Música de Selvagem, Trio Heinz Herbert, Florian Weber, John Coltrane, and François Houle, Alexander Hawkins, & Harris Eisenstadt

Música de Selvagem – Volume Único (ShhPuma / Selo Risco)

While living in France, São Paulo-born bassist Arthur Decloedt was faced with the insult música de selvagem, meaning “music of savages”, to describe music from his beloved Brazil. This xenophobic remark became fuel for Decloedt and saxophonist Filipe Nader as they decided to use the songs of contemporary Brazilian songwriters as the springboard for their next project. Adding drummer Guilherme Marques, trumpeter Amilcar Rodrigues, and saxophonist Cuca Ferreira to the mix, they formed Música de Selvagem and recorded said songs with the singers who penned them.

The result is Volume Único, the terrific new record joint released by Shhpuma and Selo Risco. There is an immediacy and strength conveyed through the minimalism of the tunes and brevity of the just four songs on Volume Único that is both undeniable and quite satisfying. The four songwriters/singers (Sessa, Tim Bernardes, Luiza Lian, and Pedro Pastoriz) bring contrasting material to the group, resulting in a balanced collection that runs the spectrum from aggressively dynamic to soulfully moody to dramatically dirgy to peacefully placating.

This is yet another example of how love wins out over hate, how something terrible like racism is again drown out by the beauty of art. Hopeful stories like this one make it easier to wake up anew in 2018, and I’m already looking forward to Volume Dois!

learn more at Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Trio Heinz Herbert – Yes (Intakt Records)

The lure of electronic music and its devices is a landmine for the composer/performer. Many have fallen by treating it as an ingredient to spice up their compositions, and in the process, came across as pandering or novel. That is decidedly not the case for Trio Heinz Herbert, particularly on their new release, Yes.

Brothers Dominic and Ramon Landolt (guitar and keys, respectively) and drummer Mario Hänni have a way of seamlessly integrating electronic processing into their more or less traditional instrumental playing, resulting in an exciting artistic expression. Some of the projects of Christian Fennesz and Supersilent and even This Heat come to mind as sonic references here, but THH’s compositional approach is something different. Utilizing piano/keyboards, guitar, and drums, they are something of a modern day bass-less piano trio, dub-mixed, perhaps even musique concrete-d, in real time, by themselves!

The ubiquity of sound processing software and hardware makes it easier than ever to attempt what THH do, but the work has to be put in to learn the gear and to actually have compelling ideas before the knob-turning commences. You also have to execute, effectively maniacally multitasking. Fortunately, these Swiss bosses have done so proficiently on all fronts and continue to grow in strength with each successive release.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Florian Weber – Lucent Waters (ECM Records)

This time of year in the Midwestern United States jibes most perfectly with the ECM aesthetic: spatial, remote, impeccable, suggestive, and impressionistic all come to mind. This list of adjectives is appropriate in describing a glowing oceanic panorama, Lucent Waters as it were, which is coincidentally inspiration for and the title of the new Florian Weber record on ECM.

For LW, his second ECM release, German pianist Weber has assembled one of the strongest groups on record in 2018 with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Nasheet Waits. The result is everything described earlier, and in stunning fashion. In the liner notes, when asked about Weber and LW, Lee Konitz said of his protégé, “His music is totally free. He has got the texture, the feeling, just beautiful…it feels divine to me.” I couldn’t agree more.

There is a programmatic approach to the music, about which Weber describes the “twilight atmosphere of the touring musician’s world”. It’s no secret to any musician who has spent time on the road that this can be a lonesome place, for sure, and this quartet has encapsulated that mood purely here. It’s not all dark though as the jubilance of the perfect gig is reflected in tracks such as “Time Horizon” and “Fragile Cocoon”. Come on in, the waters are just fine.

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John Coltrane – 1963: New Directions (Impulse! Records)

First off, what more can be or needs to be said of the legacy of absolute excellence of John Coltrane? He and his core crew of Jones, Tyner, and Garrison climbed the pinnacle of what music is capable in a way that nearly no one else ever did or ever will.

As the title of this set suggests, 1963 was a time of transition for Coltrane wherein he moved from the tradition of jazz that he had already altered forever with his extended solo-flights of spontaneous and limitless imagination, to a new place entirely the following year with the release of the genre defying A Love Supreme. This 3-CD or 5-LP set culled from his 1963 recordings Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Dear Old Stockholm, Newport ‘63 and Live at Birdland is a fascinating document of a genius becoming even greater.

Look, you don’t need me to tell you that this is a brilliant collection, and though I’m not a proponent of the old “repackage and sell at Christmas” game, 1963: New Directions makes perfect sense for the uninitiated and for those to whom certain younger musicians, and I’m not naming names here, are considered masters. This is the genuine article.

learn more at Coltrane’s website and buy at your local record store or Amazon


 

François Houle, Alexander Hawkins, & Harris Eisenstadt – You Have Options (Songlines Recordings)

A Brit, a Canadian, and an American walk into a recording studio…except this is no joke… far from it, it’s the setup for the new album, You Have Options, from clarinetist François Houle, pianist Alexander Hawkins, and drummer Harris Eisenstadt. To say this is some serious chemistry and seriously impressive music is an understatement.

The range of material on display on YHO is staggering. Included are compositions penned by each of the three musicians involved, as well as pieces by Steve Lacy, Andrew Hill, and Charles Ives. In the hands of lesser players/improvisers, the challenge would result in butchery, but these three brought their A-games and nailed it. I surprised myself by deeply enjoying the space afforded in no small part by the absence of bass on the recording, an omission that I typically lament: not a problem here given the superhuman sensitivity and exemplary musicianship of Eisenstadt, in particular.

Although it’s more undeniable now than ever that You Have Options, I submit the present release as one of the stronger options. Go get it!

learn more at Songlines Recordings and buy at your local record store, Houle’s website or Amazon


 

 

 

 

Poline Renou, Mattieu Donarier, and Sylvain Lemêtre, Ingrid Jensen and Steve Treseler, Matthew Golombisky’s Cuentos, Wolfgang Muthspiel, and PJ5

Poline Renou, Mattieu Donarier, and Sylvain Lemêtre – Adieu Mes Très Belles (Yolk Records)

Following an impeccably recorded and drop-dead gorgeous solo vocal intro by Polline Renou, just as Sylvain Lemêtre’s hand drumming commences with a gripping rhythm, the stage is set for something very distinct. For the duration of Adieu Mes Très Belles, the captivating new recording by the aforementioned two musicians with clarinetist Mattieu Donarier, the thrall never lets up.

The unlikely pairing of Medieval plainchant and European Renaissance chanson and balladry with advanced 21st century improvisational techniques, as well as a deeply ruminating overall atmosphere not often on display from an acoustic trio makes AMTB, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating recordings of 2018. So very economical, so very efficient, so very expressive, and so very effecting, this trio traverses territory over which major metropolitan orchestras routinely stumble.

I can’t help but think that many people who read this type of blog would be way into this kind of singular project, but who knows, maybe it’s too perplexing for some listeners of creative music to enter uncharted waters. Naturally, I hope not…Regardless, a note to self: go back and check out Poline Renou and Matthieu Donarier’s Kindergarten project, because, as David Letterman used to say, I’ll take all of this you’re selling!

learn more at Yolk Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Ingrid Jensen and Steve Treseler – Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler (Whirlwind Recordings)

The music of Kenny Wheeler is a beautiful confluence of the harmonic language developed by the masters of the past like Ellington, Mingus, and Miles AND the singularly innovative restlessness of Monk and Braxton. It’s no wonder that musicians of such considerable agency as trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and reedsman Steve Treseler felt compelled to pay tribute to the fairly recently deceased iconoclast.

Jensen’s crack band of pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Jon Wikan were brought on board for Invisible Sounds, and to stellar effect. All of the melancholy, spunk, and even madness of Wheller’s compositions were conveyed in the animated playing of all involved, including guest saxophonist, and Ingrid’s sister, Christine Jensen, as well as vocalist Katie Jacobson.

If artists don’t seize the opportunity of allowing the vision of another artist to actually breathe in tribute, that tribute is a blunder. Jensen, Tresler and company have not fallen into this all too-common trap and have instead stayed true to Wheeler’s aesthetic approach by making his music their own on Invisible Sounds. Well done, indeed!

learn more at Whirlwind Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Matthew Golombisky’s Cuentos – Volume 3 (ears & eyes records)

Composer, bassist, and prime mover Matthew Golombisky returns with another wonderful set of Cuentos (Spanish for “short stories”) with Volume 3, this time set in Chicago, Il. The idea with his Cuentos is that Golombisky writes a terse motivic framework with minimal guidelines around which a group of improvisers would briefly converse on their instruments – most pieces run around three or four minutes. This time around he has convened in Chicago, Il with some of the best of the best: longtime collaborator, drummer Quin Kirchner, trombonist Naomi Moon Siegel, trumpeter James Davis, and saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi.

Keeping with the tradition begun with last year’s Volume 1 & 2, there are no names given to the pieces, only numbers, freeing the listener of preconceptions or artistic intent. That said, one couldn’t help but sense pathos within much of the material on Volume 3, as if the resultant musical discussions quickly turned to the current political climate in the U.S.   The good news is that it’s not a bummer, at all. To the contrary, I take solace in these terse meditations, like a maritime prayer or a healing lamentation.

At any rate, there is no shortage of beauty to be made through the Cuentos approach, particularly in the hands of Matthew Golombisky and his astutely chosen compatriots. Let’s hope he continues this process of documenting his travels with fresh batches of these cuentos for years to come.

learn more at ears&eyes and buy at your local record store or at bandcamp

 

 

Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where The River Goes (ECM Records)

What happens when you assemble five of the most accomplished musicians on earth to record for one of the most prestigious record labels of the past 40 + years? Loaded question, for sure, but one that can only be answered when the leader of said project is revealed. In this case, it is guitarist and composer Wolfgang Muthspiel, author of some of a few of the finest records of the past decade or so. In a word, the answer is sublime.

The accomplished ones are Ambrose Akinmusire, Brad Mehldau Larry Grenadier, and Eric Harland, and the label is ECM…I mean, come on. All parties do precisely what they are capable of, and the result is a jaw-dropping collection of originals by group members, mostly penned by Muthspiel. Therein lies the X-factor: great ingredients can be unpalatable in the hands of a poor chef. Simply put, I love Muthspiel’s tunes and his approach to and priority placed on space. His musical sweet spot is a magical elixir.

It’s almost odd for me to have to say this, but you need to buy this record and spend significant time with it. Just trust me on this one.

learn more at ECM Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

PJ5 – I Told the Little Bird (Jazz & People)

I have enjoyed French guitarist Paul Jarret and his band PJ5 since I heard their 2016 release, Trees. I can’t quite put my finger on what kind of music this band makes: it is at times very accessible, danceable even; their methodology reflects a wide array of influences without succumbing to any one of them for too very long – the music bears it’s sharp teeth one moment and the next it displays a resplendently patient Scandinavian-like sensitivity. Somehow, it all works without sounding contrived or novel, and with I Told the Little Bird, the group has taken another step forward with a suite of pieces tied together with the grandparent of all themes: the circle of life.

The five core members of Jarret, saxophonist Maxence Ravelomanantsoa, trombonist Léo Pellet, bassist Alexandre Perrot, and drummer Ariel Tessier, have all returned and are in fine form, augmented by guests Jozef Dumoulin on the Fender Rhodes and vocalist Isabel Sörling. It is commendable that PJ5’s top priority remains the compositions rather than virtuosic playing.

It’s refreshing to hear emotionally charged pieces (titles include “The Nest”, “Peaceful Struggle”, and “Cycles: The Soil”) performed without a trace of smugness or irony. Although they never answered the question posed in track nine, “Where Do Butterflies Sleep”, it becomes apparent that as in most good art, it is not the answer but the question that is of the primary importance.

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Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, Albatre, Wayne Horvitz, Adam Hopkins, and Casey Golden

Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)

One thing is for sure: you’d be hard pressed to gather a more impressive group of players/improvisers than Bay-area pianist/composer Myra Melford has done with her Snowy Egret project.  As she has said, “I really feel like it’s the vehicle that expresses where I am as a composer, performer, and bandleader right now”. It is only with such a remarkable vehicle that a group of artist can so seemingly effortlessly navigate the improvisational and compositional terrain that SE explores on The Other Side of Air.

For their second release together, Melford and company have run the gamut through what a quintet is capable, covering territories from the sublime to the revved-up to the ridiculous. These five are so locked in to these compositions and to each other that it is beyond clairvoyance at times.

I love how on a number of these pieces, Melford has created divisions or movements in which one or two soloists are featured: micro concertos, almost! It is in these moments, as on “Attic” (greatest bass solo of 2018?) and “Living Music” (Ellman and Sorey tear it up), that a very rare transcendence takes place.  Some very inspired work here, for sure.

learn more at Firehouse 12 Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Albatre – The Fall of the Damned (ShhPuma)

Relentless, aggressive, cathartic, concerted, guitar-less, and odd meters are apt descriptors of The Fall of the Damned, the new album by Rotterdam-based Albatre. And this is just what the doctor ordered to fight the chaotic dumpster fire that is 2018.

There are more than a few comparisons that can be made between Albatre and Kevin Martin’s battering “God” project from the ’90s.  For starters, harshly effected drums, bass, and saxophone intent on relaying the paramount importance of rhythm take center stage on both. Philipp Ernsting, Gonçalo Almeida, and Hugo Costa convincingly bring the noise on said trio of instruments, respectively, but not respectfully. Compared to their terrific 2015 release, Nagual, there is an even more deliberate middle-finger-to-the-state-of-the-world vibe at play here, and it’s one that I can get behind.

Although these sounds are not necessarily for the faint of heart, they are a mollifying space to occupy as you plan your daily acts of resistance. Coincidently, albâtre is French for “alabaster”, the stone material artists have diligently chipped away at for millennia to immortalize greatness through sculpture. Viva L’Albatre!

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Wayne Horvitz – The Snowghost Sessions (Songlines Recordings)

As a key member of Naked City, Pigpen, Zony Mash, and The President – bands who illustrated to me early on just how out music can be taken – Wayne Horvitz will always hold a special place in my consciousness. Since relocating from New York to Seattle in the late 80s, Horvitz has covered an absurd amount of musical territory from popular and experimental band-work, theater and dance pieces, chamber and orchestral writing, sound design, TV and soundtrack work and so on. It has been a full ride, indeed…and the ride continues.

SnowGhost is the relaxed, top-shelf recording studio in Whitefish, Montana where the sounds of Horvitz’s beautiful piano playing and electronically augmented keys, along with exceptional accompaniment from bassist Geoff Harper and drummer Eric Eagle were immaculately committed to tape (or disc). There is a filmic quality to The Snowghost Sessions, not because it requires an image to complete an artistic statement, but because it reveals imagery upon listening: a profile of a man falling down and getting back up again, a snapshot of the jarring yet taciturn winter that inevitably descends on the Midwest year after year, or a family gathered in silence, in mourning.

Like all the best art, The Snowghost Sessions improves with each listen, vying hard for the top spot on year-end lists that will be rampant before we know it. Kudos to Horvitz, Harper, and Eagle, and to Songlines Recordings for this gift.

learn more at Songlines Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Adam Hopkins – Crickets (Out Of Your Head Records)

Evidently, Adam Hopkins learned a great deal about how to play the bass (and likely much more) from luminary Michael Formanek and how to effectively lead a group (and likely much more) from heavy-hitters Henry Threadgill and John Hollenbeck, both in whose groups he has served time. Crickets is Hopkins’ first release under his own name, and what a fine and feisty romp it is.

The groundwork for much of the record is the mighty riff, delivered with potency by Hopkins and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, and reflective of the influence of 80s and 90s punk/indie rock. Onto this framework Hopkins has grafted the triple-sax threat of Anna Webber, Ed Rosenberg, and Josh Sinton, deftly delivering glorious wails of charted lines and spirited solos over said riffage. Drummer Devin Gray completes the group with both agility and judicial backbeat, serving the music well at every step.

It’s heartening to see the DIY spirit of yesteryear alive and well as we do on Crickets – Out of Your Head Records is run by Hopkins and his friends – particularly at a time when the artist’s slice of the pie continues to shrink. PSA: remind a musician, especially with your wallet, that you are still listening and that what they do matters and they won’t go away.

learn more at Out of Your Head Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Casey Golden – Atlas (self-released)

For the better part of the past decade, pianist Casey Golden has been active in Australia, releasing well-received trio records with Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues, and more recently has begun to make a splash in London with his quartet with guitarist Alex Munk, bassist Henrik Jensen, and drummer Will Glaser.

The sensitivity that Golden and his UK quartet demonstrate in their interplay on their first release Atlas is undoubtedly impressive and is a considerable step forward for Golden. The tunes are just so agreeable and the playing is refreshingly in service of the music rather than the ego of the player. This is not to say that these four don’t have chops; quite to the contrary, these four can play.

Whatever Golden is up to in England agrees with him, and I look forward to more of the fruits of this creative activity in the future.

learn more at Casey Golden’s site and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

Michael Formanek & Elusion Quartet, Devin Drobka’s Bell Dance Songs, Jakob Bro, Master Oogway, and Satoko Fujii and Alister Spence

Michael Formanek & Elusion Quartet – Time Like This (Intakt Records)

There is an ominous cloud permeating Time Like This, the new and first release by bassist and composer Michael Formanek with his group Elusion Quartet. Titles such as “The New Normal”, “This May Get Ugly”, and “The Soul Goodbye” speak loudly about our current political predicament. That said, it’s hard to imagine music being made since November 2016 to be anything but glum.

The seven Formanek originals on the album also exude a density and complexity, all while leaving ample room for this top-shelf ensemble of saxophonist Tony Malaby, pianist Kris Davis, and percussionist Ches Smith to freely emote and explore, in a way not dissimilar to Coltrane Quartet’s “Alabama” … as they do on the album opener “Down 8 Up 5”.

Serious times call for serious measures and bearing witness and commiserating are crucial first steps in exacting socio-political change. Formanek and company have done so with their art at the absolute highest level on Time Like This and for that, this listener is most appreciative.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Devin Drobka’s Bell Dance Songs – Amaranth (Shifting Paradigm Records)

Not only is Amaranth Milwaukee drummer Devin Drobka’s debut album as a leader, it is also an impressive showcase for his adept writing and versatile playing. Released on the Minneapolis label, Shifting Paradigm Records, this is a collection of effective compositions deconstructed with inspired improvisation, making for a sound that isn’t quite like anything out there today.

Drobka’s group Bell Dance Songs weaves a tapestry of sonic goodness that resides primarily outside of the constraints of time keeping. The triple sax threat of Chris Weller, Patrick Breiner, and Daniel Blake absolutely tear it up and then sew it back together again with the acumen of a somewhat incensed but highly skilled fiber artist. Boston bassist Aaron Darrell completes the rhythm section with Drobka and is the anchor by which the ship escapes the tempest of raging waters.

On Amaranth, close friends gathered to make art that is meaningful to them. I hear a love for the music and between the musicians that is both pleasing and refreshing. More of this, please.

learn more at Shifting Paradigm and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Jakob Bro – Bay of Rainbows (ECM Records)

The music of Danish guitarist Jakob Bro is an exquisite dance and it is never bettered than when the consummate master Joey Baron is behind the drums, especially with a pair of brushes (or anything really…or nothing) in his hands. As on 2016’s stellar Streams, this is the case on Bay of Rainbows, the new live album by Bro’s trio, rounded out by Bro’s “musical soul mate”, rock solid bassist Thomas Morgan.

To take the surface simplicity of this music as anything short of entrancing would be a mistake: what is not played by these three most astonishing listeners is of far greater importance than what is actually played. The tune selection is wonderful and is from Bro’s ever-growing arsenal of originals, going as far back as his independent releases from the late aughts, Balladeering and Pearl River.

The album is named after the deed to a plot of land on the moon given to Bro’s infant daughter, in Latin called Sinus Iridum…a fitting title for a collection of celestial and transcendent sounds at which to marvel from afar.

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Master Oogway – THE CONCERT KOĀN (Clean Feed Records)

Master Oogway is the elderly and wise tortoise and now resident of the spirit realm who created the ancient martial-art of king fu and is responsible for the maxim “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; that is why it is called the present”…he is also the inspiration for the name of a collective of four Norwegian musicians responsible for one of the more satisfying releases of 2018, The Concert Koān.

Saxophonist Lauritz Lyster Skeidsvoll and electric guitarist Håvard Nordberg Funderud take turns artfully disrupting stasis alongside the telepathic and sometimes psychopathic rhythmic propulsions of Karl Erik E. Horndalsveen and Martin Mellem, double bassist and drummer respectively. It’s not all shrapnel and smoke though: on the substantial “Mørk Materie”, one is lulled into thinking that the time has come to settle in for some typically Scandinavian blissed-out action, but pleasant as it is, the letup is only fleeting as the pummeling vibe returns with a welcome vengeance.

This is a terrific record to ready oneself for the hopeful catharsis of election day 2018, America, due in no small part to Funderud’s ferocious guitar tone and playing, at times reminiscent of McLaughlin’s work with Lifetime or Ribot’s Shrek project. I am very much looking forward to hearing what the future has in store for him and for Master Oogway.

learn more at Clean Feed and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Satoko Fujii and Alister Spence – Intelsat (Alister Spence Music)

On the staggering ninth of twelve 2018 releases celebrating Japanese pianist and composer Satoko Fujii’s 60th birthday, she has rung in another year of fruitful musical explorations in top form! The effect of Intelsat, a duo with Australian keyboardist Alister Spence, is situated along the lines of Musique concrète and film noir: intricate mystery leads to great wonderment.

The material is culled from a September 2017 performance at Intelsat Jazz Club in Kiracho, Nishio, Japan, and evidences a workout for the improvisational instincts that these two adventurous performers have in abundance. Both Fujii’s piano and Spence’s Fender Rhodes are dutifully prepared for maximum expressivity that makes for, at times, a totally alien soundscape.

When two musicians from somewhat disparate scenes convene, one never knows quite what one will get. While this is not Fujii and Spence’s first duo performance together, it is their first duo release. The reason that this improvisation works is the same reason that it always works: the musicians are actually listening. Here’s to more actual listening and more duets between these two!

learn more at Alister Spence Music and buy at your local record store, CD Baby, or Amazon