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.

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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

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.

learn more at Jazz & People 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!

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Stefan Aeby Trio, Günter Baby Sommer, Marc Ribot, Sungjae Son, and Tord Gustavsen

Stefan Aeby Trio – The London Concert (Intakt Records)

Swiss pianist/composer Stefan Aeby’s new trio release The London Concert commences with “Shi”, an impressionistic Prelude to the Afternoon of Stefan of sorts: an amuse bouche for what later proves to have been a brilliantly-balanced meal.  From there, the telepathic interplay that is a hallmark reserved for top-shelf piano trios becomes quite apparent.

Combinations of playful, deft, scrappy, and patient exchanges between drummer Michi Stulz and bassist André Pousaz drive forward and then reign in the proceedings while Aeby dazzlingly and gracefully juggles all manner of theme and variation, at times subtly and artfully augmenting his playing with Ableton’s electronic processing.  This is a record that initially checks all the boxes for a fully satisfying listening experience and then immediately begs for another even deeper dive.

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

 

 

Günter Baby Sommer – Baby’s Party (Intakt Records)

Have you noticed that septuagenarians are getting it done in 2018?  The jubilant spirit of freedom that fuels 77 year old master improviser, educator, composer, and percussionist Milford Graves is very much alive and well evidenced not only in his own infectious performances at last year’s Big Ears Festival, but also throughout the world of free and improvised music, and nowhere more profoundly than on Baby’s Party, the new release of 75 year old German improvisational drummer / vocalizer Günter Baby Sommer.

The aesthetic chemistry between Sommer and album cohort trumpeter Till Brönner is an absolute delight, not unlike a warm blanket in late autumn.  The sometimes frisky, sometimes delicate musical tit for tat throughout this set traverses the history of improvisational alchemy, replete with entry points for any fan of music – no small task for two artists throwing down sounds on the fly.

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

 

 

Marc Ribot – Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Anti Records)

2018 being what it has become to anyone with a soul and a brain, it is far too easy to forget that there is still beauty and compassion in the world.  Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 is a not-so-gentle reminder that, not only do some still care, but also that some will make noise about it until change follows.  For this set of protest songs whose history spans the larger part of the 20th century and beyond, Ribot surrounds himself with disparate musical foils such as former boss Tom Waits, badass vocalist/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, rock vocalist Syd Straw, Mexican actress and performance artist Astrid Hadad, and many others…and to stirring effect.

To be sure, these are primarily accessible songs of all varieties of Americana, but in the singular hands of Ribot, they become something greater. Despite the substantial weight of much of the lyrical content, S.O.R. is effectively an unexpected letter from an old friend at just the right time, just to check in.

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

 

 

Sungjae Son – Near East Quartet (ECM Records)

The bass-less ensemble is a fascinating beast, and can go one of two ways:  sink or swim.  Seoul’s Near East Quartet led by composer, saxophonist, and clarinetist Sungjae Son undoubtedly goes in later direction…in Olympic fashion too, though theirs is less a brutish marathon and more a freestyle event.  Like much other music on the ECM imprint, what the group of Son, guitarist Suwuk Chung, vocalist Yulhee Kim, and drummer Soojin Suh decide not to play/sing is of paramount importance: restraint, my personal favorite artistic quality, is the raison dêtre here.

Incorporating traditional Korean gugak musical elements, dirge-y rock grooves, majestic chromatic harmonies, as well as swing, the NEQ scratches a number of the same itches that another excellent bass-less group from the eastern hemisphere, Dirty Three, did.  Clocking in at just less than 37 minutes, this gem leaves the listener wanting more, which is certainly one of greatest endorsements that can be given to a recording in 2018.

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Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Other Side (ECM Records)

For Norwegian pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen, bassist Sigurd Hole, and drummer Jarle Vespestad, intentional breathing seems to be a key improvisational/compositional device: as the breath goes, so goes the music.  Consequently, The Other Side is not so much about bold edicts delivered from on high, as it is about complex, if somewhat muted and/or obscured suggestions.

There is a deceptive folk-like simplicity and placidity that is persistent here, manifesting itself in a similar Scandinavian, less-is-more approach found among the ranks of the Rune Grammofon, NORCD, and Hubro rosters.  In addition to inventive settings of traditional tunes and originals, there are three Gustavsen arrangements of J.S. Bach that are stunning revelations, leaving me waiting in anticipation for the next trio release from Mr. Gustavsen, hopefully in less than the decade+ that it took to get this one.

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