Tag Archives: Steve Swell

Best of 2012 list by Oscar Arribas (Cuadernos de Jazz)

CF 255Dark Lady of the Sonnets Wadada Leo Smith’ Mbira (Tum Records)
Alive at the Vanguard Fred Hersch Trio (Palmetto)
To Infinity and Beyond Ja Vigiu Plamja (El Gallo Rojo)
Lifeline Rolf & Joachim Kühn Quartet (Impulse!)
Takes Off PLATFORM 1 (clean feed)

Son tantos los discos que uno ha ido escuchado a lo largo de un año que cuando toca mirar atrás para seleccionar unos pocos te das cuenta de lo rápido que transcurre el tiempo. A la hora de hacer balance, uno se sorprende al comprobar que todos aquellos discos escuchados hace más de seis meses parece como si hubieran sido editados el año pasado. Cada referencia que llega a tus manos parece tener una fecha de caducidad  que indica que debe ser dejada a un lado lo más pronto posible para hacer sitio a la siguiente, y ésta, a su vez, a la próxima que esté a punto de ser editada. De repente, sin darte cuenta, el placer de disfrutar de un disco se convierte más bien en una forma de consumo compulsiva y superficial.

Por esa razón y desde hace unos años, mi cantidad de discos escuchados ha ido bajando progresivamente, si bien el tiempo dedicado a cada uno de ellos ha aumentado cada vez más. De este modo, uno acude a las novedades discográficas sin prisas, a su debido tiempo. ¿Y qué mas da que hayan sido editados hace ya varios meses? Al fin y al cabo, cuando uno adquiere un disco lo hace con el objetivo de que forme parte de su fonoteca particular, donde no hay fechas de caducidad que valgan ni prisas para deleitarse con la música seleccionada.

¿Son estos los mejores discos de 2012? Seguramente, no. La razón por la que han sido seleccionados estos y no otros se debe única y exclusivamente a que sus audiciones han sido para mí de las más gratificantes del año. Aunque puestos a recordar, no se me olvidará la actuación del Aurora Trio de Agustí Fernández, Barry Guy y Ramón López en el Colegio Mayor San Juan Evangelista de Madrid. De acuerdo, no es un disco editado, pero si lo hubieran sacado a la venta a la salida del concierto lo hubiera comprado sin pensarlo dos veces y estaría entre los cinco mejores del año.

Point of Departure review by Jason Bivins

CF 255Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
The suggestively named ensemble Platform 1 is constituted by top drawer improvisers from several different scenes. Reeds player Ken Vandermark and trumpeter Magnus Broo have long experience together from various ensembles and shared friendships, and they’re joined on the front line by the superb trombonist Steve Swell. The group is rounded out by an engine room stoked by bassist Joe Williamson and drummer Michael Vatcher. Their music takes on a lot of different aspects, but it’s often rather rolling and rambunctious, with an energy and even some arrangements that recall mid-1960s Archie Shepp to some extent. No fear of derivative music here, though, as the compositional framework and the instrumental vocabularies are far more contemporary (even if Swell does owe an audible debt to Rudd, a fine thing that). For example, for every boisterous yawp and raggedly swinging passage, the band is as likely to move crisply into a clacking, Braxtonian pulse track to focus their energies differently.

But, possible influences aside, a lot of the pieces here are not only vehicles for terrific playing (the brass players in particular won me over) but are great expressions of these players’ personalities and backgrounds. Broo’s jaunty, swaggering “Portal #33” and uproarious “Dim Eyes” recalls the enthusiasms of his work in Atomic (and to a lesser extent those of a different, Broo-less band, Exploding Customer). Vandermark sounds really good throughout here: lusty and focused on “Dim Eyes” (which also boasts killer work from Vatcher), sweetly melancholy on his marvelously assured ballad “Stations” (for CF honcho Pedro Costa),” and funky as hell on his Rudd dedication “In Between Chairs.” Speaking of funk, Swell’s “Compromising Emanations” hits the sweet spot just after the nicely groaning textural piece “Deep Beige.” A smart, well-balanced set overall.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Kurt Gottschalk

CF 255Steve Swell Nation of We – The Business of Here… (Cadence Jazz)
Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
Steve Swell is a hard one to put a finger on. His playing is so pure it’s hard to see him in it – what a trombone would want to be if it didn’t need human assistance. Such clarity of vision isn’t easily sustained in a band two-dozen strong, at least not while keeping the flame of the Downtown jazz scene Swell has been associated with for close to 40 years. But on The Businessof Here… Live at Roulette he lets the big band unleashits power at times while retaining a delicate control over much of the proceedings. The result is an uncompromising 70 minutes that breaks into some lovely moments, including a violin duo (Rosi Hertlein and Jason Kao Hwang) that dissolves into a sax-with-strings in miniature upon the entrance of Giuseppe Logan. From that point, about 20 minutes in, Swell deftly rebuilds the band, slowly bringing in players and earning the momentum of a free jazz explosion but not before a convincing beat invocation by bassist/poet Albey Balgochian. It’s a fun ride all around and shows the freedom to be found in discipline.

Platform 1’s Takes Off is a smaller ensemble, which similarly benefits from judicious restraint and given the players it’s no surprise. The quintet is fronted by Swell, Ken Vandermark (tenor sax and Bb clarinet), whose dedication to jazz discipline has extended to numerous homages and dedications, and trumpeter Magnus Broo, who has played with Vandermark before- notably in the exceptional 4 Corners – and is a part of the vital Swedish jazz scene. Backing them is the wonderfully on-point drummer Michael Vatcher and the fine Swedish-by-way-of-Canada bassist Joe Williamson. All but Vatcher contribute compositions to this fine collection and all show a respect for the proceedings. It’s that sort of stoking flames, rather than dumping lighter fluid on them, which makes fiery jazz like these two records so exciting.

JazzWrap review by Stephan Moore

Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
Another couple of weeks and another excellent project featuring some of the best on the Free Jazz scene. Platform 1 is an international combination that has worked together in various forms (most recently as Resonance Ensemble). But what makes Takes Off slightly different is the freedom in which the musicians create and utilize the space around them to superb effect.

“Portal #33” had shades of Vandermark’s main outfit, The Vandermark 5. The sound is fast paced but with a fun well-intended groove. Williamson, Swell and Vatcher are killer. The piece swerves with more improvised lines towards latter portions before Broo and Williamson lead the quintet gently out.

This gives way to a steady, quiet and introspective “Stations,” in which Broo’s passages have a sweet delicate beauty to them. Williamson has a great quiet solo towards the end that is later joined by Vandermark. Really touching harmonies of dedication.

“Deep Beige/For Derek’s Kids,” a double melodic suite written by both Williamson and Swell, moves with dark entrancing tones through subtle notes from the horn section and some free movement by Vandermark on clarinet. This first portion lulls the listener into a quiet sense of abandon.

The mood becomes slightly more open and spacious with the second movement. Swell adds a blues-like touch that soon ventures into a very calculated abstraction and cacophony of the final album track “In Between Chairs.” An excellent closing number that brings the session full circle with a boisterous bit humour but also a solid sense that Platform 1 could be one of Vandermark’s more adventurous groups going forward. Solid stuff worth your listening pleasure.

Blow Up Magazine review by Enrico Bettinello

Hairybones Snakelust (CF 252)
Platform 1 Takes Off (CF 255)
The Fish Moon Fish (CF 254)
Instancabili gli alfieri dell’avant/jazz, di ogni latitudine. Prontissima come sempre la portoghese Clean Feed  a documentarli, come in questo trittico che farà certamente ingolosire gli appassionati.

Gli Hairybones di Peter Brötzmann innanzitutto, impegnati in una lunga suite dedicata allo scrittore giapponese Kenji Nakagami: il quartetto, completato dalla tomba e elettronica di Toshinori Kondo, dal basso di Massimo Pupillo [Zu] e dalla batteria di Paal Nilssen-Love [The Thing] è una vera e propria macchina da guerra, un muro di intenzione sonora [anche quando uno dei componenti viene lasciato a monologare, come nello splendido interludio di Brötzmann dopo circa un quarto d’ora dall’inizio]. I fan apprezzeranno, astenersi nervi fragili.

Ottimo anche l’ennesimo nuovo progetto di Ken Vandermark, ormai stabilmente proiettato sugli incroci tra musicisti americani e europei: il quintetto Platform 1 si pregia di uno dei migliori e più sottovalutati tromboni in circolazione, Steve Swell, della tromba di Magnos Broo [Atomic] e della intensa coppia ritmica formata da Michael Vatcher e Joe Williamson, entrambi musicisti che dagli States si sono trasferiti in Europa. I temi sono firmati da ciascuno dei componenti e questo garantisce una bella varietà di approcci e di situazioni, da quelle più astratte e impalpabili [Stations di Vandermark] a quelle più ruspanti come Compromising Emanations di Swell. Grande dinamismo e splendida musica, sebbene nel solco di sintesi post-free tipico di Vandermark.

Viene invece dalla Francia il trio The Fish, che già si era fatto apprezzare qualche anno fa con un bel live per la Ayler Records. Il contralto di Jean-Luc Guionnet, il basso di Benjamin Duboc e Edward Perraud si rifanno apertamente alla ormai lunga tradizione dell’improvvisazione libera e torrenziale, sebbene giocata con grande abilità. Nulla di nuovo, ma un trio che se vi capita dal vivo, non è da mancare.

Le Son du Grisli review by Guillaume Belhomme

Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
Au nombre des projets de Ken Vandermark, il faudra désormais compter avec Platform 1, qui l’associe à deux recrues de Resonance (Magnus Broo, Steve Swell) ainsi qu’à Joe Williamson (contrebasse) et Michael Vatcher (batterie). Les 5 musiciens se partagent les compositions.   Ce qui d’abord implique la mise en place d’un brass band affolé (Tempest, épreuve dolphyenne signée Swell, combinée à 2A>2B de Broo) au sein duquel le saxophone ténor jouera des coudes avant de plier sous la force d’un vent latin. Imposant Station, Vandermark répond à l’affront qui lui a été fait par une pièce de réflexion, qui joue d’unissons et de gimmicks mêlés. La trompette de Broo y trouve à dire autant que sur Compromising Emanations (Swell) à l’occasion des récréations que la composition réserve aux instruments à vent.   Le sombre climat de Deep Beige (Williamson) prouvera encore qu’une émotion profonde peut être exprimée pleinement quand un hommage à Roswell Rudd (In Between Charis, Vandermark) rétablira la balance en offrant à Williamson et Vatcher le soin de conduire un bel exercice de bop outragé. Et Takes Off aura tout dit ; pleinement.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
Platform 1? The name of a very lively “free jazz” quintet. Platform 1 Takes Off (Clean Feed 255) is the name of what I take to be their first CD as a unit.   It’s Magnus Broo on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, Ken Vandermark on tenor and clarinet, Michael Vatcher, drums, and Joe Williamson on bass. All but Vatcher contribute compositions for the outing, and they have a memorable head blast off quality.   The rhythm section is loose and first-rate. The front line gives us extroverted improvisational joy and collective madness of the best sort. Swell and Vandermark come though as expected with their well-developed artistry. Magnus Broo holds his own among them.   It’s a beautifully performed set of modern, cutting edge avant improv. Those who know these folks from past haunts will not be disappointed; those coming to this music for the first time, with a little patience, will find themselves digging in and digging the sounds, I certainly think. Yes!

Free Jazz reviews by Andreas Wildenhain and Paolo Casertano

Platform 1 – Takes Off (CF 255)
We’re pleased to present a double review of this new Clean Feed album from Platform 1 (Ken Vandermark, Joe Willamson, Michael Vatcher, Magnus Broo, and Steve Swell). What’s interesting is how our two reviewers came away with differing impressions of the album. What can we say except, give it spin, see what you think.

Platform 1 – Takes Off (Clean Feed, 2012) ****

By Andreas Wildenhain

Lets say: A friend of yours asked you a few days ago, if you knew some cool music, maybe Creative Music or even Free Jazz, because lately he explained, he could´t stand those radio mainstream Songs anymore, always using four chords the whole song through, some autotune, to pitch the singer to the right note, etc, etc. You left him standing with a grin on your face, telling him, that you will have look. So you went back home thinking what might be appropriate for his dude. Maybe some Sun Ra? Squarepusher? Son House?

Looking through your CD Library you catch a glimpse of the latest Ken Vandermark Platform 1 Release, entitled Takes Off. While hearing through this latest release, you realize that this CD offers some Free Bop with a lot of positive musical aspects like: beautiful melodies, some remarkable communication between instrumentalists, high energy interaction, but the whole release is balanced and never completely off the wall.

So lets look at the first song Tempest/2A>2B which starts with a blast of a theme, then turning into a rather energetic duet between Steve Swell, trombone and Michael Vatcher, drums & perc, switching to a well balanced group conversation that leads to an astonishing end of the track. A nice track that made me smile while taking its twists.

Overall, I really liked this recording with its composed and improvised sections and would recommend it to every open eared music fan.

If you are in a hurry at your local CD Store, I recommend listening to Tracks 1,3 and 7 to get an idea of the recording. Furthermore the recording is well recorded and mixed by Bob Weston and Chicago Mastering Service in April 2012.

You can pick a copy at Clean Feed Records a Portuguese Record Company by Pedro Costa.

The musician of this session are: Ken Vandermark, Joe Willamson, Michael Vatcher, Magnus Broo, Steve Swell

Platform 1 – Takes Off (Clean Feed, 2012) **½
By Paolo Casertano
It is unusual to receive a negative review on this blog. This is for sure not due to the reviewers tenderness (the team numbers among its ranks several well-known serial killers), while more possibly it is because our respect and care for jazz led us to the attempt of deeply decrypting musicians work, occasionally until we find something good even in some – let’s call them – unimpressive releases. At least this is what sometimes I find myself doing (and probably I shouldn’t have spoken in the name of the team, and more over not about the serial killers issue, you know…). And again, this maybe should say something about my critical approach.

I didn’t know much about this album. A single sentence from the short introduction to it on the label’s website – “their music is the burning free bop you would expect from the people gathered here” – had unnecessarily strengthened my curiosity. It seemed an easy bet indeed. Clean Feed has recently released such an impressive amount of great albums, many of them among my favorite listenings, and the group’s personnel is so bright – I thought.

It’s beyond any reasonable doubt that the musicians featured in it have gained a really well deserved reputation all over the world. And that’s why it is, in my opinion, equally honest to say that this is not what I expected from them.

The seven tracks are well arranged and masterfully played. Nothing less. What it lacks is inspiration. Sometimes echoing a 30’s big band a la Glenn Miller, some others recreating an Yma Sumac’s mambo atmosphere. There is nothing bad about it, we could agree. But again, the result is that all these great musicians are less convincing as an ensemble than as individual performers. I mean, at least as this ensemble, considering they all have a countless amount of other compelling projects in any conceivable line-up.

The album, in its 65 minutes, streams without any possibility of attachment and stronger involvement. I have always been a faithful supporter of Magnus Broo, both in his avantgardish outputs and in his more traditional releases. I’ve always found something really appropriate in his sound, as if it could not be in any case offsite. I’m still persuaded of it. But the interventions showing the real potential of the players are too few and dispersive here. Some successful interplay may be heard between trumpet and bass in the closing part of the second track.

Bassist Joe Williamson seems to be the only one aiming to a more coherent development of the band’s structures and if you wait until the “Deep beige/For Derek’s kids” episode and the following and closing “In between chairs”, you may hear a remarkable bass drone file rouge giving for once the feeling that players are enjoying the jam session and the benefit of a composition in a large ensemble.

Vandermark has obviously his sound. His screeches and dives in the low scales chasing the trombone. But I’m not sure he needed this experiment.

A single word from the Clean Feed’s introduction comes back to my mind: “gathered”. The musicians are gathered in the group.  Gathered and not joined together, or united in. Semantic is a slippery territory. Especially when you’re not analyzing your mother tongue. But this is what it seems. Or mathematically speaking, for once the whole is smaller than the sum of its parts. And more explicitly, would you let them play as background music at your wedding party? I believe they’re all a little bit too gifted for such a waste.

To stay on topic the album just does not take off.

Chicago Reader article by Peter Margasak

Steve Swell and Mikolaj Trzaska: Intimate Free Jazz at the Velvet Lounge Wednesday
New York trombonist Steve Swell is one of improvised music’s most tireless figures, a musician who seems to take sustenance from working constantly in countless contexts, both as leader and sideman. His calling card is blustery, hard-charging free jazz—the kind of energy music he’s been playing for two decades with the likes of William Parker, Rob Brown, Rob Mazurek, and Gebhard Ullman. Swell is bandleader of several projects, most with shifting personnel, and one of the most interesting—and certainly the most germane to his performance Wednesday night at the Velvet Lounge with Polish reedist Mikolaj Trzaska—is a trio outing from last year called Planet Dream (Clean Feed CF 148 ).

Also featuring alto saxophonist Brown and cellist Daniel Levin, the album contains a mix of fully improvised pieces and knotty postbop tunes by Swell, and in every case the emphasis is on fleet give-and-take interaction. Because there’s no drummer, the music is superficially less aggressive than most energy music, but it’s hardly placid; all three participants can kick up dust with lines that move almost blindingly fast, and Levin’s pizzicato sometimes approximates a percussionist’s role. With his fat, brawny tone, Swell can make himself heard through the thickest of dins, but here he accommodates the relative intimacy instead of treading on the rest of the ensemble—though a piece like “Juxtsuppose” proves they can also make a mighty noise.

Mikolaj Trzaska
Trzaska made his first visit to Chicago in November 2008 at the Umbrella Music Festival, in a trio with bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Michael Zerang. A veteran of the Gdansk scene, he also operates the Kilogram label and has developed an international profile over the past decade, playing and recording with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Johannes Bauer, and Ken Vandermark—he’s part of the Chicagoan’s Resonance Project, which launched in Krakow three years ago and also includes Swell. Considering the company he keeps, it’s not surprising that he favors a blistering, high-energy attack, but he’s got a broader range than that. On the album Nadir & Mahora (Kilogram), cut with Zerang and Swiss cellist Clementine Gasser, Trzaska is relatively restrained and lyrical on alto and C-melody saxophones—though his playing, marked by a tightly coiled lines that lash the air like wind-snapped cables, remains intense even when he dials things down.

Swell and Trzaska will play as a duo and then be joined by a number of Chicagoans, including reedist Dave Rempis, drummer Frank Rosaly, and vibist Jason Adasiewicz.
Steve Swell photo by John Rogers

Touching Extremes reviw by Massimo Ricci

STEVE SWELL – Planet Dream (CF 148)
A set of complex compositions and a few improvisations that at times sound as vivaciously articulate as a drunken teacher’s excursion in front of blank-eyed pupils, elsewhere giving a chance to the protagonists for starting their own brand of Pindaric flight, always with technically impeccable flamboyance but, alas, only occasionally warming this listener’s heart. Trombonist Steve Swell looks at Planet Dream as a sort of utopia, a world where complete self-expression is warranted and people are accepted for what they are. Cellist Daniel Levin and alto saxophonist Rob Brown are happy to help the nominal leader in this vision, the instruments entwined in a series of mainly talkative constructions that result rambunctious, mildly impertinent, bluesy, once in a blue moon solemn and, not infrequently, overwrought. It’s not a matter of recognition of singular personalities: all three are very fine musicians, and listening to unquestionable abilities is okay. What leaves us pondering at what could have been made differently is the dearth of introspective vibration, in that the music seems to expose a bit of coldness rather than really involve. There are moments in which the mind appreciates some measure of relief, and in this particular record the blend of eagerness and spotless virtuosity tends to suffocate the soul, ultimately turning a meeting of champions into a semi-sterile round table characterized by an inclination to speak concurrently, the risk being that of stifling the constructive words that are pronounced.