Lucian Ban / Alex Simu - Free Fall

Label: Sunnyside, 2019

Personnel – Lucian Ban: piano; Alex Simu: clarinet, bass clarinet.


Pianist Lucian Ban and clarinetist Alex Simu have many things in common. They are both of Romanian descent and share symbiotic musical aptitudes with each other, at the same time that reveal an admirable availability to dive deep into an unselfish otherworldliness of diaphanous enchantment.

The outstanding opening tune on Free Fall, their first collaborative work, confirms what I just said. “Quiet Storm” was penned for multi-reedist Jimmy Giuffre, whose trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow inspired the music on this album. Sensitive and prayerful, the heavenly melodies navigate the simple harmonization, also a carrier of exceptional delicacy and touching beauty. The same posture is followed on “Jesus Maria”, an early Carla Bley composition that was first recorded by and better associated with the Giuffre Trio. Although unexpanded in tone and texture, you will find infinite compassion expressed in the suave movements.

Unearthing an improvisatory urgency, the title track brims with free, instinctive interplay, in which poised piano grooves and helical clarinet lines work together to achieve a dynamic combustion. The static shininess of “Mysteries”, another free piece, is diverted by a mildly stirring passage initiated halfway. At that point, the pianist opted to deliver pointed low-pitched jabs mixed with swirls on the middle-register, keeping pace with the clarinetist’s swift runs.

Simu claimed the spotlight during a solo bass clarinet presentation titled “Near”. He also co-wrote “The Pilgrim” with Folker Oosting, a piece initially marked by popping sounds while still denoting a classical innuendo refined by a bolero-ish vibe. Gradually, the blues takes shape, triumphing in the final section.

The duo brings the album to a close with two Giuffre numbers: “Cry, Want”, a scrupulous, bluesy lamentation, and “Used To Be”, a sort of blithe piano song that serves as a vehicle for Simu’s melodic expeditions.

Moving through wide and confined spaces with ease, Ban and Simu operate at the fringes of jazz and classical, communicating pleasant feelings as they search and create with abandon.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Quiet Storm ► 02 - Free Fall ► 07 – Cry, Want

Mat Maneri, Evan Parker, Lucian Ban - Sounding Tears

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup: Mat Maneri: viola; Evan Parker: saxophones; Lucian Ban: piano.

Sounding Tears is a nebulous musical session devised by the improvisational masters Mat Maneri, Evan Parker and Lucian Ban, American violist, British saxophonist, and American pianist of Romanian descent, respectively.

While Maneri teamed up recently with saxophonist Tony Malaby and cellist Daniel Levine on New Artifacts (Clean Feed, 2017), another abstract trio work, the prolific Parker followed a similar path on the astonishingly atmospheric As The Wind (Psi, 2016), recorded with percussionist Mark Nauseff and lithophonist Toma Gouband. As for Lucian Ban, he, too, released an album called Songs From Afar (Sunnyside, 2017) with his Elevation quartet, which comprises saxophonist Abraham Burton, bassist John Hebért, and drummer Eric McPherson. Maneri also played as a guest on half of the tracks.

As expected, the music of this trio arrives on the spur of the moment, acquiring random shapes and apparently flowing without a fixed structure.

On “Blue Light”, we have Parker’s uninterrupted enunciations secured by muted viola sounds and low-pitched piano notes, both working as a percussive obbligato. A lethargic disposition embraces us in the beginning of “Da da da”, whose uncanny vibes shift into an odd dance of violin and sax while the piano remains actively involved in the discussion.

Neglecting tempo and forsaking harmony, “The Rule of Twelves” finds Maneri and Parker playing an avant-chamber duet immersed in ambiguity. Also rendered in duet, but this time featuring Ban and Parker, “This!” takes a conversational path that, despite experimental, feels more graspable than the previous compositions.
Afterward, it's Ban alone, who shines with a solo piece, “Polaris”, being also preponderant on the enigmatic “Blessed”, in which his penetrating low notes superimpose to the sparse high-pitched lines. The setting he creates is perfect for Maneri’s microtonal approach and Parker’s uncompromised strays.

The record’s two closing tracks are lenient yet contrasting in nature. If “Paralex” evolves into a compulsive manifesto of disordered small flurries and spasms, “Hymn” is the closest the band can get from a song format and the most touching and ear-pleasing tune on the record. 

Sounding Tears is a one-of-a-kind experience. It can be a journey to the ends of a remote universe or a philosophical exploration about the measureless weight of some weird microorganism. It will all depend on the receptivity of your own senses.

        Grade  B+

        Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
04 – Blessed ► 05 –This! ► 10 – Hymn