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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
FrançoisHoule, 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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.