Courtesy of the lovely Petter Flaten Eilertsen we received a bundle of goodies from Oslo. Included in the bag are four cassettes on the Kassettkultur label, proudly announcing their return after a “four year hiatus”. Among the releases is one oddity by Jono El Grande, a Norwegian composer who is entirely new to me. On the strength of Der Tod Der Gegenwartsmusik (KULT 016), however, we’re ready to award him the laurel wreath for madcap of the year, given his endearing zany antics on both sides of the tape. What greeted us was two short suites (circa. 11 mins apiece) of lively and demented stuff that freely mixes styles – pop, classical, jazz – with no reverence whatsoever, and a great sense of fun and discovery. In places it reminded us of Frank Zappa, back in the days when he knew how to have fun too; we say that because of Jono’s penchant for speeded-up tapes, strange voice interludes, excessively complex orchestration, and “impossible” speeds for musical performance. It’s possible perhaps that this work is mainly done by sampling and computer editing, but that matters not one whit when you’ve got such a tasty pizza with so many delectable toppings, served to you by a hilarious waiter on roller skates and dressed as a gorilla. Take a look at the cover art…also drawn by Jono El Grande…and you’ve got a strong visual equivalent of the music for your mental stomach to digest. This amiable loon seems to have spent much of his waking life forming “imaginary” bands and crazy music in his own mind, starting with The Handkerchiefs when he was aged ten, and a number of bands that only existed for one night – including The Terror Duo, Black Satan, The Pez Dispensers, and Acetaded Beat – before disappearing in the sky like so many fireworks. Be sure to seek out his earlier releases on Rune Grammofon and Rune Arkiv, if you find this polymath loopiness to your taste. From 19 July 2016.
AUSTRIA THE THING RECORDS TTR005CD CD (2015)
Instead of Mats Gustafsson christening his thug/jazz combo after a Don Cherry number, I’d like to think than an alternative reality would see this Swedish sax pulveriser finding his descriptive powers failing badly in the pursuit of a fitting band name. As he had his chakras seriously realigned by Brötzmann’s Machine Gun at the same time as certain seminal punk bands, it had to be one that embraced the indeterminate; a neither/nor situation. So, after a lot of deep thought, we encounter The Thing 1 and, of course, mere bullets simply can’t stop its forward motion.
And the forward motion of The Thing (and M.G. related produce) is indeed relentless. We’re actually into three figures now (!) and naturally you’d have to be as rich as Croesus to own his/their/its entire discography. Shake, the follow-up to 2013’s Boot, follows the usual thingian template with the hired muscle of bassist Ingebrigt Håken and upper echelon sticksman Paal Nilsson-Love flailing their way through a set of originals and some covers. You may recall Polly Harvey, Duke Ellington and Lightning Bolt being the focus of their unlikely attention in years gone by.
In this case though, we’ve trawled a little bit deeper, as aside from a bustling Ornette Coleman cover (“Perfection”), the songbooks of Loop and Canadian free folk unit Wyrd Visions have been plundered. The former’s signature foghorn blasts on “The Nail Will Burn” rise up in stark contrast to the smokier sax wisps of “Sigill”. The murk-laden moodpiece “Til Jord er du Kommet” finds scrapyard percussives and cracked J. Arthur Rank gongs under the now barely visible spotlight while the molten “Bota Fogo” (penned by Nilssen-Love), should really be retitled “Bota Fuego” as this 7.26 ripper suggests that the file on Fire Music must be reopened and revised immediately.
N.B. The double vinyl gets one over its C.D. counterpart as it boasts four extras in the shape of “First Shake”, “Second Shake”, “Third Shake”, and “Round About Lapa”.
- Though for those of a certain age, you’d be excused if b/w images of the stogie-chewing Ben Grimm (of The Fantastic Four) stomp through your mind, not to mention the two films of the same name. The first being for me far more subtle/kreeepy than the viscera/offal fest of the remake… ↩
Another rather overpowering record from The Jazzfakers, last heard here with their 2013 offering Here Is Now, a record where “everything explodes in all directions” as observed by Stuart Marshall. On Hallucinations (ALREALON MUSIQUE ALRN064), David Tamura is the sax player, also works keyboards and guitar, and he leads this agitated New York combo down their musically omnivorous tunnels and hallways; Robert L. Pepper, from PAS, adds violin and electronics, and the rhythm section of Luczak and Zwyer have to work time-and-a-half (plus tips, extras, etc.) just to keep up with the aberrant howls and self-indulgent blurts emerging from the two soloist stars.
Tamura’s overly-expressive and juicy sax honks are much in evidence, and I’d never made the connection to John Zorn before, but perhaps the presence of Zorn’s producer Martin Bisi (who recorded Hallucinations in Brooklyn) has stirred a distant memory in that direction. If pushed, my preference is to plump for the strange electronic brew such as we hear on ‘Bicameralism’, a fuzzy nightmare which might result from Pepper’s violin / electronics combo or Tamura’s keys. There’s probably not much point in looking for connections to “jazz” as we understand it in these over-wrought splurges of abstract noise and crazy near-random eruptions, since the band are clearly equally informed by many other genres of music, including rock, free noise, free improvisation, and classical avant-garde composition. When Tamura does throw a jazzy piano riff into this stew, it seems at once too obvious, too throwaway, and too glib.
No denying he and all the Jazzfakers have tremendous chops, but on today’s spin I’d prefer something with a little more arrangement behind it. This time, the record is “themed” on the work of Oliver Sacks who apparently wrote a book by this title, and the press claim is that each member of the band was “under the influence of a different hallucinogenic state” during recording. Oh yeah…as if! From 25 May 2016.
Adasiewicz / Erb / Roebke
More Dreams Less Sleep
SWITZERLAND VETO-RECORDS / EXCHANGE 13 CD (2016)
If it feels like we’re living through a ghastly re-run of the 1930s these days, there’s a crumb of comfort to be had that some bright souls are defying the isolationist, philistine spirit of the age and forging creative links across international borders. It’s a very small crumb of comfort, admittedly, but I’ll take it where I can get it at the moment, thank you very much.
Jazz was big in the 1930s too, of course, and what we have here is the jazz equivalent of a town twinning association exchange trip between the lakeside cities of Lucerne and Chicago. Christoph Erb brings the reeds from Switzerland, whilst the American contingent of Jason Adasiewicz and Jason Roebke add vibraphone and double bass respectively. At this point, my extended metaphor breaks down, because this sounds nothing like any jazz recorded in the 1930s that I’m aware of.
Instead, we have five, distinctly modern improvisations, with terse one-word titles and a definite nocturnal vibe, if you’ll excuse the pun. Quite why the vibraphone should make everything sound as if it’s happening after midnight I don’t know, but it certainly does. This doesn’t mean it’s soporific, however. Quite the opposite. Erb’s saxophone and clarinet scamper through the vibes and bass, creating an urgent, itchy atmosphere, complete with insistent, knocking percussion effects that hammer away like those thoughts that just won’t go away at three o’clock in the morning. There are patches of relative calm to balance this out, so the whole thing is like a strangely enjoyable anxiety dream on a muggy night.
Veto Records are becoming a bit of a stamp of quality, their satisfying cardboard packages containing genuine musical treasures. This one is perfect for when you want to lie awake and worry about the state of the world.
Impressive and inventive improvised / jazz / composed music from Pascal Niggenkemper, a French-German bass player appearing here with his new sextet Le 7eme Continent. The album Talking Trash (CLEAN FEED CF373CD) contains a wealth of musical ideas, allowing space for free improvisation within certain grids and frames, and the attention to dynamics and tension-inspiring gaps is remarkable. Niggenkemper is well served by his fantastic team of players, including the woodwind player Joachim Badenhorst (with whom he also plays in the trio Baloni), Eve Risser and Philip Zoubek with their two prepared pianos, plus the sub-contrabass flute of Julian Elvira and the clarinet of Joris Ruhl. Notice that’s an all-acoustic line-up, although it seems the woodwind team may employ some amplification; the majority of these strange and alien noises are all generated by human action, breathing, bowing and plucking movements.
Talking Trash is a concept album of sorts, based on Niggenkemper’s reading of alarming news reports of what’s happening in the Pacific ocean these days…apparently we’re dumping so much garbage in the sea, it’s practically formed a new continent of detritus, described by a note here as “an artificial world, in the midst of the ocean, accidentally created by men” and nicknamed the Seventh Continent. “It made me think…” states Niggenkemper, reflecting on the lamentable piles of non-biodegradable plastic we’re stacking up in gargantuan proportions; and as his way of dealing with this depressing “absurd reality”, he created these compositions. It helps to draw our attention to this aspect of world pollution. But he also wanted to create a living sound-portrait, a moving painting in sound, depicting the continent of rubbish and its undulating actions. The accuracy of his snapshots is informed by a pessimistic undertone, highly critical of the horrible wastage we tolerate under advanced capitalism.
Among the many notable musical moments: ‘Gyres Oceaniques’, a striking conversation between the two pianos, one of them providing a solid percussive backdrop while the other executes wild free jazz runs and trills; dark tension and open spaces (voids and vacuums) yawn terrifyingly. ‘Plasticsphere’, a long and melancholic drone piece of understated beauty, where the harmonics of the bowed strings create an oceanic swell, dotted with minimal piano tinkles and whimpers from the woodwind section, making us weep at the imagined sight of a forlorn plastic bag drifting hopelessly in the sea. The second track, whose title is an elaborate grid reference, exhibiting the Evan Parker acrobatics of the clarinets supported by an exquisite piano figure. ‘Ideonella Sakaiensis’, a perturbed squall of a piece suggestive of a storm at sea, amply demonstrating Niggenkemper’s aim to “make this seventh continent sing, hiss, whirr, buzz and scream”.
Talking Trash is a superlative album of contrasts and tensions: abstract soundscapes alongside dense free jazz note-clusters, narrative environment-portraits, taut well-arranged and composed rhythms with free-form blowing and scraping. The sextet perform immaculately and cannot put a single foot wrong, and the recording by Christian Heck and Stefan Deistler is vivid and clear, creating a great-sounding record. Full marks and highest recommendation for this exemplary example of cutting-edge improvised-composed and well-crafted music. From 22 June 2016.
UK DANCING WAYANG DWR008 LP (2014)
So here’s one of those sessions that ignites the nerve endings and immolates the contents of every lenient review ever written, scattering the ashes in the gaping abyss between null and void. This fleeting yet ferocious power trio recording delivers nobly on the promise made by the rear sleeve’s hunt scene cave art.
Responsible parties: English improvisors Steve Noble (drums), John Edwards (double bass) and Alex Ward (guitar) aka N.E.W. have been part of the same circle for Lord knows how long, but still somehow sound like they’re hitting their stride; barrelling out of the gates like greyhounds as the needle touches ‘Betting on Now’ – making and breaking formation at a pyrotechnic pace that would prove perilous if they didn’t know how to pull back and absorb the scenery.
Much of the time, Ward’s guitar is the focal point, performing the feats of an agile surfer on Noble and Edwards’ relentlessly thundering waves; driving through the A side with a searing tremolo that catches fire on several occasions. Better yet: the group pulls off that elusive ‘live’ sound so often absent without audience feedback. Not for them your mannered, by-the-book skronk-noise-dirge malarkey, nor the self-satisfied bonhomie of craft beer emporium jazz – these maniacs still play like they’re in danger of freezing in some tiny basement venue.
Stop Freeze Wait Eat
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO 3538 LP (2015)
Enveloped in warm and fuzzy nocturne is this serene yet sturdy surprise from the ever-reliable Hubro label, nestling within which we find the laconic Norwegian multi-instrumentalist, one Ivar Grydeland – member of improvising trio Huntsville (previously reviewed here) – and his 6 and 12 string guitars, drowsily picking and tapping out morse code m’aiders in honeyed droplets to the sound of soporific alarm bells. However, the draping of every long tone in echo serves more than simply a sedative function; it is Grydeland’s ‘extended now’ that allows him to improvise atop the sounds of his own playing in a window of time that he likens to a painter’s stepping back from the canvas to regard the work underway. Meanwhile the listener is free to sink deep into a crackly dream world of pin-pricked, low-frequency harmonics; a less focused take on Oren Ambarchi’s soundworld, but a cosy blanketing that never smothers.
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Christian Wallumrød
Untitled Arpeggios And Pulses
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO HUBROCD2566 (2015)
Our first (and last) encounter with the Norwegian ‘jazz’ pianist Christian Wallumrød was bemusing to say the least, an effect partly brought about by the connotations of using the j-word, by Wallumrød’s history with the ECM label and by that record’s unfailing ambiguity of style and intention. Intriguing to a fault, Pianokammer defies the finger of categorisation, falling somewhere ’between the realms of easy listening and cold abstraction’, to the point at which questions such as ‘do I like this?’ become redundant. Whatever motivations led to the recording of that strange selection, they remain invisible to the naked ear.
Its successor – Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses – arrives in a similar cloak of cool mystery and a title suggestive of the anonymity and simplicity of its ethereal ways. Carried by The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra as a commission for Kongsberg Jazz Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2014, the ‘action’ has moved from the fire-lit living room in winter to the chilled auditorium where quiet coughs mingle with the steam of musicians’ breath. Suspended in air, rendered sluggish by hibernation instincts or lurching like locked groove vinyl, the four sections of this 50+ minute composition consist of short, semi- and atonal phrases repeated ad infinitum by small and unusual instrumental assortments that include piano and pedal steel peddling peace and forgetfulness (part 2), to a trudging, trash-coated behemoth for graunching guitar, Supersilent-style electronics and jubilant bursts of winter-numbed brass.
Clearly intended for a single sitting: walk in at any moment to find an absolute mess. Sit back however, and enjoy the unfurling from afar and things might start to click into place. Devoid of straight up ‘jazz’, the orchestra’s dedicated pursuit of the ‘pulse’ overrides all other aesthetic commitments. It’s challenging music in the best possible sense, and best of all, it knows when to keep its mouth shut.
Blast (or B.L.A.S.T.) are a French four-piece of contemporary jazzers led by the trumpeter Pierre Millet, who also composed all the music on Derrière Le Manège (PETIT LABEL PL051); I’m a trifle surprised Millet hasn’t shown up on the screen before now, given his sizeable output – he’s in at least three other combos beside this one, namely Hand Five, Renza Bô, and S’il Te Plaît Madame. He’s been releasing records on Petit Label since 2008, and also seems to have a foot in the hip-hop camp if his work on the B. Boyz EP is any benchmark of the situation. Joined here by J.B. Julien with his Fender Rhodes electric piano, the bassist Antoine Simoni and wild-card / secret weapon Pierre Troel who is credited with “MPC”, they turn in six entertaining cuts heavy on the dance-floor beats, the Fender Rhodes riffing on tasty chords, the weird electronic sounds, and the echoplexed trumpet, all the while doodling their easy-listening slow-groove charmers in languid style. This normally wouldn’t appeal to me at all and if feeling unkind I’d lump it in with some of the clunkers we’ve received from the French label Circum-Disc (particularly the mediocre Flu(o)), but there’s a sense of fun lurking between the beats that adds warmth, and makes me feel I can trust these Blasty Garcons. Some of these oddball vocal interjections and electronic smart-bombs might be coming from Pierre Troel, who as Fulgeance and Peter Digital Orchestra has created a minor stir around Ile-De-France with his DJ antics. While B.L.A.S.T. are sometimes a tad too smooth and facile, and have a propensity for tasteful music that might become tiresome, the album still has enough mood-changes and tricky surprises to make this an enjoyable and entertaining spin. From 18 April 2016.
Aithein (KARL RECORDS KR023) is a fine record of guitar art-rock excess played by Oren Ambarchi with two Italian musicians joining in, namely Stefano Pilia and Massimo Pupillo. I see we noted guitarist Stefano Pilia in 2005 with his album for Last Visible Dog, Healing Memories… And Other Scattering Times, realised with the help of Valerio Tricoli. “Long-form instrumental…shapeless drones”, was how I recall it, but there was also warmth and sincerity to his work, plus he seems to have improved his technique considerably in 11 years, and his guitar work makes a good complement to Oren’s playing here. Pilio has also made some headway playing and touring with Andrea Belfi and David Grubbs in another art-music trio. Massimo Pupillo is the bass player in Zu, an Italian trio who blended jazz moves with math-rock in some way, and I don’t think we heard them since 2005 either, and the album The Way Of The Animal Powers on Public Guilt. Well, so much for the good old days.
Oren Ambarchi has over time been growing and developing his unique approach to playing extended instrumentals, a trend which could be seen on 2012’s Audience Of One and Sagittarian Domain from 2013. I’m not sure what it means, or how to characterise it. I can’t give it a name. It feels quite composed, because it’s structured to some degree; it allows for improvisation, like jazz; and yet there’s always a strong beat in it somewhere, so it never departs very far from rock music. You could say Oren is trying to have his triple-layer cake and eat it, with extra helpings of cream and sugar. Maybe it also reflects on his wide-ranging musical appetites; we all like so many types of music now, mainly because there’s so much of it available. But I’d like to think Oren is not only doing something quite original, he’s taking his time to evolve it thoroughly, and naturally; it’s a learning process, other collaborators are involved (even though he can produce similar results in a studio by playing all the instruments himself), and it’s not some novelty act or a flash in the pan that’s built on sand (insert other dreary cliché of your choice here; I’m looking for trite, commonplace phrases that suggest transience or impermanence).
However you might wonder what on earth I’m getting so excited about when you hear Aithein, captured at a live gig in Bologna in 2015 and comprising two long instrumentals. After all, the first half is mostly so desolate and empty that you lose the will to live as you listen, especially when you survey the grey empty skies and consider the awful future that awaits us all. And is your life enriched by the livelier antics on the second side, which if you sampled for just two minutes you’d say was nothing special, indistinguishable from any given Hawkwind “jam” of 1973 surviving from a Festival bootleg tape? (Incidentally I think that’s Oren drumming at the end of the record, and he ain’t no slouch behind the old tubs.) Well, Oren’s achievement I think has been to structure the whole piece over some 33 minutes, so that there’s a discernible trajectory from its sorrowful start and its cathartic release at the end; along the way, there are numerous changes in tone, mood, timbre and effect, where the subtleties of the guitar drones are far more varied and powerful than anything Sunn O))) (with whom he has played) have ever managed, riff in slow motion as they may. Aithein’s dynamics and developments never feel forced or strained; it’s a combination of good ideas, compositional / directional strengths, and good musicianship that leads to such a good result. From 19 April 2016.
Bob Downes Open Music
Blowin’ With Bass
GERMANY OPENIAN BDOM 10116 CD (2016)
As luck would have it, pioneering British prog-jazzer Bob Downes has had a clutch of his seventies’ back catalogue reactivated through the Esoteric Recordings label over the past few years. Notably, a couple of eminently collectable Vertigo ‘swirls’ and, truth being stranger than fiction….one from the budget empire that was ‘Music for Pleasure’ (!). 1
So it’s a rare treat to report that there are even more archive recordings from this saxist/flute player to be devoured. On this occasion, the material is a previously unreleased set of dialogues between Bob and a four-strong selection of string bassists. Two with their roots buried deep in the U.K. avant garde and two who have plied their trade in more, shall we say, conventional/linear situations. This collection, pieced together over a thirty-year span, opens with Bob being shadowed by Marc Meggido (ex of Talisker and SME splinter group Free Space). His sinuous lines merging with Mr. D’s flute on the far too brief “Occidental Oriental” and “Dawn Dreams”, which seems to vaguely echo remnants of ‘The Man from Uncle’ t.v. theme, reduced to half speed.
The following set finds our man with Barry Guy (ex Iskra 1903, SME, etc. etc. etc.) and was captured at the Wigmore Hall, London, back in 1975. The fittingly titled, slow building “Dark Corners” is the longest track at 12.57. Its flute ectoplasm, faux birdshriek and dadaist vocal splutter reduces the room temperature in much the same way as those passages emanating from White Noise’s debut waxing. It’s certainly the odd man out on a white elephant, but a major find after all these years growing mould, no doubt, on some neglected shelf.
Former Don Weller and Mike Cotton sideman Paul Bridge and Andrew Cleyndert (of the Bryan Spring Trio a.o.), make up the remaining four stringers. The former’s assertive bassings ably complement the weird Cab Calloway at the Cabaret Voltaire hep jive of “Cocowanna”. Bob dips his toe in a bit of Roland Kirk-style multi-tasking here, where sax, scatting, pitch pipes and shaker are ‘recorded simultaneously’ (!). And lastly, a recording from a private party at Mutlangen concludes the running order and has Bob teaming up with Andrew for the very first time ever – not that you’d notice it. “Joyride” showcases a tumbling cascade of soprano sax sonorities, while “Bluesing” (with reasons best left to the duo), conceals a brief snatch or two of Cannonball Adderley’s much covered “Work Song”. An in joke perhaps?
The somewhat self-deprecatin’ title belies a crisply recorded archive gem and would be considered a worthy addition to any serious collection of Brit progjazz.
- See Deep Down Heavy, released as MFP 1412 in 1970 in the UK. ↩