Monday, February 29, 2016

Mats Gustafsson - Piano Mating (Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records, 2016)

When I saw that Mats Gustafsson would be making an album called Piano Mating, I was very interested and looking forward to hearing it. I thought that it would be an album that was the latest in a long line of musicians who have a main instrument but will also record on piano as well. Musicians like Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton, Charles Gayle and others. When I finally did heard it, it stopped me in my tracks, and was nothing like I had expected. The music is two long tracks (two side-long tracks on the vinyl LP) where Gustafsson uses a Dubreq Pianomate to make two slowly developing electronic drones that are hypnotic and are akin to a kinder, gentler version of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music LP. This is certainly beyond any jazz or free jazz realm that Gustafsson usually explores, but it is hard if not impossible to explain what exactly it really is. I think the music will be something that is totally subjective and may be different for each listener. On the Blue Tapes website, he states:

"Letting the sounds create the music. Slow. Listening for it and going for it. Never pushing it. Hard to describe, actually. And of course, part of the mystery of it all."

I think that covers it, long spacey tones that could have come from the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey and music that is completely original and beyond genre. Piano Mating -

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book: Greil Marcus - Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986-2014 (Yale University Press, 2015)

Greil Marcus is a rock 'n' roll critic whose published writing goes back to the mid 1970's. This book (dedicated to Sleater-Kinney and the Mekons!) is a collection of his "Real Life Rock Top 10" columns that appeared in a number of publications from The Village Voice to Artforum, and currently at the Barnes and Noble website. Each column is a list of ten short entries, mostly about music, but many about cinema, art, and culture in general. Marcus is an astute critic, and much of his music writing is thoughtful, witty and insightful. Since I not much of an aesthete, much of the art criticism is well beyond my ken, and I tended to just to skim those entries. His enthusiasm for certain musical artists like the aforementioned S-K & Mekons whose music I love was a joy to read. Curiously though, was his hatred for roots rock musician Lucinda Williams. I have no idea what Williams did to wrong Marcus, but he did not miss any opportunity to criticize her. Instead of simply ignoring her, he attacks her albums, her appearances on tribute albums and her interviews with almost pathological rage. This is a long and deep book, not one that you'll read cover to cover in a concentrated burst, but one you'll dip into over time, reading a few entries at a time and checking the index to see what he may have thought of your favorite artist. It's a blast for the rock 'n' roll fan (there's some blues, but precious little jazz) to read and fodder for (hopefully) good-natured banter about his choices and yours. Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986-2014

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rempis/Harnik/Zerang - Wistfully (Aerophonic Records, 2016)

This was a freely improvised concert with Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxophone, Elisabeth Harnik on piano and Michael Zerang on percussion, making their first meeting as a trio, although you’d hardly know it by hearing this album. The musicians are listening closely to one another and develop a deeply empathetic relationship. “Wistful 1” opens the album with fluttering sounds and then a siren call of saxophone. With skittering percussion and piano droplets framing him, Rempis’s saxophone moves into darker and fuller territory. The band becomes free and loose, reacting to one another with squalls of saxophone and rolling piano making things very exciting. They go far out on a limb as a howling improvising unit, developing fascinating music. There is an open sounding strummed noise from within the piano lending a mysterious air to “Wistful 2.” Saxophone and percussion probe the nature of the music, which is continuously shifting and hard to get a grip on. Rempis develops low tones of saxophone over subtle percussion, before there is an interlude for piano and cymbals and peals of saxophone, all of which maintain the sense of unease that permeates this track.  “Wistful 3” has Michael Zerang’s unaccompanied percussion opening before there is ominous choppy saxophone that is added to the mix. These two instruments sway to and fro very fast and free and developing a very exciting improvised duet. The trio comes together and continues to move together fast and free, rising and descending rapidly in the open space that surrounds them, moving to an off the charts level of thrilling intensity. Rempis opens “Wistful 5” very quietly with the sound of his breath and the clicking and popping of fingered saxophone keys, and light percussion. He moves quickly to a loud, reverberated sound, which is tough and brawling, matched by tumbling drums. Menacing swirling saxophone and rumbling drums make the whole improvisation develop an anxious or skittish quality. “Wistful 6” has lighter toned saxophone and gliding piano making for brighter music, before there is an alarming and unexpected section of strummed strings from inside the piano adds an odd flavor to the music. Rempis retains a softer edge to his playing and Zerang has very fast cymbal playing to close out the section. The music on this album is quite fascinating; it is very free and unfettered and never moves in the way you expect it to. Elisabeth Harnik is particularly fascinating since she uses her whole piano to develop a multitude of sounds that add to the texture of the music. Rempis/Harnik/Zerang - Wistfully - Aerophonic Records

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen Love - Extended Duos (Audiographic Records, 2014)

Multi-instrumentalist Ken Vandermark and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love have been pillars of he free jazz scene for decades, and simpatico partners for nearly that length. They have recorded together in any number of configurations, but this might be the most interesting, live duo performances spanning several countries, some of which of which had excellent musicians sitting in with the duo. Without a bassist, you might think this music would be difficult to make it as an improvised format, or its centrifugal force would collapse but this is not so as the musicians reach a mind meld level of connectivity. We learn this quickly on the first two discs recorded in Moscow. There are potent and exciting tenor saxophone and drums duets, developing into a great free-flowing conversation. Politics and worldviews may change and differ, but music crosses all borders as proved by these spacious, yet powerful duo performances. The two musicians have a compatible relationship playing together, understanding speed, tone, complexity and space. That fact is brought to bear, as Nilssen-Love remains an ever-potent force on drums and percussion, while Vandermark deploys his saxophones along with clarinets with great facility. Things get even more interesting as they move to other cities and interact with some of the finest improvisers available. Moving to Tokyo for three discs, the duo takes on two separate improvisers, performing with pianist Masahiko Satoh on the first half of the disc and American electric guitarist Jim O’Rourke on the second half. The tracks with O’Rourke are particularly interesting because he brings in a no holds barred sensibility of post-rock and avant-garde music that takes the music in a completely different direction. They even add extra saxophone and clarinet and drums at one point, in addition to the fascinating and exiting sound of the electric and acoustic koto. You get to see them up close and personal on the DVD recorded in London, where flutters and taps develops to howls and slamming beats and then back again. Tenor saxophonist Mike Beck adds even more heft (if that’s possible) to the concluding track. Finally back home (for Vandermark anyway) at the Hide Out in Chicago, for the finale of the exhausting set, the listener may be overwhelmed, but the musicians not at all as they tear through another high energy set that seems like it could go on forever. This is music that was deserving of being recorded in this depth and detail. It was a fine example of two great musicians being locked in the moment with appreciation of their partner’s strength and the openness to welcome others. The music is vigilant and free over the course of different textures and patterns, and constantly engaging to the listener. Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen Love - Extended Duos Catalytic Sound.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit - Erta Ale (PNL Records, 2014)

Located in Ethiopia, Erta Ale is one of the most continuously active volcanoes on Earth. And is a fine name for this opening album by a new band of one of the most respected drummers in jazz, Paal Nilssen-Love.  He was a mainstay of the famous Peter Brotzmann Tentent, and when that group was retired, he took up the mantle of very carefully putting a large band together with some of the finest Scandinavian musicians. Developed over the last 12 months the band began to mature, and the fruits of their labor are this is a three-disc set where two of the discs are studio/live mixes and one was performed live at Moers. All compositions are by Nilssen-Love, but the musicians are given great freedom to contribute their own flavors to the music. The music is a commanding powerhouse when being played as a full unit, but they are completely capable of breaking out into smaller units or solo spots within the band as a whole. There is a trust and a democratic nature that allows it to live and breathe a way that many other bands are not able to do. That democratic nature allow the music to ebb and flow, use dynamics and seemingly at times thermodynamics especially in the live settings, where their relation to energy and work is astounding and heat and temperature developed by the band particularly by the pushing and pulling by Nilssen-Love who is so supremely confident and completely in control of the music is very impressive. To begin the recorded history of a band with a three disc boxed set is an audacious move, but it pays off quite well. This is a very exciting band who makes excellent music, reveling in the moment where the energy and pressure created by the music can create something unexpected, the sound of surprise, and that great freedom to contribute their own ideas to the leader’s own drives the success of this recording and leaves the listener wanting more and wondering what more could they possibly do for an encore? Nilssen-Love was in charge of the music from pillar to post choosing the musicians, the material, producing the album and releasing at in his own label in a heavy box, colorful sleeves, a booklet of liner notes and a booklet of photography. It was a Herculean task and a classy set through and through. PNL - Erta Ale - Squidco 

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

DKV Trio - Sound in Motion in Sound (NotTwo Records, 2014)

The DKV Trio is made up of Ken Vandermark on saxophones and clarinets, Kent Kessler on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. They have been playing together in this configuration since 1997, and over those many years have built up a nearly telepathic mode of cooperation with one another and their free improvisations bear this out. In this collection, there are five full sets recorded live in 2012-1013. The concerts are also assigned different properties: Austria (Metal), Poland (Earth), Slovenia (Wood) and the United States (two sets, Fire and Water). I don’t know if these were oblique themes that the musicians were to follow during each set or whether the labels were assigned afterwards, but it is interesting to listen to the set with those things in mind. Regardless of travel headaches, these musicians are willing to take their music around the world and we are indebted to them for doing so and spreading their ideas. Each disc is a set of free improvisation, which has breaks are introduced and markers for listeners to return to a particular position. Each member of the trio is potent on his own way, with Drake's ever shifting and evolving web of percussion and Kessler's deep and thick bass tones. Vandermark developing evanescent melodies in the performance and uses them as springboards for excellent improvisations on a range of reed instruments. These performances show how effectively the band uses dynamics, shifting from loud to soft, and from loud and chaotic free music to open ended abstract passages. Their close listening is the key, reacting to each other in real time, each musician understanding when to take the lead, when to drop put and when to support makes the group become the epitome of a jazz trio, a collective group working together to build colossal collective improvisations, which are extraordinary to hear. It is impossible to pick a concert or a particular performance and say that this one is better than the other since they all are played at a stellar level, and it’s no mean feat playing at this level of consistency while travelling day in and day out. This is one of many ensembles that these musicians are involved in, and it is a very exciting one. Hopefully they will be able to return to this rewarding format soon, because the band is a powerful force on the music scene and great ambassadors for music when they take to the road. This is first rate modern jazz and is highly recommended. Sound In Motion In Sound -

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tomeka Reid Quartet (Thirsty Ear, 2015)

A cellist, composer and educator in the fertile Chicago jazz scene, Tomeka Reid makes her debut as a leader in the company of Jason Roebke on bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. The music is an interesting mix of progressive jazz with classical flourishes. Eric Dolphy’s “17 West” is a perfect introduction, since Ron Carter played cello on the original recording, and Reid plays with tightly coiled energy here shadowed by guitar and drums. Mary Halvorson’s guitar playing is pointillistic and artistic amidst the shimmering cello. The swing of “Etoile” has a bit of a sadder feel from Reid’s cello, and she shows that she is capable of great emotional range on here instrument. Her soloing is unhurried and quite beautiful and pleasing to listen to, with the gentle swing of bass and drums supporting her underneath. Mary Halvorson moves in adding carefully articulated notes to the proceedings in a well thought out solo statement. Roebke’s bass is deep and resonant in his brief solo turn, before the music returns to the full band’s delicate, yet dynamic improvisation. “Woodlawn” has medium tempo, with Mary Halvorson developing interesting sounds from an opening solo, and as the band slowly builds the pace around her. Reid’s plucked solo gets a high pitched sound juxtaposed against the bass and drums, and then moves to a crystalline bowed section. “Samo Swing” is a short and brightly up-tempo performance with Mary Harvorson’s guitar snaking thought a thicket of deep bass and drums, before Reid takes center stage with a plucked solo of her own, making clipped sounds that offset the guitar very well. Harvlorson comes back with a cool toned guitar solo that concludes the tune. This was an interesting album, Reid’s cello and compositions were able to develop a wide range of textures for the musicians to explore, and it was interesting to here her in this environment. The bass and drums played pretty much straightforward and this allowed a lot of open space for the leader and Mary Halvorson to make their imprint upon the music. Tomeka Reid Quartet -

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Gutbucket - Dance (Gut Records, 2016)

Gutbucket consists of Ty Citerman on guitar, Ken Thomson on saxophone, Adam D. Goldon drums and Pat Swoboda on bass. For over fifteen years they have been playing an energetic brand of music that blends the virtuosity of avant garde jazz with the volume of progressive rock. This is a live recording from The Stone in New York City and it shows how exciting the band can be in that setting. “Luton” opens the album with thick bass and strong drumming, adding squalls of electric guitar and saxophone, pushing the energy level to a cool modern free jazz and fusion combination with snaking rhythm and complex playing. The energy level is very high and exciting, and reaches a great crescendo of gushing music. The fast nature of the music continues on “Exercise” developing very well with the band kicking hard. The band is moving into blistering tempos, with the saxophone digging and snarling guitar keeping pace. On this track they prove themselves to be a wailing powerful juggernaut of a band. “Rum Spring” has a little bit slower and milder saxophone developing a nice rhythm with the drums, building to a more complex choppy section of improvisation with the music rising in pitch to the full band reaching a secure medium-up tempo punctuated by exclamations of saxophone, then finishing at a blistering pace. There is a skull crushing riff to “So Many Little “ then quiet abstraction before building to a dynamic of heavy metal sludge, thudding drums, thick reaching sax, and blasts of all out powerful music calling out amidst the slabs of raw sound. “Bounce Clap Shasta!” has a nice funky feel from the bass and drums as they develop a fun feel to the music then promptly subvert it with a more nervous disjointed section. Citerman takes a growling guitar solo over very powerful bass and drums, which makes for a very wild interlude, before the bands downshift to a quiet and somber conclusion. The band develops a craggy sensibility for “Buseve” led by fast and very nimble guitar and saxophone along with lithe bass and drums. It makes for very exciting music because everything is so fast and the band very tight and compact, like a skater pulling her arms inward to spin ever faster. This music is fast tight modern jazz very good collective improvisation everybody pulling together. On “2 Is Not Enough” the set and the album ends super fast full band riot, it’s great stuff full of humor and grace and rolling inexorably forward  making a short howling blast of energy. This album worked very well, the group worked hard to make the small cramped club into a theatre for their unique music and it captured them at their finest. Dance -

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