Federico Ughi - Transoceanico

Label: 577 Records, 2019

Personnel - Rachel Musson: tenor saxophone; Adam Lane: double bass; Federico Ughi: drums.

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Transoceanico is a vinyl/digital release from Italian-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Federico Ughi, who leads a powerful trio composed of like-minded explorers: British saxophonist Rachel Musson and American double bassist Adam Lane.

This sturdy free jazz session celebrates the 20th anniversary of Ughi’s very first album, The Space Within, which consisted of duets with saxophonists and was released in the UK while he was living there. It kicks off with “So Far, So Good”, a dense yet never crowded exercise where the group always finds a consistent direction. With the experienced Lane suggesting harmony by plucking more than one string at a time, Musson emphasizes rhythmic ideas that suddenly dissolve and then return for further development. Concurrently, Ughi’s drumming gains impetus to the point of becoming fervently spanking.

On “Segnale Di Via Libera”, bassist and drummer weave a tight rhythmic web adorned with on-spot cymbal splashes. In a preliminary phase, the saxophonist blows fragmented phrases, which evolve into raucous yet expressive cacophonies with the time. The trio heartily reunites for a moderate final stage, right after Ughi’s solo based on groovy rudiments.

Blues Apart” embraces a deceptive hush and calmness. A tense atmosphere invades the scenario, especially created by Lane, who infuses heavy bowed bass interjections. This piece differs from “Emergency Exit”, whose mysterious tones and tense pyramids of sound are taken on during the first minutes. Here, Lane exhibits a sort of coiled phrasing that ends uprooted, while Musson embarks on surging cacophonic gushes that burst with energy and intensity. This is a showcase for her noisy contortions wrapped in dark timbral shades. Ughi keeps the entire thing moving on the borderline with restless chops that magnify the music’s rough edges.

The drummer starts alone “Sky Ramblin” and speaks for more than a couple of minutes. His language includes effervescent cymbal legato and meticulous, reverberant tom-tom drives. We can also identify a droning melancholy coming from the bowed bass and a less aggressive approach by the saxophonist, who goes vibrato with flickering pitch variations.

The trio pours out their souls with a rough sound, embracing somber timbres and advocating free speeches that go beyond the far side of tonality. Transoceanico doesn't open up new avenues, but if you wish to continually remain in the 'outside' world, this is a valid option.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - So Far, So Good ► 03 - Blues Apart ► 06 - Sky Ramblin


Rodrigo Amado - A History of Nothing

Label: Trost Records, 2018

Personnel - Rodrigo Amado: tenor saxophone; Joe McPhee: soprano saxophone, pocket trumpet; Kent Kessler: double bass; Chris Corsano: drums.

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Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, a mainstay of the European free jazz panorama, is recognized for blowing his tenor with logic and authority, frequently in trio and quartet settings. He was also a member of the adventurous Lisbon Improvisation Players group, with which he recorded three albums for the Clean Feed label.

A History of Nothing, his debut on the Austrian Trost Records, features five improv-centric tunes authored and sculpted by the same quartet that made This Is Our Language (Not Two Records, 2012) a reference in the genre. Namely, Joe McPhee on soprano saxophone and pocket trumpet, Kent Kessler on double bass, and Chris Corsano on drums. 

Legacies” opens the session with strong chamber intonations, driven by gentle bowed bass moves and occasional cymbal screeches. The midpoint marks a change with Kessler providing a bit more conduction through punctilious plucks, and Corsano getting increasingly active behind the drum kit while the horn section creates a free state of harmony.

The deliberative "A History of Nothing" starts with a cacophonous tug-of-war between saxophones, triggering responsive reactions from the rhythm section. It’s like a push-pull game of thrones where nobody wins, replete with raw, exhilarating collisions and powerful individual expressions. Bass and drums weave a supportive if impenetrable rhythmic net that stimulates Amado and McPhee to exhibit heftiness and intricacy in their explorative endeavors. At that moment, we can see the ensemble in full flight.

The mixture of mordant and airy sounds from pocket trumpet initiates the operations on “Wild Flower”, but McPhee soon switches to soprano sax, delivering racing phrases over the foundational tandem priorly established. Amado then chips in, employing discernible folk-ish lines with a rollicking grasp and striking timbre, evoking Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and sometimes Fred Anderson in his musical descriptions. It felt good hearing him digging something more melodic in contrast with the fierce rhythmic approach of his co-workers. McPhee joins again by the end, for a victorious, snappy final round of interactive play.

Establishing a strange communication, the quartet finishes this adventurous journey with “The Hidden Desert”, whose dark mood and sedative hypnotics take the listener to a brooding cinematic realm. However, I could not fail to mention the homage to McPhee on “Theory of Mind II (for Joe)”, marked as a CD-only track. The intense combination of mallet drumming and bass perambulations vary in intensity with Amado opting not to bring all his impetuosity in his first improvisatory incursion. He returns later with a turbulent foray, though.

Amado’s quartet is in peak form, exerting another biting album that comprehends both volcanic and ruminative sonic layers. Just let the freedom touch you while enjoying this finely calibrated commotion.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
02 - A History of Nothing ► 03 - Theory of Mind II (for Joe) ► 04 - Wild Flower


François Carrier / Michel Lambert - Out of Silence

Label: NoBusiness Records, 2018

Personnel - François Carrier: alto saxophone, Chinese oboe; Michel Lambert: drums.

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Canadian saxophonist François Carrier, a dauntless improviser, has been associated mostly with his country fellow drummer Michel Lambert, whether in duo or trio formats. His discography is rich in valuable collaborations with likes such as Paul Bley, Bobo Stenson, Dewey Redman, Tomasz Stanko, and many others. In the case of Lambert, the idiosyncratic percussive style he follows led him to recordings with David Torn, Dominic Duval, Ellery Eskelin, and Barre Phillips.

Even if the rapport between the two musicians is undeniable, Out of Silence, their new outing on NoBusiness Records, doesn't reach the immediacy of the commendable Freedom Is Space For The Spirit (FMR, 2016), an album released last year with pianist Alexey Lapin.

The stretching free-form improvisations begin with the title track, where multiple interrogations and exclamations are thrown in at different speeds and with varied tones. Despite the imperturbable percussive flow, they evolve naturally to denser textures with Carrier’s angular phrases ranging from fierce and tribal to casually conversational. In contrast, during the brief moments he switches to the Chinese oboe, a weeping intonation takes care of providing an alternative mood. 

A Thousand Birds” starts with high-pitched whistles swirling around the edges, rapidly slipping into deep multiphonic howls and growls. Lambert’s dry thumps and cymbal arrhythmias fluctuate according to the desired dynamics, and the Coltrane influence is perceptive in some fragments of Carrier’s manifestations. 

With ascendant melodic movements that reminded me the repetitive organ anthem played at certain key points of the NBA games, “For No Reason” feels like an unorthodox march containing asymmetric heartbeats. It unfolds and progresses toward a faster, busy finale.

Carrier tosses discernible melody at both extremities of “Soul Play”, while on “When the Hearts Starts Singing” he introduces some patterned phrasing while advancing at the sound of multi-timbral percussion. By the end, the tune takes a fanfare-like shape with the Chinese oboe sounding almost like a Scottish bagpipe.

To close the album, the duo reserved us “Happy To You”, a fragmented version of the worldly recognized song "Happy Birthday to You".

Even lacking groove in its kinetic dynamics, there’s a palpable energy on Out Of Silence, an intermittently amusing record by two inveterate explorers.

       Grade  B-

       Grade B-

Favorite Records:
01 - Out Of Silence ► 02 - A Thousand Birds ► 05 - When the Hearts Starts Singing


Joe McPhee / Pascal Niggenkemper / Stale Solberg - Imaginary Numbers

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone, pocket trumpet; Pascal Niggenkemper: double bass; Stale Liavik Solberg: drums and percussion.

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Multi-reedist Joe McPhee, a respected artist of the New York free jazz movement, has been around for five decades, demonstrating that his procedures are filled with as much irreverence as freedom. Prolific and self-taught, he has been an influence for many adventurous musicians of multiple generations. 

Imaginary Numbers, his most recent album on the Lisbon-based label Clean Feed, comprises three free-form improvised pieces recorded live at Jack in Brooklyn on December 13th, 2015. The musical content bursts with high-caliber sounds exerted by his robust international trio, which features the German-French double bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and the Norwegian drummer Stale Liavik Solberg.

They start off with “I”, an extended piece with almost 24 minutes, where McPhee starts by sibilating, squeaking, and holding discussions on the pocket trumpet, while the drummer is kept busy with erratic rim shots, programmatic scraping, and wet snare tonalities that feel enchantingly adherent. Passing through different moods and rhythmic variations, the tune benefits from Niggenkemper's beautifully jagged textures, whether bowing enthusiastically or projecting dried bass mechanizations through consecutive athletic plucks. Taking advantage of the solid rhythmic alliance of his associates, McPhee unleashes rough-edged saxophone attacks, occasional cutting shrills, and even some easy melody that was particularly reserved for the beginning of his improvisation and the tune’s the last section.

If the latter piece lets us identify some phrasal twitches of Coltrane, the following one, entitled “A Supreme Love” (an obvious dedication to the ‘giant’ and his masterpiece A Love Supreme), sounds pretty suggestive with McPhee invoking his idol, but also following his own voice, hurling mighty sonic waves with a heavy timbre. The tune starts with a variety of percussive sounds, from chimes to screeches to bass grunts, becoming a rhythmically spunky workout along the way and ending in a phantasmagoric pool of wails and creaks. 

Zero” closes the session, gradually evolving from a quiet percussive setting into a tempestuous sprawling of rhythm and tonality defined by cacophonous sax assaults on top of a dense carpet weaved by bass and drums. It all becomes playful and temperate by the end.

With a titanic obstinacy for sound exploration and a virtuosic spontaneity to create tense atmospheres, this powerhouse trio channels bulky transferences of energy into our ears.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - I ► 02 - A Supreme Love (For John Coltrane)


Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn - Ljubljana

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Mats Gustafson: saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano.

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Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafson and American pianist Craig Taborn, two dauntless explorers with an accentuated inclination for avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, had never joined forces until the 2015 Slovenia Jazz Festival. 
That singular happening, a live duo performance completely improvised was turned into a two-long-track vinyl record, entitled Ljubljana, which is now available on the Portuguese label Clean Feed.

While this is the first move of the year for the prolific saxophonist, the highly in-demand pianist saw his magnificent album, Daylight Ghosts, coming out on the ECM label three months ago. 

The Eyes Moving Slowly”, the opening and lengthiest track at over 20 minutes, begins with Taborn’s dark combination of bass notes while Gustafson sneaks in with a few air blows. A few minutes later, the latter unleashes the beast in him, showing us the power of his baritone saxophone through vociferous deep-toned outcries that can be tied in with pain, pleasure, or fear. At this phase, Taborn embraces the macabre scenario by creating continuous murky textures of distinct intensities. The verbal fury is gradually mitigated, opening space to a punctilious pianism supported by single-note lines rather than wider chords. Simultaneously, Gustafson plays with timbres and explores sounds of various kinds. The tune ends up in an oddly disjointed dance.

The almost-18-minute “The Ears Facing the Fantasies” starts out through (un)geometric figures engendered by Taborn, who takes in Gustafson’s attacks with a ceaseless, self-ruling posture.
The saxophonist puts into practice a variety of extended techniques - his famous slap and flutter tonguing, roars, growls, and whistles. He complements all this with rapid-fire phrases and the sound of his own voice. Moods range from dense/grotesque to minimalistic/graceful.

The liberties arise with an opulent fervency, drawing intense musical moments that could make this record a hard nut to crack, especially if taken by someone whose taste falls out of the free jazz circuit.

         Grade  B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Track:
01 – The Eyes Moving Slowly


DKV Trio & The Thing - Collider

Ken Vandermark: reeds; Kent Kessler: bass; Hamid Drake: drums; Mats Gustafsson: reeds; Haker Flaten: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums. 

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Joining two of the most well-established free/avant-garde jazz trios of our times on the same recording can be simultaneously bold and risky. However, the idea is not a novelty for DKV Trio, which already teamed up with AALY Trio in Double or Nothing (2002) and Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love/Pupillo in Schl8hof (2013). 
In Collider, the undamaged, piercing sounds of DKV and The Thing trios merge, evincing a high compatibility without losing a bit of identity. None of the formations superimpose to the other, but rather combine efforts for striking us through their bracing sonic textures.

The American DKV Trio, active since 1996, has drummer Hamid Drake, bassist Kent Kessler, and multi-reedist Ken Vandermark as its pillars while the nordic The Thing, whose debut was in 2000, is composed of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Haker Flaten on bass, and Mats Gustafsson on reeds. 

Collaborations with individual musicians are not uncommon practices for the trios - DKV had saxophonist Fred Anderson and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris on their side; The Thing joined forces with vocalist Neneh Cherry and Sonic Youth’s singer-guitarist Thurston Moore. 
The three extended tracks of Collider, driven by fluent, improvised melodic interactions and insane rhythmic locomotion, were recorded live in 2015 at Manggha Hall in Krakow, Poland.

The opening tune, “Cards”, shows a top-notch sextet dropping wild cards on the table and winning us over with an upfront attitude that brings raucous sounds wrapped in hard-and-groovy bass-drums contractions and expansions. The energy can be felt in every section, where the expansive languages of free jazz and rock music cross with an upbeat power funk of colossal intensity. We have the perfect notion that there’s a multitude of creative possibilities for these wild cats.

Moving Map” is 24 minutes long and opens with two bowed basses and the clamant, high-pitched notes of Vandermark’s clarinet. They seem to be asking for Gustafsson’s tenor saxophone, inviting him to take part in the game. When that happens, the tune is immediately reshaped into an ultra-rapid rhythmic blast. Minutes later, it suffers another mutation, this time settling on a hypnotic African-style pulse with baritone ostinatos on top. A polyrhythmic dialogue between the drummers brings unexpected Latin aromas before the band returns to the relentless untamed spirit they are known for.

Left And Left Again” draws darker atmospheres on the account of the bassists’ sinister lines. In order to frame this picture, industrial rhythms are put up with the same vigorous collective improvisations atop.

The impactful Collider is a delight for any enthusiast of the modern creative jazz genre. This is what happens when six members with this level of technique and creativity team up. They punch you in the face while keeping you dancing at the same time. 

         Grade  A+

         Grade A+

Label: Not Two Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Cards ► 02 – Moving Map


Rich Halley / Carson Halley - The Wild

Rich Halley: tenor saxophone, wood flute; Carson Halley: drums.

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Rich Halley, a tenor saxophonist and composer born and based in Portland, is a confessed enthusiast of asymmetric compositions and an inveterate improviser whose approach ranges from mildly melodic to unruly powerful. 

Since 2011, he has released at least one album per year, most of them with his quartet known as Rich Halley 4, which includes trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed, and drummer Carson Halley, his son. The latter conceived the rhythmic structure in The Wild, a duo album with his father, released on Pine Eagle Records.
Last year, Rich decided to extend the band into a quintet, with the inclusion of multi-reedist and frequent collaborator Viny Golia. The resultant album, entitled The Outlier (Pine Eagle, 2016), was one of the most satisfying avant-garde works of the year, deserving a lot more exposure.

The Wild is a collection of eight free-form improvisations where father and son explore their interactive affinity with ample vision.
The first two tracks, “Wild Land” and “Progenitor”, take us to the universes of Coltrane and Ayler, bursting with forcefulness and often humor. In the latter, Carson modulates taut drum chops, culminating in a great solo moment, while Rich starts with a dark, low-pitched tone that, at intervals, changes to fleshy and sparkling.

The adjective wild can be perfectly applied to “Cursorial”, a piece where Rich explores sonic possibilities, phrasing vigorously on top of an uptempo beat well-marked by hi-hat and snare drum. Carson adorns it with revolutionary fills. I love how this tune ends.

The opulence of mutable African grooves drives Rich’s fiery saxophone throughout the disquieted “From Memory”. In turn, “The Stroll” vibrates with syncopated funk-rock pulses while evincing the audacity of the saxophonist who, despite freewheeling, doesn’t abstain from introducing tractable melodies. 

More reflective are “Fat Plane of the Sky”, which plays with silence and sound, and “The Old Ways”, which takes us to exotic and ancient countries through the sounds of Rich’s wood flute and Carson’s primitive approach.

The Wild serves as a showcase for father and son to explore multiple textures and timbres within a unique musical approach.
It’s always challenging to make saxophone and drums sound consistently good, but the Halleys felt at 'home', with sufficient space for their creative freedom.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Label: Pine Eagle Records, 2017
Favorite Tracks: 
02 – Progenitor ► 05 – Cursorial ► 07 – From Memory