issue 27 :: September 2015

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Jazz & Improvised Music Reviews

Ferran Fages, Philippe Lauzier, MAP, Tatsua Nakatani, West Head Project, Bryan Day & Bob Marsh, The Total Improvisation Troop, Taku Sugimoto & Moe Kamura, Hampton Hawes, Great Waitress, Kali Z. Fasteau, Tim Berne, Ballister, Cranc, Sandy Ewen & Henry Kaiser, Auris + Gino, Marcos Fernandes,
Ferran Fagesai voltanr d’un para/.lel (Etude Records) CD

* Fages plays solo guitar throughout ai voltanr d’un para/.lel’s five pieces. The electric guitar is unaffected, pushing its beautiful tone to the forefront, I think I can hear that it is a hollow body guitar at some points. The playing is slow and deliberate, chords and harmonics ringing out, a somber shadow darkens everything and I’d almost guess this was a work by Loren Mazzencane minus his characteristic vibrato. In a world where increasingly more guitarists play through more and more effect pedals, Fages’ refreshing playing was a delight to hear. Fages also works in a duo with Alfredo Costa Monteiro, who designed this cover.

Philippe LauzierTransparence (Schraum) CD

* Canadian Lauzier uses this record to show off his extended technique on the bass clarinet, with three pieces using saxophones. His skillful, deep control is clearly evident. Feedback, amplification and multitracking are used on a few pieces, but always the raw sound of the reed instruments is the focus. “Au-Dessus” for soprano saxophone is a long, snakey melody I assume uses circular breathing in the style of Evan Parker. “Geyser” amplified the wet sounds of the embouchure, recalling the bubbling of a water feature. Again, it sounds like a single four minute continuous breath. The melody of “Interlignes” sounds like each pitch is produced with a unique harmonic envelope, and these changing harmonics replace the pitched melody. The last piece, “Bruine,” uses motorized bells to create an entirely different sound, something more like what Jeph Jerman or John Grzinich might offer us, in which the high pitched ringing of the bells mixes with a deep rumble marred by static, I assume from the motors.

MAP6 Improvisations For Guitar, Bass & Drums (H&H Production) CD

Mary Halvorson plays the guitar and Tatsuya Nakatani plays the drums here, a combination that surprised me when I bought this from Nakatani at a show. Halvorson has been keeping up a relativity high-profile and prolific presence for the past decade or so, but I mainly know her from her work with Anthony Braxton in many of his current projects. Along with bassist Clayton Thomas, the three spin a web of quick, jazzy improv etudes, each instrument making an equal share of the music, perfectly balanced. Some parts get weirdly quiet and scrapy, bravo from me. “Improvisation VI” ends the collection with an undulating mass of bowed strings and cymbals. Very nice all around. I don’t listen to many jazz guitar trios, and the guitar is not a common instrument in the jazz I routinely listen to. This is an excellent, fresh gift to my ears and brains.
Tatsuya NakataniPresent Presence (Nakatani-Kobo) CD

* The thirteen pieces here showcase Nakatani’s wide range of musical abilities using his voice and a variety of percussion instruments. “Present Emergence” transports us to a dark ceremonial space, with chanting, bells and a slow thumping, Nakatani overdubbing himself numerous times to create a very large group sound. The overdubbed hand drumming on “Coastal Arc” belongs in a West African harvest concert. Nakatani deftly introduces slight pauses in his playing to create a staggeringly interesting echo effect. “Celestial Orb” uses bowed or scraped cymbals to make long drones. “Finally Flux” could also be bowed cymbals, but here they sound like overblown wooden flutes, and maybe they are. “Nenrin” returns to wordless moaning, recalling to my mind a Tibetan monk ceremony, a different feel from the earlier vocal piece.
West Head ProjectA Closely Woven Fabrik (Splitrec) CD

* The three recordings on this disc merge Jim Denley’s outdoor proclivity with his restless improvisational spirit. In three different spaces on Maria Island off of Tasmania, Denley, accordionist Monika Brooks and multi-instrumentalist Dale Gorfinkel conduct musical and physical journeys to a small audience, their small droney sounds merging with squawking birds, audience sounds, and other environmental noises. On the first piece, “Spruces,” they play to Gorfinkel’s “automated sonic contraptions” mounted in trees. The audience moves from one spot to another through the three pieces, Denley switching from bamboo flutes to saxophone to “Czech school” flute, and Gorfinkel switching from tree roots to trumpet. It’s a wonderful journey
Bryan Day & Bob MarshCrumpled Partials (Green Tape) CD

* Long time friends Day and Marsh release their first duo record together, combining Day’s homemade instruments and Marsh’s cello, augmented by bass and guitar. The resulting six pieces of scrapes, pings, knocks, and sounds of electronic processing bring to life an exciting, turbulent “sea foam chatter,” to use the title of one of these pieces. I think I can mostly distinguish between the two players, as Marsh’s use of effects give his sounds a different quality from Day’s mostly unprocessed clanks. These are sounds divorced from instrumental meaning. The two cycle through changes in sound density, busy sections here, quiet sections here. Invigorating.
The Total Improvisation TroopMan of War (atrito-afeito) CD

* This is an absolutely stunning large ensemble from Montreal, featuring some fourteen creative musicians I have never heard of, most of them playing multiple instruments, acoustic and electric, and some, Slava Egorov and James Annett, playing “home made electric lyre” and “modified bulbul tarang.” Trombones, double basses, pianos are no less welcome. All live hometown performances, the six tracks span from the jungle-like calls and textures of “Salmagundi” to the thirty minute title track, spreading tentacles of energy in eight different directions. Parts of this sound like they were lifted from a 1972 ESP LP, just wonderfully eclectic and impressive. Drummer Paulo J Perreira Lopes and keyboardist/percussionist/etc. Karolin Leblanc may be the leaders, or at least organizers of the group. The music sounds egalitarian, everyone working to make everything as interesting as possible.
Taku Sugimoto & Moe KamuraLive in Saritote (Ftarri) CD

Sugimoto has been one of my favorite guitarists since I first heard his recordings nearly twenty years ago. He has a beautiful, sensitive touch, as if he is bringing in the spirit of Morton Feldman’s music into the world through his guitar. Not content with doing the same thing, perfect as it is, over and over, recent years have seen him release works for electronics, cymbals, voices and honestly, I have not been able to keep up with his creativity. This 2013 release expands those creative boundaries considerably, displaying twenty short songs, with Sugimoto playing guitar and sometimes singing with Moe Kamura doing the bulk of the singing and sometimes playing guitar. The songs are uniformly quiet and sparse, the guitar playing a series of chords, with Kamura’s singing almost whispered on top. A pretty and delicate feeling resounds throughout. Takeshi Ikeda provides simple hand percussion on some of the songs. Erik Satie’s “Vexations” gets a six minute version here, unlike any other version you might have heard. On the whole, this record reminds me of the quiet, unconventional atmosphere of the Weird Weeds.
Hampton HawesUniverse (Prestige) LP

Let’s review a 1972 LP that hasn’t been reissued because I’m running the show and you can’t stop me. Hawes, whom I know from his 1957 trio record with Charles Mingus and Dannie Richmond, plays piano, electric piano, organ and ARP synthesizer, just like Herbie Hancock and Ramsey Lewis around this time. But unlike those funk-rock masterpieces —Headhunters, Sun Goddess — Hawes uses the electric piano to achieve the floating sound of a vibraphone, evoking a cosmic atmosphere. The track “Josie Black” picks up the pace with guitarist Arthur Adams, saxophonist Harold Land, trumpet player Oscar Brashear, bassist Chuck Rainey and drummer Leon Ndugu Chancler, all veterans of numerous jazz groups, trying to jam something from Bitches Brew. It works; very enjoyable jazz funk, wah guitar, great grooves. “Don’t Pass Me By” is cut from the same cloth while the title track is three minutes of a slow, soulful theme perfect for a rainy scene in a movie about New York City. Why is there no reissue of this? Why?
Great WaitressLucid (Splitrec) CD

* A wonderful trio of prepared piano, clarinet and accordion that plays with long stretches of quiet noises, sometimes in bewildering fashion, sometimes making sounds that don’t seem to come from any of the three instruments. The prepared piano of course brings to mind the music of John Cage, especially when it is used to make little, bumpy clangs. I assumed Jim Denley was playing saxophone throughout, but no, it was Laura Altman on clarinet, producing sloppy (perfectly sloppy) breath noises, multiphonics and high-pitched squeals.
Kali Z. FasteauPiano Rapture (Flying Note) CD

Fasteau has been releasing records at such a prolific pace that I have been unable to keep up with her always exciting explorations, literally going in many directions. Her tireless exploration of countless instruments has led to her sixteenth album focusing on her piano playing. And the focus is on the piano, many of these pieces are are for solo piano, with Kidd Jordan, L. Mixashawn Rozie and J. D. Parran accompanying her on various saxophones, flutes and clarinets. Frequent collaborator Rob McBee shows up on percussion for a few songs. Playing piano since childhood, Fasteau’s playing is fluid, peppered with influences of her early classical training, obviously channeled through her years of playing free and out. Her playing jumps from busy, complicated runs, to delicate plinkings, perfectly supporting her soloists. We are treated to musical tributes to John Tchicai and Roy Campbell, and the piece dedicated to Tchicai was recorded live at a performance immediately before Campbell was to step on the stage. The announcement of Campbell playing next is included to introduce the later written “Roy’s Wake,” a weird dirge with electric organ, Fasteau’s overdubbed vocal choir, and Rozie’s pipping flute playing. Fasteau’s diverse playing is inspiring and as she has mostly stuck to recording on her own label, there are many jazz fans, I fear, who have not heard her work. This record would be a perfect introduction.
Tim Berne’s SnakeoilYou’ve Been Watching Me (ECM) CD

Snakeoil, with Oscar Noriega (clarinet), Ches Smith (drums) and Matt Mitchell (piano), has been the only group of Tim Berne’s I’ve managed to see perform live after enjoying his music for years on LP and CD. Maybe even on cassette. On this record, they are joined by guitarist Ryan Ferreira. Sadly, this record is dominated by wanky, meandering grooves, sounding too much like Soft Machine 6 to me. The middle of “False Impressions” veers to a more open, less rhythmic space dominated by piano and faint noises (from the electric guitar?) that regains my interest. The pieces in general felt thrown together from fake books of the worst 1970s’ George Benson records. . I could never figure out what the guitar was supposed to be adding to the music, or really what any of the instruments were doing together. This ended up being my least liked Berne record of about twenty I’ve heard, and nothing like the version of Snakeoil I saw at the Cactus Cafe a few years ago.
BallisterWorse for the Wear (Aerophonic Records) CD

* Ballister’s core trio of Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electric banjo/guitar), Dave Rempis (saxophones) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) play an explosive, high-octane jazz with a loose style that leaves room open for more subtle passages and moments. In the long track “Fornax,” Lonberg-Holm coats the beginning with gritty electronic fuzz before switching to busy bowing on the cello and then changing to funky plucked basslines. Rempis’ alto saxophone wail relentlessly roars. The music is intense, and perhaps only lacks a deep lower end that could be provided by a bassist, as much of the cello flutters up into the saxophone’s range as a co-lead instrument. The trio gets into some weird territories with electronic noises where a low end does bubble up, but not in any traditional sense. Nilssen-Love’s drumming is spot on at all times.They drove to Houston and Austin in 2014 where I was able to see them perform three times, including a last minute cocktail hour for a fundraiser at the Houston Contemporary Art Museum, where contempt was the reigning attitude to afternoon free jazz. I enjoyed it.
Ballister in Houston
Ballister playing on the roof, Houston, April 2014.
CrancAll Angels (EDO) CD

* Sounding like a string quartet used to playing the most advanced works by Xenakis, Kagel and Lachenmann, Cranc is a trio of harp, cello and violin and perform improvised music. One, it does not sound improvised, and two, the harp is hardly recognizable as such. This is fantastic, turbulent music. Cellist Nikos Veliotis might be recognized to some readers as Costis Drygianakis’ partner on the 28/04/2001 CD, or as a member of Taku Sugimoto’s Quartet record. All three players, Veliots, violinist Angharad Davies and her brother, harpist Rhodri Davies, have performed with numerous heavyweights, from Derek Bailey to Simon Fell to Milo Fine to Otomo Yoshihide. In 2010, Cranc released a second CD on the Absurd label, but this is their first record from 2001. It sounds like it could have been recorded in 1962, or 2012, utilizing a thoroughly modern exploration of the possibilities of string instruments, pluckings, scrapings, extreme glissandi. It is a superb effort and now I want to track down their second release.
Sandy Ewen & Henry KaiserLake Monsters (Balance Point Acoustics) CD

* Performing live in the studio, guitarists Ewen and Kaiser combine their distinct playing styles, Ewenís scratchy prepared buzzes, Kaiserís avant-noodling, into an exciting barrage of noise and tones. At times, neither player sound like they are playing guitar, using steel wool and slides to create static and shifting tones, sometimes sounding like radio static or a wailing saxophone. The music is constantly shifting, so that when they do play something with a wiff of the normal, the effect is jarring. Each of the six tracks has a different flavor. “Mokele-Mbembe” has a quiet sweetness, “Old Greeny” and much of the lengthy “Irizima” are spicy explosions of feedback and overdriven notes. Kaiser sneaks in all manner of electronic processing, long reverbs, weird pitch shifters here and there, while Ewen sticks to her rough and direct abrasive edge. The two approaches work well together. I missed the show they did together in Austin, or there'd be a photo here.
Auris + GinoRub (Public Eyesore/Pan Y Rosas Discos) CD

* Gino is the fantastically creative percussionist Gino Robair, who teams up for a set of duos and quartets with the Chicago trio Auris. Crafty instrument builder Eric Leonardson is the only member of the trio I recognize. Each member of the trio gets a duo with Robair, and then the full quartet plays thrice. Guitarist Julia Miller and flautist Christopher Preissing both augment their instruments with electronics. The playing throughout is busy, spasmodic, explosive; Robairís splashing playing making enough noise to be three people himself, so there is no easy discernment between the duos and quartets. Itís a meeting where everyone pulls out all their special tricks to maximum effect.
Marcos FernandesSounding the Space (Accretions) DVD

* Hans Hjellestand directs this intriguing documentary about percussionist Marcos Fernandes performing in four buildings in Japan designed by his grandfather Uheiji Nagano. Nagano's architectural work in the early 20th Century favors an imposing classical (Greek/Roman) style, dominated by huge columns, much more what you would think of Washington D.C. than Kyoto. One of the four buildings was bright red with white stripes, projecting a peppy, postmodern look decades before the 1960s. Originally built as banks, the buildings are now museums and cultural centers. Fernandes, an inventive percussionist and improvisor, wanted to reconnect with his homeland after living for decades away, and working in these buildings scattered around Japan, gave him a perfect opportunity to travel and explore the work of his grandfather whom he never met. In each building, he assembles a different group of musicians and dancers, Yumiko Tanaka being the only constant guest, singing and playing a Japanese banjo. Carl Stone plays computer and electronics in one group. The music varies widely, with Fernandes playing a number of smaller drums, sometimes using electronics to loop his playing. His percussion and Tanaka’s banjo, sometimes plucked, sometimes rattled with small pans and other objects, gives each piece a busy, metallic framework. My favorite playing was from guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto, who wrings out the most beautiful waves of feedback I have ever heard from a guitar.
Reviews and photos by Josh Ronsen.
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