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


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