Tyshawn Sorey and Marilyn Crispell - The Adornment of Time

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel - Tyshawn Sorey: drums, percussion; Marilyn Crispell: piano.

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The Adornment of Time marks a memorable encounter of drummer Tyshawn Sorey and pianist Marilyn Crispell, two musical masterminds who fully integrated the sounds of their instruments to create fervent narratives with stunning timbres and textural realizations. For more than one hour, non-stop, you can immerse yourself in a single stretching movement comprising moments of conscious determination and curious ambivalence, peace and disquietness, atmospheric coolness and propulsive agitation, devotion and irreverence. All created in the spur of the moment.

The session, recorded live at The Kitchen in New York, kicks off serenely percussive. Piano notes gently infiltrate a region initially made of rattles, chimes, ticking sounds, sudden thuds, and crystalline vibes. The dialogue had just begun, and Crispell effortlessly extends her playing from meditative considerations to acerbic notes and tense clusters of varied intensity, whereas Sorey surprises us with unexpected crashes, candid reflections, and thunderous menaces complemented with rich cymbal expression. The ideas flow uninterruptedly, resulting in haunting explorations, pauses and silences, minimalist angularity, and hasty motions.

The duo’s deep involvement with this music, in addition to their rejection of anything conventional or banal, result in an intriguing palette of emotional colors and tones. From the depth, these sonic canvases are expressions of sadness, beauty, reserve, exuberance, and reverie.

A certain passage comes equipped with a piano pedal around which everything else revolves, another one fuses classical and jazz elements on top of the diligent and tonally rich drumming running underneath, a couple of other have dramatic string sweeps on the piano intersecting unpredictable irregular rhythms. With all that said, have in mind that regardless the complexity and the atmosphere created, the music is always readable, never forced or impenetrable. In the majestic final part of the album, refractory and spiraling piano patterns combine with looming drum attacks for a monumental climax.

These constantly innovative instrumentalists were blessed with the capacity of listening thoroughly and the ability to respond confidently, whether by embarking on thematic development or injecting experimental ideas to create anew. This is uncategorized music keeping an ample sense of communication throughout a cutting context of density and intonation.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Simon Nabatov Quintet - Last Minute Theory

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Simon Nabatov: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Brandon Seabrook: guitar; Michael Formanek: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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60-year-old Russian-American pianist Simon Nabatov, a champion of multiple collaborations in small-group formats, has been a widely explorative voice within the canons of leading-edge jazz. His first record as a leader on the Lisbon-based label Clean Feed is called Last Minute Theory, in which he leads an extraordinary lineup of New York players such as saxophonist Tony Malaby, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album features seven Nabatov originals and presents less ambiguity than it was expected, reshaping musical traditions to create new ones. Still, even providing accessible rides, a strong improvisatory mindset prevails throughout.

That fact can be immediately confirmed on “Old Fashioned”, an uncompromisingly swinging piece that, despite perfectly structured with a Mengelberg-like theme and well-defined melodies, embraces a provocative disposition. That sense of freedom is perfectly illustrated by Malaby’s searing impressions and Nabatov’s strong melodic figures and neo-noir chordal movements. On top of this, there’s the tense, dissonant, and always interesting comping from Seabrook, who also delivers an unconventional electronics-drenched solo. At the tail end of this trip, a vamp displays the supple rhythm section producing some steam.

Rickety” is another lively piece launched with the magical rhythm imposed by Cleaver, dark-toned saxophone proclamations, and a non-conflicting combination of guitar and piano, all immersed in details and embellishments. The music then converges into a danceable groove with Cleaver and Formanek bringing a one-of-a-kind propulsion to the tune. Both the texture and the beautifully spiky ostinatos won’t leave anyone indifferent.

The bubbling, spot-on snare drum procession that gives “Marching Right Along” its personality is interrupted at some point by a carefree collective stretch. This is not a rambunctious effort. Neither a sluggish one. The group was in many ways more reflective on the brooding musical nebula called “Translated” and especially “Slow Move”, a vaporous exercise featuring Malaby's soprano abstractions, here closely followed by Nabatov’s vigilant pianism.

Abounding in rhythmic figures, the pianist’s captivating vocabulary catalyzes avant-garde dilatations on “Good Pedigree”, which evolves with musing and reasoning on one side, and tautness and friction on the other. The tension created here is taken further on the closing track, “Afterwards”, a recipient of electrifying timbral exploration and finely-tuned harmonic construction. Whereas Malaby blows wildly and creates turbulence with his colleagues in activity, an unaccompanied Formanek lets his ideas take a natural course. The intensity is then readjusted to something sleeker, in an odd-metered cyclic passage, which not even Seabrook’s striking dissonances were able to subvert.

Nabatov’s consistently evolving musical vision has here a great outcome. The group operates with a steady hand when necessary, but also emancipates itself through an astonishing mobility.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Old Fashioned ► 03 - Rickety ► 07 - Afterwards


Kris Davis - Diatom Ribbons

Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2019

Personnel - Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor sax; JD Allen: tenor sax; Esperanza Spalding: vocals; Nels Cline: guitar; Marc Ribot: guitar; Ches Smith: vibraphone; Val Jeanty: turntable; Trevor Dunn: electric bass; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums.

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A breakthrough album by pianist Kris Davis is now out on Pi Recordings. Diatom Ribbons is her 14th recording as a leader and marks a new chapter in her career as she keeps writing and playing with imagination, courageously looking forward. Here, she is in charge of nine exceptional musicians, including old and new collaborators, who are combined to provide specific sonic outfits for each of the ten tunes on the record. If the presences of saxophonist Tony Malaby, vibraphonist Ches Smith, and bassist Trevor Dunn are not surprises, then the inclusion of great tenorist JD Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, explosive guitarists Marc Ribot and Nels Cline, vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and Haitian electronics artist Val Jeanty are all new additions to Davis’ projects.

The title track opens the record with a voice sample of the unique pianist Cecil Taylor on top of an intricate, ambidextrous, percussive ostinato on piano. Bass and drums instill a dazzling groove, preparing the reception for the explorative saxophonists, who, after blowing sinuous coupled phrases, excel in their respective improvisations. Davis stipulates an excellent comping technique throughout, mixing harmonic sophistication with accented rhythmic configurations. For the last section, she returns to those relentlessly mechanic, partially muted attacks on the lower register in the company of Carrington’s hip rhythm and Jeanty’s inspired audio samples.

The voice of Spalding, druggy and freewheeling, contributes to give Michael Attias-penned “The Very Thing” a stratospheric soul jazz form. Malaby responds to the vocalist with juxtaposing angular offshoots, while the rhythm section sticks to an uncompromising groove in seven.

Two nonconformists of the modern guitar world fling their rock fire and thirst for exploration into four pieces. While Cline confines his howling spectral guitar on top of the indefatigably syncopations and distorted urban groove of “Certain Cells” and makes the intensity flare up noisily on “Rhizomes”, a tune that kicks off with a cool hip-hop-derived vibration prior to become electrified, Marc Ribot brings into focus all his adventurism and exploratory edge on “Golgi Complex” and “Golgi Complex (The Sequel)”. With splashes of dissonance and rhythmic friction, the former piece emulates a spinning cloud of boisterous and dense avant-garde particles, while the latter consolidates funk and rock into a sturdy framework, where Davis reveals improvisational coolness within a softer context.

Another collection of quotes, this time from French master composer Olivier Messiaen, appears on “Corn Crake”, an initially vague reverie with cascading piano that evolves into a groovy hip-hop adventure with syncopated rhythms, electronically modified bass lines, and punctilious piano work. If this particular piece is a trio effort with Jeanty, Davis, and Carrington, then “Sympodial Sunflower” is a piano-drums coalition carried out with a sensual tango feel.

The pianist wraps up with a genre-defying, quick-witted reading of Julius Hemphill’s “Reflections”, which reintegrates Allen and Malaby in the frontline.

Advertising Davis at the peak of her compositional grandeur, Diatom Ribbons is original and artistically inspiring, full of subtleties and invention.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Diatom Ribbons ► 03 - Rhizomes ► 10 - Reflections


Fire Orchestra! - Arrival

Label: Rune Grammofon, 2019

Personnel - Mariam Wallentin: voice; Sofia Jernberg: voice; Anna Lindal: violin; Josefin Runsteen: violin; Katt Hernandez: violin; Leo Svensson: cello; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet; Per Texas Johansson: oboe, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Christer Bothén: bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Isak Hedtjärn: bb clarinet, alto saxophone; Mats Gustafsson: baritone sax; Tomas Hallonsten: keyboards; Johan Berthling: bass, electric bass; Andreas Werliin: drums.

Fire! Orchestra is currently a 14-piece collective led by the same three Swedish musicians that co-founded it in 2009: saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer/producer Andreas Werliin. As usual, we find them searching for different approaches and redefining possibilities for their bold orchestral aesthetic.

Collaboratively, these helmers penned four of the seven tracks on Arrival, a new body of work that also includes two interesting covers of non-jazz songs and a piece by vocalist/lyricist Mariam Wallentin. The latter’s tune is called “Weekends (The Soil is Calling)” and blends the psychedelic dance-rock of The Stone Roses and the alternative percussive force of Bjork through an adroit association of dubby bass lines, hypnotic drumming, and euphoric synth cuts. With Wallentin sharing vocal duties with Sofia Jernberg, another force to be reckoned with, the tune reflects a radical change of mood at some point, when the charged mallet drumming tempts the horn section to contribute low-pitched ostinatos and then coiled, fierce baritone cries uttered with raw instinct. In conclusion, everything settles into a lull with Tomas Hallonsten’s sustained synth chords and Per Texas Johansson’s chromatic-inflected oboe chants.

(I Am a) Horizon” is the gripping opener, early implemented with violin laments, moody pointillism, and the deep sighs of contrabass clarinet. There’s a rich resonance overall, but nothing compared as when wistful keyboard riffs assume the central spot with concordant bass lines and dual vocalization as accomplices. Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva emerges from the background with expressive licks and sudden attacks, and afterward is the quartet of strings that appears melodiously alluring. During the last minute, contrabass clarinets shove us against terra firma.

Strategically layered, “Silver Trees” kicks off with bass clarinet prayers smeared with multiphonics. Berthling cooks up a staunch vamp that supports the chanteuses’ lyricism. He is matched by the saxophone at a later phase. Pursuing a metamorphosis, the band embraces funk and hip-hop, re-energizing the new ambiance with a fresh and groovy ostinato, trumpet power, authoritative rap, and off-kilter string orchestrations. In a complete opposition to this mood, “Dressed in Smoke, Blown Away” offers jazz psychedelia served with a sluggish beat at the core. Gustafsson’s irascible vociferations are delivered with a meaty tone, being replaced by the haunting, sometimes delirious vocals. Rash horn fills and scratchy string explorations with a penchant for atonality also contribute to this trance-like oddity.

Blue Crystal Fire” by experimental folk guitarist Robbie Basho and “At Last I Am Free” by the disco band Chic were the selected covers for this album. The former piece has an ominous cinematic start, after which it slips into an ethereal art rock melancholy reminiscent of Kate Bush, while the latter is a slow R&B hit transformed into a gloomy song as it evokes a range of feelings with inclination to weariness and sadness. Gradually, it expands into brightness, though.

More restrained than any previous work from the Orchestra, Arrival is never formulaic in its presentation. And the fire… still burns.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - (I Am a) Horizon ► 02 - Weekends ► 05 - Dressed in Smoke, Blown Away


Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Philosophy

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Matt Mitchell: piano; Mario Pavone: double bass; Tyshawn Sorrey : drums.

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At the age of 79, American avant-garde bassist Mario Pavone is not interested in slowing down and both productivity and innovation are kept as two determinant factors in his career. For this year’s Clean Feed release, Philosophy, he reunites with the two freedom seekers and revered bandleaders that compose his Dialect Trio, namely, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. All three form a democratic alliance whose tensile creativity is immediately mirrored on the lead-off track, “8-18-18”, a brand new Pavone composition that hangs loose, coiling Mitchell’s acerbic clusters and zigzagging motions, Sorey’s swift and precise brushwork, and bass rambles shrouded in ambiguity but never indecision.

The trio settles upon swing and groove all the way through on the title track, with Sorey and Pavone underpinning with gusto the motivic bop spins of the pianist, and “Two Thirds Radial”, a Monk-ish crotchet permeated with gorgeous riffs and slippery angularity. The latter tune was previously recorded, appearing in Pavone’s album Vertical (Clean Feed, 2017), just like “Iskmix”, a motivic statement with tricky additive meter, whose first release wings back to 2008, to the masterpiece record Ancestors (Playscape Recordings). Naturally, they both resurface here with new looks and textures.

Everything There Is” is a spontaneous improvisation credited to the trio, which skews into a controlled centrifugation. Yet, I found them at their most investigative on two renditions of Annette Peacock’s tunes, “Circles” and “The Beginning”. The former, a ballad multiple times tackled by Paul Bley in the past, unscrambles any complexity and features the solitary bass in a minimalist sequence, while the latter invites us to get lost in the noisy atonalities of its short course. It feels like jumping into a big vortex full of small whirls inside.

Pavone’s “Noka” introduces a bit more roundness in its lines, setting the pace out of the work in tandem from bass and piano, which is complemented with Sorey’s speaking drums. However, Mitchell, as an inveterate off-center explorer, grittily seeks alternative routes.

Philosophy follows a smartly designed architecture that besides other benefits, ensures that no tune is overextended. It reinforces with new music what this trailblazing piano trio can offer.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Philosophy ► 04 - The Beginning ► 07 - Iskmix


Sam Gill's Coursed Waters - Many Altered Returns

Label: Earshift Music, 2019

Personnel - Sam Gill: alto saxophone; Novak Manojlovic: piano; Jacques Emery: bass; James McLean: drums.

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Sydney-based alto saxophonist/composer Sam Gill boasts the typical nerve that characterizes adherents of avant-garde jazz and new music. His Coursed Waters quartet, a Sydney/Melbourne collaboration featuring Novak Manojlovic on piano, Jacques Emery on bass, and James McLean on drums, play six Gill’s original compositions structured in such a way that spontaneous creativity is encouraged. Many Altered Returns is the quartet’s first recording and its explorative homogeneity makes pretty hard for us to pick a favorite track.

However, I can point out two related pieces that quickly got my attention: “Fortean Nights” and “Fortean Days”. Any type of phenomena was found in them, but the ‘Nights’ version is a searching, darker exertion with piano in the foreground and uncanny mallet drumming conducive to a more serious and stern expression. After some leisure rambles punctuated with bursts of intensity, a puzzling silence pulls the band into a different direction. Concerning its concluding phase, you can imagine a more muscled version of an Esbjorn Svenson’s groove, climaxing in a fluid stream in nine with shifting piano chords and well-rooted bass notes. On the ‘Days’ version, Gill steps forward, freeing up unorthodox phrases packed with Dolphy-esque intervals. He explores outside conventional bounds, making his alto upsurges gain further impact in the presence of Manojlovic’s inventive piano tapestries.

Although containing identifiable composed parts, the music feels like totally invented on the spot. The opener, “Nodap”, hinges some complexity in its variations and brings to my mind the nonconformism of players like Tim Berne and Loren Stillman. The saxophone joins the resilient pianism eked out with arpeggiated delights and brisk patterns, and both paint a story over a rhythmic template set out by jittery drum attacks and renewed bass rounds. An engrossing enigmatic passage is then activated, emerging with sparse, ominous bowed bass, saxophone impulsive shouts delivered with timbral variety, snare drum eruptions, and controlled piano whirls with some loose fragmented ideas thrown in the mix. The interaction turns out conversational as the tune advances.

As you may have guessed by now, melody is not a priority on this recording, but there’s moments of less friction in favor of more cerebral textures such as offered on “Staring Straight” and “The Turn”. The subtly shaded tones of the latter can be classified as anticlimactic, yet, both McLean’s lyrical brushstrokes with occasional cymbal legato and Emery’s bass oscillations between groundedness and motion, make it tensile.

Not exceeding expectations but not disappointing either, these six dense narrations rely heavily on atmosphere, championing ambiguity as the quartet probes labyrinthine paths with a positive attitude.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Turn ► 03 - Fortean Nights ► 05 - Fortean Days


Yimba Rudo - Yimba Rudo

Label: Self released, 2019

Personnel - Kevin Norton: vibraphone, percussion; Steve LaSpina: double bass; Jim Pugliese: drums, percussion.

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Yimba Rudo, an avant-jazz trio influenced by African rhythms and world music is composed of vibraphonist Kevin Norton, bassist Steve LaSpina, and drummer Jim Pugliese. These shakeups create a rhythmic tapestry that folds and unfolds according to their own decree. Their debut self-titled album embraces uncharted interactions and show their aptitude for freewheeling improvisation while keeping it within logic structural boundaries. All three members brought compositions to the 13-track Yimba Rudo, which means ‘sing love’ in Zimbabwe’s Shona language.

Norton’s warm vibes scamper through the opener, “Reconcile the Classical View”, and land on top of a bass groove in six and an unentangled snare drum work activated by brushes. The flow then breaks off to grant LaSpina his individual space, with Norton picking up the groove that once belonged to the bassist. Finally, it's Pugliese who cautiously exposes his self-thoughts.

Toronto” insinuates a busy, free ride through frantic vibraphone deliberations, but that doesn’t really happen. Instead, passages exploring timbre and space interweave with the gorgeously accented lines of the theme, expressed in the elated vein of Bobby Hutcherson. This is where the collective becomes more significant than any personal signature.

Cymbal sizzles introduce “Moonstruck”, a twitchy exercise that, although rambling free, involves that sensation of swing along with unbridled intensity.

LaSpina is pretty active with the arco on pieces where the atmosphere requires a deeper, more reserved sound, cases of “Winter Retreat”, a melodious reflection populated with metallic rattles and vibraphone ostinatos; “The Faustian Bargain”, which is adorned by cymbal variety; and “Treace”, whose initially plaintive cogitations veer into the more enthusiastic interplay.

Pugliese’s nifty number called “Morph” commingles singable melodic ideas and rhythmic focus, whereas the conversational “I Dig Facts, Man”, a Norton original, is buoyed by sharp unisons and synced rhythmic details. The mutations and improvisational flair compel the listener to stay alert throughout.

The trio wraps the session with another Norton composition: “Walking The Dogma”, whose interactive jolt consists in a sturdy bass pedal, luminous ride cymbal guidance, and a lilting, slightly bluesy vibe that enchants.

The musicians are in permanent control of the surfaces they kept playing on, and if rhythm and pulse are central to their attractive fluidity, then melodic development it’s like the cherry on top.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Toronto ► 12 - I Dig Facts, Man ► 13 - Walking The Dogma


Rich Halley - Terra Incognita

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2019

Personnel - Rich Halley: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.

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Tenor saxophonist Rich Halley explores new music with a gutsy new quartet on his most recent outing, Terra Incognita. For this experience, he recruits the Matthew Shipp Trio to support him, which, besides the formidable pianist, includes bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

From the bravura call-and-response of the opening track (“Opening”) to the rhythmically loose-limbed conclusion (“The Journey”), erratically expressed with obscure piano voicings and bop accents, one can’t help being engulfed by the album's high concentrations of energy.

Attempting to find common parallels , the quartet creates without bounds, embarking on atonal spiritual quests, fast swinging rallies, and circumspect interactions.They take us to both recondite and familiar places.

Both the bluesy, riffy “Forager” and the febrile “Centripetal” are permeated with Coltranean extrapolations and momentary giddy whinnies that become central in the scrabbling interplay and avant-jazz roaming agreed by the quartet. The latter piece runs at full-pelt, presenting a mightily swinging bass/drums alliance and hectic chordal movements that culminate in striking turmoil. The magnetic finale, outstandingly crisp and tight, shows attentive musicians working with a similar disposition.

Investigative and cautious, “The Elms” has Shipp operating with an oneiric intonation. He shares a furtive melodic sequence with Halley, and makes the temperature drop with piercing notes that sound as big and cool as they are sharp and stimulating. By comparison, the title track, a freewheeling ride, shows the pianist building ad-libbing background through the use of micro-phrase flashing and also corresponding to the saxophone irruptions with instinctive reactions.

Terra Incognita consists of brutally honest music and free jazz surfers will find pretty consistent waves to ride.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Opening ► 03 - Centripetal ► 06 - The Journey


Angles 9 - Beyond Us

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Martin Kuchen: alto and tenor saxophones; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Eirik Hegdal: baritone sax; Goran Kajfes: cornet; Mats Aleklint: trombone; Mattias Stahl: vibraphone; Alexander Zethson: piano; Johan Berthling: bass; Andreas Werliin: drums.

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The intrepid Swedish sax player Martin Kuchen reunites his Angles 9 group, a powerful nonet that already proved its value with the previous three Clean Feed recordings. Perhaps a bit less boisterous in the improvisations but definitely more refined in the orchestration, the new Beyond Us, recorded live at the Zomer Jazz FietsTour in The Netherlands, comprises five fresh and dynamic compositions penned by Martin, with Isak and Leo Kuchen giving their contribution to three of them.

The title track is elevated to an epic through its lavish instrumentation and imposing pulsation. A vibrant circular bass groove, in the pocket with the drums, holds everything on its shoulders, impelling vibraphonist Mattias Stahl to embark on a skittering improvisational journey. He has the horn crew bringing the theme’s sumptuous lines in a timely manner before the distinguished sense of individuality from trumpeter Magnus Broo echoes on top of the unfaltering foundation offered by pianist Alexander Zethson, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer Andreas Werliin.

U(n) Happier Marriages” unveils a jazzier piano inception, with Zethson navigating between the cosmic universe of Sun Ra and the angular exquisiteness of Thelonious Monk. However, the mood that shows up later is more reminiscent of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (“Moanin” easily comes to mind) and some of Mingus’ orchestral fantasies. The improvisational section includes downward-pitched brass moves from trombonist Mats Aleklint and a round bass soliloquy from Berthling before ending with a bluesy collective mourn fabricated with taste and style.

Sounding more like Grachan Moncur III, the trombonist also makes use of his gruff and blustery timbre on “Samar & The Egyptian Winter”, a haunting piece where Kuchen makes a knockout appearance by discharging skirling laments in the first place. Brass sounds comply with the unaggressive foundation, preceding a sax/bass duo passage that leads to the grooving finale.

Cross-cultural fragrances are in the air with the embracement of further sounds from the Middle East and Africa on the CD’s last two pieces, “Against The Permanent Revolution” and “Mali”. The former struts imperiously like an elegant march with the horn players delivering passionate unisons and Eirik Hegdal strolling his baritone sax with fire, whereas the latter is a brassy elated fantasy introduced by Werliin’s adroit rhythm and complemented with solos of crackling intensity, jubilant percussive passages, and patterned interplay.

This unremittingly colorful program, devotedly explored by a nonet of talented groovers, withstands repeated playing and should be played loud to maximize fun.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Samar & The Egyptian Winter ► 04 - Against The Permanent Revolution ► 05 - Mali


Angelika Niescier - New York Trio

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Angelika Niescier: alto saxophone; Chris Tordini: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums + guest Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet.

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German alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier is based in Cologne but firmly connected with the New York improvisational scene through projects like the NYC Five and New York Trio. Her new album on the Intakt imprint, precisely called New York Trio, is a natural follow-up to The Berlin Concert, whose release coincided with her earning of the prestigious Albert Mangelsdorff prize for jazz excellence. Niescier, who drew inspiration from John Cage, is rhythmically backed by bassist Chris Tordini, a longtime associate, and probes the drumming talents and stirring sounds of Gerald Cleaver, who occupies the chair formerly occupied by Tyshawn Sorey. The steadfast trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson joins the trio on selected tracks, broadening the melodic options and empowering interaction in the frontline.

The session’s volcanic inception couldn’t have had a better title: “The Surge”. The knotty rhythms and crisp accents invite Niescier’s garrulous blows, aptly expanded with a peculiarity in timbre and plenty of elasticity. She finds the pair Tordini-Cleaver set in stone back there, and after aesthetic unisons, it’s the drummer who pitches in, delivering an effusive solo when Finlayson was expected next. The latter eventually sneaks in with a sportive attitude, placing his uncompromising thoughts over Cleaver’s pressurized actions.

The trio communicates in fluid counterpoint on the invariably tense “Cold Epiphany”, whereas the open designation of “…ish” presents many possibilities for a word resolution, including some obvious ones such as swing-ish or Ornette-ish. There's visceral swinging excitement, with the robustness of well-nourished phrases promoting this rumpus.

Much more meditative and nearly reaching the classical domain, “Ekim” reveals an egalitarian sense of give-and-take with Niescier and Finlayson contributing weightless trills during each other’s proceedings. Their approaches are quite opposite for the sake of the music. The saxophonist is raw, vibrant, and impulsive; the trumpeter is rational and often erudite in his melodic exposition. They deliver again on “Push Pull”, which boasts that irresistible rhythmic thrust that every free jazz musician validates without blinking. The tune ends with long unison notes, in a more dispassionate environment.

5.8”, an unfettered yet rhythmically locked-in exercise designed with a busy motion, has Cleaver punching upfront, preparing the unbending, asymmetric groove to be held by Tordini. The musicians’ chemistry is on display and the rewards are undoubtedly there for the adventuresome.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Surge ► 05 - Push Pull ► 07 - 5.8


Evan Parker & Kinetics - Chiasm

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Jacob Anderskov: piano; Adam Pultz Melbye: bass; Anders Vestergaard: drums.

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The fruitful association between English saxophonist Evan Parker, an authority in the free improvisation panorama, and the Lisbon-based imprint Clean Feed has more than a decade. His latest recording for the cited record label involved The Kinetics, a Danish trio led by pianist Jacob Anderskov and featuring bassist Adam Pultz Melbye, and drummer Anders Vestergaard. On the inscrutable and yet mesmerizing Chiasm, they indulge in four pieces captured live in two European cities, London (at the Vortex Jazz Club) and Copenhagen (at DKDM Studio). At those places, the quartet funneled their creative forces into a solid package of music that flutters with labyrinthine paths and experimental structures.

Clocking in at 18 minutes, “London Part I” is the longest piece on the CD, kicking off with the pianist as he probes directions with fearlessness and creates a swampy sonic terrain whose magnetic effect drags us into its vortex. Parker infiltrates by blowing a razor-edged dissertation that, suddenly, becomes solely backed up by bass and drums. The versatile, highly interactive pianist adheres again, establishing a strangely zigzagging dialogue with the saxophonist, all flowering on top of an enthusiastic rhythmic tapestry. The last segment presents a shift in this atmosphere as the group obscures the canvas, yet nothing that can prevent the drums from emerging underneath the systematic flurries and blistering chords brought up by Anderskov.

Copenhagen Part I” is made of an organic and strenuous continual movement that barely fluctuates within the consistent stream. Its mood differentiates from “Copenhagen Part II”, whose first layer is loosely established by piano and drums. Parker, whose obsessive blows range from cerebral to burning, jumps in to form a three-way communication channel over which, in due time, Melbye dispatches an interesting mix of pizzicato and arco bass reflections. Clearly, they are all working on the same wavelength, drowning their zest in a tense gravity to reach a noisy pinnacle before the calm ending.

London Part II” closes the curtain with so much to admire. Parker ventures out alone, infusing percussive slap tonguing as part of his attractive burnished sound. He masters the saxophone with impressive control of circular breathing and unleashes multiple observations in the form of concentric bursts patterned with dark hues. With Coltrane in plain sight here, these are placed on top of the menacing soundscapes allocated by his co-workers.

Chiasm is inspired improvisation and another great effort in Parker’s never-ending pursuit of gripping, moody courses of sound and texture.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Copenhagen Part II ► 04 - London Part II


In Order To Survive - Live / Shapeshifter

Label: AUM Fidelity, 2019

Personnel - Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Cooper-Moore: piano; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

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For decades that bassist William Parker plays a major role in the free/avant-garde scene. In Order to Survive is a finely honed project he has spearheaded since 1993, pairing powerfully written material and free improvisation with noble ideas of justice, democracy, and equality. Their latest work consists of a double album recorded live in performance at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn, New York. It is no more exciting than any of their studio records, but it doesn’t disappoint either, offering an engaging musical dynamism that entraps us.

Disc one accommodates an extended five-part suite titled Eternal is the Voice of Love, which, according to its author, is dedicated to the creative spirit called Peace. The first movement, “Entrance To the Tone World”, is set in motion with the bass turned loose and deep percussion with occasional cymbal glitter, while pianist Cooper-Moore and altoist Rob Brown react to each other’s moves. Then, drummer Hamid Drake serves up a thumping rhythm as the bass throbs. The same bass that, moments later, morphs into a swinging flow to welcoming the agile sweeps and striding leaps of Cooper-Moore, whose lines can be as fast as a cyclonic wind. He channels a great part of his energy to the improvs, but also brings all that rooted jazz and blues-based ideas that are part of his process. As Brown returns to the center, Parker lurches into half-unfasten and half-swinging bass lines, transitioning to Part II: “Color Against Autumn Sky”, in a seamless way. Here, you’ll find solid-body, foot-tapping grooves exposed to some pounding rhythmic accelerations.

Part III: “If There Is a Chance”, an inspiring reflective trip melodically led by shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute expertly played by Parker), binds the magical and the surreal with an unfettered spontaneous posture. After the quite busy Part IV: “A Situation”, which provides wide-open terrain for Brown to explore and traverse with his timbral prowess, Part V: “Birth of the Sunset” reestablishes the quiet deliberations. Terse arco bass slashes, pensive pianism, and simple hi-hat conduction offer a more intimate view of the band’s flexibility.

Comprising five inexorable pulse-punting numbers, disc two boasts the playful “Demons Lining The Hails of Justice” as a true demonstration of energy, resilience, and resistance, with “Newark” being a bouncy, brainy exercise. The latter starts grooving in six but sticks to a sort of linear marching step in its final section. It’s dedicated to trombonist Grachan Moncur III, an original member of this group.

The remaining tunes are “Drum and Bass Interlude”, in which Parker and Drake show their deft abilities to handle deep grooves and rhythms, “In Order To Survive”, the bluesy and cyclic hymn where Parker sings ‘in order to survive, you gotta keep hope alive’, and “Eternity”, a piece of spiritual acceptance.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 (disc1) - Eternal is the Voice of Love III: If There is a Chance ► 01 (disc2) - Demons Lining The Hails of Justice ► 03 (disc2) - Newark


Dan Clucas, Vinny Golia, Steuart Liebig, Alex Cline - Boojum Quartet

Label: Klooktone Records, 2019

Personnel - Dan Clucas: cornet; Vinny Golia: saxophones and clarinets; Steuart Liebig: electric contrabass; Alex Cline: drums and percussion.

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The stalwart Boojum Quartet is Dan Clucas on cornet, Vinny Golia on saxophones and clarinets, Steuart Liebig on electric contrabass, and Alex Cline on drums and percussion.

The 23-minute “Big Boojum” takes time to evolve, initially bringing master Cline’s cymbal projections and tasteful thumps to the center. Despite the effortless communication between Clucas and Golia, which usually sparks off reactions in the rhythm section, it’s the drummer who shines here. He switches to brushes in the middle of the trip for a smoother ambiance, but still joins the impenetrable horn activity and dark contrabass lines with a panoply of articulated drum sounds. Together, they go for a dark psychedelia-infused finale in the vein of the industrial rock fashion of Ministry and Skinny Puppy. In contrast, the succinct “Little Boojum”, clocking in at 1:22, provides a very cinematic experience with muted cornet and bass clarinet operating beautifully within their distant ranges.

Taking nearly 20 minutes, “Oak”, one of my favorite pieces, opens with scattered percussive strokes, many of them belonging to the metallic category, and finds Golia in his more thoughtful and sparse playing. On his side, Clucas, unpolished and unapologetic, pours out torrents of fierce phrases like lava expelled from a giant volcano. Following the fearlessly funk-rock stride laid down by Liebig and Cline (both their individual and combined sounds are fantastic), the saxophonist gesticulates with power and glory, discharging searing energy from his saxophone. Down the bumpy road, the horn lines juxtapose. The cooperation is tense and dramatic, but the air becomes much less congested, even when unimposing drones appear underneath a few minutes before the conclusion.

If “Manzanita” and “Eucalyptus” bring no novelty attached in their nonchalant passages without diminishing the impact of the material as a whole, then “Poppy” offers another excellent ride, in which the musicians push and pull one another in a spontaneously improvised setting that ranges from mournful to unfettered. Before a quiet dawning, where the substratum is propped by Liebig’s irregular single and double plucks, the quartet embarks on an avant-garde foray containing muted cornet in coalition with saxophone rapid trills and vertiginous swirls, before landing on a turbulent alternative rock rumpus filled with grimy rhythmic onslaughts.

The four avant-jazz specialists put a lot of fervency and devotion in this revolutionary session.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Poppy ► 03 - Big Boojum ► 05 - Oak


The Fictive Five - Anything Is Possible

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel – Larry Ochs: tenor saxophone, sopranino; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Ken Filiano: bass, effects; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass, effects; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.

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Led by saxophonist Larry Ochs, The Fictive Five is a quintet of fearless improvisers whose sophomore album is now out on the Clean Feed imprint (their debut was released in 2015 on Tzadik Records). Two bassists - Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper - are put side by side in an unpredictable rhythm section that also includes proficient drummer Harris Eisenstadt. Ochs shares the frontline with trumpeter Nate Wooley and their horn punctuations and creative fire are usually a focus of instability within the cinematic narratives. Thus, the title Anything Is Possible is appropriate to describe this new sonic adventure.

Three of the five pieces on the album are dedicated to illustrious personalities from cinema and music. Three is also the number of Ochs compositions, with the remaining two being credited to the collective.

The opener, “Immediate Human Response”, is for the filmmaker Spike Lee. Ochs enters straightforward and vigorous with the bassists providing tensile flexibility, whether by bowing or plucking their instruments. The subversive percussion brings in a lot of odd noises and the quieter passages are no less ominous or tense. It’s not uncommon to hear water and buzzing sounds, chamber cadences that lead to irregular stomps and arco bass drones, and harsh melodic turmoils with no fixed destination.

The two bassists are in evidence on Ochs’ 19-minute “The Others Dream”, infusing dark orchestral colors so as to stir dynamics. Low-pitched drones affected by electronics and African-like pulses support the random trajectories of the horn players, who dramatically improve the rhythm with contrapuntal actions. More cerebral, Wooley balances the gutty fervor expressed by Ochs, who often growls in fury.

Short in duration, “And The Door Blows Open” is dedicated to the late pianist Cecil Taylor. Built like a lament, this collective improvisation gradually adds layers but opens with the breathy tones of Ochs’ tenor.

Another 19-minute piece with a title to be taken seriously, “With Liberties And Latitude For All” is a highlight. Dedicated to experimental film director Warren Sonbert and grounded in an intelligible narrative context, the tune grants enthralling counterpoint between sax and trumpet, an array of percussive configurations coordinated with a timbral hook, and even a jazzy passage composed of jittery brushwork, trumpet digresses, and an eccentric coexistence of grinding bowed bass and swinging pizzicato.

Anything Is Possible doesn’t surpass its predecessor, but this punchy improvised music still presents vast sonic options for whoever wants a wild ride.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Others Dream ► 03 - And The Door Blows Open ► 04 - With Liberties And Latitude For All


Danketsu 9 - Towards a Walk In The Sun

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel – Patrick Shiroishi: alto and tenor saxophone; Mallory Soto: voice; Ang Wilson: flute; Kelly Coats: flute; Dylan Fujioka: accordion, percussion; Jason Adams: cello; Pauline Lay: violin; Noah Guevara: guitar; Ken Moore: double bass.

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One can say that saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi is a conceptualist by the way he arranged the experimental 47-minute opus Towards a Walk in the Sun. The work takes the shape of a one single mysterious-sounding scalar piece recorded live at Heartbeat House in L.A. and titled “Un Fuego Se Apaga, Otro Sigue Quemando”. This is not the kind of improvisatory music that ramps up through the speakers, but rather a patiently layered, slow-burning long-form music that, without transcending, may pique your curiosity. The simplicity and balance achieved with this composite of volatility and opaqueness made me think of minimalist avant-garde composers such as Terry Riley and Moondog.

The journey begins with deep cello slashes, later coupled with violin lengthiness and Mallory Soto’s soaring voice to create a brooding chamber spell that takes us to a cinematic crossing between Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The controlled instrumentation enlarges and shrinks this sort of mantric introspection, which lasts more than 20 minutes. Occasional scratching and chirping noises become discernible amidst the droning practices. The sounds flicker and persevere.

This ethereal nimbus slides to a bit more explorative territory and becomes ominous with the presence of percussive elements and Shiroishi’s saxophone, whose brittle tone and atonal approach infuse some spark without ever pulling the tune out of its melancholy.

When an adventurous flute discloses intention to dance apart, the alluring bow work pushes it to its cavernous hideaway. This relentlessly dark symphony made of dusky gradients conjures images of desolation, wonder, and regret, all at once. The last section throbs with psychedelic instrumental activity within the same phantasmagoric denouement.

Maintaining the same intonation throughout, the music never explodes in any direction. Hence, broadening the dynamics would be of great benefit here since the framework is decorously orchestrated.

Grade  C+

Grade C+

Anthony Braxton - Quartet (New Haven) 2014

Label: Firehouse 12 Records, 2019

Personnel – Anthony Braxton: sopranino and soprano, alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo, bass trumpet; Nels Cline: electric guitar; Greg Saunier: drums.

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The prolific multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton, a legendary avant-gardist, sees the record label Firehouse 12 release a 4-CD box set of the unique experience that was gathering an all-star quartet in New Haven in 2014, featuring guitarist Nels Cline, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and drummer Greg Saunier. Each CD runs for approximately one hour, homaging guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Merle Haggard, and vocalists Janis Joplin and James Brown, and unveiling Braxton’s musical interests for other genres aside from jazz and modern classical. He and his bandmates put together something meant to challenge, unnerving the listener with abstract instrumentations and angular melodic expressions filled with arcane charms.

Improvisation One (for Jimi Hendrix)” is equipped with the untamed, blazing postures of psychedelic rock scattered throughout a session that also includes twisty drones, incisive ostinatos, reactive drum work, and occasional washes of noise poured out from Cline’s guitar, which carries enough spark to burn, not with Hendrix’s eternal fire, but with its own. Glorious dissonances and ebullient ricochets within a variety of dynamics are part of an entertaining game peppered with bi-directional free improvisations and stately collective layouts. It ends noiselessly with guitar harmonics and the momentary snarls of snare and toms.

As expected, “Improvisation Two (For Janis Joplin)” is not as bluesy as the songs of the rocker they pay tribute to but denotes flashes of that rustic hard rock sound that characterized her sound in the transition of the ‘60s to the ‘70s. Even starting unrugged with singing lines, fragmented drumming, and conversational rhythmic figures, the piece welcomes a lot more distortion, animated slogans, and post-psychedelia than Joplin could have ever dreamed about. Lovely sax/drums dialogues make an impact, giving their way to a set of incantatory atmospheres structured with discipline. It all ends in a furious space battle oversupplied with looming tension while the group’s offbeat brand of virtuosity is put on display.

There are no real funk expectations on the James Brown-dedicated “Improvisation Three”, but some of its colors can be found scattered throughout. Constantly in progress, the music has its grooviest moments in the combination of theatrical saxophone and brass drifts, unexpected post-apocalyptic guitar explosions and ever-adaptable percussive streams. Scorning laughs and bitter cries cut through the chordal fluxes and arrays of shaking trills (drums included), giving impetus to drama. Of course, any funk machine would be swallowed by the immensity of this composite of avant-jazz and post-rock.

Improvisation Four (For Merle Haggard)” initially features the cavernous cogitation, bite, and swagger of Braxton’s contrabass saxophone. Cline’s mix of clear and nebulous guitar comping is perfect for the occasion, and the succeeding cyclic movements, some with fiery contrapuntal discernment and some other with seductively dark charisma, often feel more disquieting than soothing. This is valid, even when the group resolves to refrain their gustiness.

These enigmatic sounds and abrasive interplay might startle and dumbfound the unprepared listener, while avant-jazz regulars will be delighted with a four-hour document of massive creativity.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Improvisation Three (for James Brown) ► 04 - Improvisation Four (for Merle Haggard)


The Pen Club - Data Retrieval

Label: Eupcaccia Records, 2019

Personnel – Jack Stoneham: saxophone; Felix Bornholdt: piano; Ashley Stoneham: drums.

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Hailing from Sidney, Australia, The Pen Club is a bass-less avant-garde jazz trio capable of a potent, spontaneous primitivism but also well-planned engaging moments. Alto saxophonist Jack Stoneham plays the leading role, relying on a rhythm section entrusted to his brother, drummer Ashley Stoneham, and pianist Felix Bornholdt.

Presented as a suite, Data Retrieval exposes obvious connections between tunes by the hand of a unified trio demonstrating free postures and narrative arc within the structure.

The session opens with “Pen 1”, a brisk sax monologue exclaimed with disparate attractive sounds. It leads directly to “Agitated”, a nearly 9-minute piece where the saxophonist continues articulating what he had started with an unspecified route, accompanied with fragmented piano lines that extend over several octaves. The drummer shapes the pulse in a way that attests his bandmates’ ideas, showing rhythmic flexibility and concentration. Tension is exalted through the mix of timbres provided by each instrument, stirring dynamics that may oscillate between tempestuous and temperately cautious.

Accommodating a poignant solo piano effort in its first minutes and then a call-response demonstration between sax and piano, “Pen 2 Glitch” is a methodical ride that inclines toward a mysterious ballad ready to flare up with emotion. It comes in the sequence of the muffled serenity of “Still Struggle”, where whispering brushed rhythms, piano disclosures filed with an uncanny dreamlike feel, and thoughtful sax statements make it a highlight on the album. Throughout these two selections, it’s noticeable how simple melodic ideas can easily turn into majestic riffs.

Elastic Band” is delivered at a well-measured pace and favors a crisp articulation between the brothers. Exciting counterpoint is instilled when Bornholdt comes into play.

More duologue in the form of a call-response is offered in “Buried Metal”, which shows proneness to mood changes and furious explosions. The occasional strapping textures and stone-cold rawness can cool off anytime, reflecting a more slumberous state of mind. Yet, the natural tendency is for tension-filled storytelling with the saxophonist claiming the spotlight through wide-ranging slide motions, overtones, and multiphonics.

Data Retrieval rewards repeated listenings and it’s an awesome option for free/avantjazz consumers looking for talented new voices within the genre.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Still Struggle ► 04 - Pen 2 Glitch ► 06 - Buried Metal


Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Feldman - Time Gone Out

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Mark Feldman: violin.

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Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman, two of the finest and consummate stylists of the New York avant scene, release a new set of bold music on Time Gone Out, twenty years after their first duo recording, Music for Violin and Piano. By turns literate and kinetic, the duo’s direction is never obvious and every little step feels like a secret unraveled.

Homesick For Another World” highlights the enigmatic tones of Feldman’s violin. The bright melodies become sumptuously contoured but the mood never completely leaves the abstraction, which is reinforced when Courvoisier combs the piano strings and issues smothered staccato sounds. This atmosphere differs from “Eclats For Ornette”, a texturally exuberant piece written by the pianist and whose memorable main statement stays in the head. Clever intersections, whether presented in counterpoint or floating whimsically free, add an extra jolt of energy to an interactive scenario that bridges the classical and the avant-garde genres with erudition.

Limits of the Useful” has an eccentric percussive start with the prepared piano and the erratic violin combining with spectral amplitude and odd timbres to create mystery. The percussive approach continues on “Crytoporticus”, a suitable occasion for Courvoisier to explore the depth and range offered by the piano. More refrained, this number goes from murmurous to dreamy to beautifully lyric in its final part, although with punctual impactful blasts arriving from the lower registers of the keyboard. The way these two musicians speak and breathe the music without ever curbing each other’s actions is phenomenal. Thus, freedom and space are always associated with their bilateral conversations, true sources of emotion.

The dramatic piano comping on the tonally interesting “Blindspot” is brilliant, setting the perfect backdrop for Feldman’s piercing shrills, ascending melodic inflations and glissandos, and ultimately soaring phrasing. Despite the vague reverie, the violin sounds more effulgent than dark, even when distributing waves of austerity here and there.

The central piece on the album is the title track, “Time Gone Out”, a nearly 20-minute chamber creation that you may think of as an offbeat chorale with a streamlined approach and celestial bursts. You’ll find an immersive solo piano passage as well as blossoming violin messages appearing as cerebral modern classical incursions dramatized with interactive commitment. Moreover, there’s a poised compromise between hushed, ruminative moments and dynamic activity.

Offering different dividends with each listening, this album encloses too many treasures to be discovered. The long-standing creative partnership between Courvoisier and Feldman is stronger than ever, taking us to a lot of unexpected places.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Eclats For Ornette ► 04 - Blindspot ► 06 - Crytoporticus


Brian Krock - Liddle

Label: Outside in Music

Personnel – Brian Krock: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Olli Hirvonen: electric guitar; Matt Mitchell: piano, Fender Rhodes; Marty Kenney: upright bass; Simon Jermyn: 6-string electric bass, baritone guitar; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drum set.

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On Liddle, up-and-coming saxophonist/clarinetist Brian Krock steps out as a bandleader and composer, preparing nine energizing tunes - seven of which he wrote - with imaginative, sinewy arrangements. For that, he summoned a couple of key players from his acclaimed Brooklyn-based 18-piece ensemble Big Heart Machine and invited a few distinctive new elements, whose level of commitment revealed to be exemplary. The robust structure of the pieces allows them to squeeze eccentric curves, sharp angles and compacted yet never cluttered textures in the same scorching pot.

The album opens with the rhythmically complex “Flip”, where the melodic boldness of the saxophone gets momentum from dazzling intervallic leaps, suggesting a groove that is immediately apprehended by the remaining members of the group. Krock wrote it as a response to a Human Feel tune composed by altoist Andrew D’Angelo. Part emotional, part cerebral, Krock’s phrasing is built over an active rhythmic tapestry that fractures when pianist Matt Mitchell pours out a dense sequence of notes like waterfalls. By that time, the backdrop is made of terse slides and fast plucks offered by Marty Kenney’s acoustic bass in cooperation with the surging and skittering percussive dexterity of Nathan Ellman-Bell.

While seamlessly shifting meters, “Knuckle Hair” boasts rhythmic ideas in tandem, playful guitar chops, and piercing toy-like piano sounds. Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen expresses a fervent desire in experimenting with a combination of distortion and atonality, while Mitchell contributes astonishingly formed voicings, flexible in tonal range. A rhythmic crescendo intensifies the tension, allowing the composer’s rock influence to emerge without barriers.

Krock sought inspiration in the literary refinement of James Joyce for some tunes and “Saturnine”, a polyrhythmic crossing between prog rock and avant-jazz, is one of those products. If at this moment, Mitchell and Krock (on clarinet) project their voices with confidence, then it’s Hirvonen who shines on “Memphis”, a composition he penned himself with brilliance. Exposing a blissfully atmospheric intro, the tune acquires poised indie-rock instrumentation with Ellman-Bell excelling behind the drum set with a disorienting beat not averse to syncopation. Two six-string instruments fulfill the improvisational section: the electric bass of guest Simon Jermyn (he plays baritone guitar on the alternative rock song “Please Stop”) and the high-voltage guitar of Hirvonen, who finishes in a corrosive Satriani-mode.

Smoother and melodically emphasized, “Heart Machine” has Mitchell confirming he is as incredible with melody as he is with the rhythmic stuff. Hirvonen, in turn, opts for an off-kilter approach that feels very opportune, while Krock adds more melody on the bass clarinet. Counteracting the state described before, we have Anthony Braxton’s “Opus 23b”, an uptempo piece with rushed patterned unisons and an inherent ebullient swing that later touches the avant-garde realm in all its strength.

Liddle deserves many listenings as it encapsulates tunes that work well independently but that also cohere into a solid narrative arc. Krock is to be taken very seriously as a composer.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Knuckle Hair ► 04 - Memphis ► 07 - Opus 23b


Triio - Triio

Label: Self produced, 2019

Personnel – Bea Labikova: alto saxophone, flute; Aidan Sibley: trombone; Ashley Urquhart: piano; Tom Fleming: guitar; Alex Fournier: bass; Mark Ballyk: drums.

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Despite the misleading name, Triio is not a trio. It’s a Toronto-based sextet launched in 2012, the longest-running project from bassist Alex Fournier. Their self-titled debut album includes a set of shape-shifting compositions packed with rigorous compositional detail and free improvisation.

ESD” plays a role model by showing how the group is deeply informed by the dynamics and flexible interplay of the 21st-century jazz. Besides the inevitable unprepared side inherent to jazz, their modern creative aesthetic pronounces fondness for through-composed, long-form music. This opening tune starts by engulfing the listener in its abstract solo piano vortex, probing densities and intensities before hitting the asymmetric groove that, also tracked by the bassist, sustains the theme. Prepare yourself for sax-piano unisons with occasional trombone countermelodies in the background. Before the reinstatement of the theme, drummer Mark Ballyk amplifying chops, having electronic sounds hovering over his head, while Bea Labikova’s alto sax wanders with a casual, free posture.

Bass, percussion, and prepared piano introduce “Giant Dad” in an enigmatic way, but the group unlocks a cool swing to welcome a parallel speech from flute and trombone. As trombonist Aidan Sibley detaches himself to establish an impromptu communication with guitarist Tom Fleming, a form of polyphony materializes. Still, the next phase was not destined to be melodically intense but rather rhythmically daring with a passage for prepared piano and flute. Everything is ‘melodified’ for the finale.

The impetuous “Fourhundred Dollars” assumes the shape of a chugging steam train but still tolerates a calmer passage marked by liquid guitar textures. Nonetheless, the tension gallops dauntlessly through the flurries and pointillism delivered by pianist Ashley Urquhart along with the eruptive shriek of ecstasy and raw excitement of the saxophone cries. The music gets turbulent across the board before concluding with a busy yet controlled pace. Conveying a similar mood, “Noisemaker” feels a continuation of the latter piece, extending beyond 17 minutes and sporting instrumental metamorphoses with rhythmic multiplicities and avant-jazz sensibility. What will you find here? A jazzy trombone solo over an odd-metered swinging pulse, hushed moments with bowed bass and disciplined floating guitar, pondered unisons as integral elements of a processional episode, piano rumination with variety in sound, and a final written section stamped by a guitar ostinato and topped by involving lines.

The force of this sextet derives from the personal sounds of its members and the concluding composition, “Permanently Hiccups”, shows exactly that. Polyrhythmic layers pile up resolutely, building emotional resonance. The texture may feel a bit brooding at times, but the group canalizes the final section into a hypnotic tapestry rich in unisons and counterlines.

Fournier and his Triio group reveal a breathtaking command of tempo and structure as well as a modern flair for texture. This is an ambitious effort that will help them carve out a distinct space for themselves.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - ESD ► 02 - Giant Dad ► 03 - Fourhundred Dollars