Monday, January 15, 2018

Marker - Wired for Sound (Audiographic Records, 2017)

Marker is one of the many groups associated with multi-reed instrument player and composer Ken Vandermark. On this album, he is joined by Steve Marquette and Andrew Clinkman on guitar, Macie Stewart on keyboards and violin and Phil Sudderberg on drums. This album was recorded in Milwaukee during August of 2017 and begins with "Okinawa Bullfight (for Chantal Akerman)" which has a strong and tight rhythm from the drums and guitar with keyboard shadings. The music has a sense of urgency to it, made even more present with the addition of Vandermark's saxophone. There is a very powerful improvisation for grinding guitars and a wicked beat that underscores and supports the music. Electronic keyboards frame the sound, providing depth and texture, with biting saxophone adding grit and an element of danger that is present in the best music. The saxophone is deep toned, muscular and virile, perfect for the setting, devolving into a massive full band blowout at one point, then dropping off into abstraction. Vandermark moves to clarinet, squeaking and swirling in space, and the music turns more atmospheric, with long tones of violin. The music accelerates with Stewart shifting back to keyboard and everyone coming together for a mighty push. Vandermark's saxophone emerges with a forceful howl, leading the charge with excellent drums alongside him. "Every Carnation (for Pina Bausch)" follows with a strong full band opening for acoustic piano and scrabbling guitars with the saxophone integrating itself well, creating rhythmically complex and exciting music. The clashing piano and guitar give the music friction, and sparks some inventive interplay. Vandermark again moves to clarinet, adding subtle strokes to the musical environment, with yearning violin providing support. Guitars, violin and drums create an interesting soundscape that gains more heft from gritty tenor saxophone getting a stark and rending feature. Shimmering electric keyboards take the music in an unexpected direction, opening vistas that everyone jumps to take advantage of leading to a powerful collective improvisation, adding some epic keyboard droning to the overall sound to excellent effect. The final performance is "Doctors In The Shot (for Anthony Braxton and Bernie Worrell)" beginning with delicate guitar and clarinet, creating a delicate and intricate patchwork. Building to a choppy rhythm, the music picks up pace and volume, adding grinding guitar and steep drumming, wild electronics making for a thrilling ride. They drift into a spacier section of atmospheric violin taking a beautiful and poignant solo, before the music again blasts of dynamically for the outer limits. Stewart is very impressive on this recording moving between instruments with aplomb and adding just the right touch to the music. The band as a whole is stellar and the music that they create is thoroughly interesting and exciting. Hopefully this will be the first album of many for this excellent band. Wired for Sound - Bandcamp

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Made to Break - Trebuchet (Trost Records, 2017)

Made to Break is one of the most exciting modern jazz and improvised music ensembles active today. Consisting of Ken Vandermark on reed instruments, Christof Kurzmann on electronics and lloopp, Jasper Stadhouders on bass and Tim Daisy on drums and percussion. The music is a powerful and compelling mix of acoustic instruments with electronics and loops that is light years away from standard jazz fusion. "Hydroplane (For Shellac)" opens the album with strong grinding bass and drums with deep rich tenor saxophone, from the opening beat they envelop the science, with episodes of electronic interference adding variety. The vibrant saxophone and ripe bass are excellent, with the drums kicking in with the electronics swirling to drive the music hard. Vandermark sounds particularly inspired in his saxophone playing with an powerful and furious solo before the pace of the music drops considerably. There is a quieter section of abstract electronics, with smears of reeds and rumbling bass. and there's room for a bass solo against the spacey smears of the electronics. Chirpy reed and thudding bass build the dynamics back up making room for further percussion and saxophone soloing, leading to a very powerful conclusion. It is a long track, but continuously interesting throughout, with a dynamic push and pull creating a strong narrative presence to the musical evolution. "Contact Sheet (For Susan Sontag)" is nearly as long, beginning with light saxophone and feathery brushes, giving the music subtle shading that allows the pace to gradually pick up with the addition of the electronics and the power of the saxophone and percussion increasing accordingly. The music builds to a frenetic section of sculpted electronics buzzing and fizzing along with taut bass and drums. Vandermark re-enters, adding raw tenor saxophone to create a deeply textured free collective improvisation, that draws its power both from modern jazz and post-modern music collage. A quieter passage for the group adds and eerie and abstract angle to the proceedings, before there is a shocking jump in volume for the finale "Slipping Words Against Silence (for Kerry James Marshall)." This shows the group at their most potent, pushing their instruments to the brink, and then bringing them back. Kurzmann creates layers of unexpected sounds as Vandermark counters by switching to clarinet, swooping around the field of view. Tension builds as space opens up giving a group a clear vision of what lays before them. From a moment of silence, the musicians re-emerge, with Vandermark moving back to caustic tenor saxophone, unaccompanied in space, before the band kicks back in with an infectious groove with whistling and ringing electronics amidst popping bass and percussion. This was a really wonderful album, filled with excitement and very powerful playing and it is very highly recommended. Trebuchet - amazon.com

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 2 and 3 (Audiographic Records, 2017)

Ken Vandermark was struggling to put together an American tour, with promoters and venue owners reluctant to host to mini festival of improvised music that he envisioned. Eventually, they found  studios in Nashville and Chicago that would host them, and this double disc set was born. The Nashville session, from April 2016 features Tim Daisy on drums, Christof Kurzmann on ppooll (an audio networking system), Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass, Vandermark himself on reeds, Nate Wooley on trumpet and C. Spencer Yeh on violin, voice, electronics. This is highly experimental stuff, opening with sampled human and electronic noises building an uneasy cohesion. As the short tracks of the suite "Momentum 2: Brüllt" build upon one another, drums move in, brushes, fluttering in and around, creating odd textures, and adding a weird percussive mixture of drums and samples. The full band jumps in, with very exciting horns and all leading to an excellent blowout of collective improvisation. Drawing on strings and a ripe, potent trumpet solo, the music is followed by guttural, free form saxophone and drums led section which is very compelling. Dropping back down to eerie and haunted tones in space and taking a nuanced approach, the music, swirls and squeals with electronics and industrial clanks developing a horror movie aesthetic. Bouncing back to bright horns and skittish percussion, the push and pull between accessibility and abstraction continues as the sound devolves into grinding a electric bleeping with static like a mis-tuned radio. Horns reemerge and fly about, reveling in their freedom, with scrapes of frantically bowed strings adding to the tension with bursts of sound join to create a complex rhythm. Horns develop a melodic riff with circular brush patterns adding heft, creating a very attractive and easy going section that is unexpected. As the suite continues to evolve, space opens for subtle percussion and electronic devices, creating an odd sound sensation akin to little birds fluttering about in the bushes outside an open window. Strings move within the overall sound, placed against the groaning electronic noises, which gradually fade to allow space for fragile clarinet to emerge. A hard to describe electro-acoustic improvisation emerges, concerned with texture and dynamics rather than form and rhythm. There is a long developing section anchored by feathering percussion framed by sounds that seem to emerge if their own accord as if willed into existence followed by strings that grow in volume, altered by the magnetic field of the surrounding electronics. Trumpet breaks free to emote in pursed and worrying tones, breaking into more peaceful sounds offset by the unusual backdrop, and weaving through the thicket with addition of strong tenor saxophone, bursting into a colorful free improvisation. The first suite closes as it began, with a mysterious transmission of alien signals, that skirt along the sides of comprehension. Two long improvised tracks make up the second suite "Momentum 3: Monster Roster" recorded in Chicago on August with Tim Barnes on drums and percussion, Nick Macri on acoustic bass, Lou Mallozzi on turntables, CDs, microphones and mixer, Vandermark on reeds and Mars Williams on saxophones and toys.  The music opens with a startling drum shot, with loping bass and powerful horns developing a strong flank. There’s a pinched sounding saxophone breaks free to solo over bass and drums, with electronic instruments framing the acoustics, and the tight bass and drums making all the difference as the saxophone that is stretching out nicely, playing with an angular sensibility. The music evolves into abstraction with sub-vocalized sounds, choppy clanks and swirls, then ominous quiet. Drums allow the music to keep some form of momentum through the strangeness, and Barnes plays with a master’s touch, as the electronic noises skulk about and low horn sounds rise from the ground. The final section adds light toned saxophone and swirls of sound and a light rhythm. Electronic cracking and snatched of spoken words, add a sense of general weirdness to the proceedings. This collection can be a bit exhausting, but it is admirably ambitious in the melding of free jazz and abstract electronic music. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but when everything clicks, the results are  undeniably impressive. Momentum 2 and 3 -- Audiographic Records Bandcamp.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Scott DuBois - Autumn Wind (ACT Music, 2017)

Celebrating the beauty and heartbreak of autumn, this album that melds aspects of modern jazz, contemporary classical music and Americana to create a musical impression of that most mercurial of seasons. The main quartet consists of Scott DuBois on guitar and conduction, Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Thomas Morgan on bass and Kresten Osgood on drums. They are aided and abetted at times by further quartets of strings and reed instruments. Opening with the juxtaposition of angular shards of slashing electric guitar with piercing melodic notes of beauty, there builds a spacious open section for guitar and bass quietly performing in freedom. Using patience and using the sonorous nature of their instruments, acoustic and electric working together and moving forward, the music builds a sense of synaesthesia, with the enveloping golden glow of calm and safety present as the song progresses to its conclusion. There is a low horn, Ullman's bass clarinet that adds further textures and possibilities to the music, melding very well amidst the electric guitar and acoustic bass. The addition of drums drives the music forward with a greater sense of urgency, as bass and percussion provide an elastic groove that can soothe or shape the music into sharp angles, further aided by the appearance of strident saxophone. Storm clouds build on the horizon but also assume a framing structure for streaks of melodic guitar that run through the playing on this album, allowing the music to develop its own character and cohesive identity, with a sense of release as the music resolves in a flurry of activity. The full band performance is quite impressive, building a wide array of colors and hues, a wide textural palette completed by the range of instruments on hand like the raw and stark bass clarinet which interweaves through a variety of thoughtful composed and improvised sections. There is an arc of emotional development to the music that can move from thrashing drums and whinnying saxophone to pastoral temperament and use both motifs equally well, culminated by a thrilling blowout of strings, reeds and percussion that creates a massive edifice of sound and fury. The music serves to beautifully illustrate the moods and modes of autumn as a season and the autumnal frame of mind, seeking peace amid the squalls of life’s travails. From the riotous blooms of autumn's color in the landscape to the stark and barren trees of early winter, the music takes the listener on a personal journey, echoing the season’s many hues within its structure, a gradual unveiling of the nature of the inner and outer world. The stoic bowed bass of the latter music joins with further strings at times to usher in the chill of the approaching winter, leaving a sense of melancholy as the colors fade, and the birds take flight for warmer climes, and the guitar and drums urgently fly across barren fields, yielding to the dark enveloping night of the string section. A patient saxophone solo buoyed by updrafts of bass and strings bring home the autumnal glow of the music and serves to encapsulate the strength of the music and the musicians who made it, carving out their own identity within the overall theme of the concept. This is a long album, but it has a story to tell that makes use of that time, never rushing the arc of its narrative journey that is immersive in scope and ambition. Autumn Wind - amazon.com

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Myra Melford Trio - Alive in the House of Saints, Part 2 (hatOLOGY, 2018)

This is the second volume of a highly regarded series of live recordings that pianist and composer Myra Melford recorded during 1993 in Germany in the company of Lindsay Horner on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums and percussion. This particular volume contains six Melford compositions, and it shows her at an early peak, having digested the history of post-war jazz and developing the ability to write her own material and then improvise upon it in such a way that she portrays a unique voice, one that can move from a modernist swing feel to free improvisation quickly, while still sounding thoughtful and intricate. Horner and Nicholson are the ideal band mates for Melford, since Horner has a massive tone on bass, one stretches the music elastically whether he is playing inside the ensemble or soloing, and Nicholson develops a varied rhythmic setting that is essential to the flow of the music. The three meld together seamlessly when working as a cohesive unit, but they all take solo spots when the opportunity becomes available to further stamp their individuality upon the proceedings. "Breaking Light" is the opening track, one that develops slowly from caresses of bass and brushes and subtle piano, stretching out melodically into open space as a carefully woven ballad. There is a mid performance crescendo with hints of the energy, before Horner takes an impressive solo. After one more flourish, the music makes a quiet and graceful exit. Bass and drums lay the foundation for "Some Kind of Blues" setting an earthy tone, with Melford gracefully entering and allowing the music to develop organically by adding bright chords and ripples of sound to the forefront. The music slowly develops a patient ascent into their improvised section, adding snippets of thematic material and developing a rich, full sound. The band is able to dig deep into the blues with flourishes of dynamic sound that breathe life into a more complex section of crashing percussion and bright showers of keyboard. "That the Peace" belies it's title by becoming one of the stormiest and freest performances on the album, making for a powerful and progressive performance of cascading collective improvisation that is built around the solid footing of a grounded opening section. The music is intricate and filled with information, which allows the group to slip the bonds and fly unencumbered with increased volume and density, making for a very exciting and memorable performance. Heading back to a slow boil, the music shimmers like heat rising on a sunny day, while the following track "And Silence" moves in the opposite direction with discreetly played percussion and bass to balance the cells of piano, which results in a spacious and thoughtful improvisation that has the time to develop nicely with strong trio sections and openings for squalls of Don Pullen like piano from the leader, and another fine bass solo for Horner. "Now and Now 2" rumbles and spits ominously before coming together splendidly with a rippling and rhythmic trio improvisation, as the three rampage gleefully over the soundscape. This leads into the nervous energy of "Live Jump" with rapid solo piano creating an interesting setting, with the bass and drums coming in strong to add further lift to the performance. Their collective improvisation sounds effortless, incorporating excellent solo bass and drum passages, gliding on waves of sound as the music pours out of them, which makes for an apt metaphor for this enjoyable album as a whole. Alive In The House Of Saints, Part 2 - amazon.com

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Samuel Blaser Trio - Taktlos Zurich 2017 (hatOLOGY, 2018)

You wouldn’t know it from just listening to to this album, but trombonist Samuel Blaser was taking strong pain medication to mitigate a broken rib and other injuries suffered in a bicycle accident shortly before the show. He is playing as well as ever though, able to arc long tones of brass and short bursts of sound that fit in perfectly with partners Marc Drucet on guitar and Peter Brunn on drums and percussion. The play four wide ranging compositions, beginning with Drucet’s “Stoppage” which runs nearly twenty five minutes in length and provides plenty of room for the trio to really stretch out with the musical instruments entering single file and then patiently falling into a collective improvisation that stretches and pulls at the matrix of time and tempo as Drucet’s guitar alternates between complex spidery playing and strong amplified growls of feedback. Brunn’s skittering, open ended percussion style keeps the playing field wide open on this performance and Stravinsky’s “Fanfare for a New Theatre" which melds into Drucet's "Useless Knowledge.” The trio branches out into classically inspired avant-garde improvisation, and open by playing in tight formation, developing a thematic statement and the carefully staking out territory, as Drucet’s guitar grounds the performance popping and slapping like a bass as the trombone slurs and the percussion keeps everything in frame. Blaser’s own “Jukebox” has him playing in open space, thoughtfully carving the air, as brushes provide a very quiet accompaniment. It’s a slow developing performance, but one that uses dynamic tension to keep things moving. Finally, another Drucet composition “How to Lose” concludes the album with some rousing playing complete with snarls of electric guitar and stoic growls of trombone. The build up to a rousing collectively improvised finish, which garners a round of well deserved applause. Taktlos Zurich 2017 - samuelblaser.com

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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity - Live in Europe (Clean Feed, 2017)

Gard Nilssen has made quite a name for himself in the potent Scandinavian jazz scene as a member of powerhouse bands like Cortex (they had my album of the year in 2016 with Live in New York, and took second place this year with Avant-Garde Party Music) and the always exciting Bushman's Revenge. This is a triple disc set of Nilssen's excellent Acoustic Unity band with the addition of some special guests, and it never overstays its welcome, because the music is challenging and exciting throughout, and the musicians are playing their hearts out in each setting, performing improvised music in its purest form, live and without any safety net. Acoustic Unity played in the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Ljubljana Jazz Festival and the Oslo Jazz Festival in 2016 and their full sets were recorded at each of those venues. The main band consists of Nilssen on drums, Petter Eldh on bass and André Roligheten on tenor and soprano saxophones. They are assisted by Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor saxophone and clarinet during the Ljubljana concert and Kristoffer Berre Alberts on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones and Jørgen Mathisen on tenor saxophone and clarinet during the Olso concert. This band plays a tight and muscular form of modern jazz with aspects of free improvisation and deep group empathy. During their set from the North Sea Jazz Festival, it is just the core trio and their music has been honed by the length of time they have been playing together and powerful wallop of the band's sound comes for the crucible of playing many concerts together and developing a telepathic mindset. There improvisations are very powerful, and they are able to move in an a continuously impressive manner whether the music comes in a melodic or freely improvised format. The final track of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival concert shows how lyrically subtle the band can be. Although they may be at their most exciting at full throttle, this performance shows that they can conjure emotion at a hushed silence, with the horns playing quietly and the rhythm section playing with the utmost tact and respect. The Oslo concert opens with a wonderfully over the top free jazz wailer with the band reaching for the stars as the horns play unforgettably raw and vibrant music and Nilssen and the bassist shovel in the rocket fuel in the form of a relentless rhythmic powerhouse. They drop down to a stoic and well earned bass solo which is very impressive and thoughtful, leading into the second track of the concert where the horns raise the roof with raw and fascinating playing. The expanded three horn front line gets a massive sound, creating sub-themes to explore, ad launching individual members into solos that are true voyages of discovery. The music on this album is frenetic and exciting, with a powerhouse rhythm section and an excellent front line that are very generous when playing solos and ensemble passages. Live in Europe - amazon.com

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Mary Halvorson Quartet - Paimon: Book of Angels 32 (Tzadik, 2017)

It is great to hear Mary Halvorson get a crack at John Zorn’s Masada song book. This is the final album in the epic series The Book of Angels featuring the last ten unrecorded compositions in the songbook. Over the past decade Halvorson has blossomed as a guitarist, composer and bandleader into one of the most exciting players on the creative music scene. On this album, she is joined by Drew Gress on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums and fellow guitarist Miles Okazaki. This twin guitar lineup is outstanding, and their sounds and approaches to improvisation are like minded with enough differences to spark some very powerful performances. With her spidery and dexterous playing juxtaposed against Fujiwara’s more expansive nature the guitarists make for a formidable front line, and the elastic bass and drums keep an ever-shifting rhythmic counterweight, anchoring the band’s excellent improvisations. "Chaskiel" opens the album with a nimble and pulsating feel, the tight team cascades forward with a sense of confident propulsion. The interplay between the two guitars is impressive as is the buoyant bass and nimble drumming. The guitars skitter and slash, creating a complex but enjoyable sound platform, and building an exciting improvised performance. There is a fine ballad performance on "Verchiel" where Fujiwara shows great subtlety and tact while using brushes to develop a fine rhythmic balance, aided by taut bass playing which allows open space to become apparent and gives the guitarists an opportunity to cavort in the free zone the rhythm team develops. On the other hand, "Beniel" has a rolling drums introduction that propels the rest of the band forward to build snarling guitar mixed with cleaner more fluid lines, creating a very interesting weave and texture for the improvisation to build on. Effects pedals add a gonzo jazz fusion injection of energy, while the bass and drums crash and roll like dancers in the pit. Science fiction like bursts of electronic sounds nearly in overdrive open up space for a fine rattling and clanking drum solo, before the band deftly returns to the theme and bows out. "Ruhiel" has a more serious thematic statement, one that has a colorful palate of sounds, and the band makes use of them in a collective improvisation that waxes and wanes in tone and intensity, and allowing the members of the band to develop a deep and empathetic connection. There is a slinky and appealing melody to "Dahariel" that has a sense of openness that clearly appeals to the band. Slowing down and playing with grace and dignity they gradually advance through the performance, dynamically up-shifting their momentum as the push and pull of the music develops its own momentum, and leads to a powerful conclusion. I'm certainly sad to see the Book of Angels series end, but it was given a grand sendoff by this excellent band playing the music with dexterity and style. Paimon: Book of Angels 32 - amazon.com

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Monday, January 01, 2018

El Intruso -- 10th Annual International Critics Poll 2017 Ballot

El Intruso is a website in Spanish founded in 2005, which focuses on creative music, jazz and beyond, free improvisation, art-rock and all kind of experimental music.They asked music writers about their favorites in these categories:

Musician of the year - Ivo Perelman
Newcomer Musician - Kate Gentile
Group of the year - DEK Trio
Newcomer group - Irreversible Entanglements
Album of the year - Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over
Composer: John Zorn
Drums: Gard Nilssen
Acoustic Bass: Mario Pavone
Electric Bass: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Guitar: Ross Hammond
Piano: Matthew Shipp
Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Jamie Saft
Tenor Saxophone: Ivo Perelman
Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa
Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson
Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome
Trumpet/Cornet: Nate Wooley
Clarinet/bass clarinet: Jason Stein
Trombone: Steve Swell
Flute: Nicole Mitchell
Violin/Viola: Mat Maneri
Cello: Fred Lonberg-Holm
Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz
Electronics: Ikue Mori
Other instruments: Jon Irabagon, sopranino saxophone
Female Vocals: Jen Shyu
Male Vocals: n/a
Best Live Band: Made to Break
Record Label: Clean Feed

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