issue 23 :: June 2014

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Jazz & Improvised Music Reviews

Boris Hauf, Josh Berman, Archie Shepp, Kirk Knuffke & Jesse Stacken, Seeded Plane & Hal Rammel / (D)(B)(H), Kowald/Masaoka/Robair, Anthony Coleman, Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith & Weasel Walter, HAG, Jemeel Moondoc & Connie Crothers, Suboko/Hübsch/Spieth, Subterraneanact
Boris HaufNext Delusion (Clean Feed) CD

Austrian multi-instrumentalist Boris Hauf has been making yearly trips to Chicago for years, and here he assembles an interesting lineup of three percussionists working with three reed players, including Keefe Jackson on contrabass clarinet and Jason Stein on bass clarinet. I hate having to put some records into these genre pages, as at times this sounds nothing like jazz, long sections of drones and inharmonic flutters; it could be a Scelsi piece or the more out there improv groups that Hauf works in with people like Werner Dafeldecker. But I am putting this in jazz as some of the drumming comes across as coming from that tradition. It’s a captivating ride start to finish. "Eighteen Ghost Roads" starts with the three reeds sounding static chords before being eclipsed by a rolling sea of drums rolls. Boris Hauf’s creativity knows few bounds.
Josh BermanOld Idea (Delmark) CD

Perhaps it is an “old idea,” but what a good idea. This is a good ol’ (’60s Blue Note) jazz quintet, with vibes subbed in for the expected piano. The music is smooth and funky at once, riding atop lingering notes from the vibes, trumpet and saxophone gently sparring. If you had played this for me as a Bobby Hutchinson CD, I wouldn’t question you for an instant. There are a few rhythm-less sections that seem more modern, and those sound perfect to my ears as well.
Archie SheppMariamar (Atomic Records) CD

A very nice reissue (bootleg?) of a 1976 Italian LP of Archie Shepp with local and Brazilian musicians spinning out lush, soulful jazz tunes. Shepp is of course a master of many styles of jazz, and here he focuses on melodic lyrical ballads with a tight, piano-less sextet. Shepp’s playing is soulful and generous, giving plenty of room for solos from his band. Guitarist Irio de Paula’s playing shines throughout, providing some beautiful chord comping that makes me think of Wes Montgomery, especially backing Shepp’s tenor sax on a duo of “Body and Soul.” Frankly, I was surprised at how enjoyable this has been. I assumed it would be worth one listen and then on to sell at End of an Ear records, but this goes into my permanent and ever growing Archie Shepp collection.
Kirk Knuffke & Jesse StackenOrange Was The Color (Steeplechase)

Charles Mingus, to my ears, is the finest apex of Jazz Music, as composer, as player, and ignoring his violent outbursts and tantrums, as band leader. His compositions are seemingly endlessly mutable, maybe from the fact that in some cases, in his Jazz Workshop days at least, Mingus wanted his players to actively co-create their notes around his melodic frameworks. Here a cornet and piano duo tackles eleven of his more well-known pieces, and do a surprisingly good job. You may think bass and drums would be the bedrock for any successful Mingus interpretation, but Knuffke (cornet) and Stacken (piano) skillfully evoke each piece, bringing out the beauty and fierceness of Mingus’ music. A complex man writing complex music, Mingus could pen the hottest fire music (“So Long Eric”) to nearly schmaltzy ballads (“Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love”). Knuffke’s piano becomes the backing band, at times making the joyous cacophony of each horn part going off in a different direction. I don’t hear Knuffke trying to imitate Mingus’ own idiosyncratic piano playing. Rather he stretches the piano to cover as much as possible. Mingus doesn’t get enough credit as composer, and outside of the various Mingus Big Band projects, this is a rare album to feature entirely Mingus’ compositions (without his presence, that is), Art Pepper releasing a nice one in the early 1960s. This is an enjoyable memento of a great musician.
Seeded Plane & Hal Rammel / (D)(B)(H) [split] (Friends And Relatives/Gilgongo) LP

Seeded Plane is one of the many sound projects of Bryan Day, here playing homemade instruments with Jay Kreimer and Chicago’s famous amplified palette inventor Hal Rammel. Rammel was one of few noise musicians I saw when I lived in Chicago way back when (1992?). The three musicians conjure a racket of plinks and scrapes, like a bad day in a xylophone factory. Maybe a thumb piano factory on a good day. Regardless, it is an intense rumble of noises divorced any instrument. It’s a rolling sea of noises. One side of an LP is not enough Hal Rammel, it’s almost insulting, but the quartet of multi-instrumentalists (D)(B)(H) makes a nice second side and I can’t fault them for anything. Saxophone, trumpet, and drums are folded in with tapes, metal (objects), strangely-played guitar. It’s a free and exciting music, the players know how to leave space for the others.
Kowald/Masaoka/Robair Illuminations (Several Views) (Rastascan Records) CD

This may sound like a strange recommendation for a record, but this unusual trio of the late bassist Peter Kowald, percussionist Gino Robair and koto player Miya Masaoka was a lot of fun to play clarinet as it played. No one makes “Music Minus One” training records for free improvisors (although I have thought of making a series of them), and not just any record feels right in doing this. And I am not saying these thirteen short pieces are incomplete or lacking anything, merely that they are accommodating to another voice. Kowald and Robair are at their usual eclectic best, and the koto’s harp-like sound adds an ancient flavor to the music. The record is mid-tempo, intense and ceremonial in tone, at times featuring Kowald using his voice to impersonate a didgeridoo. The cover painting is by Kowald.
Anthony Coleman Freakish (Tzadik) CD

Pianist Coleman continues to surprise with audacious choices for his releases. After a solo piano record—Schmutzige Magnaten—devoted to Yiddish song writer Mordechai Gebirtig recorded at midnight in a Polish synagogue, who would expect his next solo record would be a set of lovely lesser-known Jelly Roll Morton pieces. Coleman wisely doesn’t try to update or modernize these pieces, nor does he throw them into a post-modern blender; he loves the music too much. He plays them straight, his touch light and lively, and while this music is old, ancient in the history of recorded music, Coleman brings the music to life. I had to laugh and smile when I first heard this. It’s a joy to hear music from the first era of jazz played as actual music, not as stiff museum pieces.
Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith & Weasel Walter [untitled] (ugEXPLODE) CD

This is not your ordinary guitar/bass/drums trio, not by any stretch. Bassist Damon Smith moved from California, where he performed a lot with drummer Weasel Walter lives, to Houston, Texas, where he performs a lot with guitarist Sandy Ewen. So when they went into the studio for their first time playing as a trio, the results are not surpringly together. Most of the time they play a very aggressive and electrolyzing free improv, Walter’s explosive outbursts giving free reign to Ewen’s scrunchy guitar (steel wool smashed against the pickups is a regular tool of hers) and more electrically processed sounds (feedback and some unrecognizable device, maybe a deftly-used delay device?) from Smith. At times it is hard to tell the two string instruments apart as they merge into an aurally exciting front. A few sections that cool down somewhat are still filled with an active search for new extended techniques and rhythms. Throughout, this record is exciting, perhaps due to Walter’s ever changing drum patterns. Ewen has been making fantastic pieces of art with melted pieces of plastic, providing the startling cover art of the record, and also the projections during a stunning 2014 live performance.

Ewen / Smith / Weasel Trio 2014
Walter, Ewen and Smith performing at NMASS 2014.
HAG‘Moist Areas’ (Eh?) CD

A trio of trumpet, bass and drums that plays a seething mass of extended techniques instead of the melodic jazz I was expecting from the instrumentation. This is not jazz on any level; this is bowed scrapes, smoochy lip sounds, clangs and rubbed sounds, very rich and complex, and very enjoyable to my ears. I just realized the group name is an acronym of its members, Brad Henkel, Sean Ali and David Grollman. More, please.
Jemeel Moondoc & Connie CrothersTwo (Relative Pitch Records) CD

I used to have a cassette of Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron — why the hell did I have a jazz cassette? I think I must blame Seth Tisue for giving it to me. That long-lost duo cassette reminds me of this relaxed release by pianist Connie Crothers and alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, who is, by judging from the number of releases I have by him, one of my favorite saxophonists, although I don’t think I have written about him at all in my zine. In general, Moondoc commands a beautifully melodic sound. His tune “You Let Me Into Your Life” appeared as an extended romp with William Parker on the New World Pygmies Volume 2, and here it’s presented more as the ballad I think it was written as. Most of the pieces here are live improvisations, slow to medium tempo, relaxing, melodic, interesting from a 2011 session in Crothers’ loft in New York. Moondoc, as with many modern jazz players, doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his personal and exciting style. This autographed copy was sent to me as a reward for helping to fund a Kickstarter campaign to pay for the musicians on Moondoc’s newest CD, the Zookeeper’s House, which will be reviewed in the next music issue.
Suboko/Hübsch/SpiethK-Horns (Schraum) CD

The tuba is an underutilized instrument in the world of noise music, but we hear here its tremendous possibilities as played by Carl Ludwig Hübsch in a trio with trumpet player Roland Spieth and drummer/turntablist Suboko. This is a busy microcosm of grugles, sly electronic hisses, rumbles, squeaks all with a slight ominous and dark edge. Another interesting soundscape of the acoustic and the electronic.
SubterraneanactSubterraneanact (Z6) CD

Subterraneanact sounds like the above K-Horns record, replacing the tuba with a bass clarinet and turning up the volume and activity level. The duo of Henk Bakker and Jelmer Cnossen merge clarinet sounds, only at times recognizable as such, with electronic tones and noisy atmosphere. This is what I like, always in flux, always surprising, a careful interplay of sounds and sources.
Reviews and live photos by Josh Ronsen.
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