Zack Clarke, Eraldo Bernocchi, Andrew Cyrille, Friends & Neighbors, and Ant Law

Zack Clarke – Mesophase (Clean Feed Records)

  • The best thing about listening to new music is hearing something that outright confounds. Mesophase is a scientific term used to describe a state of matter that is neither liquid nor solid, but shares properties of both. Mesophase is also the title of the new album by New York composer and pianist Zack Clarke, and is a suitable title given the mercurial nature of the approaches and sounds contained.

To orient you as to sort of what is going on here,it’s like a technologically advanced and better documented version of what Dolphy was up to on his more abstract pieces from the final period of his life…or perhaps a less aggressive, more lyrical variant on AMM’s mid to late-60swork.  But, neither of these comparisons do justice to the captivating art and supreme weirdness captured on Mesophase. Clark did well in choosing a compatible roster of up and coming New York improvisers for the record (Chris Irvine on cello, Charlotte Greve on saxophone, clarinet, flute, Nick Dunston on double bass, Leonid Galaganov on percussion, waterphone, shakuhachi).

At times I find myself questioning what instruments are being played, which sounds are affected and/or overdubbed and which are not, how much is written vs. improvised, and from what kind of room(s) were these sounds originally emanating. The only thing I know for sure after listening to Mesophaseis that I’ll likely be doing so again and again.

learn more at Zack Clarke’s site and Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store or at Amazon

 

 

Eraldo Bernocchi – Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It (RareNoise Records)

Imagined and produced by Michele Bongiorno and written and directed by Andrea Bettinetti, Cy Dear is the recent documentary about the polarizing and inimitable American abstract expressionist painter-sculptor-photographer Cy Twombly. The film was initially shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the spring of 2018 and had a short festival run in the fall, never reaching my neck of the woods.

Although I have yet to see the film, I have been enjoying its soundtrack for some time now. Italian multi-instrumentalist and co-boss at RareNoise records Eraldo Bernocchi scored the film using primarily guitar and effects, and it is as soothing as much of Twombly’s work is quite the opposite of that. Imagine the work of Harold Budd (with whom Bernocchi has collaborated) and Brian Eno and you’re in the ballpark. Despite the vastness of the ambiences on Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It, there is a wise economy to Bernocchi’s pieces and playing. As he has said, “I hate overproduced music. Super-layered tracks make me nervous. I trust one note, one single note, a riff. That riff can say more than a whole orchestra.”

As I patiently wait for the film to stream into my home at some point in the future, I anticipate that I will continue to submerge deeply into the cool lake that is LAFTCABI.

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

 

 

Andrew Cyrille – Lebroba (ECM Records)

It is a stretch for me to imagine an Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell trio record being anything other than fully satisfying, particularly one where the material is all originals, as on Lebroba (contraction of Leland, Brooklyn and Baltimore, birthplaces of the three). It’s no surprise that these three masters didn’t let me/us down in this case.

Of all the remarkable aspects of Cyrille, Smith, and Frisell, the one that stands out most is that nearly every note by each is a signature that is instantly recognizable. This is no easy task when one considers that none of them is “going off” per se, but rather, the focus is on how he can contribute to the whole in the most efficient way possible. Also, the absence of a grounding bass instrument is never even the slightest consideration. There is no way to appropriately stress the difficulty of this approach to playing in a group setting, especially since one feels throughout as though these three are so dialed-in. All of this is to say that Lebroba breathes so deeply and intently, and quite unlike most anything out there today, lulls us into a sort of euphoric trance state.

We probably don’t deserve this document of the maiden recorded union of three of the greatest in superb form, but maybe if we all bring some good into the world, we’ll get another helping down the road.

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

 

 

Friends & Neighbors – What’s Next (Clean Feed Records)

I have grown accustomed to expecting new creative music from Norway to have a certain chilled aesthetic: patient, melodious, and expansive. This is not the case on What’s Next?. the new third release from Friends & Neighbors. Not that those qualities are entirely absent here, rather, they are less a priority than executing with an elevated sense of urgency.

Saxophonist and primary writer André Roligheten, trumpeter Thomas Johansson, pianist Oscar Gronberg, bassist Jon Rune Strom, and drummer Tollef Ostvang aren’t afraid to wear their classic American influences from Ornette, Monk, and Shepp, to maybe a little George Russell (?)…on their collective sleeves. But F&N aren’t just rehashing the past or hoisting their influences as a gimmick. More likely, they are taking what excites them about music and using it as a roadmap or language or world in which to explore. It’s worth commending Dag Erik Johansen and Kai Andersen at Athletic Sound, Halden, Norway who have done an exceptional job of capturing five guys in an ambient space without getting in the way.

F&N have hit upon the sweet and elusive spot between composed and improvised that few successfully do. It’s safe to say that the present album is indeed What’s Next!

learn more at F&N HQ and Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Ant Law – Life I Know (Edition Records)

You might know Ant Law from his playing on a few of saxophonist Tim Garland’s records, but Life I Know is the guitarist/composer ‘s 3rd leader outing. It is also an impressive showcase of both British talent and the almost dizzying spectrum of stylistic influences on Law’s music. From rocking fusion jams to South Indian konnakol to the perennially welcome soaring melodies of “Pure Imagination”, virtually no stone is left unturned.

For LIK, Law has enlisted some of the best and brightest of England in pianist Ivo Neame, saxophonist Mike Chillingworth, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer James Maddren, and away they went. Although I wouldn’t call it “showy” they guys certainly like to play, and Law left plenty of room for that. The end result is a fun annotated ride through what one might imagine a supremely gifted guitarist’s record collection might look like.

Ant Law continues to grow and evolve as a player and as a composer, and with Life I Know, we are starting to get a good look at his core as a musician, and if he stays near this path, his future looks quite bright.

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

Ingrid Laubrock, David Virelles, Anguish, Marcus Strickland, and Patrick Shiroishi

Ingrid Laubrock – Contemporary Chaos Practices: Two Works for Orchestra (Intakt Records)

Ingrid Laubrock’s Contemporary Chaos Practices: Two Works for Orchestra has to be one of the most ambitious recording projects of 2018. So many things can, and usually do, go wrong when writing to achieve a faithful orchestral performance, let alone capture an acceptable recording of that performance – it’s a wonder anyone would ever take on such an absurd task. Laubrock has attempted a first recording of her works for orchestra on CCP, and has succeeded splendidly.

She initially wrote “Vogelfrei” for the second Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Reading, performed by the American Composers Orchestra at Columbia University in 2013, and subsequently wrote “Contemporary Chaos Practices” for the 2017 Moers Festival. Augmented by soloists Mary Halvorson on guitar, Kris Davis on piano, Nate Wooley on trumpet, and Laubrock on saxophones and double-conducted by Eric Wubbels and Taylor Ho Bynum, the two pieces that comprise the record explore a full spectrum of performance/improvisation and of sound itself.

CCP is a wide world in which to spend a great deal of time in order to absorb the many intricacies of the music. A video component would have been most instructive, particularly to witness the conduction component at play with the soloists, but beggars can’t be choosers. Perhaps on volume 2…

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

 

 

David Virelles – Igbó Alákọrin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II (Pi Recordings / El Tivoli Music)

On the surface, a rootsy Cuban big-band and piano record seems out of place on Brooklyn’s Pi Recordings: consonance, symmetry, and tradition are not words that typically come to mind when thinking of perhaps the most progressive label on the planet. But then you spend time with Igbó Alákọrin (The Singer’s Grove) Vol. I and II by pianist and composer David Virelles and you quickly realize that it all makes sense because, like the other releases on the label, this one has excellence (and a sprinkling of signature Pi-quirk – see/hear “Sube La Loma, Compay”) written all over it.

Look, it’s no secret that I am no expert in Cuban music, but I do know that all of the classical-like tunefulness, jubilance, and repetitive drive found therein is also on magnificent display on Igbó Alákọrin. Virelles set out to celebrate the lesser-known musicians of Santiago de Cuba, and what a party it is. So much fun is had that a well-deserved break from the daily grind of global political turmoil is granted, if for a moment. The nine songs of volume 1 are with Orquesta Luz de Oriente featuring the wonderfully expressive vocals of Alejandro Almenares and Emilio Despaigne Robert and the five on Volume 2 are performed by Virelles alongside güiro player Rafael Ábalos.

Turn off the tv, put down the newspaper, and spin this record. Both your head and your heart (and your nerves!) will thank me later. Virelles’ deep commitment to research and building upon his already stellar body of work continues to impress and yield damn fine sounds!

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

 

 

Anguish – Anguish (RareNoise Records)

Will Brooks and Mike Mare from New Jersey group Dälek have started a new project called Anguish, and it is an undeniable exercise in creating the darkest of moods, not unlike a Bill Laswell production from the late 80s/early 90s. They have brought keyboardist Hans Joachim Irmler from German krautrock legends Faust, as well as tenor saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Andreas Werliin from Fire! Orchestra along for the ride…and what a heavy, head-knoddingly excellent ride it is.

The tone of Anguish is decidedly bleak, a result of not only the maniacal blowing of Gustafsson, but also the hard-hitting, hyper-realistic lyrics and gritty, teeth-barring production of Brooks. Recorded in just three days during the summer of 2018 at Faust’s Scheer, a repurposed factory in Swabia, Germany, this is not music for the faint of heart. That said, Anguish does more in its little over 40 minutes to energize me than most releases this year – it’s a rally cry for those who refuse to stand idly by while injustices pile up by the minute.

Even if it might not initially sound quite right on paper, this collaboration makes perfect sense and the fruits of it are outstanding. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

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

 

 

Marcus Strickland – People of the Sun (Blue Note Records / Revive Music)

I really dig how Brooklyn composer-saxophonist Marcus Strickland continues to shoot for a fresh approach with his new Blue Note release, People of the Sun. Continuing the work he started with Meshell Ndegeocello on 2016’s Nihil Novi, there is no doubting the appeal of the band, production, and arrangements, and I anticipate a hit with this one, inasmuch as there can be a hit in 2018.

Strikland convened his Twi-Life group (organist Mitch Henry, bassist Kyle Miles, and drummer Charles Haynes) for POTS to take a stroll through all the great black music that has help shape him into the musician he is in 2018, namely West African griot and Afrobeat as well as post-bop, funk-soul, and beat music. The stew he has created here is quite delicious and always heavily grooving. He has also apparently really gotten into the bass clarinet, which is always a plus in the right hands, and in Strickland’s, it is.

This record works in no small part due to the fact that it’s not trying so hard to be a jazz record on Blue Note: the inclusion of undeniably non-jazz vocal performances by Bilal, Pharoahe Monch, Greg Tate, Akie Bermiss, and Jermaine Holmes is a very smart step forward in getting great music in front of a bigger audience without spinning wheels or sacrificing integrity.

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

 

 

Patrick Shiroishi – Sparrow’s Tongue (Fort Evil Fruit)

Patrick Shiroishi is a Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist & composer based in Los Angeles, CA who is building quite a resume with an array of interesting creative musical projects, most recently, The Musical Tracing Ensemble, Danketsu 9, and Sunreader. He has also just released his sixth solo saxophone record, Sparrow’s Tongue. 

ST features Shiroishi on alto, tenor & soprano saxophones, field recordings, and snare drum, with poetry (tankas) by Shiroishi’s grandfather, Seiji Inoue, which is recited by his mother, Uzuko Shiroishi. In the artist’s words, “two pieces focus in on overtones via tenor and alto, two pieces focus on playing the alto and soprano simultaneously, with the fifth piece playing the soprano into a snare drum to create a kind of feed-back with the instrument interplaying with an audio recording of an atomic bomb slowed and reversed.”

Overall, it is quite a minimal affair, creating intriguing impressions through subtle extended saxophone techniques, the juxtaposition of disparate ambient environments, and recited Japanese poetry – one tanka translates to “I know my spirit will separate from my body someday / but now, my spirit heats me up”. This being my first experience with Shiroishi’s work, I am intrigued to see where he goes from here, as I like what I hear.

learn more at Shiroishi’s website and buy at your local record store or bandcamp