Stefan Aeby Trio – The London Concert (Intakt Records)
Swiss pianist/composer Stefan Aeby’s new trio release The London Concert commences with “Shi”, an impressionistic Prelude to the Afternoon of Stefan of sorts: an amuse bouche for what later proves to have been a brilliantly-balanced meal. From there, the telepathic interplay that is a hallmark reserved for top-shelf piano trios becomes quite apparent.
Combinations of playful, deft, scrappy, and patient exchanges between drummer Michi Stulz and bassist André Pousaz drive forward and then reign in the proceedings while Aeby dazzlingly and gracefully juggles all manner of theme and variation, at times subtly and artfully augmenting his playing with Ableton’s electronic processing. This is a record that initially checks all the boxes for a fully satisfying listening experience and then immediately begs for another even deeper dive.
Günter Baby Sommer – Baby’s Party (Intakt Records)
Have you noticed that septuagenarians are getting it done in 2018? The jubilant spirit of freedom that fuels 77 year old master improviser, educator, composer, and percussionist Milford Graves is very much alive and well evidenced not only in his own infectious performances at last year’s Big Ears Festival, but also throughout the world of free and improvised music, and nowhere more profoundly than on Baby’s Party, the new release of 75 year old German improvisational drummer / vocalizer Günter Baby Sommer.
The aesthetic chemistry between Sommer and album cohort trumpeter Till Brönner is an absolute delight, not unlike a warm blanket in late autumn. The sometimes frisky, sometimes delicate musical tit for tat throughout this set traverses the history of improvisational alchemy, replete with entry points for any fan of music – no small task for two artists throwing down sounds on the fly.
Marc Ribot – Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Anti Records)
2018 being what it has become to anyone with a soul and a brain, it is far too easy to forget that there is still beauty and compassion in the world. Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 is a not-so-gentle reminder that, not only do some still care, but also that some will make noise about it until change follows. For this set of protest songs whose history spans the larger part of the 20th century and beyond, Ribot surrounds himself with disparate musical foils such as former boss Tom Waits, badass vocalist/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, rock vocalist Syd Straw, Mexican actress and performance artist Astrid Hadad, and many others…and to stirring effect.
To be sure, these are primarily accessible songs of all varieties of Americana, but in the singular hands of Ribot, they become something greater. Despite the substantial weight of much of the lyrical content, S.O.R. is effectively an unexpected letter from an old friend at just the right time, just to check in.
Sungjae Son – Near East Quartet (ECM Records)
The bass-less ensemble is a fascinating beast, and can go one of two ways: sink or swim. Seoul’s Near East Quartet led by composer, saxophonist, and clarinetist Sungjae Son undoubtedly goes in later direction…in Olympic fashion too, though theirs is less a brutish marathon and more a freestyle event. Like much other music on the ECM imprint, what the group of Son, guitarist Suwuk Chung, vocalist Yulhee Kim, and drummer Soojin Suh decide not to play/sing is of paramount importance: restraint, my personal favorite artistic quality, is the raison d‘être here.
Incorporating traditional Korean gugak musical elements, dirge-y rock grooves, majestic chromatic harmonies, as well as swing, the NEQ scratches a number of the same itches that another excellent bass-less group from the eastern hemisphere, Dirty Three, did. Clocking in at just less than 37 minutes, this gem leaves the listener wanting more, which is certainly one of greatest endorsements that can be given to a recording in 2018.
Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Other Side (ECM Records)
For Norwegian pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen, bassist Sigurd Hole, and drummer Jarle Vespestad, intentional breathing seems to be a key improvisational/compositional device: as the breath goes, so goes the music. Consequently, The Other Side is not so much about bold edicts delivered from on high, as it is about complex, if somewhat muted and/or obscured suggestions.
There is a deceptive folk-like simplicity and placidity that is persistent here, manifesting itself in a similar Scandinavian, less-is-more approach found among the ranks of the Rune Grammofon, NORCD, and Hubro rosters. In addition to inventive settings of traditional tunes and originals, there are three Gustavsen arrangements of J.S. Bach that are stunning revelations, leaving me waiting in anticipation for the next trio release from Mr. Gustavsen, hopefully in less than the decade+ that it took to get this one.