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


The OGJB Quartet - Bamako

Label: TUM Records, 2019

Personnel - Oliver Lake: alto saxophone; Graham Haynes: trumpet; Joe Fonda: bass; Barry Altschul: drums.

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OGJB is an initialism formed with the first letter of the first name of four superb avant-gardists, namely, saxophonist Oliver Lake, trumpeter Graham Haynes, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummer Barry Altschul. For their first collective outing, Bamako, they all contribute compositions, work dynamics with diligence, and push their personal views into ecstatic realms where nothing feels too soft or too labored.

The album opens with Joe Fonda’s “Listen To Dr. Cornel West”, a 15-minute excursion that goes through many different phases. The early unison lines occur relaxedly but not without some turbulence in the foundation. They eventually split up to establish an unorthodox horn-driven conversation, proving these musicians as intuitive counterpoint players but also independent navigators. Fonda generates a frantic, super-fluid pizzicato and malleable slides before diving into a “Bolivia”-like groove. At a subsequent time, the piece gains the rhythmic contours of a march, although excluding the military pomp of the snare drum. Instead, Altschul prompts some rebellious reactions as responses to Haynes’ playful modes. The Nu Band first recorded this tune, written for the philosopher and political activist mentioned in its title, in 2015.

GS#2” is another fabulous piece by the bassist, who wrote it for drummer George Schuller. The odd-metered groove is fantastic and the tune is particularly riveting in its bluesy imaging, having Lake unleashing a wry and provocative zigzagging that spreads outward with variable intonations and speeds. The name Altschul is a synonym of percussive charm and he shows it, right before the two horns reemerge on the scene for the final theme statement.

If Lake’s “Is It Alright?” makes a good company to Altschul’s “Be Out S’cool” as typically avant-jazz numbers where you can expect fragmented and accented lines, flexible yet robust rhythmic flows, and inventive improvisations filled with interval leaping, then “Just A Simple Song”, another piece by the drummer, is something else. It’s a simple and beautiful 3-minute hymn that redirects our energy through a composite of bowed and pizzicato bass, understated brushwork, and the ever-present three-note melody at its core.

On Lake’s recently penned piece, “3 Phrase 09”, Altschul jumps to the forefront with delicious cymbal work and lively drumsticks on toms, stressing the contrast with the untroubled melodies of Lake and Haynes. The former still prompts some choppy staccato insertions and adorns them with timbral quality, while the latter remains cool and assertive in his direction.

Disparate from all the rest is the title cut, a fervently percussive ode to Africa where Haynes, its author, plays dousn’ gouni and Altschul mbira, while in turn, Lake recites his poem Broken In Parts. The album ends with two completely improvised numbers, “OGJB#2” and “OGJB#1”, where the band explores new possibilities under close communication.

The OGJB Quartet is composed of savvy musicians in the business with many miles of avant-garde jazz in different formats and contexts. Their Bamako boasts an excellent and varied repertoire that exalts the genre.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Listen To Dr. Cornel West ► 05 - GS#2 ► 06 - Just A Simple Song


The Art Ensemble Of Chicago - We Are On The Edge

Label: Pi Recordings, 2019

Personnel includes - Roscoe Mitchell: soprano and alto saxophones, sopranino; Famoudou Don Moye: drums, percussion; Moor Mother: voice, poetry; Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron: voice; Hugh Ragin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Fred Berry: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nicole Mitchell – flutes, piccolo; Christina Wheeler: voice, autoharp, electronics; Jean Cook: violin; Edward Yoon Kwon: viola; Tomeka Reid: cello; Silvia Bolognesi: bass; Jaribu Shahid: bass; Junius Paul: bass; Dudù Kouaté: percussion; Enoch Williamson: percussion; Titos Sompa: vocals, mbira, percussion.

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Founded in 1969, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, champions of the Great Black Music, interrupts a studio recording hiatus of 15 years to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a two-disc set (one of them recorded live at Edgefest in Ann Harbor, Michigan). Currently with 18 members, the group appears as a completely new constellation in the creative scene, including valuable additions such as flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, experimentalist/activist Moor Mother, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, bassists Junius Paul and Jaribu Shahid, among others. The highly anticipated record comprises new material as well as some re-orchestrations of old tunes, having two of its founders at the helm: Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye. It’s dedicated to the original members who already departed: Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Joseph Jarman.

Disc one kicks off with the immutable chamber lyricism of “Sketches From the Bamboo Terrace”. Vocalist Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron embraces a somewhat operatic intonation while joining the strings legato. The approach is repeated on the two parts of “Jamaican Farewell”.

Bell Song” and “Fanfare and Bell” have obviously the bells in common but are dissimilar in nature. The former, favoring more harmony than collision, is mounted with percussive chatters, whistles and hoots of flute diversion, and hushed trumpet, while the latter evinces a rhythmic decrease in favor of a pronouncedly classical temper. In turn, the closing piece, “Oasis At Dusk”, combines both the percussive and the classical practices with a contemplative beauty.

Brimming with cinematic refinement, “We Are On The Edge” boasts the inflammable spoken word by Moore Mother over a relentless vamp of pizzicato bass lines, percussion, and strings. Despite the group's energy and a great attitude, this title doesn’t match the restless Pan-African rhythms and expressionistic textures of “Chi-Congo 50”, an old piece dressed in new clothes. The primitive dance between wild, teetering, trilling flutes and a horde of sprightly horns is invigorating, producing one of those incantatory moments that no one wants to let go. From the minute three on, there’s a circular bass groove and euphoric horn interplay, reinforcing the magic and the singularity of this special ensemble.

The only problem with Lester Bowie-penned “Villa Tiamo” is its brevity, which makes us longing for the beautiful orchestration. For its part, “Saturday Morning” is a purely percussive, effervescent dance that impels us to jump and dance at the sound of cross-rhythms and syncopations. On a different note, “Mama Koko” carries a modern hip-hop feel as the collective praises Mother Africa.

Disc two is like a drop in the bucket, but brings a couple of classic tunes in the alignment: Favors’ “Tutankhamun” and Roscoe Mitchell’s “Odwalla/The Theme”, which serves to introduce the musicians.

Brewing liberating textural ambiances, the new version of The Art Ensemble of Chicago is injected fresh blood and orchestral significance, but keeps its musical roots raw and its principles well intact.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Chi-Congo 50 ► 08 - Saturday Morning ►12 - Oasis at Dusk


Tom Rainey Trio - Combobulated

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Tom Rainey: drums.

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Tom Rainey constantly brings new ideas to the edgier side of jazz. On Combobulated, his fourth trio album as a leader, he is joined by the frequent and indispensable collaborators, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Together, these creative minds guarantee exciting improvised scenarios worked out with abundant complexity and enchantment.

The nearly 19-minute title track sounds awesome, starting off with the ebbs and flows of an odd drum pattern and two insouciant melodic paths that, even diverging in direction, sound perfectly consistent as a whole. As the tune moves forward, they densify the texture, heading toward a stunning crescendo that overflows in effects and timbres. An unorthodox guitar groove flares up in the middle of a solo sax passage, astounding the listener with its asymmetry and irreverence. When the intensity dies out, tingling guitar chops evolve gradually into an enigmatic blend of rock chords and electronic intrusions. This was just the preparation for a cosmic journey initiated by Rainey’s unforeseen tom-tom activity and hi-hat scintillation. The episode is further pressurized with psychedelic electronics and the fiery rumination of the saxophone. Hence, a safe landing is questionable after such a boisterous agitation. At the end, repeated saxophone multiphonics scream ‘help!’ or ‘we made it!’ - it’s really up to your imagination.

Point Reyes” is set in motion through Rainey’s delicate rudiments. In static mode, Laubrock and Halvorson embark in a sort of exotic folk dance that, feeling beautifully compact at times, ends in an indefinite state of liquidity.

A great sonic menu is offered during “Fact”. Playful interactions between sax and guitar are served as an appetizer, and then the main course: capricious drum forays with sparse bursts of distorted guitar and digital effects that go like clockwork. Brisk and coiled saxophone lines, heavy chords that tend to become patterned, and a jittery rhythm, are the main ingredients of the bittersweet dessert: a perfectly danceable prog-rock assembly. The driving propulsion, inspired and dazzling, leads to the easy conclusion that a bass player is not required in this specific context.

If the aerial suspensions of “Isn’t Mine” are temporarily disrupted by the presence of a restless soprano saxophone on top of an acerbic indie-rock progression, “Torn Road” is immersed in atmospheric clouds of mystery. Slide guitar laments join both the percussive tick-tocks and the circular saxophone blows before hitting a heavily bumpy road, whose navigation is solely entrusted to master Rainey.

Splays Itself” is a showcase for Laubrock’s extended techniques, kinetic phrasing, and saturated timbral coloration. The inclusion of rock-imbued strokes on guitar and maniacal drum attacks emit jarring undercurrents that aggravate the urban feel of this landscape.

The trio boasts immense energy and originality, and their musical qualities are sonically enhanced by David Torn's spectacular mixing, mastering and post-production. In this particular chapter of their careers, you will find them at a peak of their musical strength.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Combobulated ► 03 - Fact ► 05 - Splays Itself


Assif Tsahar / William Parker / Hamid Drake - In Between The Tumbling A Stillness

Label: Hopscotch Records, 2018

Personnel - Assif Tsahar: saxophone; William Parker: double bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

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Cohesive sounds and textures emerge from the transfiguring interplay of the intrepid trio composed of saxophonist Assif Tsahar, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake. All three musicians, known for their urgency to create spontaneously, collaborated in many live sessions and festivals. However, In Between The Tumbling A Stillness marks their first recording as a trio. These intense, tight/loose musical moments were captured live in Tel Aviv at Levontin 7, a music venue opened by the saxophonist when he moved back to his native Israel in 2006.

In Between”, the 35-minute expedition that opens up the album, sparkles in many rhythmic contexts. The group takes the plunge in a straightforward way, with Tsahar concentrating efforts in sturdy phrases limned with a brooding, casually raucous tone on the lower registers, but still with enough range to stay out of the shadow. His language comprises simple melodic ideas with explosive fast-note attacks that always find a reliable supporting net in the work of Parker, a monumental pillar in the foundation, and Drake, an independent creator who keeps his ears wide open to whatever happens around him. After rambling, they accelerate to a swinging pace, posteriorly grooving in several inventive ways. The rhythm team assures smooth yet conspicuous transitions, erecting lyrical structures with both familiar atmospheres and inspired inventions alike. It's common to see the saxophonist responding to their deliberately abstract sense of tempo with raw emotions.

Bowed bass and percussion announce tense winds for “The Tumbling”, which features Tsahar emitting waves of energy, whether through bop-ish lines or any other audacious terminology. The tune becomes infectiously hectic but terminates in a slower yet fun ragtime-derived cadence.

This is the joy of listening to imaginative creators. One minute they are galloping freely toward no particular destination, in the next minute they are running at high speed in a precise direction, and when you don’t expect them to, you’ll stumble upon them dancing the blues in a fixed position.

Closing out the album, “A Stillness” is a quiet, inner-oriented improv, effulgently propelled with the help of Drake’s cross stick beats. Grab this record, if you like your avant-jazz simultaneously raw and sophisticated.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - In Between ► 02 - The Tumbling


Kaja Draksler / Petter Eldh / Christian Lillinger - Punkt.Vrt.Plastik

Label: Intakt Records, 2019

Personnel - Kaja Draksler: piano; Petter Eldh: bass; Christian Lillinger: drums.

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The European trio composed of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, and German drummer Christian Lillinger definitely deserves several listenings and wider recognition due to an urgent, empathetically modern sound that transpires focus, freedom, and craft. Their album Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is vividly recommended for the ones who love elaborate textures, rhythmic disjunctions, patterned lyricism, and maturely conspired ambiances with intelligent crosscurrents in the instrumentation.

Lillinger’s “Nuremberg Amok” opens the album as a beautiful deconstruction with a strong polyrhythmic feel and swift fragmented phases that often repeat. A nuanced sense of tempo and engrossing fluidity are constant presences.

Evicted” is the only composition penned by Draksler, evolving in a spectacular way and conveying the uncertainty and distress that an eviction may suggest. Ambiguity and some sadness are mixed in Draksler's lines, which causes an impressive effect whenever the hair-raising low notes are blended with shrilling pointillism to form strange musical mosaics. She has this very special way to deal with space. Is the following intervallic melodicism a synonym of resignation? Ponderation, for sure! Apart from her choices, Eldh concludes with a resonant bass foray replete of pizzicato technique.

Happy and carefree, “Punkt Torso” is marked by a classical lyricism that takes a bit more reflective intonation on “Life is Transient” and an exquisite modernization on “Momentan”, achieved through additional patterned elements that seem taken from electronica.

Both “Azan” and “Plastic” appear with fidgeting, broken beats expressed with dry and wet tones. However, while the former circulates angular melody, the latter advocates lullaby-ish lines and crawling dark drones, after a nearly two-minute drum solo.

Eldh and Lillinger are members of Amok Amor, a quartet with saxophonist Wanja Slavin and trumpeter Peter Evans, and their well-established rapport is valued by the independent Draksler, who knows how to merge into their rhythmic entanglement with finesse. The shape shifting “Body Decline” is another wonderful example of brilliance, put together with assertive noir brushstrokes and that beautiful tension/resolution dichotomy. Eldh penned it.

Reinventing themselves to escape any sort of pre-determined norms, the trio crafts an aesthetically bold work that will make you dive into their music, and remain indefinitely.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Nuremberg Amok ► 02 - Evicted ► 06 - Body Decline


Atomic - Pet Variations

Label: Odin Records, 2019

Personnel - Fredrik Ljungkvist: saxophone, clarinet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Havard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbaekmo: drums.

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The jazz quintet Atomic is composed of some of the finest Swedish and Norwegian improvisers out there, namely, trumpeter Magnus Broo, saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Havard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo. The comprehensive aesthetic range of Pet Variations, an enticing first album entirely made of covers, is one of its strongest points in addition to the cohesive interplay and competent musical conception.

The opening track, “Pet Variations/Pet Sounds”, was partly written by Wiik, patiently cooked up by the collective, and terminated with the vein-popping melody of The Beach Boys' instrumental song that lent its title to their 1966 album. Prior to a fluent solo by Broo, a flexible hornman, the ride cymbal sparkles continually and the bass draws some mystery from resolute plucks. This foundation sustains side-by-side melodic lines while marvelous piano voicings bring jazzy shades of grace to the mutating scenario. A transitory chamber passage soon slips into an agitated groove full of spirit, and the atmosphere compels Ljungkvist to explore rhythm and timbre.

A two-note piano ostinato prepares Steve Lacy’s “Art” to fall into step. Clarinet and trumpet unisons help weaving a docile texture where the arco bass infuses despondency. Marching steadily to the very end, the tune still highlights Wiik, who concentrates efforts in merging the baroque fragrances of Bach with atonal jazz currents.

Drifting and explorative, Carla Bley’s “Walking Woman” offers spontaneous dialogues from sax and piano, and then trumpet and bass. The collective becomes pretty active by the time that Hulbaekmo springs into action.

The cast of experienced musicians also breaks down a couple of contemporary classical pieces. If Varese’s “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” is a chiaroscuro musical canvas with a constant ritualistic pulse and arco bass solemnity opposing to the light-emitting clarity of the horns, Messiaen’s “Louange a L’Eternite de Jesus” is put together with devotional reverence and crescent dramatic tension.

Jimmy Giuffre’s classic “Cry Want” starts off with a trumpet monologue, later turned into a parallel dynamic with the presence of the clarinet. The piano harmonization, reminiscing Herbie Nichols, is rich and beautiful and the beseeching clarinet starts to expand horizons, initially backed by drums only, and then forming a strong improvisational alliance with the piano.

The exciting final part of the album unveils two favorites: “Inri” is an original composition by Alexander Von Schlippenbach whose fluidity and freedom are mirrored in its epic theme statement, electrifying solos, and itchy percussive angst; on its part, Jan Garbarek’s “Karin’s Mode” is an anthemic groovy tune in five, delivered with sophisticated cool.

Boasting an excellent repertoire, Atomic has great stuff to share and this borrowed material is as strong as their originals.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Cry Want ► 07 - Inri ► 08 - Karin’s Mode


Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph, Hamid Drake - Chi

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel - Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, piano, wooden recorder; Adam Rudolph: handrumset, piano, sinter, percussion, electronics; Hamid Drake: drumset, vocals, frame drum, percussion.

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Combining the mysticism of ancient traditions and the sonic aesthetics of today’s music, Chi is an album of spontaneous music, matching saxophonist Dave Liebman with two top-class percussionists and kindred spirits, Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake. The latter collaborates with the saxophonist for the very first time, giving precious help in the rhythmic layout of a record that shares the same conception as The Unknowable, another RareNoise release that featured Liebman, Rudolph and Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani.

The short-lived opener, “Becoming”, shapes slowly, creating a whispery electronic settlement that gains further mystery with the addition of Rudolph’s jolting intervals on the piano. Liebman infuses some spirituality at the last minute, making us wanting more.

The simpatico rhythmic tide of “Flux” upholds the alacritous, coiled phrases from tenor saxophone. This turbo-charged firepower settles down into a calm passage that, nonetheless, comes loaded with Liebman’s virtuosic language, which echoes on soprano sax with delay effect. Behind the drum kit, Drake responds accordingly, while Rudolph creates a densely propulsive flux through expeditious hand-drum bombardments.

If “Continuum” generates tension by departing from long howling cries and landing into pungently accented phrases, “Formless Form” mixes sweet piano delineations with chirping sounds, attaining a delicate equilibrium between nature and spirit. Liebman plays the piano with dexterity and unchained abandon, and, for an instant, Drake uses his voice, before diffusing an exhilarating percussion tapestry alongside Rudolph.

After the shifting, energetic, and expertly rendered “Emergence”, the longest piece on the record, “Whirl” brings the recording to a conclusion, proliferating a sort of groovy mantra implanted by Rudolph’s sintir and featuring Drake’s frame drum and vocals, as well as Liebman’s penetrating soprano exclamations.

The trio immerses us into their creative sonic bubble where fearless sounds may whether anchor you to Earth’s foundations or make you travel well above the clouds.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Flux ► 04 - Formless Form ► 06 - Whirl


Gebhard Ullmann's Basement Research - Impromptus and Other Short Works

Label: WhyPlayJazz, 2019

Personnel - Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Steve Swell: trombone; Julian Arguelles: baritone saxophone; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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The avant-jazz forays engineered by German saxophonist/clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann are, per usual, excitingly strenuous and worth to dive into. The most recent release of his esteemed project Basement Research, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is called Impromptus and Other Short Works, featuring Ullmann on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet alongside a quartet of compatible accomplices: trombonist Steve Swell, baritonist Julian Arguelles, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

Despite its title, “Gospel” is not an effusively happy tune of faith and devotion, rather feeling like a deep-rooted band march. Melodically conducted by trombone, the tune has the taciturn tones of the baritone sax bestowing extra consistency. Its calm intensity, illustrated by amiable folk touches in a Frisell kind of way, is transferred to “Kleine Figuren”, where the horn players, by turns, deliver their statements over an unremitting harmonic progression.

29 Shoes” makes us dance at the sound of its swinging short theme, suggesting a free-bop ride in the vicinity of “Fascinating Rhythm”. The pulsations rise and shine, combust, and then cool down, ending up in collective cacophonies while relying on both Cleaver’s lucid rhythmic maneuvers and Niggenkemper’s pedals to create tension.

The hook-filled “Almost Twenty-Eight” is an avant-garde delight with a virtuosic integration of written and improvised parts. Feel the power that comes from the burning solos and discover the adaptability of a rhythm section that knows exactly which moves to make for the sake of dynamics.

Six extemporary pieces get to showcase the musicians’ limber technique and spontaneous creativity. Both “Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5” and “Lines - Impromptu #2” display melodic ideas occasionally delivered in unison. They are quickly scattered in other directions or dissolved in calmer passages. In the case of the former piece, awesomely introduced by alto sax and trombone, we have the growling baritone infecting the scene after a few carefree interventions by the collective. In turn, the latter composition brims with expressive, groovy lines and colorful drumming patterns that take the form of simple cymbal scratches and rattles on the final section. Bowed bass vibratos also contribute, giving some support to Swell’s trombone manifesto.

The ceremonial “Impromptu #1” shows a predilection for deep notes, yet Ullmann’s eloquent tenor sax infuses some Eastern-flavored half steps over the modal changes, giving it the aspect of a spiritual song. “Sticks - Impromptu #4” directs the spotlight to Cleaver, who dilates his chops behind the drum kit with confidence, whereas “For Jim - Impromptu #6” starts as a rubato lament, but evolves into a waltz freshened up by a nice percussive flow with Latin traces.

This is a successful, enjoyable effort from a band that, knowing exactly where they want to go, has the intuition plus technical means to create winning music every step of the way.

Garde  A-

Garde A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5 ► 03 - Impromptu #1 ► 11- Almost Twenty-Eight


Larry Ochs / Nels Cline / Gerald Cleaver - What Is To Be Done

Label: Clean Feed, 2019

Personnel - Larry Ochs: saxophone; Nels Cline: electric guitar; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

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If you want to figure out how music can be so ferocious and intimate at the same time, you should try What Is To Be Done, a compulsory trio record featuring saxophonist Larry Ochs, guitarist Nels Cline, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album brings a special motivation since it marks the 500th release of the Lisbon-based avant-jazz imprint Clean Feed.

The three musicians have been gigging together for quite some time but never had recorded before as a group. Saxophonist and guitarist were temporary partners in the Rova’s Electric Ascension bands, while Cleaver records with Cline for the first time, taking the opportunity to tighten the musical bond with Ochs after their duo album Songs of the Wild Cave (RogueArt, 2018).

They let the music breathe in the introductory section of the mercurial “Outcries Rousing”, where we hear elongated, electrified guitar chords sustaining a bashful saxophone. Moments later, Ochs wallows in a rasping rumpus with just Cleaver’s magnetic backbeat underneath. Even when Cline joins again, causing a darned detonation of acid-rock and proto-funk, the musicians find their own space, stretching their imagination to reinforce the collective’s integrity. A rare dark atmospheric passage seems to motivate Cline to subvert the sonic milieu. He dishes out twangy, spasmodically electro strokes synced with methodical percussive thumps. This segment evolves into an avalanche of sound created by continual noise guitar, fraught and resilient saxophone trajectories delineated with dark tones, and the catchy, athletic pulses from Cleaver. He is a fantastic rhythm sculptor, who also excels in the following structural block marked by prog-rock invention and electronica slipperiness. Running over 20 minutes, there’s a lot going on here, and the trio even stops by power-metal territories before Ochs detours toward East, throwing in sumptuous, Arabic-flavored phrases.

A Pause, a Rose” is initially tinged with folk influences, affected by cascades of draggy electronic effects, and ultimately buoyed up by a lovely, fragmented trippy rhythm that produces glorious results with the guitar and soprano sax atop.

Like the opening track, “Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend” goes above 20 minutes, relying on the intense capacity of communication between the trio members, who work from many different angles. Exhibiting seamless transitions while pummeling with impressive force, this track includes relentless primitive rhythms, eerie drones, agonizing groans and spiraling phrases on the saxophone, and a variety of guitar textures comprising serene loopy vibes, loud spiky liberations, grungy tautness, and psych-rock stabs.

This is a tiny treasure of a disc, where you find no subterfuges and every section becomes a fresh discovery.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Outcries Rousing ► 03 - Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend


Steph Richards - Take The Neon Lights

Label: Birdwatcher Records, 2019

Personnel – Steph Richards: trumpet, flugelhorn; James Carney: piano; Sam Minaie: bass; Andrew Munsey: drums.

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Following up a knotty experimental debut album in which electronic and percussive components played essential roles, rising star trumpet player Steph Richards returns with an outstanding sophomore disc. Having New York City as backdrop and named after some of her favorite poems, the eight tracks on Take The Neon Lights were acoustically shaped in the company of pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer Andrew Munsey. The four artists pour a great deal of feeling into each tune as they tour musical paths with sincerity and courage. The trumpeter, a practitioner of Butch Morris’ conduction language, has collaborated with jazz greats such as Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton, as well as iconic indie rock bands like Talking Heads and Pixies.

Take The Neon Lights and Wear a Crown” is sonically rich and Richards gets plenty of mileage from pure, contrasting timbres, extended techniques, and verbal accentuations. There’s depth of feel in every note she plays, whether round or spiky, and in the aftermath of an intense rhythmic commotion, the band adopts a more reflective posture, veiling the scenario with subtle musical shadings.

Producing a different sort of sparkle, “Brooklyn Machine” thrives with mechanical-like automation in the rhythm, yet the pace varies along the way. The piece suggests a happy marriage between psych-rock and manic electronica with dialoguing horn lines at its center.

Time And Grime” incorporates trumpet punctuation, prepared and conventional piano playing, and some whirling and growling moments of pure sensory pleasure. It also shows the band’s propensity for probing texture with a wide sense of synchronization and unity. The same philosophy is put into practice on “Rumor of War”, whose abstract platform, launched by cackling muted trumpet, subdued piano notes, and deep percussion, gradually reshapes into lyrical.

Extremely satisfying, “Skull Of Theaters” allowed me to find pathos and experience some nostalgia in its refreshing crossing between old and new jazz. The music takes tentative directions as it progresses, providing us with moments of hope, exuberance, and some humor, mostly thanks to Carney’s livelier intervention. It ends peacefully, being immediately followed by “Stalked By Tall Buildings”, where the competent rhythm section, whether operating under agitated or calm environments, creates propitious conditions for Richards’ inventive stretches. An attentive listener won’t have trouble in detecting odd ways of swinging, a slick facility in changing dynamics, and spectacular details in the rhythm department.

At once erudite and powerful, Richards’ new body of work takes us to places of avant-jazz merit where ambiguity and tension are created with open-mindedness, subtlety, and finesse. There’s definitely good music here, in sufficient quantity to keep the listeners engrossed in what’s going on.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Take The Neon Lights ► 02 - Brooklyn Machine ► 07 - Stalked By Tall Buildings


David Torn / Tim Berne / Ches Smith - Sun of Goldfinger

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel – David Torn: guitar, live-looping, electronics; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Ches Smith: drum set, percussion, tanbou.

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Sun of Goldfinger is an outstanding, explorative trio composed of David Torn on guitar, live-looping, and electronics; Tim Berne on alto saxophone; and Ches Smith on drums, electronics, and tanbou. The group first played together in 2010 when Torn accepted Berne’s invitation to play a trio gig in Brooklyn, an event that got the guitarist very well impressed with the inventiveness of Smith.

Let me just start by telling you that the three-song album presented here is a must-have for fans of new music, allowing elements of jazz, rock, and avant-garde to blend under scrupulously burning arrangements and engrossing impromptu creations.

Torn’s “Spartan Before Hit It” is the central piece on the record, a modern symphonic marvel in every aspect that thrives with the addition of guitarists Ryan Ferreira and Mike Bagetta, super keyboardist Craig Taborn, and the strings of Scorchio Quartet, which contributes with two violins, a cello, and a viola. The song, tranquilly cinematic in its first minutes, has a rich piano underlying it and is ignited through a solid compound of saxophone-guitar exclamations, later turned into red-hot masses of sound, and a fancy rhythm that lies in-between the primitive African and the ecstatic Brazilian. The electronic effects are tastefully integrated and never feel as outsider elements. Surrounding, organic sounds penetrate deeply into our heads, extending emotions through a bright light before entering into a chilly, drone-dominant phase that paralyzes and bewilders. The autumnal landscapes are then reintegrated, with Torn’s folk gestures warming it up.

It’s phenomenal to see how the structural discipline and adventurous freedom work so well together, also prevailing on the two other spontaneous tracks. You’ll find three creative individuals speaking in their own languages and fusing different elements to conjure a unique collective atmosphere that unveils all their musical intelligence. They are master colorists working from different angles of time and space.

Eye Meddle” combines guitar chords seasoned with beautifully atonal flavors, loops of several frequencies, odd percussion, and resilient grid-like sax lines that can sound furious and elastic. Halfway, look for the intoxicating psych-rock scenario mounted with a groovy hip-hop flavor running underneath. Hallucinating, this trip still offers a distorted guitar solo over a vibe-infused funky rhythm and cyclic buzzing drones emitted by guitar and saxophone. Nothing is out of place and the sound is fascinating.

Concluding the album, “Soften The Blow” starts off like poetry in motion, serenading us with passive dark tones. Wavy chordal twang and measured electronic fluxes are part of the game. The conversion to chaos happens when Torn inflames his guitar with a mix of distortion and delay in a rock-centric obsession, Berne dives into extravagant in-and-out work, and Smith uses nimble syncopation to produce a snarly pulsation.

Sun of Goldfinger is pure teamwork and nothing short of remarkable. Their unmissable debut album is powerful, it grabs you hard and you rise with it.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Spartan Before Hit It ► 03 - Soften The Blow


Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield

Label: Northern Spy Records, 2019

Personnel – Nate Wooley: trumpet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Susan Alcorn: pedal steel; Ryan Sawyer: drums.

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American trumpeter-improviser Nate Wooley writes cleverly configured music for a new experimental ensemble featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson, pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, and drummer Ryan Sawyer, who doubles on vocals. All three compositions on Columbia Icefield (the album was titled for the largest area of interconnected glaciers in the Rocky Mountains) run between 10 and 20 minutes. The quirky quartet builds structural blocks according to Wooley’s arrangements, in a demonstration of versatility and imagination. The bandleader pictures the inaccessible ice field as a metaphor of man’s relationship to nature, many times suggesting sonic mystery.

Lionel Trilling” starts off with concurrent guitar ostinatos filled with acerbic atonal intervals and subtle chromatic shifts, a relentless cadence sustained by a sort of obsessive thrust. As the tune progresses, surprising rhythms erupt, bringing Sawyer’s unpredictable drumming to the forefront. You must wait around for controlled moments of chaos as well as intervals of reflective stillness. Both invite us to picture vast hyperborean landscapes in our minds. Rasping, vibrating slides on the guitar and vocal effects help to magnify the milieu, which, near the final, shapes into a waltzing, electronic-like passage with rhythmic patterns atop.

Refraining the dynamics, the group embraces a certain languidness for most of the duration of “Seven in the Wood”. Alcorn and Halvorson combine their quirky sonorities, weaving a serene tapestry over which Wooley pronounces crisp lines with descriptive properties. Sawyer creates uncertainty in his interventions, and the reverent care for nature seems to emerge from a solemn folk source. This hushed instrumentation lingers until Halvorson turns on distortion and Sawyer takes his drums to thunderbolt heights for a torsional indie-rock flutter.

The title “With Condolences” doesn’t mislead, considering that the music resembles a requiem. However, on occasion, the dismalness is cut out by the tribulation that results from layered instrumental entanglements. Sawyer’s narration is done in conformity with the tenebrous understructure.

The music orchestrated by Wooley might not move a mountain, but has the power to shake it.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Seven in the Wood ► 03 - With Condolences


Matthew Shipp Trio - Signature

Label: ESP Disk, 2019

Personnel - Matthew Shipp: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Newman Taylor Baker: drums.

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Pianist Matthew Shipp reunites with trio mates, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, to bring his bewitching signature into a new album, the follow-up to the magnificent Piano Song (Thirsty Ear, 2017). This collection of inventive tunes, precisely called Signature, exhibits the title song as the opening sentence. It's a peaceful exploration of melodic lines crafted with intervallic curiosity in the middle register and liberally anchored by left-hand conductions. Bass and drums sneak in nicely and softly, tinging the scenario with an opalescent luster without ever overriding the pianist’s moves.

Flying Saucer” starts off with some agitation in the lower register of the keyboard. As Shipp moves up to adjacent octaves, Bisio percolates a compulsive, entangling, rapid-fire sequence of notes that augments the song's textural density. Simultaneously, Baker varies the rhythm, opting for what better suits the moment. The zealous interplay perseveres with verbal fluidity until reaching a playful, hypnotically paced finale.

Ruminative classical cadences, harmonic ambiguity, and rhythmic tension distinguish “The Way”. Here, you can trace Shipp's deep notes systematically articulated with percussive spirit, and then enjoy a portion of playfulness in the course of a few sequences that push you into some runaway train heading to some darker place. This dazzling activity within indistinct structures is an archetype of the trio.

Revolving around an eloquent riff whose source could be the classical genre or a Broadway show, “Zo #2” distributes puzzling note choices over the warp and woof created by a sturdy bass-drums coalition. Playing with similar elements, “Speech of Form” is considerably more enigmatic, fenced in its own dreamy, modern classical universe. Different yet still fitting, “Stage Ten” adopts a conventional swinging drive in the foundation, supporting concentric explorations with prepared piano.

Alluding to Chick Corea, “This Matrix” runs over 16 minutes, spinning with rhythmic fulgor and glistening with creative patterns and boppish lines soaked in extravagance and chromaticism. It comes with a bass monologue and turns out charmingly lyrical in its last section.

Shipp remains faithful to freer forms of expression and Signature gives you another chance to dive into the magical complexity of his resourceful music.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - The Way ► 08 - Zo #2 ► 10 - The Matrix


Wadada Leo Smith - Rosa Parks: Pure Love

Label: TUM Records, 2019

Personnel – Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Min Xiao-fen: voice, pipa; Karen Parks: voice; Carmina Escobar: voice; Shalini Vijayan: violin; Mona Tian: violin; Andrew McIntosh: viola; Ashley Walters: cello; Ted Daniel: trumpet; Hugh Ragin: trumpet; Graham Haynes: cornet; Pheeroan akLaff: drum set; Hardedge: electronics.

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The creativity of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, a dominant figure of the avant-jazz scene, boasts unlimited musical boundaries, crispness of sound, and resolute leadership. Besides mirroring these capabilities in his attractive way of playing, Smith is a conscious man and activist.

His new outing, Rosa Parks: Pure Love - an oratorio of seven songs - consists in a set of triumphal hymns presented like an extended suite and arranged according to his unique style and vision. Paying tribute to the iconic civil rights activist mentioned in the title, the album features a double quartet, three female vocalists, a drummer and an electronics wizard, as well as samplings of recordings by Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Steve McCall, and Smith. It’s a philosophical type of narrative where the bandleader experiments his own musical language, Ankhrasmation, on top of the traditional oratorio form.

Segments and tunes are grouped conveniently, and “Prelude” opens the recording like a reveille, calling the attention for the civil rights through elongated trumpet notes in unison that soon take us to “Vision Dance 1: Resistance and Unity”. The latter’s tonal magnitude bursts in a magisterial chamber phenomenon. I appoint these dances as the most absorbing parts on the album, the ones with more focus on improvisation.

Vision Dance 2”, for instance, flexes and contorts, pulled by poised rhythmic undercurrents and electronic noises. Fragmented in the beat and slightly disjointed in the articulation, the tune aggregates excerpts from Braxton’s “Composition 8D” and McCall’s rousing drum work on Air’s “No. 2”. While “Vision Dance 3” is a chamber feast sketched with pre-recorded percussion, multiple muted trumpets, and flickering violin waves, “Vision Dance 4” is bookended by trumpet duets that show the bandleader playing alongside Graham Haynes.

The importance of the stringed instruments in shaping the momentum of the tunes can be observed throughout. Other highlights are “Song 3: Change It!”, which features an excerpt of Jenkins’ violin (“Keep On Trucking, Brother”), Karen Parks’ potent voice, and the inspired percussive jolts of Pheeroan akLaff; “Song 5: No Fear”, the only one featuring lyrics by Rosa Parks; and “The Known World: Apartheid”, where Smith is featured as a soloist.

Mounted as an Oriental folk song, “Song 1: The Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days: Fire” has Min Xiao-fen singing with operatic enunciation while playing the pipa with earnestness. The melodic sound of the violin confers it a yearning sweetness.

With quizzical parts and curious editing, this is a record with both polished and rugged chamber surfaces, feeling more earthly rooted when compared with the stunning America’s National Parks (TUM, 2016). Even less impactful than the latter, Rosa Parks: Pure Love breathes confidence and deserves attention for its musical and political statements.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Vision Dance 1 ► 06 - Vision Dance 2 ► 07 - Song 3: Change It!


DarkMatterHalo - Discernible Grid

Label: Hardedge, 2018

Personnel – Hardedge: sound design; Brandon Ross: guitar; Doug Wieselman: guitar.

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Known for its utterly unique experimentalism and obscurity of sound, DarkMatterHalo is a collaborative effort by sound designer Hardedge and guitarists Brandon Ross and Doug Wieselman. Ambling through tapestries of abstract clutter, Discernible Grid is their newest program of six explorative tracks.

Sunk in a pool of well-coordinated electronic effects that include water sounds, oft-repeated chirps, bizarre rattles and grainy scratches, bell chimes, and futuristic noises and vibes, “Sub-urban” maintains the mysterious spaciousness until the end in the company of some eerie guitar work. Delving into a strange, brooding muse, the trio makes us wonder where we are taken, especially when the guitar activity intensifies to create moderate psychedelia.

Remaining torpid and trippy for most of the time, “Gasping Silence” embarks on the tidal ebbs and flows of experimental ambient. The flickering, sometimes murmuring guitars ease the mood, but don’t remove the deep abstraction of the setting.

More palpable in texture and direction, “In Difference” renders a combination of droning vibes and chiming guitar glow in a twitchy crescendo that also incorporates suitable percussive sounds. This dark ritual creates suspense and will leave you under a spell for the time it runs.

If “The Final Tear” is a techno/trance exercise disrupted by a prolonged gust of noise pollution, “Stop Watching” proposes outlandish conversations with plenty of effects, crisscrossing ostinatos, rusty chords, and distorted notes that can be pulled into harmonics or fall into a downward spiral.

Closing out the album, “Fathom” incorporates atmospheric fingerpicking to conceptualize a noir country-ish scenario with occasional bluesy haziness. The music then metamorphoses, exposing electric guitar sounds, in its distorted and pointillistic modes, over a braindance backdrop.

Sidestepping conventions through uncompromising manipulations of sound, this is an intriguing project that will mainly appeal to open-minded listeners.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 – In Difference ► 05 - Stop Watching ► 06 - Fathom


VWCR - Noise Of Our Time

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel - Ken Vandermark: saxophone, clarinet; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Tom Rainey: drums.

Noise of Our Time is the debut album by VWCR, a recently formed quartet with some of the most formidable avant-gardists out there – the notably articulated Ken Vandermark on saxophone and clarinet, the enigmatic Nate Wooley on trumpet, the captivating Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, and the trustworthy Tom Rainey on drums. With the exception of the latter, each member brought three compositions to the recording.

The band’s creative vein and improvisational flair are immediately felt on Courvoisier’s “Check Point”, which prompts Vandermark to embark on wild activity, having patterned melodic conductions running underneath. When Wooley steps ahead, he is offered wonderful support by the nonpareil bass-less rhythm team.

Vandermark’s “Track and Field” comes to life in a brooding, droning legato. An apparent erratic direction leads to consistent horn counterpoint, prepared piano attacks, and mind-boggling pulses from Rainey’s quirkily tuned drums. Although the piano work is crucial here, none of the musicians claim the center because they are already there, contributing with their own insight. The tune ends with sparse drum beats counterpointing compulsive horn accents.

Sparks” is one of my favorite pieces and a brilliant invention from Courvoisier’s musical mind. It features bright unisons, intersecting improvisations, and synchronized movements loaded with elegance and playfulness.

The vital flame that envelops “Tag” is initially lit by Rainey’s skittering tom-toms and cymbal work, but then the spotlight rotates, firstly concentrating on Vandermark, who blows out deft phrases with extraordinary intensity, then on Courvoisier, always edgy without losing that soft gliding appeal, and finally Wooley, whose abstract impromptu incorporates sketchy lines and terse remarks. The trumpeter wrote “Songs Of Innocence” with nearly philosophical sagacity, creating a fascinating framework where the suspenseful and the dreamy combine. The mood is perfect for Vandermark’s fast rides on clarinet, having a more serene Wooley contributing to the continual energy flow.

Despite the silences and fragmented phrasing, “Truth Through Mass Individuation” is rich in tonal colors. It has something impulsive in its ways, spilling out a panoply of musical figures that dance either in frictional counterpoint or amiable partnership. If Rainey’s snare activity marches on with rattling effervescence here, then on “Simple Cut”, the divergent yet fittingly accomplished closing track, he adopts a low-key posture, a circumstantial condition shared by his bandmates.

Traversing challenging paths together and exploring them with distinctive class, these four experienced players are at the peak of their powers in an unmissable avant-jazz session to revisit many times. 

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Sparks ► 05 - Tag ► 06 - Songs of Innocence


Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - After Caroline

Label: Northern Spy Records, 2018

Personnel - Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Jason Roebke: acoustic bass; Mike Pride: drums.

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Chicago bass clarinetist Jason Stein has been putting a lot of effort in the command of his reed instrument, from which he unearths mind-boggling sounds ranging from innocuously undisturbed to gutturally wild. His long-running power-trio Locksmith Isidore hadn’t put a record out since 2008, but a few months ago the group released After Caroline, a versatile work where they expand and contract rhythms and textures with a broad sense of adventure.

The album opens and closes with sturdily groovy pieces. If the brawny opener, “As Many Chances As You Need”, composes a rock-imbued setting saturated with scorching lines, multiphonic cries, and altissimo squeals, then the closing title, “We Gone”, emits a raucousness in the true spirit of rockers, incorporating catchy melody over the winning rhythmic drive offered by bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride. The latter distributes resolute chops, filling the transitions with lively energy. Yet, his posture totally redirects toward textural softness on “You Taught Me How To Love”, a melodious, poised poem propelled by brushes.

Conjuring up the styles of Monk and Steve Lacy, “Ekhart Park” bounces resolutely with fragmented boppish lines and complementary drum stretches along the way, landing on a robust bass solo before the restitution of the short theme. This song feels somewhat related to Coltrane’s “26-2”, the album’s sole cover. Heavily steeped in the hard-swinging bop tradition, this celebrated number doesn’t renounce to spirited individual statements.

Strenum” and “Walden’s Thing” have little in common. Whereas the former is a purely spontaneous trio creation that feels at once minimal and abstract, the latter, tumultuous and vociferous in its narrative, is a rhythmically dense experiment written for the late saxophonist Donald Walden.

Through After Caroline, Stein and his trio mates claim a higher position within the freer side of the jazz spectrum. Their key elements are mellifluous angularity, a broad sense of groove, and the substantial thrills of the ride.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - As Many Chances As You Need ► 06 - Walden’s Thing ► 08 - We Gone