Personnel: Marty Ehrlich – conductor/alto saxophone; Bobby Zankel – alto saxophone; Julian Pressley – alto saxophone; Robert DeBellis – tenor and soprano saxophone; Hafez Modirzadeh – tenor saxophone; Mark Allen – baritone saxophone; Dave Ballou – trumpet; Dwayne Eubanks – trumpet; Graham Haynes – cornet; Josh Evans – trumpet; Steve Swell – trombone; Michael Dessen – trombone; Alfred Patterson – trombone; Jose Davilla – bass trombone; Michael Formanek – bass; Tom Lawton – piano; Chad Taylor – drums
Impression: Soundpath is a Muhal Richard Abrams-penned, Bobby Zankle-comissioned piece consisting of a number of majestic vignettes for big band that premiered in 2012, was recorded in 2018, and is presented now for the first time so that we might all listen in awe at MRA’s total compositional mastery as executed by a like minded and boffo ensemble.
Personnel: KRONOS QUARTET: David Harrington – Violin 1; John Sherba – Violin 2; Hank Dutt – Viola; Sunny Yang – Cello + AL PARI QUARTET: Marta Lucjan – Violin 1; Alicja Miruk-Mirska – Violin 2 ;Magdalena Maier – Viola Elzabieta Rychwalska – Cello
Impression: In all honesty, I came for Kronos and the hypnotizing syncopation Thelen has showcased in his wicked ensemble Sonar, but I am staying for the delicious melodies adorning his signature brand of minimalism, all beautifully performed by both quartets on this recording.
Impression: No one excelled at putting music to film like Morricone and a collection of the less-orchestral, more tripped-out and groovy side of the maestro circa late 60s-early 80s, seven tracks heretofore unissued ’til now, is cause for celebration in a time that is short on celebration of any sort.
Personnel: Nick Dunston – double bass, compositions; Louna Dekker-Vargas – flute, alto flute, piccolo; Ledah Finck – violin, viola; Tal Yahalom – guitar; Stephen Boegehold – drum set
Impression: As evidenced by the overabundance of inspired ideas/execution/processes on this modestly recorded live date, there is no doubt that Dunston will continue to flourish as a major force in the direction of new music. Additionally, for every sale of this album OOYH Records will donate $1 to the Third Wave Fund, an organization chosen by Dunston.
Impression: In the midst of this recording of consummate masters tasked with, among other assignments, interpreting/responding to an array of scents, we are submerged in a truly distinctive environment…one that I anticipate experiencing in full when scratch-and-sniff swatches are mailed out with physical copies of the release in December.
Impression: No one has bested Duke Ellington’s mastery of all things musical and no group of musicians in recent memory has done greater justice to the Ellington / Strayhorn’s songbook as a pan-genre blueprint than WHO Trio.
For over a decade, Austrian musicians Lorenz Raab and Christof Dienz have been making music as a trumpet / zither duo, but have only just recently released their first full-length recording as RaaDie. This combo seems a bit wacky, no?
In some ways, there is nothing quite like the sound of these two instruments playing off one another, but on the other, it’s not all that different from other compelling music: propulsive rhythms in a cloud of interesting chordal/harmonic texture with affecting melodies floating above. As with much music being made in the 21st century, a healthy dose of electronics is in effect, which can, of course, go one of two opposing ways. The good news is that the result never falls in the category of trivial or weird for the sake of weirdness. In fact, the great news is that with Vast Potential, Raab and Dienz have made a rather accessible thing of lushness and beauty. Armed with a clear compositional vision and a mastery of both their instruments and their processing gear, the duo has succeeded in illuminating not just the vastness of their potential, but also the acuteness of their execution.
Hats off to folks trying something different with the tools at their disposal, odd as they may be…and that includes German label Traumton who continue their tradition of releasing top-shelf and left-of-center sounds.
Every town deserves a musical group featuring the tuba, especially one that can take requests. Porto has TGB (Tuba Guitarra Bateria, presumably), a trio comprised of Sérgio Carolino, Mário Delgado, and Alexandre Frazao on the aforementioned instruments. They self-identify as occupying the “space of interception between contemporary creativity and critical thought” and in doing so, show incredible range.
There is an infectious and dexterous playfulness on III that hooks you early on and hangs on tight. But one quickly realizes that it’s not all fun and games – these three not only flat out rip, but they also display great restraint and prudence in equal measure. Carolino’s versatility on his axe alone deserves mention here, as he defiantly re-situates the tuba as much more than an accompanying instrument or novelty. Anyway, I was quite enjoying III when about 2/3 of the way through they break into a terrific cover of King Crimson’s “Starless”, a tune on which I’ve been fixated since being reminded of it again last year when it was featured in the first act of Panos Cosmatos’ truly inspired film, Mandy…a cosmic sign, perhaps, that TGB are something special deserving sustained attention.
Definitely grateful for the fortuitous encounter with the sole cover on III, as well as the blast that I’ve had listening to the whole album all week. My vision for TGB is “Songs We’d Love To Hear At A Wedding Reception If People Had Any Taste”…next album, guys?
Trumpeter and composer Ralph Alessi assembled the elite crew of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Mark Ferber to work on some new tunes. After touring on nine new Alessi numbers, the quintet entered La Buissonne in France, the same studio where Alessi had previously woven magic on Florian Weber’s incredible, Lucent Waters – incidentally, this is the proper order in which to make a record.
Explaining his approach to working with ECM boss and album producer Manfred Eicher, Alessi said, “We slow down a bit and make the most of the space within the music, resisting the natural urge to fill up every space with notes. It isn’t easy to do – it requires a certain discipline.” In fact, there is an almost an Eno-esque patience on the titular track and throughout this set. But it’s not all mellow-going…more upbeat numbers like “Melee”, “Improper Authorities”, and “Fun Room” are peppered throughout to create a thoroughly balanced record.
The assuredness on IF is palpable, so much so that one struggles to imagine anything approaching an accident having occurred here…and this kind of confidence in execution is no doubt rare. Undeniably sublime stuff here folks.
For the past several years I have excitedly anticipated new music from Denmark, due in no small part to the work of the PG Sounds and Jaeger Community Music imprints. The excitement has continued with Cirkel, the new album by Danish trumpeter and composer Jakob Sørensen’s Bagland (Danish for “constituency”) project.
For Cirkel, Sørensen has reconvened the core group of guitarist Alex Jønsson, pianist Mathias Jæger, bassist Frederik Sakham, and drummer Frej Lesner. Armed with inspiration from yesteryear’s landscape of Denmark’s northernmost town Skagen, Bagland has sculpted Scandinavian balm to the soul. Outdoing the loveliness of their previous two releases, Sørensen and company tap deeper into a stream that apparently only flows through Nordic countries, resulting in what can only be described as – recklessly risking new age stigma here – healing music. When a collection of music invokes Santo & Johnny, ECM production aesthetics, and electric Miles, I’m going to be all-in pretty much every time, and Cirkel has done so in graceful fashion.
It’s heartening that such young musicians are making such profoundly lovely music and it’s safe to say that I can’t get enough of this sort of thing. Fantastisk herrer!
Composer, arranger, and reeds man Drew Williams’ Wing Walker Orchestra has been knocking around in New York and its surrounding environs for about six years, but Hazel marks their first recorded output. And what a recording it is, dripping with as much vitality and flexibility as anything else released this year.
In addition to Williams, the ensemble consists of some of the most accomplished young players in the northeast United States: saxophonists Brad Mulholland and Eric Trudel, trumpet players John Blevins and Danny Gouker, trombonists Karl Lyden and Nick Grinder, guitarist Jeff McLaughlin, pianist Marta Sánchez, bassist and Out of Your Head Records honcho Adam Hopkins, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. Half of the record is comprised of a suit of pieces inspired by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s sci-fi graphic novel Staples, taking musical cues from a terrifically diverse spectrum of approaches both accessible and challenging, but the result is always satisfying. The remaining handful of tracks on Hazel is made up of a pair of Williams originals and inspired cover versions of Michaël Attias and tUnE-yArDs numbers. The biggest takeaway from the multiple listens I’ve already given Hazel is that the notion of genre is immaterial to these gifted musicians, and this is a great sign of hope for the future of large ensemble music being made in America.
Hazel is undoubtedly the strongest debut of 2019 so far, and it is not at all surprising that it has been lovingly presented on Matthew Golombisky’s ears&eyes imprint. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Having already shown proficiency in collaboration with high profile acts likes Lee Ranaldo, Christian Fennesz, and Mike Watt, French ensemble Hifiklub turn their sights on the exceptionally resourceful and varied Portuguese music scene. Thus was born E Lisboa, an album the tone of which approaches Crime and the City Solution or early Bad Seeds territory, which also happens to be precisely my headspace of late.
Guitarists Jean-Loup Faurat and Nico Morcillo, bassist Régis Laugier, and drummer Anthony Belguise have brought aboard a wide array of talent from the western Iberian Peninsula including Rafael Toral, Bernardo Devlin, Carlos Zingaro, and experimental duo Von Calhau to concoct an inspired document of pan-genre exploration. To paraphrase the inimitable Os Mutantes, it’s time now for me to learn Portuguese…so I can understand the lyrics on this record. Regardless, there is an emotional depth to the work here that is undeniable, culminating in the idyllic wash of the album closer “Continuar Sem Fim”, of which I could use at least an additional hour.
Shhpuma have become one of the most reliable hosts of excellent new sounds from around the globe and the release of E Lisboa is no exception. Incidentally, there are some very cool session videos on Hifiklub’s website that are worth checking out to experience some of their recording process.
Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Kobe – Imagine Meeting You Here (Alister Spence Music)
Just a handful of months after the release of the terrific collaboration Intelsat, Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii return with Imagine Meeting You Here, this time backed by Orchestra Kobe and captured at the Big Apple jazz club in Kobe Japan.
Penned by Spence as part of his doctoral work, IMYH is a five-part composition for improvising orchestra and it is a stunning amalgam of so many of the things that intrigue about music making in the 21st century – it has teeth, it leaves ample room for thoughtful improvisation, it is the result of teamwork on a large scale, and it throws the notion of genre to the wind. As Spence has said, “I was trying to create what I considered to be a balanced work in terms of energies and weight, tempo, rhythm, my ideas versus the ensembles ideas”. He has achieved just that, utilizing to great effect the considerable talent and dedication of Fujii and the Orchestra Kobe.
It is safe to say that the Spence / Fujii partnership is a winning combination, and bringing in Orchestra Kobe is a homerun that seems to come around only once in a lifetime. If you are a fan of the large-scale works of George Russell, Gil Evans, or Charles Mingus IMYH will most likely be your bag.
Lansing McLoskey / The Crossing – Zealot Canticles (Innova Recordings)
If I had to name one category of music that thoroughly compels me, it might be religious. From Sufi music of Damascus to Washington Phillips, and from the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention to a muezzin’s call to prayer in Chefchaouen, Morocco, there is an unrivaled passion and certainty in delivery that only faith can bring.
Lansing McLoskey conveys this sense of conviction on Zealot Canticles, a collection of 20 hymns of sorts, with libretto from the work of Nigerian human rights advocate and Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka. Composed by McLoskey during the 2016 US presidential campaign and election, ZC is effectively a prayer of tolerance, denouncing religious and political fanaticism: a meditation on the fine line between piety and extremism. The music is at times energized, contemplative, enchanting, and jarring. It is also always stunning. Devotedly performed by commissioning chamber choir The Crossing, and conducted by Donald Nally, ZC is no doubt a profoundly spiritual work, and one that gains in depth with each successive listen.
McLoskey has created imperative art for 2019, as we see hate crimes on the rise and a general sense of entitlement for extremists to say or do whatever they please, and with impunity. If great artists are supposed to be the voice for the greater good of a harmonious society, McLoskey is certainly doing the work of a great artist.
Yonathan Avishai – Joys and Solitudes (ECM Records)
Now more than ever, I am drawn to music that is efficient in content and delivery: less has become more in a profound way, particularly when presented succinctly. So, when pianist, composer, and longtime friend and collaborator with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, Yonathan Avishai says, “I saw at some point that I become more expressive with less notes”, my interest is piqued.
Turns out, he is speaking truth, as evidenced by his new trio release, Joys and Solitudes. His “Modern Times Trio”, featuring bassist Yoni Zelnik and drummer Donald Kontomanou, is the perfect vehicle to bring this minimalist vision to life. All the tunes are Avishai originals save for Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”, of which the trio takes ownership through the magical process of reduction. Perhaps, as he has suggested, this aesthetic was inspired by his early exposure to kabuki theater while growing up in Japan. In any case, although minimal, Avishai’s approach on JaS is also decidedly cosmopolitan, which in the wrong hands can spell disaster. Fortunately, the trio’s are the right hands, lovingly presenting, as the title suggests, the range of emotion.
ECM is the perfect home for Avishai and JaS, adept as Manfred and co have always been at investigating artistic minutiae with a microscope. More of this, please.
Gerald Cleaver, Nels Cline, and Larry Ochs – What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed Records)
It’s interesting when three master musicians convene in the recording studio for the first time, particularly when it’s a 100% improvised date. What will the mood be? Who will take the lead? Will they listen to each other? Will it be any good?
The three masters in question are Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver, perhaps known best for his playing with Henry Threadgill or Craig Taborn, Larry Ochs of the ROVA saxophone quartet, and ubiquitous guitarist Nels Cline. Three pieces were recorded in Richmond, Virginia at Gallery5 Arts in late 2016, two of them longer than 20 minutes each. This is not Sunday morning music, which is good because most of the time it is not Sunday morning. What Is To Be Done is primarily a ripping collection of cathartic improvisation, no surprise when titles such as “Outcries Rousing” adorn the back cover. Abundant shredding aside, there is a cohesion to this trio that can only come from reactive listening, plus Cleaver is unafraid to lock into a groove from time to time, which is a plus in my book of improvisation dos and don’ts. (It is worth noting that I have neither sold a single copy of this book, nor bothered to write it.)
Although I dig WITBD as the high-energy and downright exciting result of spontaneous expression, I would be curious to hear these three in a more composed setting. Hint, hint fellas.
Although Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Nordström has gathered a “double quartet” in the Coleman sense of instrumentation (two times sax, trumpet/trombone, bass, and drums, each panned in the stereo field, joining their respective quartet), it would be unwise to expect Ornette-style harmolodics and free improvisation from this group on Needs. In fact, the band presents more as a densely charted and tightly syncopated, well-oiled octet / big band machine than a “double quartet”…but this ain’t your old man’s big band either. Nordström has called Needs “progressive jazz with unquestionable influence of contemporary classical and rock music”, and while that might suffice for a press kit, the music contains too many dimensions to be adequately summarized in a couple handfuls of words.
The fact that this album was recorded in one day reveals the high degree of musicianship with which we are dealing. As far as Needs personnel goes, Nordström and Fredrik Ljungkvist handle the reeds, Mats Äleklint and Niklas Barnö play trombone and trumpet respectively, Filip Augustson and Torbjörn Zetterberg man double basses, and Christopher Cantillo and Fredrik Rundqvist do the drumming. The two rhythm sections in particular are notable for their anchor-like steadiness, freeing the horns to do what they do best within the parameters set by Nordström’s terrific charts and conduction cues.
Needs is an especially gratifying near-48 minute listening experience, one that could only really be improved upon by witnessing it live. So, what say you Fredrik…any stateside dates soon?
Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – The Tribe & Black Axis (Southern Lord)
It was 1993, and there I was, 22 years young and bright-eyed, sprinting across Houston Street after wrapping up my gig at the Knitting Factory with my band Rodan, b-lining towards CBGBs on Bowery, my first time in said establishment and only my second time in the city that never sleeps. All fingers were crossed that I hadn’t missed any of the set of a band I had just been hipped to very recently, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker. I showed my CMJ pass to the door guy and recklessly power-walked through the crowd towards a most menacing sound coming from deep within the room. Then, bam, I ran headfirst into Swans force of nature Michael Gira, who did not flinch or yield, but exited the room. The brief encounter was sobering, no doubt, but significantly less so than what I was about to witness on stage. Massaker were touring on Koskofen, an album I was obsessed with at the time, and one that can only be described as insistent, pummeling brilliance. Suffice it to say that I was completely unprepared for how excellent and world-altering guitarist Brötzmann and his trio with mainstay bassist Eduardo Delgado-Lopez and drummer Danny Arnold Lommen were that night. I tracked down everything I could find by the group, including their first two German import-only records The Tribe and Black Axis.
Forward to 2019 and venerable imprint Southern Lord have re-mastered and reissued Brötzmann’s first two releases so that the uninitiated might experience the origins of one of the most vital groups of the past 30 years. This is absolutely indispensable listening for anyone who pursues music that moves beyond the safety of genre and/or casual listening. Unfair as it might be, to get you in the ballpark, imagine if Hendrix had been angrier and hadn’t been raised on the blues and you’re there. Some of the band’s strongest material is included on these two albums: “The Tribe”, “Tempelhof”, “Massaker”, “Hunter Song”, and “Böhmen”… Coincidentally, this is the track list of 1994’s Home, a greatest hits of sorts, re-recorded with supernatural and ex-Gore skin-mauler Lommen who supplanted Massaker’s two previous drummers Jon and Frank Neumeier.
The release of The Tribe and Black Axis marks phase one of Southern Lord’s Massaker re-issue project, to be concluded at a later date in 2019 with the release of all five Massaker’s albums individually, as well as in a collectable box set with extensive liner notes, etc. Additionally, according to the label, “Caspar is also rumored to be working on brand new material”, so there’s that too. This right here is the good stuff!
Mick Rossi’s Anti-Matter – Live at Barbes (Chant Records)
Perhaps best known for his work with Philip Glass or for backing mega-star Paul Simon, Mick Rossi is a remarkably well-rounded keyboardist / musician by any metric. With his own group Anti-Matter, Rossi cuts loose and takes a hard left turn, producing some of the most exceedingly grooving and expertly executed roof-raising music north of New Orleans.
Alongside Billy Drewes (reeds) Ron Horton (trumpet) Alan Ferber (trombone) Michael Sarin (drums), Michael Bates (bass), Rossi has hit upon the perfect combination of accessible and challenging, nearly all the while remaining infinitely danceable. Not unlike Steven Bernstein’s unstoppable Millennial Territory Orchestra, Anti-Matter get the party started, sustain the crowd’s attention with a ever-evolving combinations of pyrotechnics and impeccable feel, and don’t let up until the job is complete, not an easy feat when one realized that they never succumb to banal jam-band tactics. Although there is no shortage of startling solos on Live at Barbes, the lasting impression is that these guys play so dang well together as a unit.
I am certain that if I were to host a block party in celebration of a certain individual being removed from a certain high office in our nation’s capital, I could do no better than to hire Anti-Matter as the musical act.
It is no secret that Rudy Royston is one of the most technically accomplished and creative drummers on the scene in 2019, particularly when his resume boasts high-profile spots in the groups of and on recordings by Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and JD Allen. What we are now realizing, however, is that Royston has fully come into his own as a masterful and original composer with the release of his third album, Flatbed Buggy.
Inspired by Royston’s youth in Texas, FB ranges from capricious scrappers like “Bobblehead” to heartfelt ballads like “girl….WOMAN” and everything in between: Texas-sized ground is covered from start to finish, more than enough in deed to please even the most fussy music lover. Surrounding himself with an all-star crew of reedman John Ellis, accordionist Gary Versace, cellist Hank Roberts, and Joe Martin on bass, Royston makes daring and downright fun compositional choices throughout, not the least of which is the material’s inspired instrumentation.
If you’re like me and find yourself missing the childlike sense of wonder afforded by late 80s/early 90s downtown music scene of Bill Frisell’s Have a Little Faith or Lounge Lizard’s Voice of Chunk, FB might be for you.
Christopher Trapani – Waterlines (New Focus Recordings)
Waterlines is Christopher Trapani’s premier portrait release, consisting of five pieces composed between 2005 and 2013. Master performers abound, JACK Quartet, vocalist Lucy Dhegrae, pianist Marilyn Nonken, and Longleash are featured, among others.
Trapani draws from a respectable array of influences from folk forms and Bob Dylan to spectral composition and microtonal approaches. He composes for combinations of traditional acoustic and electronic instruments, voice, and folk instruments and idiosyncratic string instruments. To be honest, this all reads as “sounds that could be particularly offensive to me”, and as such, I approached Waterlines with great caution. Even so, I came to enjoy Trapani’s aesthetic more and more with each successive listen.
I am particularly taken with the disc’s two lengthiest pieces, “Waterlines” and “Cognitive Consonance”. “Waterlines”, written in response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of Trapini’s hometown of New Orleans, features settings of five songs about flooding from the delta blues cannon. One senses reverence for the source material rather than a sort of musical gentrification on these recordings, a pleasant surprise to say the least, due in no small part to the artistry of Dhegrae and Talea Ensemble / James Baker. “Cognitive Consonance”, the jewel in the crown of Waterlines, also references source material, this time traditional Ottoman classical music, as studied by Trapani while in Istanbul. Featured on the piece are seemingly disparate elements Turkish qanûn performed by Didem Başar, icy and spectral electronics, and compelling and tripped-out micro-tonalities courtesy one hexaphonic electric guitar that Trapani himself plays on this recording.
Despite reservations, I’m so glad I gave Waterlines a fair shake, uncovering a massive and unique talent in Trapani, and one I will continue to follow. I anticipate that many of you who choose to dive in will feel similarly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
learn more at ECM and buy at your favorite record store or Amazon
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.
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!