Monday, April 27, 2015

Simon Frick, Solo

To my knowledge I have never had the pleasure of hearing violinist Simon Frick before. He is an extremely adroit virtuoso with apparently considerable classical training. He puts that schooling into very distinctive use in a solo violin album that makes of the violin a rock vehicle.

Solo (Boomslang) begins with a most unusual version of Nirvana's anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and goes on from there with a series of very metallic solo violin pieces, making excellent use of effects and it seems double-tracking to give us a powerful jolt.

Beneath it all are real virtuoso abilities. Much of the music has a cadenza-like quality but also a driving hard-rock heft. Not since Jerry Goodman's work with the Flock has so much violin gone into a rock setting. And here as a solo violin effort the virtuosity and the heavy aspects join together as a unified single-source power thrust.

There are clearly improvisational elements as well as worked-over compositional routines on display. And the whole thing works together to give you an iconoclastic, genre-bursting wholeness that is most impressive.

If you come out of the rock side, you will be flabbergasted. If you come out of the classical side you may be shocked. If you have been musically exposed to both camps you will not feel that this is a shotgun marriage of styles. It works so well because Frick stays true to the rootedness of his violin heritage as well as the hard-rock world he so successfully engages.

It is a real ear-opener! Maybe even an era-opener! You will undeniably get something out of this music wherever you come from. He is an artist, truly, an innovator, and a creative force that needs to be heard.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Abdelhai Bennani Trio, The Crawling Snake, with Alan Silva, Makoto Sato

Tenor avantist Abdelhai Bennani has been rather prolific with releases on the JaZt Tapes label. I have covered a number of them and today we have another. It is a trio of Bennani, Alan Silva on digital keys and piano, and Makoto Sato on drums, which is a very potent threesome on this live date from Rennes, France. The album is called The Crawling Snake (JaZt Tapes CD 053).

It is a continuous 50 minute performance of the free jazz sort, as you may have imagined. Makoto Sato gives us his dynamo all-over drumming style, Alan Silva reminds us that he is an imaginative avant conceptualist whether on bass or on keyboards, and Abdelhai gives us a robust over-the-top tenor madness very much in keeping with his approach. Everyone gets in-your-face in very good ways here.

With the recent demise of Bernard Stollman, founder of ESP Disks, we are reminded of how the legacy of the visionary artists who first recorded for that label lives on with a recording like this. It is an updated "new thing" we hear on The Crawling Snake, surely. And it sounds to me as fresh as ever. Alan Silva was one of the breakthrough artists of course in those early New York days. And he continues to thrive as evidenced by this recording, with Bennani and Sato giving us very vibrant fellow-artists for a pleasingly out excursion.

For further info and to find out how to order, go the the JaZt Tapes site:

This is "free jazz" the way it sounds when everybody is attuned to the spirit feel. Recommended!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spin Marvel, Infolding

I first heard Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer with his group opening for Terje Rypdal in a live New York appearance sometime around 1997, the same year his ECM album Khmer was released. I liked what I heard on the bandstand and I liked the album, too. But somehow I got sidetracked (mostly in overwork) and lost sight of his very electric post-Milesean trumpet and group sound, though other albums followed.

So now I am pleased these years later to find him back into my earspan as a part of the band Spin Marvel, on the recent album Infolding (Rarenoise 34849).

It is an excellent spaced-out electronic free-jazz-rock sound the band gets on this delightful slab. With Nils is a solid lineup of Martin France on drums, Terje Evensen on live electronics, and Tim Harries on bass. These are free group improvs that have a pronounced and varied group routine that comes through distinctively on the six tracks of the album.

Nils sounds as good as ever in his post-Miles lyrical outness, whether his trumpet is redolent with effects or not. There are some excellently spooky moments when Nils creates sonic auras that grab you and thrust you outwards into cosmic territory.

France on drums is a very creative force, not content to just lay down time but also straying into the open-field arrhythmia that he approaches very creatively, with some Floyd-Hendrix-Baker toms as well as free jazz inflections. Bassist Harries also does not remain in a riffing zone so much as he brings up the sonic bottom with electric freedom. And Evensen is a key factor in the mix, too, giving much color and texture to the sound with expansive electrical clouds.

For those who like to dwell in high musical places Spin Marvel carry on the post-psychedelic art and bring it to original places. Those who eschew electronics may not care for the music, but if they give it a chance they might see how the present is an evolvement when done so nicely as this of our not always halcyon days musically speaking, that is, as a very legitimate contemporary presence and advanced musical art form.

The electric free sound continues to grow and progress. Spin Marvel is one of the glowing examples of how that is happening. This album will take you back to the future in ways both original and moving!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eric Normand, Philippe Lauzier, Not the Music

On tap today is a CD by Eric Normand and Philippe Lauzier entitled Not the Music (Tour de Bras). It is a Quebec Canadian release that gets your immediate attention by sporting a cover which is in fact a small brown paper lunch bag imprinted with red ink and tied together with a plain white string.

Musically it features Eric Normand on electric bass and clarinet and Philippe Lauzier on bass clarinet and soprano sax. It is free improvisation in a definite avant zone, with a new music feel that extends outward from some of the classic avant sounds of MEV and AMM. Unconventional sounds and unusual playing techniques are the rule, effectively so, as what apparently is an unconventionally bowed electric bass, prepared it seems in various ways, and the two wind instruments lay out a carpet of unusual sound colors and textures.

This does not have as much in the way of obvious jazz roots as it has experimental musical affiliations. To appreciate the music it helps to approach it with a blank slate rather than a set of expectations. If Lauzier sometimes sounds a bit reminiscent of Evan Parker on soprano, it is not in some obvious way and the overall context is the very advanced avant ambient rather than what is more typical in free improvisational circles.

It may put some people off but I find the entire album rather invigorating. There isn't a stitch of compromise to be heard here. They are not out to please the crowd so much as stretch the sonic boundaries of timbre. And for that they do very well. Very well, indeed.

Recommended for those who respond to the very daringly experimental. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mike Osborne, Dawn

The brilliant and short-lived English alto saxophonist Mike Osborne left us too soon, initially due to a debilitating mental illness and then from a physical departure, his death in 2007. While he was actively on the scene he carved out an avant style of jazz largely all his own, though of course squarely within the outside vocabulary that was in the wind then.

With Dawn (Cuneiform Rune 392) we have some excellent barely released or unreleased examples of his music, starting with a marvelous set of 1970 sessions featuring his trio with Harry Miller (bass) and Louis Moholo (drums). They are very fired up and show just how evolved and original a unit they were already.

The second half of the album features a rare session from 1966 that spotlights Osborne and John Surman on the front line and Alan Jackson on drums, Harry Miller on bass. They are clearly at this stage under the spell of Ornette and American New Thing masters, playing a Pharoah Sanders composition, one by Carla Bley and a Booker Little chestnut. There is also an Osborne original. It is a complete view of the first flowering of English avant, not just a historical document but very good music in itself.

Like Cuneiform's release a while ago of unknown SOS recordings (in which Surman and Osborne were key members, type "SOS" in the search box above for that review), this release broadens the picture with some essential examples of the burgeoning of British avant jazz and by so doing gives you a look at the talent and special ways of Mike Osborne.

I am very glad to have it to hear repeatedly. It does its job well, to remind us of the centrality or Mike Osborne in those heady days. And it sounds refreshingly new listening today. Bravo!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago

A good case could be made for the stylistically innovative jazz drumming of master Jack DeJohnette. I would go so far as to say that in the past half-century, the influence of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams is paramount, but that DeJohnette certainly belongs up there as well. If one were to make a few more choices things might get controversial, but there is more or less a consensus that those three have stood out and established model drumming styles that remain very much a part of the vocabulary of the new jazz today.

Jack reminds us he is very much still on the cutting edge with a live reunion of his Chicago colleagues from the early AACM period, when Jack had Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill as classmates and musical collaborators, and all three joined Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, all this in the period of 1962-65. All four reunited for a special concert appearance for the Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennial Park, August, 2013. Larry Gray appeared as the bassist to complete the group. Happily the tapes were rolling and we can now hear the concert on the new CD Made in Chicago (ECM 2392).

Five long numbers represent compositions by each of the principals; they conclude with a freely improvised piece. Of course it is the interactions between and solo adventures of DeJohnette, Mitchell, Threadgill and Abrams that we anticipate on contemplating the music, and on hearing we are not disappointed. All are most certainly up for it and fall naturally into free dialogues. And the compositions themselves give us something very good as well.

As much as Jack has flourished during his lengthy tenure as the drummer with Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, it is great to hear him break loose in the company of Chicago's legendary innovators. And Jack's presence plus an enthusiastic audience seems to inspire the quintet to a very focused openness.

In short this is more than just a nostalgic reunion. It produces some avant jazz of real consequence. DeJohnette and Manfred Eicher mix down the original tracks for a very worthy sonic result, too, so all is just right.

It is music of importance. Do not hesitate!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Francoise Toullec, Francois Tusques, Eric Zinman, Laisser l'Esprit Divaguer

So just what is "jazz?" It's the total sum of important historical styles that went under that name, plus what it is right now and what it will become in the future. There is no music made under that name, in the serious practice of the art, that does not have some relation to the past styles, but of course to greater or lesser degrees. Needless to say jazz came about as Afro-American elements freely mingled with local vernacular music of the brass bands, popular song and any number of other things we need not go into here.

The most advanced exponents of avant garde jazz have traces of the past mixed into the matrix if you listen closely. And so it is nicely the case with a series of two piano duets in a very advanced realm, Laisser l'Esprit Divaguer (Studio 234 010), featuring a CD length piano duet from Francois Tusques and Francois Toullec, and another one filling a second CD by Eric Zinman and Tusques.

Tusques of course is an avant vet who has made his mark over the years as an original force on the European scene. Eric Zinman is a well-seasoned American exponent who has been rapidly gaining more attention in recent years as a pianist to hear. I am not that familiar with Francois Toullec, but she is a important figure in French circles and sounds well on the album.

The first duet employs prepared pianos part of the time and has a pronounced new music feel much of the time, though roots in jazz show themselves, especially towards the end. The second disk of Zinman-Tusques has more consistently pronounced jazz improvisational roots, but also has an uncompromising advanced stance.

It is a tribute, first off, to the long-standing originality of Francois Tusques, but also a showcase equally for the very together playing of Zinman and Toullec. Both sessions give us inspired improvisations that pack an explosive charge in the very sympathetic two-way interactions of the pianists. Everything remains very much in focus. There are no tentative gropings to be heard. All three get to it from the start and stay in good zones.

Anyone interested in the art of avant improvisations on piano should hear this set. It is the real thing, superb in its own way!