to utilize the full range of her exquisite and clear voice with the agility of an instrumentalist and stand out of the crowd as a sublime interpreter and a bold improviser. Her original pieces, meanwhile, reflect an imaginative approach to composition that matches her spontaneous creativity. Her critically acclaimed debut, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008), showcased her band-leading abilities as she headed a sextet of superlatively talented players, including the inimitable saxophonist Greg Osby.

A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Serpa studied classical piano and voice as a teenager. While in college, pursuing a degree in social work, she was drawn to jazz and augmented her musical education at the school affiliated with Lisbon’s Hot Club Jazz. After graduation, she moved to Boston and enrolled first at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and then the New England Conservatory, earning a Master’s degree in jazz performance in 2008. Almost immediately Afterwards, she moved to New York and fast established herself as one of the freshest and most versatile performers in jazz.

Her adventurous yet disciplined approach to music brought about her career’s meteoric rise. Her second album, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010), a collaborative effort with her mentor and friend, pianist Ran Blake is a haunting and sparse expression of complex musical ideas with often a cinematic flair. An avid bibliophile Serpa drew inspiration from her favorite literary works for her third release as a leader, Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011). The dynamic, sophisticated and memorable record lead to her gracing the cover of the Spring 2012 issue of Jazziz magazine.

Her latest, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012), is her second session with Blake, a set of live duets recorded in Lisbon.

All About Jazz: Aurora is a sparse and hauntingly beautiful work and your second collaboration with Ran Blake; can you tell us about this live date in Lisbon?

Sara Serpa: Thank you, it makes me happy that you like it and enjoyed listening to it. This was the second time Ran came to Lisbon to perform, and it was a great experience, since we had an amazing hall and piano to record the album. We decided to do it in two sessions; one was the day before the concert, and then the concert itself. The day of the concert was an extremely sad day, as it was the day we heard of Bernardo Sassetti’s tragic death. Bernardo was an incredible Portuguese pianist and he wrote the liner notes for our first album, Camera Obscura. We were very emotional on that day.

AAJ: Ran Blake, of course is well known for his work with adventurous vocalists, what was it like having him as a mentor?

SS: The mentorship evolved into a great friendship. Ran is one of my best friends, and one of the most generous musicians I have ever met. Also, he is a musician that loves singers. It’s always unpredictable to sing with him, and I do enjoy those moments of not knowing what will happen and going with the flow. I feel it’s very important to learn with our elders. The way they perceive, listen and learned music is really different and deep. Ran Blake has incredible ears and that’s the most important thing he tries to pass on to his students—teach your ear, learn music by ear, listen above all.

AAJ: On both your studio recording with Blake, Camera Obscura and the live Aurora you cover an elegantly broad variety of standards and originals. How did you choose those particular songs?

SS: The choice of standards has been a bit accidental, but always follows our taste. Either these are songs that Ran loves and suggests we play, songs that I love or songs that we both love.

AAJ: What was the difference for you between the two recordings? How did each setting affect your spontaneous creativity?

SS: The first album was a big adventure for me. I had been singing with Ran in his private studio for a year, and we had built a repertoire, but going into a recording session studio was kind of crystallizing that moment. There wasn’t much pressure, it was more like let’s see what comes out. We did in two days, rarely did more than a take on each song, and it was recorded with very minimal equipment. Still, it sounds great, due to the work of Pete Rende, who mixed it and really understood the sound we were looking for. Aurora was more planned, as we were preparing a concert as well. We also played along with three movies scenes, and that was completely improvised (Dr. Mabuse is one example of it). We decided also that each one should prepare a solo piece. But having an audience definitely changes the moment, is gives you more adrenaline. I felt like I was sharing our duo bareness with a very big hall, full of people.

AAJ: You come from a country with rich musical and particularly song heritage. How did that influence your own development as a vocalist?

SS: Curiously, Fado didn’t influence me at all until I moved to the United States. I only started listening to Fado around 2006 or so. My musical education started with classical music, and although there were other genres played at my house, like Brazilian music, rock, and later on in my teens, more punk and electronic music, Fado wasn’t that much present. I recently understood that Fado was associated with the dictatorship in Portugal that ended in 1974 and my parents were part of the generation who fought against this regime, so naturally they did not listen to Fado.

AAJ: Having had western classical training ,what attracted you to improvised music and particularly jazz?

SS: I studied piano for 10 years and studied classical singing as well. And during all those years, I was always afraid of failing in any musical context. Going to a jazz school and entering this new world opened many doors for me, as I could use all my musical skills and impulses and still create something, interacting with other musicians. To learn harmony and improvisation was something that unfortunately I never explored while at the Lisbon Conservatory, and once I started understanding more about it, it allowed me to find my own style and voice within it. And jazz, it’s such a sophisticated music. It is so complex and advanced, from [trumpeter/singer] Louis Armstrong to [singer] Abbey Lincoln.Its social context and message was also something that attracted me, as there was such a vital energy about the way the old school musicians played.

AAJ: What musicians and records influenced your growth as an artist?

SS: Some musicians that influenced my growth as an artist were my teachers: Ran Blake, [pianist] Danilo Pérez, Greg Osby, and [singer] Dominique Eade. Not only they are amazing musicians, but also they are amazing musicians who have their own voice in the jazz world. Ran Blake and Danilo Perez really gave me wings to fly, encouraging me and giving me so many opportunities to be a better musician. They also taught me the social importance of the music we are making, and through their brightness and talent, showed me a very human side of jazz. . Greg Osby listened to my music and gave me a lot of opportunities to perform and record with his band, and basically he introduced me to the NY scene, when I joined him at the Vanguard—that was a great school as well. Dominique Eade welcomed me in Boston and opened the NEC doors to me, accepting me as her student, while I was searching for a creative environment. Generosity, competence, trust and solidarity is something very important in music and all of them in their own way, taught me that.

It’s hard to name some records. I can name musicians who influenced me as student, at school: Miles Davis (with his second quintet), John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Hermeto Pascoal, Theo Bleckmann, Paul Motian, Tom Jobim, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong. Chico Buarque, Björk, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln, Ella Fitzgerald, Mark Turner, Vardan Ovsepian, André Matos, Maria João … but the list keeps changing, and coming back and forth, each month, each year, as the growth never stops….

AAJ: What are your “desert island” discs and why?

SS: Oh, this is a tough question. To explain why I love certain music… here are a few. Bu these days, with the iPod, do I really need just to pick a few?

Carmen McRae—Bittersweet (Koch, 1964)
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong—Ella & Louis (Verve, 1956)
Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Kohn—Brahms Four Hand Piano Music Vol. 4 Ein Deustches Requiem (Naxos, 1999)
Tom Jobim—Matita Perê (Polygram, 1973)
Sarah Vaughan—Live at Mr. Kelly’s (Emarcy, 1957)
Pixies—Come On Pilgrim (4AD, 1987)
Farafina—Fasco Denou (Real World, 1993)
Miles Davis—Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968)
Charlie Haden—The Golden Number (A&M, 1977)
Ran Blake—Wende (Owl, 1976)
Deerhoof—Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl, 2011)
Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell—Sound of Love (Winter & Winter, 1995)
Béla Bartók}}— Bartók Plays Bartók (Pearl, 1995}
Milton Nascimento—Milton (EMI, 1970)
Abbey Lincoln—Straight Ahead (Candid, 1961)
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane—Live at the Five Spot (Blue Note, 1958)
Meredith Monk—Impermanence (ECM, 2008)
Duke Ellington—Piano Reflections (Capitol, 1953)
Johann Sebastian Bach—The Art of the Fugue

AAJ: What were your experiences coming from Lisbon to Boston and then to New York? If so how did those experiences impact your artistic development?

SS: It’s very hard to describe my experiences coming from Portugal to the USA. Just try to imagine coming from a small school in Lisbon, that doesn’t have more than 200 students, to Berklee, where you have 4,000 students from all over the world. And to be alone for the first time in a foreign country, with the ideal of studying music. With tough winters in Boston…and then going to NEC where I met wonderful teachers who really encouraged me and supported my music, like Danilo Pérez, Dominique Eade and Ran Blake. This all meant an opening of my mind, beyond what I could imagine. I was able to explore and work hard on my music, in a really focused way. And learn even more about jazz, from direct sources.

And then New York, where there are so many musicians, so many people, and where the scene is so competitive. And then you have to pay your bills, you have to keep working on your music, it’s like a positive struggle. It taught me that nothing is for granted, and if you really want something to happen, it has to come from you and not from others. And there are so many incredible musicians in this city that inspire me and teach me every day. To be in New York helped me to see things in a different perspective. The goal is just to keep doing the music I love, be a better musician and person.

AAJ: Your debut album, Praia, contains intriguing original compositions, presumably inspired by Cape Verdean themes, what is your connection to Cape Verde?

SS: I wonder why you ask me about Cape Verde, as there’s nothing related to it on that record. Praia means “beach” in Portuguese, and it was what I missed the most during my first years in Boston, and that feeling gave some impulse composing that music. Those songs were my first attempts of writing music, and they had a stamp on it, which was “I miss my home, I miss my friends, but I also love my new life here.”

AAJ: It is quite interesting and unique that your compositions on Mobile reflected the spirit of literary works yet your singing was primarily wordless vocalese. What inspired you in those particular eclectic mix of books?

SS: It was very random. A few months after moving to New York I realized I was only reading books from travelers and adventurous people, about travelers’ struggles, about discovering the unknown. And maybe that was related with what I was experiencing, being in NY and finding my way of living in this city. Each book was a revelation for me, and I loved reading all of them. And I thought that maybe I could try to recreate a scene or a memory from each book into music. I was fortunate to be able to explore this music with [guitarist] André Matos, [pianist] Kris Davis, [bassist] Ben Street and [drummer] Ted Poor, as I think they really understood each song and played it beautifully.

AAJ: Currently you perform leading your own group as well as in duos either with Ran Blake or André Matos. What are the different challenges inherent in each setting?

SS: For the duo setting, there are similar aspects that need to be present: communication, good time, listening, and empathy. We have to be a team.

Singing with Ran Blake is a time travel for me, as there is so much tradition and knowledge in his playing. It always has the surprise element—we might play the same song several times, and although I feel we are following a plot (just like a movie plot), sometimes we do a shorter version, some other times longer, sometimes we modulate to another key, sometimes he stops playing or throws a chord that completely blows me away. At the beginning it was very hard for me, and I realized I had to be really strong when singing the melody of a song, so that he could play whatever he felt like behind me without losing my direction.

Today, I love that feeling of not knowing what is going to happen. I love Ran’s touch, his use of pedals creates another dimension of sound, and besides all this, there’s a lots of experience, life and love in his playing. And although I am singing the melody, I feel I am following him all the time, or almost like a game, sometimes I lead and some other times he leads. His ears are incredible, and that allows to a lot of creativity in his comping, even when playing the simplest melody. Songs and words are the key with this duo, and singing with Ran woke me to this world of the words and to its power. To convey the story, and to follow Ran’s plot for each song is the most important. Also, Ran and I have many years of difference and come from different continents—I always feel I am learning something new.

With André Matos, feel we are both coming from the same place, meaning we have the same background; history and we play a lot together. We live together, we travel together—so much of that communication and shared moments comes out through our music. We also play a lot of original material, and finding my own space in that material is challenging, because I never do the same thing on every song. Sometimes I accompany him, sometimes I don’t sing, sometimes I improvise—to find that balance of when to sing and when to be silent is challenging in some way. Also, there’s a lot of nakedness in a duo setting, we can’t hide behind any other instrument, and we have to accept what comes out without being very judgmental.

AAJ: Do you also engage in other art forms? If so which ones?

SS: I love photography. I went to an Art College for two years, so I draw, I paint and I take photographs. And I love writing as well. But I’ve never exposed it the way I do with the music.

AAJ: Lastly can you tell us a little bit about your Crossing Oceans project?

SS: Crossing Oceans is still a work in progress. It features voice, trombone, tenor sax, guitar, bass (and possibly some percussion). I sing mostly in Portuguese. It is like a story about my perception of Fado, and its origins, that are deeply embedded with the history of Portugal. It started out of my curiosity about Fado music, as I wanted to know more about this song form (I never listened to it before I moved to US) .

My research made me travel in time and think about things that are key to my country’s history, but that no one talks about: the slave trade from Africa to Brazil, the music that came from Brazil to Portugal in the 18th century, (which is when Fado appeared in Lisbon)…so many things. So it’s a Fado project but it’s also my project, it’s a creative approach to it. It is a story told through music.

Selected Discography

Sara Serpa & Ran Blake, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012)
Sara Serpa Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011)
Sara Serpa & Ran Blake, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010)
Sara Serpa, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008)

Free Jazz review by Tom Burris

CF 261Michael Attias – Spun Tree (CF 261)
Confession time: This is the first time I’ve heard Michael Attias as a leader on a recording; and am I ever sorry I wasn’t clued in earlier.  The band he’s assembled is measured yet open, and produce music that is often delicate without sounding precious or fragile, reminiscent of a freer version of Miles’ second great quartet.  Look no further than the opening track, “Bad Lucid,” as proof, as the melody line conjures up Wayne Shorter; and the band sounds something like Shorter, Herbie, and Miles playing alongside Sirone and Andrew Cyrille.  Attias floats along gorgeously before a long passage appears featuring the group riding a one-note bass passage, swelling against a tide of their own making. “Question 8” begins with a thoughtful drum solo by Tom Rainey, before Matt Mitchell’s piano figures propel slowly forward in blocks, then pull back at the same rate while notes move up and down in a spiral of carefully constructed geometry.

There is a melody played by Attias and trumpeter Ralph Alessi that starts “No’s No” that I can only describe as oblong.  Mitchell’s haunting chord progression grounds the horns’ exotic phrases, but not too much.  This band’s sense of space, openness, and just plain balance has to be heard to be believed.   For example, there is a cluster of repeated chords around 3.5 minutes into “Calendar Song” that locks into Rainey’s thumping before stopping on a dime and rolling directly into a sublime passage featuring an elliptical bass line by Sean Conly.  Rainey’s accents propel everything forward at a constant rate.  Around the 7.5 minute mark, Mitchell takes the lead with bright, quick glissandos that deliver a knockout punch.

“Subway Fish Knit” and “Arc-En-Ciel” are shorter vignettes that function as meditative pieces, particularly the latter track.  Spun Tree is an aptly named disc, as it describes the loopy vertical melodic figures that the musicians constantly wind around each other.  “Ghost Practice” is a prominent example of this; and shows the unusual, restrained interplay between the musicians to be of the very highest caliber.  This one’s a keeper.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Kurt Gottschalk

CF 270Ches Smith and These Arches – Hammered (CF 270)
One might on occasion be given to pause and consider the future of music in the hands of people who have grown up with the history of recorded music just a You Tube search away, in a world we might conceive of as (or even hope will be) post-genre. That generation might well already be looking at such players as drummer Ches Smith to mark the way. Smith has been largely a rock drummer who has booked time with such familiar-to-these-pages personalities as Trevor Dunn, Fred Frith, Ben Goldberg and Marc Ribot.

More central (perhaps) to Smith’s own field of vision are his oddly fascinating duo Good for Cows (with former Deerhoof bassist Devin Hoff), his equally offbeat solo project Congs for Brums and These Arches, a group he leads with the stellar lineup of saxophonists Tim Berne and Tony Malaby, guitarist Mary Halvorson and Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronics. What perhaps holds his contributions to all of these projects together is a fluidity with rhythm – contrasting, overlaid and sliced with the ease of a hip-hop DJ.

Such characterization might be unexpected for a record given the name Hammered, but Smith is as solid as he is nuanced behind the kit and this, the second outing for These Arches, is a rewarding, exciting listen. The band does hammer away at times and in fact several of the compositions – according to Smith – were originally written with a rock band in mind, but they are still roomy enough for healthy improvisation, name checking in its titles such departed influences as Chicago drummer Phillip Wilson and Haitian Vodou drummer Frisner Augustin, suggesting a couple more touch points informing Smith’s work.

With the addition of Berne to the band’s original lineup, the group’s sound is now thick with, well,sound. They’ve crossed that nebulous line between sounding like some people in a room and becoming a blur of group think. In very different ways, Berne and Parkins have traipsed that territory for decades and here in fine company they are continuing to hammer a way at blurry lines.

The New York City Jazz Record feature by Martin Longley


Kris Davis
In just over a decade, the Canadian pianist Kris Davis has become an important player on the NYC alternative jazz scene. Early this month, she’ll be marking the release of a quintet album on the Portuguese CleanFeed label. This Cornelia Street Café gig will reunite the makers of Capricorn Climber, promising to harness its refined, bitter sweet aura. Davis has sculpted an exquisite construction of chamber ice, which is frequently populated by ripping molten outbursts, alternating with marshaled themes: an ambulatory Monkishness can (and indeed does) evolve into a sparse séance ‘scape.

CF 268Davis is joined by Mat Maneri (viola), Ingrid Laubrock (saxophones), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). This quintet played their first gig at Barbès in Brooklyn two years ago. At that genesis point, they were solely concerned with improvisation. Then Davis decided that she wanted to write for this lineup, the five subsequently playing at Cornelia Street Café and The Jazz Gallery.

“It’s a mix,” says Davis, just before a meeting at the latter venue, where she was set to finalize the details of an artist residency. “A lot of composed things that are manipulated by the artists. I wanted to allow them to have the space to be free, to do whatever they feel is right for the music. But I still want there to be a written component, so they interpret whatever I have there.”

CF 233Clean Feed has been the main home for the pianist’s work in recent years, whether as a bandleader, bandmember or even as a completely solo performer (Aeriol Piano, 2009). “There are solo sections,” she continues, explaining the Capricorn Climber method. “Some of it is collective, some is completely written, trying to sound completely improvised. I wrote for those specific players, but sometimes the situation is that you’re writing for a project and you don’t know who’s going to be playing, so you go with what your concept is at the time. There isn’t a set way that I write, I’m usually exploring an idea for an individual piece.”

CF 262A pivotal out fit is Paradoxical Frog, where Davis is joined by Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. This is one of the most mystically ritualistic combos on the scene, specializing in composed music that sounds improvised (is some kind of pattern developing here?), with all three members contributing pieces. “We take a lot of liberties with it,” Davis admits. “But we have pages and pages of material! For the first record we had pieces separately and we just brought them in, but for the last record we wrote them specially for the group.”

Davis’ journey went from Calgary to Toronto and then down to New York. “I always wanted to live here and I had met a lot of New York people at the Banff Centre For The Arts, so when I came down I already knew a few people. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it work, but I wanted to try. Right after I finished school, I came down and dove in, tried to find my way. There were a couple of times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to stay, being a Canadian, for immigration reasons. But I found someone to sponsor me and I was able to work here legally. Once that happened, I knew I was going to stay. The scene here is flourishing and things are changing all the time. It’s an exciting place to be!”

Davis studied and practiced in the classical mode, but became attuned to jazz at a very early stage, drinking in Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. She studied with Jim McNeely in New York and Benoît Delbecq in Paris, then met the saxophonist Tony Malaby at Banff. “He was a big influence for me,” says Davis. “When I moved to New York I hadn’t really composed that much and he encouraged me. After I did Lifespan (Fresh Sound-New Talent, 2003) I wanted to explore blurring the lines between improvisation and composition.”

CF 232For the first half of her career Fresh Sound was a prime supporter and then the emphasis switched to Clean Feed for the second stage, at least so far. Davis penned all of the arrangements for Malaby’s 2011 large ensemble Novela album. “It was the first time I’d written for a group like that and heard a whole large-scale project come together. I’ve just been awarded a grant to write for a large ensemble, so I’ll be doing that this year. I want it to focus on bass clarinets, three or four of them, plus piano, accordion, organ, guitar and trumpets.”

I quiz Davis on whether she’s ever felt drawn to electronic keyboards. “I don’t know if I will end up doing that. I haven’t really experimented with that. I feel like that’s such a large world, you can really fall into it.”

CF 121Even though most of her output is composed, Davis still has a firm commitment to improvisation. The 2005 Fiction Avalanche Clean Feed album found her working as part of the RIDD Quartet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis. “That record was completely improvised, ”she confirms. “We worked a lot on improvising concepts together, for a year before we recorded.”

Another fully improvising project is soon coming: a continuation of a quartet with Laubrock, Rainey and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. An album was recorded last year and will be released later in 2013.

That above-mentioned residency at The Jazz Gallery was indeed finalized and will take place in May, revolving around new works written for Davis’ trio with Rainey and bassist John Hébert. “There’s so much history and so many people doing it and, as hard as it is, that’s also attractive, to find your own way of doing it. ”

Deep contrasts are the Davis way, with composition that sounds like improvisation, improvisation that sounds composed, cerebral constructions delivered with glacial calm and heat-of-the moment inventions negotiated with a vigorous emotional attack. All of these will doubtless transpire at that enticing Cornelia record release party.

Recommended Listening:
RIDD Quartet – Fiction Avalanche(Clean Feed, 2005)
• Kris Davis – Rye Eclipse(Fresh Sound-New Talent, 2007)
Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed, 2009)
Paradoxical Frog – Eponymous (Clean Feed, 2009)
Tony Malaby Novela – Eponymous (Clean Feed, 2011)
Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2012)

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

CF 254The Fish – Moon Fish (CF 254)
Thomas Tilly & Jean-Luc Guionnet – Stones Air Axioms
Jean-Luc Guionnet may not be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the opposing musical personalities he reveals on these and in other situations suggests this duality – at least in a sonic sense. Paris-based and a members of the microtonal Hubbub quintet – hm, we could be getting into Three Faces of Eve territory here – on his own Guionnet can be the very epitome of the go-for-broke hard blowing Free Jazz saxophonist, as he demonstrates on Moon Fish. However his other persona is that of a composer/performer of New music.

Stones Air Axioms captures this role. Trained as an organist, Guionnet, together with Thomas Tilly, a specialist in site-specific sound installations, mapped out the spatial qualities of St. Pierre Cathedral in Poitiers. This on-site metric measurement later allowed the two to merge textures generated by Guionnet improvising on two scores simultaneously played on the cathedral’s pipe organ, while a white-noise sine-waver generator captured the standing wave form retorts that bounced off massive stone walls of the edifice’s cruciform structure. Reconstituted with studio wizardry into four sections, dealing with one aspect of the relation between sound and architecture, the filtered timbres were expanded to encompass the sonority of the empty building.

In all honesty for the layperson, the differences among sections aren’t that pronounced. Throughout as the concentrated textures are propelled from flat-line quivers to resounding crashes and multiphonic drones, the layered results don’t necessarily appear to reflect air and stone as much as approximate machine-generated tones. Only on “SAA3” does the previous seemingly impenetrable thudding response separate enough to reveal spiraling timbres and whistling tremolos that can be attributed to the organ itself. These interludes are brief however. Most of the time crackling static layered with watery laps against indistinct objects, create a result so tonally solid that any variations are infinitesimal. Without formal beginning and end there also appears to be no climax or finale. However scrapes, shuffles and a motion undercurrent are layered into the variants of phase, speed and volume already exposed.

Significant perhaps as an electro-acoustic exercise, Stones Air Axioms lacks the raw emotion that animates Moon Fish. With Guionnet are fellow Hubbuber Edward Perraud on drums, plus Benjamin Duboc, one of France’s most accomplished bassists, who works in similar configurations with other adventurous reed plays like Daunik Lazro. Recorded live in Fundão, the three selections are as close to Energy Music as you can hear in the 21st Century.

Like saxophonists such as Peter Brötzmann and Charles Gayle, Guionnet seems to put the horn in his mouth and blow and blow until he stops. The comparisons to Gayle and Brötz are apt as well, for while the reedist is listed as playing alto saxophone his frenetic tone extensions frequently dip into the tenor register. Evocatively the first two selections are actually one of a piece with the third an encore. Throughout Perraud’s cymbal shatters plus knocks, rolls and rebounds evolve at the same febrile pace as the saxophonist’s reed-shattering lines. With the two often threatening to push the entire performance past the point of no return, it’s Duboc’s thick pumps and scrubs, as well as one suspects, sheer force of will, that moors the others to terra firma. Exhilarating in his improvising that’s staccato, shrieking splintered and spluttering all at the same time, Guionnet doesn’t ignore any extended technique from flutter-tonguing to split tones. Renal cries and pressurized growls are repeated over and over again until the bassist’s solid thump signals the end.

Although the trio appears to pick up where it left off, “Moon Fish 3” is superior to the previous tracks. More cooperative and with more brevity and balance, space is made for a couple of upfront stentorian sound extensions from the bassist as well as a finale of rumbles, pops and flams from the drummer. Mixing bugle-like spetrofluctuation with dips into his horn’s lowest register, the saxophonist piles notes upon note, phrase open phrase, then splinters and splays what he’s created. Although it could be that the “William Tell Overture” is alluded to for a brief sequence, the staccato cries are all his.

For sonic excitement at the same level as a pioneering New Thing session Moon Fish can’t be beat, however the more scholarly committed to that sort of sound may prefer Stones Air Axioms. Whichever is chosen the fact that’s obvious is that Guionnet has made his mark on contemporary improvised music. Of course which of his playing stances is Dr. Jekyll and which is Mr. Hyde depends on your musical orientation.

Touching Extremes review by by Massimo Ricci

CF 264SARA SERPA / RAN BLAKE – Aurora (CF 264)
Clean Feed   Sara Serpa: voice; Ran Blake: piano   One of the things that kill jazz’s genuine sparkle is the showing of a disproportionate conversancy with a given inventory of techniques, which is the archetypal behaviour of many celebrated tricksters. A strong point in favour of Portuguese singer Sara Serpa is the lack of mannerism in that sense: the voice is apparently released devoid of excessive care about a faultless tone, not pretending a provocativeness that is not in her strings. Throughout Aurora she sings innocently, pretty much from the heart, which is more than OK when the ears have grown exhausted of performers who are hiding a mammoth ego under the alleged sheen of fatigued standards (though the “a cappella” rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” presented here is creditable enough for a round of applause).   Ran Blake’s discriminating pianism is at one and the same time full of empathy and supremely no-nonsense, so easy to integrate in our harmonic consciousness. “Mahler Noir” is a tutorial in digital restraint and control of the resonant colours of the instrument; we forget anything ruinous for life and let notes and chords act as photographs of serene privacy, similar to a lonely walk on the shoreline in an unclouded autumn day. His communication with Serpa is imbued with insightful tact and wisdom, a sensible way of accompanying vocals that frames, embraces and captions without forgetting that everything comes from stillness after all.

Best of 2012 list by Oscar Arribas (Cuadernos de Jazz)

CF 255Dark Lady of the Sonnets Wadada Leo Smith’ Mbira (Tum Records)
Alive at the Vanguard Fred Hersch Trio (Palmetto)
To Infinity and Beyond Ja Vigiu Plamja (El Gallo Rojo)
Lifeline Rolf & Joachim Kühn Quartet (Impulse!)
Takes Off PLATFORM 1 (clean feed)

Son tantos los discos que uno ha ido escuchado a lo largo de un año que cuando toca mirar atrás para seleccionar unos pocos te das cuenta de lo rápido que transcurre el tiempo. A la hora de hacer balance, uno se sorprende al comprobar que todos aquellos discos escuchados hace más de seis meses parece como si hubieran sido editados el año pasado. Cada referencia que llega a tus manos parece tener una fecha de caducidad  que indica que debe ser dejada a un lado lo más pronto posible para hacer sitio a la siguiente, y ésta, a su vez, a la próxima que esté a punto de ser editada. De repente, sin darte cuenta, el placer de disfrutar de un disco se convierte más bien en una forma de consumo compulsiva y superficial.

Por esa razón y desde hace unos años, mi cantidad de discos escuchados ha ido bajando progresivamente, si bien el tiempo dedicado a cada uno de ellos ha aumentado cada vez más. De este modo, uno acude a las novedades discográficas sin prisas, a su debido tiempo. ¿Y qué mas da que hayan sido editados hace ya varios meses? Al fin y al cabo, cuando uno adquiere un disco lo hace con el objetivo de que forme parte de su fonoteca particular, donde no hay fechas de caducidad que valgan ni prisas para deleitarse con la música seleccionada.

¿Son estos los mejores discos de 2012? Seguramente, no. La razón por la que han sido seleccionados estos y no otros se debe única y exclusivamente a que sus audiciones han sido para mí de las más gratificantes del año. Aunque puestos a recordar, no se me olvidará la actuación del Aurora Trio de Agustí Fernández, Barry Guy y Ramón López en el Colegio Mayor San Juan Evangelista de Madrid. De acuerdo, no es un disco editado, pero si lo hubieran sacado a la venta a la salida del concierto lo hubiera comprado sin pensarlo dos veces y estaría entre los cinco mejores del año.

Best of 2012 list by Jesus Gonzalo (Cuadernos de Jazz)

CF 253Particula Hugo Carvalhais (clean feed)
Pretty Monsters Katherine Young (Public Eyesore)
Overseas IV Eivind Opsvik (Loyal Label)
The Cherry Thing Neneh Cherry & The Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
Everything Is whatever   Gallo & The Roosters (El Gallo Rojo)

En esta ocasión, la propuesta anual tendrá como protagonistas los discos que más escuché. El de Hugo Carvalhais, de máximos partiendo de mínimos, aún rodando. Pero si se observa con atención, la lista ejerce relaciones de parentesco entre los elegidos.

Deberíamos empezar por el principio, es decir, por una publicación nueva que, no obstante, nos remonta a finales de los 70. Sleeper, de Keith Jarrett y su cuarteto nórdico, ha sido uno de ellos. De un tiempo a esta parte, ECM sigue de cerca la siempre estimulante obra, alejada de sus pilares históricos ahora rescatados en directo, como el ya nombrado o el de Garbarek-Gismonti-Haden, de Tim Berne y Michael Formanek.

El valor de contraste de este legado de Jarrett, con orillas a las que es difícil no arribar cuando uno se acerca a la contemporaneidad, es su énfasis y refinación melódicos, que hoy por hoy están en primera línea de la creación más interesante. Una música, la que nació de My Song, que hoy podría ser entendida como “pop” por su estructura de canción y matiz folk-blues. De ahí que entre nuestra selección haya antes actitudes que criterios definidos sobre melodía y mixturas derivadas del pop (la plasticidad aislada de Eivind Opsvik y el sonido del clave barroco) y del rock con música contemporánea de cámara (fricciones y figuras esquivas en el caso de Katherine Young).

En un enfoque menos afilado que el de Young, aplicando más materia y uniendo distorsión y canción envueltos por una atmósfera oscura, el veterano trío The Thing rescata a Neneh Cherry en The Cherry Thing, disco que depara tantas escuchas como ángulos: jazz garage de gesto punk, trip hop, reggae. Viajero y canalla, sorprendente y desacralizador, omnívoro sería el trabajo de Danilo Gallo al frente de sus Roosters.

Hay un elemento común en lo inusual de las formaciones citadas que se ajustan a la premisa de un autor, como Wadada Leo Smith, que brilló gracias a su recreación memorística en Ten Freedom Summers. Alumno aventajado de tan influyente compositor, que siguió aquello de combinar una plantilla atípica para conseguir sonoridades atípicas, es Harris Eisenstadt. En Canada Day III consolida una idea cromática y funcional altamente expresiva. A este quinteto perteneció Eivind Opsvik.

En piano sobresale nuevamente nuestro Agustí Fernández con Pianoactivity One, aunque  destacaría a Kris Davis en Aeriol Piano. El trío de este instrumento ha tenido dos entregas exigentes en su lenguaje contemporáneo, la del pianista Jesse Stacken y la del baterista Jeff Davis. Añadiría un clásico al que un día le “robaron su cuarteto nórdico”, Bobo Stenson en Indicum. En el saxo, hay que seguir los trabajos Grass Roots y Book of Maebul que ha publicado Darius Jones, construidos desde una intensidad post-free perfumada de lirismo cantable, y a Piero Bittolo Bon tanto a trío en Jazz Gawronski como con el sexteto Jümp the Shark.

Como grupos destacaría dos apabullantes. Ben Goldberg y su Orphic Machine Nonet y uno que dará que hablar este año, Ches Smith & These Arches, con Tim Berne, Tony Malaby, Mary Halvorson y Andrea Parkins.

Noiself review by Jesus Gonzalo

CF 253Hugo Carvalhais – Particula (CF 253)

Sistemas esféricos

El músico portugués publicó un sorprendente y estimulante trabajo en 2010 titulado Nebulosa (con Tim Berne) y ahora sale Particula, que es parte elemental de la materia. Una galaxia y un minúsculo elemento, y dos universos. Como conclusión una idea que une a cinco músicos funcionando como grupo pero a la vez como entes independientes que se asocian entre ellos formando pequeños sistemas.

El disco surge como del infinito, de un lugar lejano, y llega poco a poco mientras las partes que lo componen se hacen más y más visibles. La cercanía descubre un mundo nuevo, lleno de vitalidad y compenetración. Flux, en su primer estado, también por el violín invitado de Pifarely, recuerda la música de Louis Sclavis. En cierto modo, esta plantilla mixta formada alrededor de un cuarteto, tiene mucho que ver con algunos de los terrenos de cámara que ha pisado el músico francés desde finales de los 80. Pero hacia al final el núcleo se disgrega y se desvanece como en un espacio vacío en el que algo se mueve de manera inesperada. Este factor es el que singulariza y distingue el trabajo de Carvahlais, la arquitectura de climas, atmósferas (o nebulosas) y, cómo no, partículas en movimiento. No es un título figurado sino una expresión que lo recoge y amplifica en una sola palabra: Chrysalis, Capsule, Omega, Cortex, Madrigal.

Carvalhais, gran aficionado al jazz desde temprana edad en su ciudad Oporto, donde esta música tenía un templo referencial para la modernidad como Casa Da Musica que ha dejado de serlo, empezó tarde pero lleno de entusiasmo como contrabajista. Lo hizo con 18 justo cuando se matriculaba en Bellas Artes. La cuestión plástica e incluso visual (los vídeos que acompañan a Particula son de gran originalidad y belleza, ver más abajo) es un factor fundamental para entender la estructura móvil y la composición cromática sobre texturas, y también miniaturas, del músico. Pronto se alió con Gabriel Pinto, partícula imprescindible en la combustión de este sonido electroacústico, y luego con Mario Costa (2008), baterista de gran versatilidad e imaginación que va más allá de la función rítmica y un groove sofisticado para construir climas. Parisien llegó después completando el cuarteto, Carvahlais eligió que fuera con el soprano (que no recuerda a Steve Lacy). Así que tenemos saxo soprano, violín y electrónica en registro agudo. Nubes, volúmenes y líneas se ciernen en dimensiones complementarias.

Difícil de dilucidar a qué género pertenece esta propuesta, música contemporánea, improvisación libre, fusión, lo cierto es que si lo consideramos abstracto, habría que considerar abstracta también a la misma materia o lo tangible. No lo parece, y esto es así por, como decíamos, la plasticidad y el potencial descriptivo que provoca. La electrónica juega un papel fundamental, sutil y evocador que favorece la asociación visual con el cosmos y la ciencia ficción cinematográfica. Aunque haya elementos retro de sonido y efectos introducidos a conciencia, nada nos sugiere ni por asomo una conexión con el jazz fusión de los 70. A ello ayuda un piano (y teclados) contemporáneo de pulsación inquisitiva (y conectado con François Raulin) que al entrar el órgano sirve de bóveda celeste.

Generator es una balada espacial que parece quedar suspendida en un ambiente ingrávido y que va creciendo aupado por una alargada línea electrónica como cometa que atraviesa el . Emile Parisien, joven que ya había causado sensación con su debut en Au revoir porc-épic (2006), lleva el peso de este tema que poco a poco se va descomprimiendo hasta desaparecer en una nube gaseosa.

De la antimateria surge Amniotic, líquido misterioso y traslúcido que envuelve al cuerpo que protege. Algo se mueve en su interior, figuras móviles van creciendo y emancipándose como sonidos. El trabajo en texturas se interrumpe violentamente. Un nacimiento, una trasformación.

Le Son du Grisli review by Luc Bouquet

CF 263Ingebright Håker Flaten NY Quartet – Now Is (CF 263)
Trente-neuf petites minutes seulement pour inspecter le New York Quartet d’Ingebright Håker Flaten (Joe McPhee, Nate Wooley, Joe Morris). Trente-neuf petites minutes inquiétant l’harmonie (Times) et se glissant dans une pénombre sonique assumée (Pent).

Ici, faire se dresser la mélodie ; ailleurs, faire appel au free sans y convier cris et fureurs. Et ne pas s’interdire les solos (solo cabré de Joe Morris in As If) pas plus que la douceur des souffles (McPhee in Post). Et surtout : faire accroc au jazz tout en se l’appropriant. Ne pas rejeter ses zones d’inquiétudes et de turbulences (McPhee, toujours lui, in Giants). Puis, sans recourir à la violence, se dégager de la pénombre inaugurale. Tout cela pour faire de Now Is, un disque passionnant si ce n’est passionné.