Tag Archives: Fabrizio Spera

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

WEIGHTLESS – A Brush With Dignity (CF 154)
Weightless is a quartet shaped by pianist Alberto Braida, bassist John Edwards, saxophonist John Butcher and drummer Fabrizio Spera. These tracks were recorded during a German tour in 2008; they show the host of dynamics and the plausibility of the chromatic choices that should ideally constitute the starting point of nowadays’ jazz, but that unfortunately have become a rare commodity instead. The initial “Apre” is characterized by restrained vitality permeated by a sincere love for dissonance, the artists’ combined sensibilities cementing the grounds of a sagacious interplay. A welcome scent of purified air and the sharp management of a concentrated palette are brought forth by the foursome in the longest and finest improvisation “Centri”, a piece that illustrates the terms “balance” and “composure” much better than a mere description. Braida’s tasteful rarefactions and Spera’s chirurgical picking of spots to drive an irregular pulse get counterbalanced by milieus defined by Butcher’s isolated phrases – the man is able to find poetry even in the harshness of splintered harmonics – and the constant, if unobtrusive support to the whole apparatus given by Edwards’ compliant propulsion, a sign of intelligence stamped in the place where average bassists would probably insert bop-ish zigzags accompanied by the grunt of their own voice pretending to repeat the lines they’re playing, which is a horrible commonplace – one of the many that this group avoids like plague. In “Vista”, the minuteness of the instrumental gesture is fundamental for the development of an all-embracing concoction of sketched circuits and barely discernible signs. The conclusive “Termo” recovers some of the no-nonsense harmonic conflicts that had been discarded in the central sections, possibly closing a circle. Again, it’s difficult to pin the details down barring pathetic frame-by-frame depictions. Let’s just say that the connection between an attentive audience and four musicians whose aerials are among the most receptive around is easily established, and that the group’s name is exactly the reverse of how this terrific album sounds.

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Atonal, audacious and admirable, Weightless is an irregularly constituted quartet made up of four top-flight improvisers: two from England and two from Italy. Recorded during two German gigs, the polyphonic expression is the result of the almost familial musical relationship between bassist John Edwards and saxophonist John Butcher on one side and pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera on the other.

Over the past few decades Butcher has sonically matched wits with everyone from British guitarist Derek Bailey to French clarinetist Xavier Charles. Edwards, one of London improv’s go-to bassists, has played with personalities as different as British saxophonist Evan Parker and American drummer Sunny Murray, while Lodi-based Braida and Spera have separately or alone linked up with stylists such as Canadian bassist Lisle Ellis and German synth master Thomas Lehn.

Although there are intimations of electricity here, no instrument is plugged into a socket. Instead the pulsating wave forms come from Braida’s internal piano string- exciting, Butcher’s multiphonics and overblowing plus the panoply of tones and textures the other two extract from their instruments. Furthermore, while perfectly balanced throughout, this group interaction doesn’t mean that any of the players sacrifice their individuality.

Case in point: “Termo”. Inaugurated full force with sul tasto bass string bowing, snapping and rebounding drum pressure, reversible cascading piano chords and the saxophone emitting fierce bird-like cawing, antithetical roles evolve by the mid-section. While Butcher’s frenetic wide vibrato, spetrofluctuation and flutter tonguing work into an interlude of circular breathing that is both harsh and airy, Braida’s confined comping and near-meditative chording suggest unruffled continuity. Meanwhile Spera’s cymbal resonation and Edwards’ powerful thumps are tonal enough to keep the time measured. Nonetheless, tonality is also in the ear of the listener. Throughout, it’s not that others don’t accelerate to tension-laden, stop-time interpolations, or that the saxophonist limits his solos to smeared chirps, growls and tongue stops or echoes partial tone extensions.

“Centri” for instance, which unrolls for more than 29½ minutes, demonstrates all sorts of improvisational strategies. The exposition works its way from bass string pings and drumstick squeaks on cymbal tops to a chromatic narrative that mixes aviary pitch variations from the reedist, snare ruffs, near legato bass string bowing and a dramatic two-handed, piano key-pumping that is as much prepared as poramento. Diffuse, wide-bore reed patterns exhibited with the caution tourists use to cross Italian streets, precede an extended pause where Jekyll-and-Hyde-like Butcher appears to split into two saxophonists: one playing straight-ahead and the other sounding buzzing split tones.

As the two sides of his reed personality meld, the tune almost become a rondo, with Braida producing dynamic harmonies, Spera press rolls and pops, and Edwards picking and slapping his strings. By the time the saxophonist has progressed to guttural intensity and overblowing, the pianist’s staccato chording sounds as if he’s playing a pressurized version of “Chop Sticks”. A sudden cymbal smack unites this melody to the invention’s final section following a further protracted pause. As the saxophonist rolls unexpected phrases in his mouth as if savoring a sweet treat, the pianist strums and counters with dynamic note clusters. Hesitant nerve beats and ruffs from Spera underline Butcher’s irregular flattement and vibrated ghost notes as the others’ contribution to the final variant, collapses the theme into an overriding segmented buzz.

Inventive and perfectly balanced whether legato or staccato, with solo tones or with layered timbres, the communication among the four isn’t weightless, but weighty is a good sense. Hopefully an encore CD is in the offing.

Ni Kantu review by Clifford Allen

WEIGHTLESS – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Weightless is the combo of Italian pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera and the English saxophone-bass team of John Butcher and John Edwards. Both pairs of musicians are restless international collaborators, though Spera and Braida might be new names to some (their groups have included saxophonist Jack Wright, bassist Lisle Ellis, and reedman Hans Koch). In a way, it’s refreshing that A Brush with Dignity sounds like one would hope, minus the air of iciness that can be attached to Butcher. The addition of a harmonic instrument lends a particular cast, not necessarily “bringing the boys home,” but responding with bluesy Paul Bley-like turnarounds and fleshy rhythmic clang as Edwards and Spera flail and thrum around Butcher’s sputtering stiletto. The centerpiece is the nearly thirty-minute “Centri” (not eight, as the sleeve says), beginning with long breathy tones and metallic jitter commingling with throaty voices from Edwards’ hull. It would be easy for such sparseness to become rarified, but that doesn’t happen – chordal outlines and Spera’s terse, high-pitched bowing are mated to the Brits’ gritty agitation. Unaccompanied, Braida has a way of making massive sonic areas halting and squirrely, though without much speed (again perhaps the influence of Bley’s later work). Furious pizzicato strum and Spera’s angled, brushed ricochets fill out a suspended and turbulent trio. Cottony circular breathing, flutter tonguing, bowed cymbals and muted piano clunks echo the moments of kindling in the Schlippenbach quartet, soon dropping away into thwacking tenor and bass. Without going into a play-by-play, it is here that the group clearly subverts its name without looking back.

All About Jazz Italy review by Enrico Bettinello

Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF  154)
Probabilmente uno dei segreti dell’alchimia di questo quartetto – che ha scelto una denominazione “senza peso,” ma che più correttamente potrebbe riferirsi a una serie di pesi espressivi a intensità variabile – è quella di lavorare per linee orizzontali, per piani mobili di improvvisazione. Ne fanno parte due dei più interessanti esponenti della scena inglese, il sassofonista John Butcher e il contrabbassista John Edwards, insieme a due musicisti italiani che negli anni si sono costruiti una meritata reputazione di sensibili esploratori del suono, il batterista Fabrizio Spera e il pianista Alberto Braida.
Rigorosamente registrati dal vivo, laddove “avviene” la loro musica [nel caso specifico due concerti in Germania dell’ottobre 2008], i Weitghtless consegnano a questo A Brush with Dignity quattro splendide improvvisazioni, ricche di melodie inaspettate, di soluzioni timbriche fantasiose, di livelli ritmici intercambiabili.

Si trovano alla perfezione i quattro, in bilico tra una abrasività tipicamente mitteleuropea e una capacità di fare “cantare” la musica che sarebbe riduttivo attribuire alla componente mediterranea del sodalizio, ma che nasce invece da una più intensa capacità di sintetizzare narrativamente [per quanto con la frammentazione tipica di queste scelte formali] quei piani di cui parlavamo qualche riga fa. Non sempre i concerti di improvvisazione, anche i più riusciti, sono godibili anche su disco.

Questa è una delle felici eccezioni.

Free Jazz review by Stef

CF 154Weightless – A Brush With Dignity (CF 154)
British saxophonist John Butcher and bassist John Edwards are two of the most prominent voices in European free improvisation. They are joined by two Italian improvisers, Alberto Braida on piano and Fabrizio Spera on drums. As with many free improvisation, forget about roles in the band: all musicians contribute in equal parts, adding sounds, interacting and creating high levels of immediate intensity. The band’s name is well chosen, as the music is somewhere suspended in the air, very sparse and devoid of a need to produce sound, free of earthly concerns, although it flows quite organically, naturally, without structure or foundation. The musicians play their limited notes and sounds with reserve, paying full attention to each of them, infusing every one of them with power. Braida can play a few keys, just enough to add to the overall atmosphere, without feeling the need to make chords, or phrases. It’s the sound that counts, and in that he finds a real soulmate in John Butcher, whose careful powerful minimalism is impressive as usual, Edwards’ versatility and creativity, both on arco and plucked is astonishing, and listen how Spera builds depth, contrast and color. Some moments are harsh, others are of an incredible subtlety and nuance. The end result is one of ethereal beauty, not easy to get into, but worth every note. http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/

Tomajazz review by Pachi Tapiz

CF 154Weightless – A Brush With Dignity (CF 154)
El cuarteto Weightless es una formación de primer nivel dentro de la libre improvisación europea. En ella participan el saxofonista John Butcher, el contrabajista John Edwards, el pianista Alberto Braida y el batería Fabrizio Spera. A Brush With Dignity está grabado en directo en Berlin en octubre de 2008 y su duración, que apenas supera los 40 minutos, resulta perfecta para una propuesta en la que la improvisación es el factor fundamental. El entendimiento entre los músicos, que van desarrollando diferentes ideas, así como el placer de escuchar el trabajo de John Butcher al saxo explorando distintas maneras de obtener sonidos con sus instrumentos, son unos motivos más que suficientes para sumergirse en la música de A Brush With Dignity.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

CF 154Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Weightless, A Free Quartet in a New Recording
Of all the instruments to play, the piano is one that poses particular challenges. You sit down to it and all the notes are available to you simultaneously. You only have ten fingers, plus your arms for clusters if you play like Don Pullen (or Henry Cowell), so choice becomes critical. The moment you push down the keys the piano immediately gives out with a sound, one group of sounds really, that has to do with that particular piano and its characteristics. To get “your” sound takes many years, if you ever get there.

A child when first fooling around with the instrument can immediately and un-selfconsciously pull off a bad Cecil Taylor imitation. Tinkle-slam-chop-blur. Again to get any good at going at it in this way takes considerable time and practice. To go beyond that second level, to be a truly individual stylist in this mode is even more difficult.

This brings me to the CD at hand today. It’s by a group called Weightless and the CD is entitled A Brush with Dignity (Clean Feed). Weightless consists of Alberto Braida on piano, John Butcher on tenor and soprano, John Edwards on double bass and Fabrizio Spera on drums.

Weightless engages in carefully executed sorts of free improvisations that owe something to new concert music though there is a strong foundation in the “jazz” orientation, whatever that means anymore.

Braida’s playing reminds us of what it takes to get a personal sound and a kind of free playing that goes leagues beyond the “kid-slamming-at-the-piano” fundamentals. He picks his way painstakingly through the possibilities. . . a cluster here, a phrase there, an overall attempt not to be automatic or banal and an avoidance of any overt key center. He has tangible success in the “what” category; the “how” category (the personal sound) is not fully present, at least on this recording according to my own take on it. That is not a problem to the music in any sense. Because also to consider is that Braida succeeds in interjecting himself into a set of collective ensemble improvisations, and in that context he is not supposed to stand out but to meld together with the others.

The four players as an organic whole succeed in creating group structures that are not uninteresting. Butcher’s tenor steps out alone on occasion, not to blaze with incandescent speakings of the tongues, but with more considered note making. That is true of the group at large as well.

I would not go so far as to say that Weightless has achieved total individuality as yet. That may come. What they have done here is created an hour of interesting free music. This is not a high-energy, high density slam-dunk sort of freakout. It’s a bit more thoughtful. Those who like the quieter areas of free music and sensitive group interplay will find it pleasing. http://gapplegatemusicreview.blogspot.com/

All About Jazz review by Mark Corroto

Clean Feed Records eat the plate 
Clean Feed records, founded in 2001, has been the most prolific and adventurous label for jazz this new century. Based in Lisbon, Portugal their offerings have included many of jazz’s old guard including reed players Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall, Charles Gayle, Vinny Golia and Anthony Braxton and trumpeters Dennis Gonzalez and Herb Robertson, along with current innovators bassist Joe Morris and reed players Ken Vandermark, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Tony Malaby, to name just a few.

Clean Feed’s reach seemingly has no bounds, featuring the greatest players alongside new names in jazz. As with the Blue Note or Impulse! jazz labels of the 1960s, listeners can be assured a consistent presentation of high quality music no matter if the name on the album cover is familiar or not.

CF 150Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet – Things Have Got To Change (CF 150)
Saxophonist Marty Ehrlich has been a mainstay of the New York jazz scene for decades. He founded the Dark Woods Ensemble and has recorded with everyone from pianist Andrew Hill to saxophonists John Zorn and Ehrlich’s hero, saxophonist Julius Hemphill. Of late, he has been producing long thematic works. This quartet session is a bit of a change, a variety of shorter pieces that delight the ears with crisp solos and swinging interplay.

The cast includes familiar and distinctive players negotiating five tracks by Ehrlich and three from Hemphill. Hemphill’s compositions are joyfully produced, with the semi-classic “Dogon A.D.” acting as the anchor here. The band, solidified behind drummer Pheeroan AkLaff who negotiates the bluesy piece as a bouncy vehicle for each solo. Ehlrich’s coughing alto aligns with Eric Friedlander’s cello in syncopation to the beats. Elsewhere, the cello offers that slightly different (from a bass) feel on the track “On The One,” that makes this music feel as if it has a mind to be a chamber ensemble, but with the recklessness of a nightclub band. Maybe it is the untamed trumpet work of James Zollar that keeps the music real. This is one of those special recordings that begs for more.

CF 151Samuel Blaser – Pieces Of The Old Sky (CF 151)
Swiss-born, New York-trained Berlin resident trombonist Samuel Blaser begins his Clean Feed debut with a 17-minute meditation by his quartet of Todd Neufeld (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). The dreamlike and ponderous pace acts as a slow motion series of features for brooding trombone and guitar. Likewise, “Madala” stirs emotions by way of its deliberateness and pace-building for tension. Sorey is the suitable choice for the drum seat. He has developed a knack for playing that is beyond jazz, using his kit as a frontline player. Both “Red Hook” and “Speed Game” up the ante, elevating the pace and forcing a bit more tension into the music. Blaser responds with shorter thoughts and tighter solos, but those flowing notes remain.

CF 157Harris Eisenstadt – Canada Day (CF 157)
Canadian-born drummer Harris Eisenstadt is quickly becoming known as a modern jazz composer/arranger to watch. His work is thoroughly modern, with elements of West African drumming. His music is reminiscent of the innovations saxophonist Wayne Shorter was introducing in the 1960s on Blue Note. His Quintet Canada Day concentrates on group improvisation, forwarding the individual sounds of saxophonist Matt Bauder, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, trumpeter Nate Wooley and bassist Eivind Opsvik to bear on these eight compositions.

The quintet negotiates the drummer’s penchant to change time and rhythmic patterns within a song while maintaining the groove. “Everyday Is Canada Day” begins with dreamy vibes before the band enters, building the song from a simple platform. Wooley’s trumpet solo bumps against the vibes with its temerity and coarseness. Eisenstadt is blending sounds here to great effect, as he does on “After An Outdoor Bath.” He never seems to forget the pleasures of listening when he is making music.

CF 159Nobuyasu Furuya – Bendowa (CF 159)
Lisbon-based saxophonist Nobuyasu Furuya takes a walk around with the saxophone masters of energy jazz: Peter Brotzmann, Frank Lowe and Roscoe Mitchell. Bendowa might have been mistaken for an early AACM recording. The Japanese-born reedsman and flutist plays here in a Portuguese trio with Gabriel Ferrandini (drums) and Hernani Faustino (bass). While the music pushes the outer edge, it never breaks down into a noise-fest. The steady groove of Ferrandini and Faustino allow for Furuya to apply his craft. His tenor on “Track 1” splats big strokes of paint all over the canvas, while “Track 2” finds him playing more traditional sounds (Japanese?) on his flute. The aggressive bass clarinet notes heard on “Track 5” float and dive into the rolling maelstrom of bass and drum animation. This is free jazz, coming from a classically trained reedsman. Maybe this new “new thing” music is the best thing to come from globalization.

CF 155Ze Eduardo Unit – Jazz Ar: Live At Capuchos (CF 155)
A mover and shaker in the Portuguese jazz scene for decades, the bassist Ze Eduardo would be comfortable playing with Han Bennink and the ICP Orchestra, Roy Nathanson’s Jazz Passengers or Steven Bernstein’s Millennium Orchestra. His brand of jazz doesn’t skip humor as an element of the music, and the audience responds affirmatively on this October 2008 live date. His trio, or unit, is composed of tenor saxophonist Jesus Santandreu and drummer Bruno Perdroso, both heard on the previous release A Jazzar no Zeca: A Musica de Jose Afonso (Clean Feed, 2004).

Don’t get the wrong impression, this is serious music making. The band just loves what they do. Their take on “The Simpsons” theme is in no way camp. The band lays down a solid groove, phrasing the familiar cartoon theme here as they do with other cartoons characters here. Their “serious” music includes the coughing interludes on “Abelha Maia” that never miss a beat between bits and pieces of “Santa Lucia.” This agreeable recording is music making at the highest level, it just happens to be very jocular.

CF 156Pinton / Kullhammar / Zetterberg / Nordstrom – Chant (CF 156)
From Sweden comes a quartet of improvisors that were assembled for a series of concerts and this recording. All four have played together in various ensembles, but this combination, a “power” ensemble, displays a tenacity that yields special results. The musicians are saxophonists Alberto Pinton and Jonas Kullhammar, bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg and drummer Kjell Nordeson. The piano-less quartet effects a harmonious sound from the baritone and tenor combination on the majority of tracks. Pinton and Kullhammar make this a friendly competition for space and solos, exercising sonic demons on “Chantpagne,” as the timekeepers Zetterberg and Nordeson keep the pulse and intensity level quite high. The possibilities for this music are boundless. The pliant dueling baritones march to “Den Stora Vantan” while all the music making is done by the drummer.

The obvious homage here, “Cross/For Bluiett,” has saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett’s outward jazz vision in mind as it sails a chamber blues into the audience’s ears. The band ends with “Mount Everest,” a direct reference to the Swedish free jazz band of the same name whose passion for saxophonists Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman are shared by our heroes. The wow-factor is increased with every track heard on this excellent disc.

CF 158Julio Resende – Assim Falava Jazzatustra (CF 158)
The unforgettable pianist Julio Resende performs this live set in Lisbon with his band and a few special guests. Assim Falava Jazzatustra follows his 2007 release Da Alma (Clean Feed). Here he summons a quartet with the notable Spanish saxophonist Perico Sambeat and the most excellent Swedish bassist Ole Morten Vagan. The music is a blend of rhythmic and percussive jazz that is instantly agreeable. Resende’s piano can at times give off the Cuban vibe, as on “Perico Sambeat,” or a classical sound, as on “Ir F Voltar.” On the latter track the band is joined by vocalist Manuela Azevedo from the pop band Cla. The band’s rocked-out take on “Boom!” finds Resende’s piano ringing bell-like throughout. He plies the keyboard with such a predatory feel here. In contrast, his cover of the Pink Floyd song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is elegant and sanguine as he negotiates the nostalgic piece. Worth the price of admission to that concert, his rendering of that classic song is priceless.

CF 152Charles Rumback – Two Kinds Of Art Thieves (CF 152)
Chicago drummer Charles Rumback leads a quartet of like minded musicians on a very introspective album. Rumback is a member of bands varying from post-rock to electronica, including Colorlist, The Horse’s Ha and Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Lightbox Orchestra. Here he employs bassist Jason Ajemian (Dragons 1976, Rob Mazurek, Bill Dixon), tenor saxophonist Greg Ward (Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly, People Places & Things) and alto saxophonist Joshua Sclar (Westport Art Ensemble). The music is characterised by paced, even-keeled, small gestures of sound. Often Rumback is playing quiet fingers on his drums while the saxophonists whisper notes in exchanges that are more late-night conversation than trading fours. The music, thoroughly composed, prefers to make its case with quiet gesticulation and soft melody. The slightest sound makes a large impact here. An impressive debut.

CF 154Weightless – A Brush With Dignity (CF 154)
These live dates from October 2008 in Germany mark the coming together of UK artistsJohn Butcher (saxophones) and John Edwards (bass) and Italians Alberto Braida (piano) and Fabrizio Spera (drums). All four had played together in varying combinations before, but the Weightless tour of Italy and Germany was their first as a complete unit. The natural combination of saxophone, piano, bass and drums gives listeners an accustomed lineup, but the music making (as you might not be surprised) is far from traditional.

The disc opens with “Apre,” a stellar piece of energy jazz that builds momentum as the players trade off duos and solos. What is remarkable here is the distribution of sound. A mark of seasoned players, the music is never crowded: all parts are distinctive and can be set apart in listener’s ears. Quite the feat for instantly composed music. The remaining tracks settle into an agreeable sense of interplay. Butcher is more inclined towards his extended techniques and the others follow suit. As with all free music, different parts are compelling for different listeners. The live (in concert) experience is quite unlike that of the recorded listen. That said this is a fine recorded listening experience.