Daily Archives: December 5, 2014

Time Out review by José Carlos Fernandes

CF308CDKullhammar/Zetterberg/Aalberg/Mathisen – The Basement Sessions vol. 3: The Ljubljana Tapes (CF 308)
Chegados ao vol. 3 das Basement Sessions, surgem duas alterações: o trio de Jonas Kullhammar (sax, flauta), Torbjörn Zetterberg (contrabaixo) e Espen Aalberg (bateria) recebe o reforço de Jorgen Mathisen (sax) e troca o estúdio pelo live (mas sem público) no Festival de Jazz de Ljubljana de 2013. A orientação estética mantém-se: uma releitura do jazz mais irrequieto do início dos anos 60 – Ornette Coleman é a referência-chave e está bem patente em “Allting Kan Ga Itu”. As duas faixas mais incandescentes são “Fresk Baglaens” assente num riff obsediante, sustentado alternadamente por Kullhammar e Mathisen, e “Rough 2”, com a secção rítmica a tecer um groove hipnótico e preguiçoso – até que o frenesim dos saxes a faz descarrilar.

Dalston Sound review by Tim Owen

CF301Pharoah & The Underground – Spiral Mercury (CF 301)
Spiral Mercury (Clean Feed) documents a live performance by a group led by Rob Mazurek, with onetime Coltrane sparring partner, original astro traveller and transcriber of the creator’s master plan, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders prominent in the front line.

While Sanders understandably gets top billing and the lion’s share of kudos, all of the material for this date was composed by cornettist and bandleader, and the ensemble’s other members are all involved in one or other of Mazurek’s Underground Ensembles: Chad Taylor’s the mainstay of the Chicago chapter, Guilherme Granado and Mauricio Takara ditto for São Paulo. Matthew Lux played alongside Mazurek in collaborative powerhouse ensemble Mandarin Movie, and he’s also in Mazurek’s Exploding Star project.

Spiral Mercury documents the set this occasional ensemble played to close the 2013 Jazz em Agosto festival in Portugal.

“Gna Toom” drops the listener straight into a long, contemplative exchange between Sanders and Mazurek, with Matthew Lux playing counterpoint electric bass as Granado’s synths create dazzling aurora coloratura. Drummer Chad Taylor’s emphatic swing uptempo on a cushion of thrumming bass signals a transition to the title movement, briefly taking joint lead with Takara’s cavaquinho. Processing renders this Brazilian ukulele wired, electric. Both maintain parallel threads of variation. A one-off twist of harmolodic melody, straight from Blood Ulmer’s Music Revelation songbook, precedes the first full-throated lead spot for Sanders, and Mazurek responds with an energised solo played out in a three-way with synths and percussion.

Sanders invests his tenor sax with an inimitably characteristic emotive sound. His rich, vocal tone can rise to reedy ululations, or drop to a sandpapered burr. Though his fiercest playing is surely behind him, his innate musicality, and his ability to trace and extrapolate melodic figures from the grain of any ensemble music are heard here to full effect.

“Blue Sparks from Her” begins with Mazurek’s processed cornet pealing out of an electro-acoustic haze. But a repeat figure from the cavaquinho invites pulsing bass and another buoyant rhythm with swing feel, and the piece consolidates as a limber, propulsive number with fine lead soloing and synths in electric piano mode. Mazurek and Sanders’ ravishing tonal blend is emphasised on the breakdown, illuminated by glinting mbira (thumb piano).

Chad Taylor’s mbira carries a transition into the gorgeously low-key “Asasumamehn”, shaded first by Sanders then Mazurek. This piece initially evokes Sander’s playing with Moroccan musicians, but becomes ever more abstract and evanescent before the gradual transition to “Pigeon”. Here, the rich electro-acoustic processing of Mazurek’s cornet tips the hat to former collaborator Bill Dixon. A subsequent percussion workout breaks into an uptempo groove on a dirty electronic organ riff, studded with sintir (Moroccan Gnawa)-like bass.

Both “Pigeon” and “Jagoda’s Dream” were first heard in very different versions on Sao Paulo Underground‘s Três Cabeças Loucuras (2011, Cuneiform Records). The latter reprises the present set’s predominantly limber, propulsive feel, with the cavaquinho playing off against clavinet-style keys at the next transition, this to the closing movement, where Mazurek’s solo flute again invokes Morocco.

“The Ghost Zoo” initially sets Sanders, at his most brittle, in a dreamlike, changeable cloud of electronics. Mazurek essays a vocal mantra before prompting an oddly modulated passage of free-form experimentation with a switch to cornet. The entropic abstraction, and an absence of rhythmic momentum at the close leaves the music open-ended, and the listener’s ears pricked and receptive.

This is a great set, and it’s good to have Sanders sounding so fine, in such simpatico company, a full half century into his creative evolution.

As for Mazurek, well it’s hard to keep up with Mazurek. In only the five years between two other recent sessions with notable guests—Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey) in 2008 and Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra Featuring Roscoe Mitchell” (Rogue Art) in 2013—he generated at least fifteen other titles, notably Skull Sessions and Beija Flors Velho E Sujo, also reviewed here.


The Squid’s Ear review by Florence Wetzel

CF 293Kullhammar / Aalberg / Zetterberg  – Basement Sessions Vol. 2 (CF 293)
Hard-bop saxophone trios are one of the most popular jazz configurations, particularly the legendary groups led by Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and Dexter Gordon. The question is, how can a modern group play this music without sounding imitative or nostalgic? One answer comes from the wonderful Scandinavian triad of Jonas Kullhammar on horns, Torbjörn Zetterberg on double bass, and Espen Aalberg on drums. In their release Basement Sessions Vol. 2, the hard-bop tradition infuses the proceedings, but the form is expressed through a Scandinavian free-jazz sensibility, which proves to be an incredibly compelling combination.

These three musicians are all under forty years old, but each has lengthy and impressive experience in both traditional and free forms. Perhaps the group’s strongest inheritance from their hard-bop ancestors is their toe-tapping, finger-snapping swing. The trio has internalized the mighty hard-bop engine, that potent inner drive which is simultaneously strong and loose. But rather than covering classic songs from the hard-bop canon, the group has six fresh compositions from Aalberg, plus a cover from the great Swedish saxophonist Bernt Rosengren. Aalberg is a wonderfully inventive composer; his lively melodies invoke the masters, but are brightly original throughout.

Standouts include the CD’s opener, “Moksha,” which features Kullhammar on taragato, a Hungarian woodwind similar to a clarinet but with a rich, burnished tone. The melody is haunting and a touch mournful, and Kullhammar plays with a yearning that’s quite moving. There’s also some spacious solo bass work by Zetterberg, which offers a delicious contrast to the taragato’s opulence. Aalberg shines as well, stoking the engine of the drums with fantastic technique and unfailing energy. “Triton” is a beautiful song with a mischievous spirit and a playful melody, featuring an enjoyably wild solo by Kullhammar, and a drum solo by Aalberg full of sumptuous swing. The trio also delivers a gorgeous rendition of Bernt Rosengren’s “Gluck,” with Kullhammar diving heart-first into the angular melody, and Zetterberg delivering another pleasingly intricate solo. It’s nice to hear the group pay homage to Rosengren, who is one of the great Swedish hard-bop players, not to mention a major force in the Swedish post-bop movement.

Altogether Basement Sessions Vol. 2 is a swinging and exciting offering by three very fine musicians. It’s a beautiful merging of American and European sensibilities, as well as a model for how jazz musicians can honor the past while simultaneously keeping the music fresh and powerful.


The Squid’s Ear review by John Eyles

CF303Angles 9 –  Injuries (CF 303)
Angles 9 is the latest edition of the ensemble convened by saxophonist Martin Küchen in 2007 as Angles 6 which, by 2011, had expanded to Angles 8. It is a stunning nonet of some of Scandinavia’s finest improvising players, including Küchen himself on alto and tenor saxes, Eirik Hegdal on baritone and sopranino saxes, double bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin. Injuries is the second recording by this incarnation of Angles, following In Our Midst (Clean Feed, 2013) the beautiful title track of which is reprised here. That album was only released on vinyl, while Injuries is available either as a gatefold double vinyl album or on CD. It features seven Küchen compositions, all arranged by the entire ensemble, imbuing them with an appealingly loose collective feel. The front line of two saxophones, cornet, trumpet and trombone packs a hefty punch and is ably supported by the rhythm section of bass, drums and piano — plus the crucial inclusion of Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, which gives the music a lightness reminiscent of Bobby Hutcherson’s role with Eric Dolphy.

Across the album, there is great variety in the music, with extreme changes of mood between tracks, seemingly corresponding to the different sides of the vinyl edition. So, side one is upbeat and energetic: the opener “European Boogie”, underpinned throughout by Ståhl, is driven along by powerful ensemble horn riffs interspersed with some fine free blowing, notably from trumpeter Magnus Broo; “Efi”, also propelled by a riff overlaid with criss-cross soloing, effortlessly sustains the high energy level. The transition to side two’s single extended track, “A Desert on Fire, a Forest / I’ve Been Lied To”, is dramatic as it is more sedately paced and atmospheric, spotlighting the rhythm section rather than the front line, with pianist Alexander Zethson in fine form. Although radically different, taken together these two sides emphasise the ingredients that are key to the success of Injuries — there is not a wasted note or ounce of flab in evidence, with every single member of the ensemble being a first-rate instrumentalist who is full of ideas.

Berthling and Werliin are also two thirds of the renowned Fire! Trio (with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson) and that trio are at the heart of the more recently created — and much praised — Fire! Orchestra, where they were also joined by Küchen on the orchestra’s 2014 release Enter; Broo and trombonist Mats Äleklint are also members — making a total of five Angles 9 members who are in the Fire! Orchestra. While comparing contrasting ensembles can frequently be deceptive, in this case the shared membership makes comparison irresistible. Despite being one third the size of the orchestra, by comparison Angles 9 does not lack firepower. Rather, the nine-piece seems lighter on its feet than the orchestra of twenty-plus members and it fizzes with the energy and exuberance that the Fire! Orchestra can occasionally miss. Altogether, Injuries demonstrates that, while size undoubtedly does matter, bigger is not always better. End result: it is one of 2014’s very best albums. Stunning.

Available on double vinyl and CD


Point of Departure review by Greg Buium

CF304Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo – Somos Agua (CF 304)
Somos Agua, the third album from Tony Malaby’s trio, Tamarindo, is dense and demanding and may, in some quarters, feel too oblique to merit a second try. Malaby’s sound, especially on tenor saxophone, but on soprano as well, is often subterranean – filled, as it is, with dead ends and these jerky, knotted lines that pull you under, over, and, ultimately, a long way from the figures he’s composed. Unlike his last Clean Feed disc, Novela (2011) – a nonet expertly arranged by pianist Kris Davis – or some of his work as a sideman (from, say, Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas to John Hollenbeck’s large ensemble), where he also sways from husky, multiphonic shards to wicked, pinpoint puzzles, Somos Agua’s signposts blur. For nearly 60 minutes you feel thrown into a maze.

But what an incredible maze it is. Somos Aqua rewards close, sustained listening. It is filled with queries and quickly shifting scenes and the very highest levels of musical interaction. Tamarindo is often billed as a saxophone trio. It isn’t. Malaby is the only horn, but bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits aren’t accompanists. This is a cooperative, and an extremely accomplished operation.

Malaby’s six pieces run together like a loose, stripped-down suite. Every motif seems to have sprung from an aspect of the group’s aesthetic; the lines mirror how these men work. So a sharp, lock-step figure (“Little Head”) grows into a sprawling, bouncing improvisation. A subtle, seemingly scripted call-and-response (“*matik-matik*”) becomes an electrifying swinger. Everything is drawn for three. The finale (“Somos Agua”), the date’s only open piece, deepens the intensity of the trio investigation: Parker’s grave, arco introduction, Malaby’s squall – husky and stuttering and poised – as the three examine and reexamine, prod and poke, rummaging in the minute spaces between sound and rhythm.

If this trio has very few peers, Waits’s performance should land on its own end-of-the-year lists. His command of the drum set can be frightening. On “Can’t Find You…,” perhaps the record’s high point, his panorama of percussive color and control sets everything in motion. He’ll reassemble the time. He’ll spur the drama. Midway in, things drop down. Waits pauses, before an uprush (cymbals, snare, high-hat, tom), a swirling, driving, terrifically complex notion of time, as things fade, and a remarkable 20-second roll. Parker’s pulse snaps Malaby and Waits into play and, out of nothing, the drummer conjures up a magnificent bounce. It takes 10 extraordinary minutes to get here: a rugged abstraction morphing into a gallop and an unforgettable groove.


Music and More review by Tim Niland

CF301Pharoah & The Underground – Spiral Mercury (CF 301)
This is another very inspired pairing of musicians – the legendary free-jazz tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and musicians from cornetist Rob Mazurak’s various Underground bands: Chad Taylor on drums, Guilherme Granado on synth, Matthew Lux on bass and Mauricio Takara on percussion. This was recorded live in Portugal as a seamless concert of effortlessly flowing music. Tracks include “Gna Toom” which begins in a mysterious and probing fashion, restrained with electronics hinting at the Miles Davis LP In a Silent Way. The music builds slowly and patiently into a more strident fashion where the horns play against subtle shades of electronics and percussion. Stabs of synthesizer open “Spiral Mercury” before pummeling drums and percussion and an excellent Sanders solo clears the field. Pharoah sounds wonderful, building his solo in a logical fashion and climaxing with his trademark overblown screams, then he hands things off to Mazurek for a spitfire solo of his own. “Blue Sparks From Her” is enveloped by a sense of uneasy calm with electronic sound manipulation using delay and laser like sound. The patters that are swirling coalesce to a supporting structure for saxophone and cornet over bubbling drums and percussion. This album worked very well, the musicians meshed perfectly and walked the high-wire of improvised music in a very confident manner. From cascading free improvisation, to moody sections of rumination, the music remains compelling.


Free Jazz review by Antonio Poscic

CF303Angles 9 – Injuries (CF 303)
It’s no secret that saxophonist and composer Martin Küchen and the various incarnations of his Angles group are quite beloved on the Free Jazz Blog. Not without reason since it can seem, at times, that Angles under Küchen’s guidance really are incapable of producing mediocre music. “Injuries” is another release by the Angles nonet, Angles 9, and the musicians and their music remain as wonderful as they’ve ever been.

Martin Küchen and his cohorts present us with big band music that frames grand and expansive moments within minimalist and quite improvisational borders. It is exhilarating, shiver-inducing music, but with a contemplative and spiritual thread passing through it. Imagine that: free, improvised music that you can almost hum and dance to! The record can feel so musical and uplifting at times that you’ll feel guilty for enjoying it so much. And yet, the music never even comes close to being corny or tacky. Instead, it successfully bridges intellectually challenging and emotionally fulfilling sonic dimensions. This is especially evident when the band is at full force, when an incredible energy and passion, a certain pathos almost, starts sweeping over the listener. A pathos that is easily associated with the message that lies in the background. A message that can be interpreted as a warning and a plea for peace, a message that is akin to the voice and ideas behind Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Simultaneously, African and Latino rhythms that lurk between the lines, the syncopated drumming, and blaring horn section might remind us of African musicians such as Mulatu Astatke. It all amounts to charged and powerful music, plain and simple.

Take the opening “European Boogie” which booms and swings in the vein of early free jazz, the beautiful “Eti” that is opened by a progression on piano and vibraphone only to be joined by a full-bodied horn section which will send shivers down your spine, “Ubabba” which rocks along with remnants of afrobeat and an inherent sense of joy, or the title track “Injuries” which is a vibrating, nervous, and piano-dominated almost free improv track… There’s something special to be found on each track and hardly any negatives. The only thing that might bother some is the accessibility and a mirage of mundanity of the music, but this is easily and quickly forgotten once you dig into the music and completely fathom the ease with which the band manages their performance. They take simple, memorable themes, and develop the tunes around them, leaving ample space for improvisations which mostly come in the form of interludes between louder, busier group efforts. The rhythm section can feel rather straightforward, but this is down to the somewhat strict role it has in maintaining the band’s cohesiveness. On the other hand, the wind section emerges as the main carrier of themes, introduced quite often by the vibraphone and piano. While a certain level of homogeneity is required and upheld, the musicians are actually given many chances to express themselves. Based on the performances, it would actually be unfair to single out any of the musicians here since they all make significant contributions to the music, both as parts of a whole and as soloists.

I feared, before listening to the album, that recording in a studio rather than in front of a live audience would somehow diminish or harm the rendition of Angles 9’s music. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded since the warmth and exhilaration in their approach are as present as ever and there’s not a sign of straying from the energy that they exhibit while performing live. In closing, I can only say that instead of reading this review you should already be listening and experiencing “Injuries” by yourself. It’s the only way to fully understand.

Available on double vinyl and CD


Free Jazz review by Stefan Wood

CF299Cene Resnik Quartet – From the Sky (CF 299)
Cene Resnik is a tenor saxophone musician from Slovenia, a student of artists Archie Shepp and Joe Zawinul, whose teachings, combined with Resnik’s own Buddhist beliefs, have resulted in a sound that is a fusion of free jazz, hard bop, and Slovenian culture. He leads a quartet on his debut album for Clean Feed, From the Sky, which is full of promise and solid playing.

The opening track, “Red Mango,” shows Resnik’s influences, with a strong, full bodied sound, at times lyrical, others atonal, not unlike Coltrane in his later years, yet lacking his power and fervor. Emanuele Parrini’s violin’s is very evident — angular, a mixture of Django Reinhardt and Billy Bang; Giovanni Maier’s strong plucking on bass; and Aljosa Jeric providing powerful drumming. Throughout the album they demonstrate a versatility, between the skronk and the lyrical, as half of the album’s six tracks break the ten minute mark, giving the artists ample time to stretch out.

The compositions aren’t very strong — they show more influence of others than their own unique take — they are well performed, and sustain interest. Standout tracks are: “We Dance,” the shortest track on the album and the most energetic, with Resnik and Parrini trading off leads while Maier and Jeric deliver a scorching rhythm section. “Riverbank” is another fiery track, all musicians deploying their arsenal of sounds in another five minute noisefest. From the Sky is a nice debut for this Quartet, Resnik showing strong influences from 60’s-70s era of free jazz.