Tag Archives: Empty Cage Quartet

NPR article by Lars Gotrich

Miles Beyond: The New Sounds Of Trumpet
by Lars Gotrich

No, the headline isn’t just a clever pun. Like John Coltrane and the saxophone, Miles Davis’ figure looms large over our ideas about jazz trumpet. The dulcet tones of Kind of Blue and the spaced-out blats of Bitches Brew (now available in beer form, by the way) still permeate the bells of trumpeters everywhere, and with good reason.

But there are hidden secrets in the horn, and a host of musical linguists who uncover new languages for an instrument imbued with a bop history. In fact, the Festival of New Trumpet Music brings out many of these sound explorers each year. Here are five trumpeters who reach deep inside the bells of their horns.

Of course, these are just a few examples — we didn’t even get started on cornet. Tell us some of your favorite practitioners of “new trumpet” in the comments section below.
Forbes Graham – Essences
While Miles Davis’ shadow does figure into any jazz past The Birth of Cool, Forbes Graham doesn’t ignore it. He embraces the blue note and turns it “magenta haze.” The Boston-area improviser sputters and attacks the trumpet with shark-attack notes before letting out a haunting whistled horn like a meditative Don Cherry, or a gruffled stutter like a duck being strangled. Essences, then, plays well with the musical-yet-noisy percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, who knows the history of his instruments but also understands where they should go.

Peter Evans Quartet – Live in Lisbon (CF 173)
Solo, Peter Evans is hypnotic. Without the aid of looping pedals or even a microphone, he layers furious notes in a cloud and threatens a lightning strike. In groups, Evans expands the same tactic throughout the band and many approaches to jazz. On an otherwise jumpy Live in Lisbon, “Palimpsest” is a ballad viewed from the inside-out, expanding outward without exploding. It’s subtle, and it only represents a segment of Evans’ talent.

Kris Tiner
Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
While most of the trumpeters listed here develop much of their musical vocabulary in a solo setting, the California-based Kris Tiner feeds off the energy of others with his compositions. The Empty Cage Quartet, in particular, is a thoroughly modern and multifaceted jazz ensemble that stakes out a singular voice. Listen to to the funky “Gravity: Section 4” and notice Tiner’s seemingly off-centered timing and his spiraling call and response with saxophonist Jason Mears. For Tiner, his trumpet technique is part of the bigger piece, a function to the whole.

Nate WooleyAlbum: Trumpet/Amplifier
Nate Wooley doesn’t play trumpet as much he plays on the trumpet. Through valve clicks, intense breathing and anything-but-notes sound, Wooley improvises on the physical object that is the trumpet. In turn, a new language gurgles forth, sometimes hurled through a volume pedal and controlled feedback as heard on Side B of the Trumpet/Amplifier LP. His approach makes Wooley bedfellows with lowercase musicians like David Grubbs, as well as free-improvisers like guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Reuben Radding in Crackleknob. But he always remains on the fringe of it all.

Toshinori Kondo – Silent Melodies
If the names Peter Brotzmann, John Zorn and Fred Frith mean anything to you, then you might expect a solo release from Toshinori Kondo to claw through the speakers. While Kondo has done his fair share of extreme improv with those musicians and others, the Japanese trumpeter turns his ears toward ambient expression in a solo context. Kondo’s recordings are lush, expansive soundscapes more in touch with ambient legend Harold Budd than Bill Dixon’s spaced-out improv, but are still rooted in jazz improvisation. After all, every track on Silent Melodies was performed in one take, no overdubs, just pure thought funneling out of delay pedals.

Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman

EMPTY CAGE QUARTET & SOLETTI/BESNARD – Take Care of Floating (Rude Awakening Presenté)
The Empty Cage Quartet is a West Coast ensemble that reminds me of the New York group Other Dimensions in Music. Like ODiM, ECQ blends free jazz with swing, atmospherics with dual-horn eruptions, rumbling bass and delicately rattling drums with pensive melody. They’ve got two new(ish) albums out, one on the Portuguese Clean Feed label and another on France’s Rude Awakening Presenté, and I’ve decided to review both today, the only double review of this month-long endeavor.

Gravity is divided into two suites, “Gravity” and “Tzolkien,” and the quartet switches back and forth between the two, performing a section or sections of “Gravity” on one track, then a section or sections of “Tzolkien” on the next, and on and on. Honestly, without looking at the CD (Clean Feed’s releases come in really nice little cardboard folders) it’s difficult to tell which piece they’re digging into at any given time. Each has propulsive, swinging sections, and each has drawn-out, Art Ensemble of Chicago-ish, you-make-a-noise-and-then-I’ll-make-one sections. So there’s no lurching back and forth between styles, just 55 minutes or so of highly communicative improvisation. There’s a system at work—according to the liner notes, it has something to do with the Mayan calendar, or “harmonic palindromes”—but that won’t matter to the casual listener. Only the beauty of the music, which seems Chicago-esque to me, counts. (If you really want to read more, click here.)

Trumpeter Kris Tiner reminds me of Wadada Leo Smith in the way his lines are collections of individual notes, each given space to fully actualize itself. Reedist (he goes back and forth between clarinet and alto sax) Jason Mears is an ideal partner for Tiner, harmonizing with him but also working against him when the moment calls for it. Bassist Ivan Johnson and drummer Paul Kikuchi are more than a “rhythm section”; they never settle for merely laying a floor down for Tiner and Mears to dance on. As with the Art Ensemble, or Other Dimensions, any player can take the lead at any moment, but the music never degenerates into mere anarchy, or too-timid scribbling.

When guitarist Patrice Soletti and clarinetist Aurélien Besnard join the group on Take Care of Floating, things change quite a bit. Soletti favors distortion and a certain Sonny Sharrock-ian jaggedness, while Besnard’s melodic, vocal clarinet lines beef up the horn section in a traditionalist manner. The bassist and drummer, meantime, settle into much more conventional timekeeping roles than they did on Gravity—this is a free-ish, but swinging album of discrete, catchy tunes. At least, it would be if Besnard didn’t keep taking off on long, Evan Parker-ish squiggling runs that demonstrate lung-power at the expense of discipline, as he does on the overlong “Carry the Beautiful.” This ain’t Nipples, buddy. Tone it down a little. The album’s second half seems to delve deeper into collective improv territory at the expense of melody and rhythm. The concluding track, “Pieces of Bicuspid,” brings it all home again, though, with everyone swinging together and the added element of a TV whispering staticky nothings in the background. Ultimately, Soletti’s contributions are complementary, but Besnard’s aren’t, really. Take Care of Floating demonstrates that Empty Cage can play fairly trad jazz when the mood strikes them, but Gravity shows that they’re at their best on their own.

1. Do I foresee myself listening to either of these records again? Yes, both, but Gravity for sure.

2. Should you buy either of these records? Yes, both

Le Son du Grisli review by Luc Bouquert

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
La quasi-systématique des chorus croisés du trompettiste Kris Tiner et du saxophoniste Jason Mears se rapproche plus du Masada de Zorn que du quartet Coleman-Cherry-Haden-Higgins (mais Masada ne puisait-il pas à chaudes gorgées dans les partitions d’Ornette ?).

Pourtant, le jeu tout en nuances et vibrations de Paul Kikuchi semble venir en droite ligne de Billy Higgins. De même, les précis contours harmoniques d’Ivan Johnson disent beaucoup de ce qu’ils doivent à Charlie Haden. Alors qu’écrire concernant le nouvel opus d’Empty Cage ? Que depuis 2003, date de sa création (le quartet se nommait alors le MTKJ Quartet), ils n’ont cessé d’explorer des chemins souvent buissonniers, d’emprunter des étonnantes pistes, d’en rejeter d’autres. Avec détermination, les voici immergés dans le concept numérique du calendrier Maya.

S’en détachent deux compositions (Gravity Sections & Tzolkien) exécutées alternativement ici. On y trouve des préludes, des mises en conditions ou plutôt des tremplins-pistes d’envols pour que s’organisent des plages d’improvisations de peu de contraintes et de beaucoup d’inspiration. Avec, toujours, un support rythmique appuyé -parfois binaire-, les voici investis en de beaux entremêlements ; dialogues souvent passionnés et passionnants. On attend la suite…

All About Jazz Italy review by Vittorio Albani

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
Sono ormai diversi anni che “The Wire,” una delle migliori ed intelligenti riviste specializzate al mondo, cita l’Empty Cage Quartet (che alcuni ricorderanno sotto il nome di MTKJ Quartet, dalle iniziali dei cognomi dei suoi membri – clicca qui per leggere la recensione di Making Room for Spaces) quale una delle formazioni più illuminate ed illuminanti del new jazz.
La seriosa redazione londinese non ha torto. Quello che molti hanno bollato con il vecchio termine di free jazz è in realtà un nuovo modo di vivere il “sistema improvvisazione” in toto. Nelle utili note di copertina di questo nuovo lavoro uscito per l’attentissima Clean Feed portoghese, Kris Tiner, emblematico e misuratissimo trombettista del quartetto, spiega per bene che molto del lavoro del gruppo si basa su palindromi armonici e sequenze melodiche direttamente mutuate dallo studio dei cicli del calendario Maya. Ma, attenzione, non c’è nulla di cervellotico, di esoterico o di solo fondamentalmente intellettuale in questa musica. Non è accademia, in poche parole, ma solo ed esclusivamente voglia di possibilità, di strade potenziali.

L’energia nascosta che contraddistingue Gravity è sostanziale e indica chiaramente la purezza degli intenti. La qualità delle scelte è palpabile così come le forse risultanti messe in gioco. Il sottile gioco delle combinazioni e delle ricombinazioni non è ovviamente una novità ma è sempre straordinario annotare come, nel vasto mare della musica, l’avventura riesce sempre ad avere un logico seguito. La capacità di ognuno dei quattro componenti di questo progetto è indubbia e la creazione di strutture improvvisative in grado di espandersi o rapprendersi con sorprendente semplicità è dannatamente vincente. Un gioco per la mente più che per il cuore, ma alla fine della fiera, una festa di colori e una dimostrazione di forza creativa fa vincere l’idea che questi siano veramente nuovi concetti con i quali la grande storia dell’improvvisazione debba rapportarsi.

Gli amanti del genere hanno ben quattro album di questa formazione con i quali confrontarsi. Il fatto che la band viva poi priva dell’apporto del pianoforte (in molti altri casi vero pilastro di operazioni similari), la riconduce semmai ad altre importanti esperienze, prima fra tutte quella di un signore che si chiama Ornette Coleman. Mi divertirei a pensare a un neologismo come quello di una novella “estetica labirintica,” ma – rimettendo poi i piedi per terra – mi rendo allo stesso tempo conto che – con nelle orecchie sonorità simili – la mente fugge alla ricerca di icone in grado di dare spiegazioni che in realtà non dovrebbero sussistere anche se poi le parole tornano ad essere necessarie per presentare particolari forme d’arte.

Usando meglio la testa, l’unico consiglio da dare è quello di connettersi idealmente alle linee di questi brani, lasciando che la mente si adagi liberamente alla estrema modularità musicale che li contraddistingue. Atmosferica o pensante che questa musica sia, se per un attimo si riuscisse a catturarne almeno la coda, ci si potrebbe sorprendere ad intuire un possibile ma reale sviluppo del jazz moderno.

Free Jazz review by Stef

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
The Empty Cage Quartet keeps releasing quality albums year after year. The band consists of Jason Mears on alto and clarinet, Kris Tiner on trumpet, Ivan Johnson on bass and Paul Kikuchi on drums, and has been performing for many years in the same line-up. This is without a doubt their most mature statement to date, with a self-assured delivery that goes beyond the common expectations about jazz. The band’s compositions are based on numeric concepts : “Calendric number sequences generate cyclical Tzolkien forms that combine and recombine, seeking an intuitive, organic union of numerological complexity and visceral groove”. That’s how Kris Tiner describes it in the liner notes, adding “We are not conceptualists”. And he is right. What counts is how the music sounds. All the rest are just methods to create new approaches, to open doors as yet unopened, to create new insights, to challenge existing patterns and notions. And that’s what this band does, creating layers of music around the core structures, improvising and expanding, delving into the new possibilities that are offered. The overall result is strong. Needs to be heard.

The downside of it is that it lacks the emotional drive and expressivity of the previous albums, as if the one goes at the expense of the other. Even if the approach is interesting, the intellectualisation of the music creates a little more distance with the listener. In that sense, their previous album “Stratostrophic” was stronger. But again, if you like the band, this is for sure one of their best so far. And don’t get me wrong : there is plenty of emtional delivery, yet it’s a little less of a strength. Infusing their new concepts with the sustained emotional power of some of their previous albums would work miracles. http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/