Personnel: Marco Fiorenzano – piano; Umberto Lepore – double bass, bells, objects; Stefano Costanzo – drums, bells, bow and objects; Davide Maria Viola – cello (on tracks 1 and 4)
Impression: This set was recorded live in front of a group of students to demonstrate the increasingly lost skill of capturing live performance on the first take and impressively, Costanzo and crew choke odd meters into submission and mold tempos and moods as only truly locked-in musicians can.
Impression: This categorically wonderful record born out of limitation snuck out last year as the pandemic began to rage and is perhaps a more mollifying suite of imaginary landscapes, originally conceived as lullabies.
Included in the artwork for guitarist, composer, and producer David Torn’s new release Sun of Goldfinger is the anonymous maxim, “long road wants me to abandon short-sight; but what kind of place is this, where I’d once believed we might rest?” Though I am in the dark with respect to inside information, SoG unfolds not unlike an inexorable and epic aural hero’s journey, reflecting perhaps an interpretation of the accompanying quote.
The core of the group consists of Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Ches Smith. On the centerpiece of the record, pianist Craig Taborn, guitarists Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira, and the Scorchio String Quartet augment the trio. First, these are among the most inspiring musicians on the planet performing at the highest level, none more than Berne, whose showing here illuminates his intrepidly versatile musicianship. Second, Torn creates resplendent sorcery by assembling from extended performances, Teo Macero-style, sounds that are quite unlike anything else out there, really: alien textures give way to virulent grooves that give way to chromatic seas of bliss, which are then all reshuffled and varied with a freshness that epitomizes the mind of David Torn.
I haven’t marveled at anything else more than SoG this year. Get this in your life as soon as possible!
Norwegian composer and tuba player Daniel Herskedal has become one of the more fascinating musicians on the scene in the past handful of years, releasing two terrific records in 2015’s Slow Eastbound Train and 2017’s The Roc. A triptych of sorts is completed with Voyage, a stunning suite of pieces for ensemble members from his previous two recordings.
Despite the non-traditional instrumentation, Voyage presents a signature sound that is both strikingly tuneful and rousing, so much so in fact that even the nautical theme of the song titles doesn’t bother me. Herskedal handles the tuba and bass trumpet duties alongside pianist Eyolf Dale, percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, violist Bergmund Waal Skaslien, and oudist Maher Mahmoud, who despite limited playtime, is my mvp for the collection. In addition to his virtuosity on the seemingly untamable tuba, Herskedal showcases great skill in employing ostinato, syncopation, and theme/variation in ways that insert his unique aesthetic into each piece, and the effect is dramatic and infectious.
It’s immensely gratifying to witness a young musician as gifted as Herskedal furthering his concept year after year in inventive ways right before our very ears. Big props to Dave Stapleton and company at Edition Records for providing a nurturing home in which this type of notable progress might continue.
Greg Chudzik – Solo Works, Vol. 2 (Panoramic Recordings)
Readers might recognize bassist Greg Chudzik from his playing on Steve Reich’s Pulse / Quartet on Nonesuch Records, Steve Colman’s Morphogenesis from a few years back, or from The National’s High Violet. But if you were a listener to my former radio show you would have heard nearly the entirety of his Solo Works, Vol. 1 from 2015. Chudzik has followed up that superb set of pieces for solo electric bass with Solo Works, Vol. 2, a collection of four extended pieces for a quartet of layered acoustic double basses.
The bassist’s wide-ranging workload as a player is reflected in Chudzik’s impressively diverse compositional approaches on SWV2: “Wind Hymnal” is a sullen and folksy, almost Asian-tinged number while “The What” is a catchy, dare I say poppy, hit in 7; “Y’Chi” is a slowly-evolving spectral monolith while “Automated Ocean” is a midi-enhanced/effected and rhythmically dense piece of contemporary composition. In the wrong hands, this type of multiplicity could come across as overly ambitious or even jumbled, but Chudzik’s exceptional compositional voice is more than strong enough to unify this set in considerably rewarding ways. It is certainly worth noting that Chudzik’s traditional and extended bowing technique is masterful and adds another layer of excellence to what is already compelling material.
The album ends on a fittingly rhapsodic and triumphant note, leaving the listener with chills of optimism, not an easy task in 2019. The first two doses of Chudzik solo works have me hooked and in a state of already very much jonesing for Vol 3!
Taking influence from percussion pieces by Xenakis, Feldman, Varése, Stockhausen, Babbitt, and Cage – the Big-6 of 20th century composition, maybe – composer and saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber descends like a friggin’ superhero onto new home Pi Recordings with Clockwise.
This music is heavy, like King Crimson or Don Caballero-heavy. No surprise here, considering the propulsive capacity of three-headed beast Matt Mitchell, Chris Tordini, and Ches Smith. In choosing master improvising soloists/extended technicians Jeremy Viner, Jacob Garchik, and Christopher Hoffman for the project, Webber has deftly adorned and accentuated the proceedings’ weight. According to Webber, “The goal was not to re-contextualize the composers’ original intents or ideas, rather it was to find hidden sympathetic points of resonance within the primary compositions that I could abstractly develop into new works.” Riffin’ on the germs of the ideas of the oldies, perhaps? On Clockwise, pitch and harmony take a back seat to texture/timbre and rhythm/meter, just like in the best, heaviest rock music. This does much to make Clockwise some of the most accessible highly complex music imaginable.
Webber has created an environment so wonderfully conducive to solo and group improvisation with these inspired pieces, which is particularly exciting with such a creative and skilled group of players. Clockwise is a total grand slam!
Cyrille Aimée – Move On: A Sondheim Adventure (Mack Avenue Records)
Acclaimed vocalist Cyrille Aimée seems to have found in the work of singular Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim more than sufficient material with which to tell her own story. With Move On: A Sondheim Adventure tell it she does, and with great aplomb. Her first studio recording since moving from New York to New Orleans, Move On features a cast of nearly twenty musicians masterfully supporting Aimée’s personal statement of journey and transition. In addition to a literal “moving on”, Aimée has gone through the significant personal changes of ending relationships with both band mates and a significant other.
The core group on this session is comprised of the French trio of pianist Thomas Enhco, bassist Jérémy Bruyère, and drummer Yoann Serra. Additional top shelf work came from the hands of Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, as well as from keyboardist and Aimée’s old friend Assaf Gleizner, who also co-produced and beautifully co-arranged the album. There is an infectiousness on MO that seemingly only comes from an artist’s full immersion in the creative act: the pained reverie of “I Remember”, augmented in no small part by Warren Walker’s electronically processed saxophone, is profound, and the gospel-tinged delivery of “No One Is Alone” is supremely affecting.
The album ends with an up-tempo samba version of “With So Little To Be Sure Of”, the cherry on the top of this weighty testament to the therapeutic and redemptive power of music.
As one of the most accomplished and in-demand improvisers for the past nearly three decades and twenty-some-odd leader records later, Chris Potter needs no introduction, but there you go with one anyway.
For his first outing for England’s Edition Records imprint, Potter, as is his wont, dons many hats: composer, tenor and soprano saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, sampler guru, guitarist, keyboardist, and percussionist. He also recruited some players of the highest order: keyboardist James Francies, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Linley Marthe. The playing by all on Circuits is, no surprise, clairvoyant and spectacular, but it is the locked interplay within the rhythm section that really shines here. Harland tests the limits of a groove’s relationship to meter in signature fashion while Francies and Marthe reside splendidly in the pocket. Though Circuits is a decidedly rhythm-forward affair, it is also one in which the players are given the high sign to go off. And go off they do, none more than Potter himself, who nearing 50, is doing some of the sharpest playing of his life.
Truth be told, I’m not easily wowed in the presence of technically proficient playing, but Circuits is really quite impressive, and quite unique in that these guys are on another plane of skill and are also saying something quite compelling. It’s heartening that Potter is off to such a swell start at his new home of Edition Records.
I have plenty of time for a record that kicks off with the musical centerpiece of cinematic juggernaut Eraserhead, David Lynch’s “In Heaven”. Love Hurts is one such collection, and fortunately, there is much more to guitarist Julian Lage’s new one than a cool bookend.
At 31, Lage has already carved out an illustrious career, working with some of the greatest musicians on the planet including Gary Burton, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Dave Douglas, Charles Lloyd, and Fred Hersch. On top of his side-work, he has released several records under his own name, included two trio records with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. For LH, Lage recruited bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, effectively opening wide the door to an elevated scrappiness that was perhaps missing on his two previous trio recordings. The song selection on LH is impeccable, including a sating triptych of “pairs”…1) original numbers: “In Circles” and “Lullaby”, the almost Ayler-esque highlight of the record; 2) Keith Jarret tunes: “The Windup” and “Encore (A)” 3) Roy Orbison-associated classics: “Love Hurts” and “Crying”. According to Lage, “the covers on this record are like when you move into a new apartment, the last thing you do is hang your pictures on the wall…. those pictures define your aesthetic in a way. So the tunes we chose kind of define the aesthetic I natively love but hadn’t put on a record yet.”
Julian Lage’s trajectory is one that is impossibly ever onward and upward, given the ashes of excellence and innovation that are still smoldering in its trail. One can only imagine what wonders he still has in his bag, and how much fun it will be to find out.
If you’re like me (ill-informed, lazy, etc.), the name Marilyn Mazur might not ring a bell at first. Upon further digging, it turns out she is the same Danish percussionist who played on Miles Davis’ Aura record, a pair of Gil Evans releases, a handful of Jan Garbarek’s albums, and in fact, has numerous recordings under a variety of monikers on ECM, Storyville, and Stunt Records. In sum, she is a seasoned professional who has been kicking ass since well before many listeners were born.
Mazur began making adventurous music back in the mid-1970s with her multi-discipline music/theatre group Primi Band. More than forty years later, she has resurrected that concept with Shamania, a collective of ten of Scandinavia’s most creative female musicians who, according to their new label, draw “from a deep well of primal energy and experimental audacity”. What Mazur and co have created on their eponymous RareNoise Records release is somewhat indescribable given their holistic approach to music making. The reed/percussion/string/vocal music grooves, floats, bobs, weaves, and it quenches. Suffice it to say, and this is no secret, the best music throws genre to the wind, and that is what Mazur has done with Shamania.
I’m not saying we should leave it to women to do it right, but far more often than not, given the opportunity, they will. More appropriately, we should let women show the world what it could be and then the world can and will likely fall in line. Big ups to RareNoise for again presenting terrific sounds to a world filled with noise.
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.
Let’s start with this: Cécile McLorin Salvant is one of the three or so most compelling and excellent vocalists making music in 2018. On her new duo album The Window, her magnificently refined aesthetic and masterful interplay with pianist Sullivan Fortner sets Salvant apart in a way that is profound and likely discouraging to others in the singing game. More obscure gems from the torch and pop cannons and beyond sit comfortably aside enchanting takes on standards by Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Dori Cayimi, and other all-time greats of songwriting.
Dense spells are cast at will as Fortner receives the go-ahead to brandish his French-Impressionistic meets German-Romantic (filtered through Monk-ish stride) dexterity as he does on Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and on the Winstone/Rowles classic “Peacocks” when they are joined by Melissa Aldana on tenor sax. When in this trance-state, one almost forgets that these are primarily songs about the total desolation that love can bring – beguiling, not unlike love’s spell itself. Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter, this remains one of the most splendid records of 2018 and one can only hope that Salvant returns to this seamless duo format with Fortner again and again in the future.
As part of Tyshawn Sorey’s exceptional trio, pianist Cory Smythe’s extraordinarily reactive playing was one of the absolute standouts at the most recent Big Ears Festival. Smythe furthers his trend of astounding on Circulate Susanna, a kind of otherworldly song-cycle inspired in part by a version of his musical upbringing in rural Illinois, particularly as it was informed by America’s dark past as reflected in the paradoxically light tone of its popular music. He is joined by the gifted and imaginative duo of guitarist Daniel Lipell and vocalist Sofia Jernberg.
Lipell’s deft acoustic guitar playing is purposefully detuned and at times liberally doused in electronic processing that only enhances the Partch-like alien-ness of the proceedings. Jernberg vocalizes in a wholly unique and gripping way: part throat harmonizing, alien binary code, part western art music master, and part possessed and/or rabid animal. There are numerous moments on this recording when I have no concept of who is playing what and how, not unlike a Kagel piece, and that is a decided plus in my book. A seemingly Burroughsian lyrical cut-up of the classic “Strange Fruit” adorns the final powerhouse track “To Gather the Wond” that I have now listened to over 20 times in a row…the mood is chilling, but I cannot get enough of it. Big props to pianist Kris Davis for releasing this one on her new imprint Pyroclastic.
For their 8th studio release, Phronesis – the vehicle for bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame, and drummer Anton Eger to throw down – shows no sign of taking it easy. In fact, We Are All is a rallying cry for unity in a time of profound divisiveness. Kinetic, syncopated, deliberate, direct, and jagged are words that initially come to mind when describing the sounds on WAA, but that is selling it short. These guys are undoubtedly playing their asses off here, but it’s not simply a wank-fest by any barometer – there is a sum > parts certainty about this recording.
Collectable artwork and collectable sounds abound from the venerable Edition Records, this is a release that encapsulates 2018’s cloud of anxiety as well as its resilient pushback. At six tracks in just fewer than 41 minutes this is and will always be my kind of record.
Fred Frith Trio – Closer to the Ground (Intakt Records)
Legendary guitarist and musical maverick Fred Frith has covered a lot of territory over 50+ years, but, as he mentions in the liner notes to his new album Closer to the Ground, he has always been in a band for what only that kind of arrangement can bring. Not only is his trio with bassist Jason Hoopes and drummer Jordan Glenn another of those many bands, but it’s one of Frith’s most superlative since his much-beloved Henry Cow.
As an improvising soloist of the highest order, I can’t imagine Frith wanting for a single thing more from his latest rhythm section – they lay down metronomic and/or shifting grooves, they create sunset-like colors on which Frith eviscerates and/or gently highlights with an array of engaging tremolo and reverberant effects, and they are acutely aware of their supporting-yet-not-passive role and play and/or don’t play accordingly. Bravo to Swiss imprint Intakt Records for being home to such a vital statement from a singular artist and his inventive crew.
The Lie Detectors – Part III: Secret Unit (Chant Records)
The duo of guitarist Eyal Maoz and drummer Asaf Sirkis aka The Lie Detectors is at ease stretching out, perhaps a result of their longstanding rapport, stretching back to when they were 10 years old growing up in Rehovot, Israel. In the intervening years, Maoz and Sirkis have amassed resumes that read like a who’s who of creative music in NYC and Europe, and for good reason: these guys rip!
TLD is a finely-tuned vehicle replete with rack and pinion steering, precision gearbox, four-piston aluminum monobloc fixed caliper brakes, and on P3:SU they prove more than capable of leaping into and traversing whatever terrain presents itself. The music freaks out like early Mothers of Invention, pummels like Tony Williams Lifetime, zigzags like another wicked duo, Ruins, and locks into cruise control like a kind of majestic Endless Summer. Hop in the back and hold on to your hat…it’s heck of a gratifying ride.