Monthly Archives: August 2013

Free Jazz review by Janus and Karl

CF 278Joe McPhee – Sonic Elements (For Pocket Trumpet and Alto Saxophone) (CF 278)
Being Joe McPhee must be wonderful because with his music he has the ability to touch the most delicate strings of your heart. In 2011 he opened the third day of the Chicago Tentet+1 residence to celebrate Peter Brötzmann’s 70th birthday at Café Ada in his hometown Wuppertal with a dedication to the late Billy Bang. It was a blues meditation on soprano sax which almost drove the audience to tears.

But being Joe McPhee must be hard work as well. When you’ve still been blowing miracles out of your lungs every day for forty years (and being among a fistful of unbreakable free jazz veterans), when you’ve been constantly promoting the logical evolution of your lifetime’s musical paths as much as you’ve been getting involved in a countless number of embodiments in the musical scenario without boundaries, there must have been some kind of strange and strong fluid running through your veins. One day you’re on stage guiding the transcendent guitar feedbacks of some rock outsider, the other day you team up with some polyhydric noise creator, or you are just spending a two-day-residence-gig melting in the glorious “dirty Chicago Tentet” at Café Oto driven by one of your old comrades. No time to mess around!

So what happens when you are alone with your horns and brasses again? When your sound is so unveiled after so much time and so many experiments? Well, see above.

McPhee is in no hurry, he takes all the time he needs to warm up his instrument like a kid getting confident with his new toy (he!). On his new album “Sonic Elements” the dedication of “Episode One” to Don Cherry is rather to be intended as a homage to a trailblazer in the use of the pocket trumpet as improvising instrument than a reference to the grand old trumpeter. McPhee silently inflates the pipes, enjoying every single rasp coming from his breath coalescing in shrieking clusters, slap-tonguing on the mouthpiece, clawing the metal and murmuring. The evolved phrases of his musical speech coming after this long intense prelude seems to come from a sort of second adult self replacing the former embryonic one.

Following this imaginary path of growth doesn’t surprise the use of the voice filtered through the instrument, as a new step of evolution and conscience. If the artist already faced two of the four classical elements (“Air” in the first minutes of this sonic journey and “Earth” through the human voice) the closing minutes are plunged in the “Water”. The musical fluid flows along the piston valves, the “Air” pulls back among the dropping sizzle of the overstuffed pipes. McPhee preserves the clash of “Earth” and “Fire” for his beloved blues and alto sax and dedicates “Episode Two” to Ornette Coleman – and what a majestic and outstanding blues manifesto it is indeed! But not necessarily in the case of Coleman’s Texas blues feeling (or his harmolodics), even if the track starts like it. McPhee triggers off light-footed lines displaying his incredible musicianship on the instrument (but there is definitely no showing off) before he turns to a Steve-Reich-like minimalism, to repetitive phrases, and hoarse croaking. He even produces rock phrases in this wild, yet elegant mix before he intersperses pointed trills, wild runs, and desperate cries only to return to minimalist phrases again. The cement that holds everything together is his down-to-earth Mississippi blues sound, these beautiful dark lines which are so fragile that they seem to be torn apart, in its foot-dragging this music is of the utmost beauty and melancholy.

The album was recorded at Cankarjew Dom, a concert hall in Ljubljana/Slovenia in 2012. It is one of the most fabulous recent solo recordings and we highly recommend it, because being Joe McPhee is most of all being pure joy for all the listeners.

Free Jazz review by Martin Schray

CF 276Harris Eisenstadt September Trio – The Destructive Element (CF 276)
Recently we had a very interesting discussion on Ellery Eskelin’s album New York II in which Joe and I were rather critical while Monique, who reviewed it, really loved it. The most fascinating thing was that Mr Eskelin himself joined the discussion in the comment section and added some very insightful arguments as to his idea of a combination of open improvisation with warm and smooth sounds. I listened to New York II again and could see his idea behind it but somehow I thought that he could do better – and he does: On Harris Eisenstadt’s September Trio album “The Destructive Element” the integration of Eskelin’s beautiful tenor sound into Eisenstadt’s compositions works in an almost perfect way.

The September Trio is Harris Eisenstadt (drums, composition), Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Angelica Sanchez (piano) and “The Destructive Element” is their second CD after the self-titled debut, which tried to integrate new classical music ways of composing in jazz ballads with the result that the album had an intellectual touch somehow. Their new album tries to separate these genres, which suits the pieces much better.

The album starts with “Swimming, Rained Out”, one of three marvelous ballads, which are structured in a similar way: First there is a rather free intro (in the first case a diffident drum solo), followed by Angelica Sanchez’ solid chords providing an ideal harmonic carpet for Ellery Eskelin’s exquisite melodies while Eisenstadt remains in the background, rather adding sound colors than usual rhythmic support (maybe Mr Eisenstadt’s most impressive quality). The same goes for “Back and Forth” and “Cascadia”, which start with free improvisations on piano before they delve into sheer beauty as well. The title track is a ballad as well but it follows different rules.

Another element on this album are Harris Eisenstadt’s  personal preferences which he tries to transfer into music, like writer Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim quotation  in the title-track, Arnold Schoenberg’s avant-garde music in the two parts of “From Schoenberg”, and Akira Kurosawa’s movies in “Here Are the Samurai”. The two “From Schoenberg” parts are the most ambitious compositions quoting Schoenberg’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” while “Here are the Samurai” represents the whole album in a nutshell. Eisenstadt, Eskelin and Sanchez start with a somber balladesque cascade, then the tune continues with rolling percussion and a challenging confrontation of saxophone and piano painting the fight of the Samurai with the bad guys (whether you have Kurosawa’s Yojimbo or The Seven Samurai in mind does not matter). Last but not least the cool jazz themes in “Additives” and “Ordinary Weirdness”, which always fall apart before they have the chance to get pretentious, are also two of the many highlights of this album.

After Convergence Quartet’s “Slow and Steady” this is Mr Eisenstadt’s second coup within a few months. Let’s see what he comes up with next. Highly recommended!