French jazz pianist Jérémie Ternoy has never quite managed the full 15 lengths with any of the records he’s sent us. In 2013 we heard You Can Dance (If You Want) where his band TOC (piano, guitar and drums) were trying very hard to pull off the jazz-rock fusion thing, with very patchy results. TOC have now joined up with The Compulsive Brass on the record Air Bump (CIRCUM DISC CIDI1601), kind of like when Elton Dean, Mark Charig and others joined the Soft Machine only nowhere near as good, so we have Christian Pruvost on trumpet, Sakina Abdou on alto and soprano saxes, baritone player Jean-Baptiste Rubin and the tuba player Maxime Morel. If you want untrammelled lively squawking which passes for a form of free jazz, then ‘Stomp Out From Jelly’ is the one for you, which I found to be a largely indigestible morass of very soggy pudding spread out over 18 minutes. But I grudgingly admire the way the musicians keep flailing away, hammering at the music until it’s flattened into submission. ‘No Rag For K.’ is slightly less frenetic in pace, but the musicians still can’t get around the overall haphazardness of their scattershot playing; barely a single note feels like it’s in the right place. Drummer Peter Orins keeps pushing the elephantine mass along with an insistent heavy thump; he’s more like the drummer on a slave ship. I think the most off-putting element on this record is the highly florid tootles of the assorted brass players (Abdou may be the worst offender), which are very distracting; these French jazzers can’t seem to leave a note to manage for itself without ladling on eight pounds of excessive embellishment, extra dollops of whipped cream and spun sugar which we didn’t order. The album may be making some references to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory; and while early jazz is not my strong suit, I doubt that either Morton or Ory would have allowed this sort of flabby posturing in their bands. From 29th September 2016.
The Dolores album (VETO-RECORDS 017) is by EKL, and is a slightly unusual entry in the Veto-Records label run by Swiss cultural guru and saxophonist Christoph Erb. It’s more abstract, noisy and gritty than we usually expect, and the opening title track in particular is a real gem of concrete groaning and scraping, more like industrial noise than free jazz. This quality may be due to Emanuel Künzi the percussionist, scraping his cymbals in errant manner, or perhaps the pianist Raphael Loher who also plays the Wurlitzer and is not averse to the “prepared piano” approach. A nice teeth-grinding opening so far. And let’s not forget that the word Dolores is Latin for sorrow, a word which sets the tone for what follows.
The mood of uncertainty and doubt carries over into ‘Delirious’, where the trio sustain a mood of free-form angst in slow motion for nearly nine minutes; a true “wasted junkie” epic, whose grim percussive textures are not lightened by the pained moans which crawl out from Erb’s wounded sax. More gloom to be savoured in ‘1277’, which achieves its despairing mood in quite minimal fashion, with random piano rumbles from the lower depths and much menacing rattle from the percussion section. Loher’s occasional sprightly trills on the upper register feel like the futile attempts of an alcoholic trying to see some sense in life at 4AM after he’s finished his third bottle of wine. ‘Rose Dolores’ is equally subdued and forlorn, but daunted listeners may take heart in that it resembles a Miles Davis ballad, except it’s been rethought in schematic form, and plagued by the kind of existential doubts that only a Swiss intellectual can muster. The closing track ‘Do lo re’ is even more schematic, and its solitary unconnected notes can barely be said to hang together at all. This music strikes sheer melancholy into my heart, but does it with uncanny precision, almost emotionless in its accuracy.
Dolores isn’t entirely downbeat and melancholic, but the single up-tempo tune on the album ‘Lola’ is a be-bop party piece and feels out of place here. I wouldn’t have complained if the trio stuck to the theme throughout and came up with a relentless 40-minute wrist-slasher fit for beatnik junkies and winos. As to the musicians: Raphael Loher is well informed about contemporary music and free improvisation, but interestingly his first love was Champion Jack Dupree; I’d like to think we could hear traces of Dupree’s boogie-woogie stride in his style, but it’s buried under layers of Cage and John Tilbury. Loher made an excellent record Te Shii Es Tah as one third of Sekhmet, same label, and noted here. Emanuel Künzi is a jobbing drummer who plays in at least ten contemporary Swiss jazz bands, of which I’ve only heard of Anna & Stoffner. The trio EKL has worked together for two years, and recorded Dolores in late 2015 after their first series of touring concerts. The cover art is credited to oter&zbin; the front looks like a sarcastic riposte to American abstract expressionist painting, created by near-random collage methods. The inside image is better, showing a sexless blob of a nude lying down in an alley and surrounded by bricks. This figure has a vacant grin on their face and has clearly been emptied out by life, leaving a vacuum behind, an empty shell of a carcass. Arrived here 27th October 2016.
Daniel Carter / George Lyle / Fritz Welch
So Long Farewell Repair Live at the Glad Cafe
UK IORRAM KY276 CD (2016)
The Core Trio
The Core Trio Live Featuring Matthew Shipp
NETHERLANDS EVIL RABBIT RECORDS ERR23 CD (2016)
Two trios, two live in concert recordings, two jazz odysseys into the outer limits of piano and sax, bass and drums. Actually, one of those trios is really a quartet, but we’ll come to that in a minute.
First up, we have Daniel Carter doubling on alto saxophone and piano, Fritz Welch on drums and the late George Lyle on double bass. The sleeve notes refer to “non-Euclidean space”, and I get that. No obvious straight lines here. The band explore all sorts of strange angles across four tracks of restless, shuffling free jazz, so I’m tempted to say that if there was a jazz club in downtown R’lyeh, these guys could be the house band.
But I won’t, because I try to avoid Lovecraft references where I can, and because this was actually recorded at The Glad Café in Glasgow, as part of the 2015 Counterflows Festival. The recording quality is excellent, so it feels as if you’re right there enjoying Carter’s ‘round midnight melody lines and scampering squawk-runs. Welch’s drums provide a constant sussurus, whilst Lyle scrapes, plucks and saws away at his bass, creating what the sleeve-notes describe perfectly as a “rolling-urge in wood”. Carter embellishes things with a few piano runs, too.
On the whole, this is a rich and warm listening experience, and a fitting tribute to Lyle.
The Core Trio are a trio plus one – Seth Paynter on tenor sax, Thomas Helton on double bass, Joe Hertenstein on drums and fourth member Matthew Shipp on piano. The piano takes more of a central role here, as Shipp uses all twenty of his fingers to unleash whirlwinds of notes and stentorian chords over two long tracks.
These guys can bring the skronk with the best of them, and generally speaking, this is jazz of the austere, furrow-browed and bracing variety. But every so often they drop into limpid pastoral interludes. Imagine Jerry Lee Lewis dropping Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” between “Great Balls of Fire” and “Good Golly Miss Molly”, without pausing, in the middle of his 1964 Star Club set, and you get some idea of the effect.
Once again, this was recorded live, at Ovations Night Club in Houston. The applause at the end sounds a little dazed, which I would take as a good sign. In fact, I would take both of these recordings as a good sign, that there are still jazz warriors out there cranking out the good stuff on a nightly basis, just waiting for you to hear them.
Time for me to brush up on Mark Cunningham’s career, following the receipt of the new LP by his Blood Quartet. Cunningham was a member of the “incendiary” No Wave group Mars, a band whose flame the label Feeding Tube Records are determined to keep burning through the steady release of live recordings that keep surfacing from the brief career of this important band. Along with two other members of Mars, he joined forces with Ikue Mori to make the one-of-a-kind John Gavanti record, a distorted rock opera epic composed mostly by Sumner Crane and released by Hyrax Records in 1980. After 1981, Cunningham took more of an art-rock / jazz fusion direction when he joined Don King, a quartet with Lucy Hamilton from Mars and the bass player from Pere Ubu. Cunningham had picked up his trumpet by this point, and before long he was playing alongside Pascal Comelade in the Bel Canto Orchestra, then in the 1990s as part of a Spanish trio called Bèstia Ferida. I think Blood Quartet is a more recent venture; at any rate, the only other release by them we know of is a cassette from 2015 on a Spanish label.
Deep Red (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR 283) is their first vinyl release, and the very accomplished and assured band are effectively banging out an abrasive jazz-rock mix enriched with occasional sputterings of analogue synth – both the guitarist Lluis Rueda and bassist Kike Bela play Korgs, but most of the discordant waywardness of this record comes from the mangled guitar work and juddering time signatures that tie drummer Candid Coll into an Iberian knot. No conventional arrangements or structures to these slightly formless tunes, nor pleasing major-seventh chords played on a Fender Rhodes; the only concession to “jazz” as we might recognise it is Cunningham’s trumpet sound, which when fed through the echoplex is squarely in the Bitches Brew mould. But even so the players deny themselves the element of “muscular funk” that’s often associated with Electric Miles, and Blood Red mostly exudes a cold, steely, passionless take on the world. Even when the band apparently think they’re playing conventional rock, it comes out damaged and dispirited, performed by men broken on the wheels of authority after a failed revolution.
Even so, don’t be fooled by the subdued tone; there’s a subtle power lurking under the surface of this album, and it’s impressive how the combo pack so much density into comparatively short tunes. Most pieces here weigh in at the four-minute mark, yet they feel longer somehow, more grandiose in their epic ambitions. A band like Earth often required five times as much time and space to get to the same zones of melancholic sombreness. All recorded live in the studio with no edits or overdubs, so unlike Miles no need of a Teo Macero figure to build up music in a composite fashion. Frederic Navarro created the alarming red cover, and needless to remark the LP is pressed in red vinyl. From 6th September 2016.
The record Low (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL16008) by Gintas K is supposed to complete a trilogy, of which the earlier parts were Lovely Banalities and Slow, both of which have been noted in these pages. I have previously enjoyed what I regard as the intuitive approach of this Lithuanian solo electronicist, but today the experiments on Low simply feel unfinished and unsatisfying. Despite care and attention being given to the sounds he makes, there’s a troubling lack of ideas in each tune, such that they fail to engage the listener for very long. There’s also the samey tone and pace to Low, meaning we are never lifted out of this rather gloomy and grey zone which might be a dismal European village on a rainy Sunday morning. Still, the very introverted nature and muffled sound of this album may give it a certain appeal if you fancy a day at home as a lonely shut-in. From 3rd October 2016.
Reinier Van Houdt is a Dutch pianist who has “done” some 20th century composers such as Shostakovitch and Valentin Silvestrov as part of his classical repertoire, and also played works from the New York school including Robert Ashley and Charlemagne Palestine. Paths Of The Errant Gaze (HALLOWGROUND HG1606) however is a more unconventional and experimental record; he concocts studio assemblages of ghostly, spectral sounds, somewhat in the vein of a Nurse With Wound collage, and with similar aspirations to a “surreal” state of mind. Unsurprisingly, Van Houdt plays in recent Current 93 line-ups; I sense he has just the right balance of fragility and occluded, precious details stored in his brain to please David Tibet. The mysterious drifty sounds on Paths Of The Errant Gaze can’t help but evoke a ghostly sailing ship like the Flying Dutchman or H.P. Lovecraft’s The White Ship, and the cover art confirms this “lost at sea” theme. Van Houdt uses these unsettling, nightmarish washes of sound, textures, and found fragments as a platform for his minimal, melancholy piano fugues. I found the mannered style and solemn tone a little off-putting, but there’s a lot of variety here across two sides of the LP, and the listener can’t help but feel the sensations of being taken on a strange voyage to a lost Edgar Allen Poe island in the middle of nowhere. From 11 October 2016.
Dark Carnival (DYIN’ GHOST RECORDS) is the latest release from the team-up of French guitarist Michel Henritzi with the Japanese player Fukuoka Rinji. On this occasion Rinji bows his violin to Michel’s lapsteel guitar. They’ve made a lot of records together and while we always enjoy them, I can’t see much significant advance here on any of their previous outings, for instance the relatively recent Descent To The Sun LP. Once they get going the pair just can’t stop, and what characterises their sound is a relentless, aching rain-sodden screech that wears away the listener by sheer persistence. Full saturation is another one of their specialities; barely a space left for anything else in this teeming atmosphere of full-on droning, sawing, strumming, and howling. These recordings were made in Tokyo in 2013-2014 and feature various medieval woodcuts on the ancient theme of mortality and the Dance Of Death, while the title comes from Ray Bradbury. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…as you are now so once was I…and other such memento mori spring to mind while scoping these images and drowning in this intense music, which really rubs the heart full sore. From 13 October 2016.
The Swiss jazz trio Day & Taxi has been active since 1988 and Way (PERCASO 34) is their 8th studio release. Christoph Gallio, the saxophonist, is their driving force and he also happens to run the record label that has released most of the trio’s records. Way appears to be slightly unusual in their repertoire as it includes three very short songs, sung in German by their bass player Silvan Jeger, and their inclusion may give you a clue as to Day & Taxi’s open-minded musical aspirations – they would like to broaden out jazz forms, include composition as well as improvisation as a strong element, and are not afraid of including “sentimentalities” in their bright, rather melodic music. The flipside to all this user-friendliness is the abstruse sleeve note penned by Berni Doessegger, which attempts to deconstruct the meanings of the word “way”, through speculations on paths through a labyrinth. I found the actual music competent enough in its execution, and Gallio is an extremely fluent player with an exceptionally clean tone, but it’s just too tidy and correct to be mistaken for real jazz; the attempts at swing feeling are laboured and plodding, and even the saxophone screams feel as though they’ve been carefully studied from annotated Coltrane solos. From 2nd November 2016.
The Sound Projector Radio Show
Friday 17th March 2017
- Hank Mobley, ‘Straight Ahead’
From The Turnaround!, BLUE NOTE 7243 5 24540 2 0 CD (1999)
Recorded in 1963.
- George Russell Sextet, ‘Zig-Zag’
From The Outer View, RIVERSIDE OJCCD-616-2 CD (1991)
Recorded in 1962.
- Lee Morgan, ‘Afreaka’
From The Sixth Sense, BLUE NOTE 7243 5 22467 2 4 CD (1999)
Recorded in 1967.
- Ornette Coleman, ‘Is It Forever’
From The Complete Science Fiction Sessions, USA COLUMBIA/LEGACY C2K 63569 2 x CD (2000)
Recorded in 1972.
- Jimmy Lyons, ‘Push Pull’
From Push Pull, USA CORBETT VS DEMPSEY CD022 2 x CD (2016)
Recorded in 1978.
- Bill Evans, ‘The Dolphin – Before’
From From Left To Right, UK VERVE 557 451-2 CD (1998)
- Grant Green, ‘Ezz-Thetic’
From Solid, BLUE NOTE CDP 7243 8 33580 2 1 CD (1995)
Recorded in 1964.
- Charles Mingus, ‘They Trespass The Land Of The Sacred Sioux’
From At UCLA 1965, USA SUNNYSIDE SSC 3041 2 x CD (2006)
Recorded in 1965.
- Roswell Rudd, ‘Bethesda Fountain’
From Blown Bone, UK EMANEM 4131 CD (2006)
Recorded in 1976.
- Albert Ayler, ‘Zion Hill’
From Love Cry, IMPULSE! 06007 5334699 CD (2011)
Recorded in 1971.
- Joe McPhee, ‘Naima’
From Glasses, USA CORBETT VS DEMPSEY CD006 (2012)
Recorded in 1977.
Peter Kuhn / Dave Sewelson / Gerald Cleaver / Larry Roland
Our Earth / The World
USA PFMENTUM CD096 CD (2016)
Every ‘new’ jazz recording that crosses my ears leads me to resume wondering what’s left to say anymore; seems that every grouping, permutation and dynamic is as done-to-death as internet porn. And while I’m tempted to adopt an ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line towards my increasing indifference, I really do want to feel the magic that once lured me into this field.
Like much of the jazz I’ve reviewed, reeds man Peter Kuhn’s latest group-leader recording is a case in point: noteworthy affiliates, seasoned players, the support of a forward-minded label, some environmental rhetoric and a back story to boot: this is Kuhn’s first titular work in… three decades (if Discogs informs correctly), after drug addiction took him out of the game for two decades: a hiatus to soundly gainsay Miles Davis’ late ‘70s disappearance.
The Davis parallel is unfortunately as unavoidable as it is unappealing. After the incendiary ‘electric’ period, Davis never really got his game back, and I sense that Kuhn’s return to the fore is a triumph of determination more than it is a reclamation of the throne. His power is more latent than evident, which is not to underestimate his prowess: he manages all sorts of wind-driven chicanery in tandem baritone/sopranino saxophonist Dave Sewelson. Setting the pace, they rage and relax in reasonable ratio; each of the three performances breaching the 10-minute mark without breaking a sweat. William Parker claims to have ‘hopped with joy’ at these life-affirming sounds herein, though as a friend and associate there’s a measure of well-wishing bias to be read into this.
And indeed, within the quartet there’s a sense of going-through-the-motions that suits the mood of group-support camaraderie, so enjoyment will depend on whether one buys into the narrative or not. The group kicks off with a fissiparous abandon: ripping and flailing to the heart’s content, only gradually aware of the venture’s joint nature. While their energy never quite hits such heady heights as made so many of John Zorn’s Masada quartet records such a breathless experience, the group at least manages to marshall a marathon’s worth of energy for the first set at least. That said, the bass is planted so low in the mix as to be inaudible at times. A bigger problem however lies in the slow sections, which take far too long to whip up new energy and consequently direction. Quit while you’re ahead guys.
The main problem though is how generic such recordings sound, given the prevalence of the format: a picture of a moment in time, which quickly loses relevance when taken out of context. Kuhn’s story may yet take an upswing, but until some bravery is brought to bear in their presentation or treatment (and I say this as someone who has enjoyed all four tracks of Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity played simultaneously), recordings such as this will keep jazz sealed in amber.
A sumptuous jazz-based release from Martin Archer, the UK composer, bandleader, improviser and wearer of many other hats. Story Tellers (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 57CD) contains two CDs generously laden with highly enjoyable English electric jazz, packed with melody, swing, and passion, and bound to appeal to anyone who enjoys the so-called “Electric” Miles records, Keith Tippett’s big bands of the 1970s, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, the Escalator Over The Hill record, and such like. I’m always impressed when I hear a powerful Charles Mingus record and assume that it must be an 18-piece orchestra playing, then am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be a quintet. I had the same sensations when I learned just six players were responsible for Story Tellers, and from what I can gather most of this material is heard as played in the studio, and there is very little post-production work. The band are Mick Somerset, Archer, trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan, vibes player Corey Mwamba, guitarist Anton Hunter, and percussionist Peter Fairclough. All, as it happens, are accomplished bandleaders in their own right. Some are familiar names; Fairclough and Mwamba played on Archer’s Engine Room Favourites record in 2015, for instance.
Speaking of that release, Archer continues his pursuit of the AACM aesthetic, and remains convinced of the value of that high watermark in American jazz. Speaking about it in the context of this project, he says he particularly wanted to arrive at music that was “improvised and personal to the players”, but also wanted to ensure it could be repeatable, with close attention paid to a structural form that would allow this. A certain tension between spontaneity and structure. As ever, Archer tellingly points out that “AACM musicians solved this…issue several decades ago”.
Part of that structure could be the “literary” theme, which adds a frame of sorts; it divides the music on Story Tellers into six Books, each with chapters, and each book telling the story of a particular imagined character. Well, more like an archetype perhaps; for instance, Mick Somerset plays the role of “The Wounded Healer”, Archer is “The Casuist”, and so on. Some of the ideas here may have been inspired by or provided by Mick Somerset, who – though he plays a wide array of wind instruments and percussion – is a self-confessed outsider who works “on the periphery of jazz music”, and is feels more at home with words and stories. The Books are carefully structured, so that each one follows a set pattern – always starting with a stated musical theme to introduce the character, and including a solo section, and a coda. Further, the Books refer to each other, quoting musical phrases from the other Books as appropriate, to suggest cross-pollination and collaboration between the characters. Though what they’re playing is jazz, Archer has pretty much created a classical song cycle; “you could say…[it] comprises six versions of the same piece” is his take on it.
The aim with this book structure and array of characters is not to tell a story in a conventional sense; rather I take it as a metaphor for the collaboration itself, an expression of the way that the players co-operate and interact with each other, “infecting” each other’s themes with their own. This could be further taken as a metaphor for all music (all successful music at any rate), where the joy of creation becomes a shared activity, and not merely a selfish indulgence for one person, a charge that has often been levelled at lead guitarists taking excessive solos in rock music, or any self-indulgent player who merely satisfies their own needs, ignoring the other players, and even ignoring the audience. Conversely, the good vibes of this group transfer directly onto the grooves here – “we had a ball making it”, to use Archer’s own expression – and will pass onto all who hear it. From 10th August 2016.
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… ↩