Sunday, February 15, 2015

GuitCussion - Blue Congo

GuitCussion
Blue Congo
Brakophonic Records

Henrik Wartel - Drums
Stefan Thorpenberg - Electric Guitars
Per Anders Skytt - Drums
Gunnar Backman - Fretless and Fretted 25 string Virtual Guitar, Live Loops

I tend to look at guitar groups in the area I’ll loosely describe as free jazz with suspicion. Too often it seems there’s latent heavy metal tendencies lurking in the background, looking for the moment to make themselves known with some inopportune “shredding”.

Still, the premise of the Swedish group GuitCussion is intriguing. Consisting of two guitarists and two drummers, the group wants to create a powerful form of free music in a non-idiomatic fashion. Whether GuitCussion fulfills the non-idiomatic part of the equation is open to debate, but ultimately beside the point, because they create some interesting atmospheres and textures on Blue Congo. Parts of it sound like what would have happened if Larry Coryell had played with Tony Oxley back in ’75 instead of Alphonse Mouzon, and the band can bring the heat when it wants to, as on the track Broken View.

Blue Congo is an embarrassment of riches, with over 70 minutes of music, and I could have been just as happy with a little editing. But that’s a minor quibble. It seems that fans of free improv are frequently also fans of bands like King Crimson. I think those folks will like this a lot, as to my ears they successfully bridge both genres.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Astral Spirits Records

Astral Spirits is a neat little Austin-based label whose releases are in cassette tape format with digital download in editions of 100 - 150. They’re fun to collect, because the simple graphics are appealing and the format is such a throwback. Part of the fun is finding something to play them on; I broke out my old boombox to give them a spin!

As unpretentious as the label appears, Nate Cross of Astral Spirits (a part of Monofonus Press) is dedicated to releasing serious, challenging music. The first two releases were John Dikeman’s The Double Trio and Hexane by Icepick (Nate Wooley, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, Chris Corsano). I believe the Dikeman is already out-of-print, but Hexane has been reissued in a different colored cassette. These were followed by Ballister’s The Ballister Monologues, Upés by Broken Trap Ensemble, and Stepped Stoned, a solo effort by drummer Will Guthrie. 

It will be interesting to see where the label goes, because one can already detect a movement away from the free jazz nature of the initial releases. Certainly Ballister fits within that description, but the links grow more tenuous with the skewed chamber music of Broken Trap Ensemble, and the previews on Astral Spirit’s Facebook page of their February 10 releases are of the avant-pop of Tredici Bacci and a minimalist composition by percussionist Nick Hennies.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Top Jazz Releases of 2014

I was asked again this year to take part in Francis Davis’ Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which is being hosted by NPR Music for the second consecutive year. There was a lot of good music released in 2104, and some right at the end of the year that will have to be lumped in with next year’s output. It was actually surprisingly easy to come up with the handful of albums that really stood out for me.


Top 10 (in order)


Steve Lehman – Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings)

Anna Webber – SIMPLE (Skirl)

RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl - North And The Red Stream (NoBusiness Records)

Max Johnson – The Prisoner (NoBusiness Records)

Jorrit Dijkstra’s Pillow Circles - Live Bimhuis Amsterdam (Driff Records)

Samuel Blaser/Benoit Delbecq/Gerry Hemingway - fourth landscape (Nuscope Recordings)

Wadada Leo Smith – The Great Lakes Suites (TUM)

Stephen Gauci/Kirk Knuffke/Ken Filiano - Chasing Tales (Relative Pitch)

Luis Vicente/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino/Marco Franco - Clocks and Clouds (FMR Records)

Anthony Braxton – Trio (New Haven) 2013 (New Braxton House)


Honorable Mentions
(in alphabetical order)


Rodrigo Amado - Wire Quartet (Clean Feed)

Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad Quartet – Silver Cornet (Nessa Records)

Anthony Braxton – 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 (New Braxton House)

3d: Tomasz Dabrowski/Kris Davis/Andrew Drury – vermillion tree (ForTune)

The Danny Fox Trio- Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records)

Ideal Bread – Beating the Teens (Cunieform Records)

Tyshawn Sorey – Alloy (Pi Recordings)

Reissues (in order)


The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 – New York Concerts (Elemental Music)

Miles Davis – Miles at the Fillmore: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy)

Howard Riley Trio – Angle/The Day Will Come (Hux Records)

Debut Recording


Tesla Coils – S/T (Setola di Maiale) Their first as a group, although at least one member has other albums out, so I don’t know if this counts as a true “debut”.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tyshawn Sorey - Alloy

Tyshawn Sorey
Alloy

Cory Smythe – Piano
Chris Tordini – Acoustic Bass
Tyshawn Sorey - Drums

Alloy is an album that draws you in with its introspective beginning, and an almost deceptive simplicity. But the four compositions Tyshawn Sorey has prepared for the listener reveal greater depths with each listen, and end up traversing a great deal of territory – from minimal gestures, to a lovely statement of a classical theme, to hip-hop rhythms, to intense lower-register excursions on the piano.

I’ve always admired the fact that Mr. Sorey’s music isn’t about the drums per se, his primary instrument, but is always in service to the composition and the group as a whole. His previous album on Pi, Oblique-I, seemed overly indebted to M-Base and was too much of a good thing – I wore out before the entire CD was finished. But on Alloy his structures support superb interaction between the trio, and I think I know which sections are composed, but I’m not sure – not that it matters in the end.

No matter how egalitarian a piano trio, it’s hard not to focus on the pianist, and Cory Smyth demands the spotlight by conjuring a remarkable range of expressiveness, from wee-hours-of-the-morning quietude to a rumbling attack that will remind one of Cecil Taylor. He can play with real economy and restraint when he chooses, without losing the thread of the narrative he’s creating. In these moments he shows a kinship with Craig Taborn’s ECM output. 

If an alloy is composed of two materials such as two metals, then this Alloy is a compound with no distinct boundary between compositional and improvisational materials. In creating a new alloy, Mr. Sorey has taken his art a step further.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lana Trio - Live in Japan

Lana Trio
Live in Japan

Kjetil Jerve – Piano
Henrik Munkeby Norstebo – Trombone
Andreas Wildhagen - Drums

One gets the sense that the Lana Trio looks at things a little differently upon inspection of the cover of Live in Japan. Sharing space with images of Japanese food and someone wearing traditional garb is a shot of fishermen on a dolphin hunt. Couple that with the name of the Norwegian label that released it, Va Fongool, an Italian phrase that translates to “Go f_____ yourself”, and things could get bumpy.

The CD, the band’s second, was recorded during a tour of Japan in the early part of this year. The concert in question took place at Jazzspot Candy in Chiba, outside Tokyo, and contains both sets in the order they were played.

Although the Lana Trio is a free improv group, it turns out things never get totally out of hand. The members of the trio traverse territory ranging from sparse, minimalist ruminations to sections of high intensity. Each of the three lengthy tracks gives the band time to cautiously set up structures and increase the heat as they proceed.

There are some really nice sections where Jerve and Wildhagen engage in intense dialog, the pianist mixing traces of Bley with some of the dissonance and lower register work of Cecil Taylor. Live in Japan is good, no-holds-barred free improv, even if some of the “lower case” stuff doesn’t work as much for me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue

I haven’t had the time or the energy to closely follow the debate about MOPDK’s Kind of Blue recreation that’s been raging online. Bassist Damon Smith’s Facebook post favoriting Jimmy Cobb over Kevin Shea has so far generated over 1,200 comments, and over at Organissimo, a post about Blue has resulted in almost 4,700 views. I can’t recall such heated debate about a jazz-related topic since the days of Wynton’s ascendency as the de facto spokesperson for “jazz” in the eyes of the unwashed.

When I heard about the project, I thought it was probably one of the following:
  1. An idiosyncratic but loving tribute to an iconic jazz album that everyone hears at some point in their lives, even if they’re not a jazz fan
  2. A commentary on the state of jazz, particularly mainstream jazz, where recreations of bop and Blue Note happen with regularity
  3. A clever piece of self-promotion, guaranteed to get a response. As they say, “Any publicity is good publicity.”
  4. All of the above
Whatever the band’s original intent, they have certainly succeeded at #3. I frankly don’t care how well the band “succeeded” at the project; by definition it will be different, no matter how hard they tried to ape the original. In a weird way, I admire their resolve, because it’s one thing to say, “Hey, let’s practice and record as close a copy of Kind of Blue as we can” and another to actually go do it.

One unexpected side effect of listing to MOPDK’s version is it made me want to go back and listen to the original, something I hadn’t done in years. I bookmarked certain passages in my brain, interested in how Miles and his band had played them. So if nothing else, perhaps MOPDK has done us a service, by causing us to focus again on the genius of that group in that time, and making us realize that, as in all things, time marches on and so must the music some of us still like to call Jazz.