Tag Archives: Paul Kikuchi

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.

Stash Dauber review

Mo’ Clean Feed Records
The demand for free jazz and creative improvised music must be a whole lot greater in Europe than it is here in these United States, because the folks at Clean Feed Records in Lisbon continue to release interesting, challenging recordings at a rate that would probably break the bank at an American label. Once again, it’s a varied bunch:

Will Holshouser Trio + Bernanrdo Sassetti – Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns (CF 161)
New York-based accordionist Will Holshouser and his drummerless trio meet up with Portuguese pianist Bernardo Sassetti on Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns. Together, they produce a music of lush romanticism, highlighted by Ross Horton’s trumpet, which alternately waxes lyrical and sings sassy, and Dave Phillips’ lovely work on arco bass. This is chamber jazz at its best, alternately wistful and playful, cast from the same mold as Dave Douglas’ Charms of the Night Sky. The title refers to the music’s European setting (recorded in Portugal) and “the mysterious link between alcohol and spirituality,” which sounds good to me.

Michaël Attias Renku – In Coimbra (CF 162)
Well-traveled Israeli-born altoist Michael Attias has a pensive sound, influenced by Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons (both of whom have compositions covered on Renko in Coimbra), with an acrid tone and acerbic ideas. He’s ably supported here by bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. The three can play with Art Ensemble of Chicago-like minimalism (“Do & the Birds”) or David S. Ware-ish intensity (“Fenix Culprit,” featuring a cameo by pianist Ross Lossing), sounding their best on “Universal Constant,” where their dialogue moves from abstraction (with Satoshi applying some extended techniques to his traps) to something approaching funk.

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
Empty Cage Quartet are so called because the members’ initials spell out MTKJ. “We are not conceptualists,” trumpeter Kris Tiner insists, in Gravity’s liner notes, which rival Cecil Taylor’s for density (if not obscurity). He and his mates Jason Mears (sax, clarinet), Ivan Johnson (bass) and Paul Kikuchi (drums) play through alternating sections from two pieces (“Gravity” and “Tzolkien”) that sound through-composed but are probably improvised, their horn polyphony and tightly-tuned drums evoking an agreeable collision of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” with Out to Lunch, Point of Departure, or one of those.

Tony Malaby Apparitions – Voladores (CF 165)
Voladores is the latest outing for Tony Malaby’s Apparitions. On tenor, Malaby raises a plaintive cry like mid-‘60s Ornette on the previously unrecorded Coleman composition “Homogeneous Emotions,” and gets a burry, Sam Rivers-like sound on “Old Smoky,” where he’s as forceful as Rivers can be in a trio setting. On “Dreamy Drunk,” he comes across like Archie Shepp channeling Ben Webster and makes effective use of multiphonics. The basic horn-bass-drums trio is augmented by John Hollenbeck’s tuned percussion, which adds textural variety to the proceedings. On “Sour Diesel,” Hollenbeck injects melodica into the harmonic mixture (the way Jack Dejohnette used to on his ECM sides) while Malaby follows a circuitous melodic path on soprano. Might just be the pick of this litter.

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)
To play the bass clarinet is to invite comparisons to Eric Dolphy, but Jason Stein — a native Lawn Guylander now based in Chicago — volunteered to be thrown into that briar patch after switching from guitar as a teenager. On Three Less Than Between, he’s creating a vocabulary for his instrument on the fly as he goes: growls, squeals, intervallic leaps, and staccato lines, aided by a rhythm section – bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride – that’s equally inventive in supporting him. “Isn’t Your Paper Clip” explodes with energy, culminating in an old-fashioned clattering drum solo; the denouement is a relatively straightahead interlude with walking bass, followed by a restless bass solo with sympathetic drum accompaniment.

Nicolas Masson Parallels – Thirty Six Ghosts (CF 163)
Nicolas Masson Parallels’ Thirty Six Ghosts is proof that the land of William Tell has produced more than just watches and chocolate. The Shorteresque tenorman and his all-Swiss quartet (which features electric piano and stand-up bass) play a mostly introspective brand of jazz that’s informed by a love of 20th century composed music and, less audibly, alt-rock. Not surprisingly, the proximate model here is a less wired/weird version of early ‘70s Miles, particularly on the relentlessly funky “Hellboy.”

The Godforgottens – Never Forgotten, Always Remembered (CF 164)
The Godforgottens is the name adopted by Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo and the Sten Sandell trio. On Never Forgotten, Always Remembered, they perform three lengthy extemporations – the longest nearly 20 minutes – with titles that are variants of the album’s title. On “Always Forgotten,” they create brooding, oceanic swells with Sandell playing first-time Hammond B3 as well as piano. “Never Remembered” starts with a cascade of drum thunder from Paal Nilssen-Love, over which Broo and Sandell spar. “Remembered Forgotten” starts as a duel between Broo and Nilssen-Love before Sandell and bassist Johan Berthling enter the fray. Their interchanges can be either exhilarating or exhausting, depending on your point of view.

All About Jazz review by Troy Collins

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
Widely admired for its intricate mathematical construction, the Mayan calendar is far more than just a lightning rod for misguided prophets predicting the end of the world; it is also the source of inspiration for Gravity, the fourth studio recording from the young West Coast-based Empty Cage Quartet.
The album consists of two extended compositions, which are broken into sections and alternated throughout the session. “Gravity” and “Tzolkien” rely on combinations of pitch palindromes and symmetrical harmonic and rhythmic sequences derived from calendar-based number series to yield an endless variety of thematic variations. Despite such meticulous frameworks, the written material is designed to provide additional avenues for group improvisation, which the quartet invests with the same freewheeling enthusiasm that has defined their oeuvre since their inception.

The Empty Cage Quartet, comprised of saxophonist Jason Mears, trumpeter Kris Tiner, bassist Ivan Johnson and percussionist Paul Kikuchi, has been building on the piano-less quartet innovations of Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton since 2003. Collectively, the members of the ensemble have studied with such luminaries as Wadada Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Vinny Golia, Milford Graves and Charlie Haden—legendary artists whose individualism informs the group’s singular aesthetic.

Although “Gravity” and “Tzolkien” may sound like formalist exercises on paper, in practice the quartet brings these labyrinthine pieces to life, investing contrapuntal melodies, cantilevered harmonies and compound meters with unflinching enthusiasm. Using the prescribed structure of each piece as a guide rather than a constraint, they range free and loose, bringing a raw, unfettered sensibility to the proceedings.

Fraught with harsh angles, stop-start rhythms and odd meters, these modular compositions defy simple analysis, yet never sound academic. Mears and Tiner wax opulent harmonies over Johnson and Kikuchi’s calibrated undertow, with each member contributing equally to the quartet’s intimate four-way conversations. Their approach to each section varies, veering from atmospheric introspection (“Tzolkien 1+13”) and pensive pointillism (“Gravity: sections 5-7”) to cascading torrents of sound (“Tzolkien 2+9” and “Gravity: section 8”). They draw on multiple traditions, shifting from abstract funk to swaggering bop on “Gravity: section 4,” while “Tzolkien 3+6+7” eradicates notions of austerity with its syncopated vamp and lively discourse between Mears’ staccato alto and Tiner’s muted horn.

Equally informed by complex compositional theory and raw improvisational fervor, Gravity is a compelling example of challenging, yet ultimately accessible creative improvised music. Much has been written about the importance of composition for the future of jazz; this date is an early contender for future case studies.

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/

Time Out Lisboa review by José Carlos Fernandes

cf-1031The Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
O nome deste quarteto de Los Angeles é enganador, pois a gaiola está longe de estar vazia. Lá dentro esvoaçam ideias variadas e originais, algumas bem esdrúxulas. Há um pouco de tudo: há um tema que se alonga por 17’24 mas também um que se consome em 0’24, momentos de liberdade sem peias e de cuidadoso entrosamento, de sarcasmo e de melancolia, de frenesim e introspecção. “Old ladies” é um bebop alucinado que leva a crer que as velhas senhoras não se limitam a comer scones e tomar chá de camomila, “Steps of the Ordinarily Unordinary” uma marcha entre o jocoso e a solenidade fingida, “Aurobindo” uma elegia subaquática. “Again a Gun Again a Gun Again a Gun” é uma fanfarra engasgada que nunca chega a acordo com uma bateria hiperactiva. “We are all tomorrow’s food” começa com sopros e contrabaixo meditativos mas a agitação desusada e incansável da bateria acaba por contagiar os outros instrumentos e levar mesmo o clarinete ao paroxismo.
O que salta aos ouvidos nesta mini-Babel sonora é o trabalho de conjunto – não há aqui lugar para heróis do solo quilométrico. A autoria dos temas é repartida entre Jason Mears (sax alto e clarinete) e Kris Tiner (trompete e fliscorne), mas os contributos de Ivan Johnson (contrabaixo) e Paul Kikuchi (bateria, percussão e electrónica) são insubstituíveis. A riqueza tímbrica é notável para um grupo desta dimensão, graças às inventivas combinações entre Mears e Tiner, ao recurso ao arco pela parte de Johnson e à alargada paleta percussiva e aos gadgets de Kikuchi.
O Empty Cage Quartet já tinha discos gravados em discretas etiquetas que não se costumam ver por cá. É bem-vinda a sua divulgação pela mão da Clean Feed e aguarda-se com expectativa a próxima gaiola cheia de música de plumagem variegada.

Cadence Magazine review by Jerome Wilson

Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
The mood on “Stratostrophic” is nowhere close to fun. There are no liner notes in the CD package outside of an endorsement from Wadada Leo Smith, but between the track titles and the tense, anxious feel of the music you definitely sense that this band is commenting on current world events.
Hornmen Jason Mears and Kris Tiner are direct players who blow long eloquent phrases against the rumbling underpinnings of Ivan Johnson and Paul Kikuchi. Almost everything is in a march or Blues tempo and the CD is dominated by three long tracks. “Again a Gun” the horns blow in sad and weary unison over a frantic dropkick rhythm before they spiral out blaring solos that sound like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry at half speed. “Doorway Of Escape” sets small, insistent horn laments against ominous electronic percussion, all of which morphs into a bellowing, dark Blues over lurching rhythm. Finally, on “Don’t Hesitate,” the horns cry out in front of soft, ghostly noises before the bass joins in and kicks them up into more elastic and uptempo shouting that leads into Tiner’s and Mears’ most lustrous playing of the set. This is reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ rambunctious political music. It is soulful work infused with rage and passion and shows that the Empty Cage Quartet is the equal of any group out there today.
©Cadence Magazine 2009 www.cadencebuilding.com

Exclaim.ca Best 2008 by Nate Dorward

Best 2008 / Destination Out: Year in Review 2008

Instead of building one top ten list from the many disparate styles of electronic ambience, non-linear improv, experimental rock, avant jazz, droning noise and many more, we’ve asked ten frequent contributors to the Destination Out reviews section to write about one release that most excited them this year.

Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
Hard to believe such rich, multilayered narratives could be constructed out of the sparse two horns, bass and drums format popularized by Ornette Coleman. Trumpeter Kris Tiner has a beautifully clear swing-to-freebop sound and a gift for phrases that hang provocatively in the air. He’s got a perfect partner in Jason Mears’ lemony alto, and the spiralling, witty extremity of their counterpoint rivals the Zorn/Douglas interplay in Masada. Ivan Johnson and Paul Kikuchi have blossomed into one of the supplest rhythm sections around: rather than locking in together, they pull away from each other in order to let these ultra-elastic grooves breathe.

Temporary Fault review by Massimo Ricci


Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
The systematic annoyances originating from delayed mail are a crucial characteristic of Italian routine, in particular as far as reviewing records is concerned. This explains the reason for which only recently I was able to take pleasure in listening to the brilliant Stratostrophic (Clean Feed) by the Empty Cage Quartet. The group consists of four youngsters whose mind is filled with serious ideas, expounded through eleven tracks that mix a multiplicity of coordinates and influences; essentially, their style can be placed in a province bordering on present-day jazz and rather curbed improvisation, with hints to Charles Ives-like superimpositions of different conjectures and junctures. Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet) and Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn) are the composers, while percussionist Paul Kikuchi and double bassist Ivan Johnson build their contribution upon everything you would look ahead to by a technically dextrous rhythm section.

When an ensemble needs not to recur to metaphoric paraphernalia and short-lived tricks, we immediately realize that the direction is right. Quite often during the playback I found myself thinking of charts made of very long lines and exploded views, music leading to places where expectations are met without fretfulness and transitions are clearly visible. This sense of structural intelligibility, in conjunction with an evident respect for tradition, is the most considerable attribute of the album. We glance at the young faces of the artists in the inner sleeve’s picture, compare them with the maturity shown by these fairly challenging pieces, and all of a sudden the perspectives of jazz-derived languages look pretty bright, provided that one doesn’t start daydreaming about groundbreaking visions and on-the-spot innovations.