Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Rodrigo Amado
A History of Nothing
Trost 170

Portuguese tenor ace Rodrigo Amado has been on a real tear over his last few releases. In addition to excellent homegrown units, Amado regularly keeps good company with international improvisers. This marvelous disc finds him dealing it out with the legendary Joe McPhee, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Chris Corsano. It’s a vibrant outfit, with enough experience for all kinds of synergy and receptivity, and stylistic range enough to create multiple moments of crackling surprise.

The opening “Legacies” unfurls languorously with beautiful layered tones from Amado, McPhee’s pocket trumpet, and Kessler’s arco. It’s a deft way to open an album: rather than a fanfare or big rhythmic device, they choose a context that highlights the importance of tone to this grouping. As Corsano’s cymbal sizzle is added to the mix, the stirring, slow, chamber-like music is affecting in how the voices merge in spacious exploration. Of course, if you’re looking for something gnarlier and knottier, fret not: after a few minutes, McPhee switches to soprano for some high-energy stuff, followed by a return to an elegiac feel. The title track is dense and buzzy, the tight sound of Corsano’s drums knitting together the varied elements as horns pop, bass walks, and overall the sound buzzes with perpetual newness. Ultimately, the quartet achieves a proper liftoff into rollicking free jazz incisiveness. There’s an especially furious tenor trio that’s worth the price of admission alone, after which McPhee returns on the straight horn – with his usual instinct for what will shift the dynamic and stoke the intensity, he layers in intense avian trilling to maximum effect.

The robust bass and bell-like percussion make for a nice changeup to start “Theory of Mind II (for Joe),” a CD-only track. It’s great to hear them get such space, and they build from subtle, soft gestures to an epic froth. At this point, Amado joins in with bright lines to build towards an anthemic ending. “Wild Flowers” follows a similar path, moving cautiously through a wonderfully squeaky McPhee trumpet turn, and building to a booming, rousing full quartet. The closing “The Hidden Desert” very nearly returns the album to its hushed beginnings, oscillating between closely focused texture and balladic lines. Lovely record, front to back.
–Jason Bivins


Joey Baron + Robyn Schulkowsky
Now You Hear Me
Intakt 307

Christian Wolfe
two orchestra pieces
New World 80792-2

Robyn Schulkowsky is an impeccably credentialed new music percussionist, having premiered and/or recorded major works by Stockhausen and Xenakis, as well as the big three of the New York School – Cage, Feldman and Wolfe. She has also worked with such beyond-category figures as Derek Bailey and Nils Petter Molvaer. Given her stature, it is surprisingly sporadic, if not rare that two recordings documenting contrasting facets of her work have appeared contemporaneously. On her second album of duets with Joey Baron, Schulkowsky luxuriates in Third World rhythms and sonorities; as the soloist on “John, David,” she echoes Christian Wolfe’s austerity. Although these recordings are as different as night and day, both are rewarding due in large part to Schulkowsky’s precision of expression.

One of Wolfe’s great gifts as a composer is to give an organic feel to systemized approaches to the scope and structure of a piece, which is very much in evidence on two orchestra pieces. On “John, David,” this extends to Schulkowsky’s role. In the first of the 1998 composition’s two parts, Wolfe employs percussion sparingly to support what can only be broadly called songs; often little more than cells, Wolfe adds depth to his songs by using as little as a single marimba note. Schulkowsky becomes an ongoing presence in the second part, which is pegged to material as diverse as “Western Wynde,” early American hymns, and hobo songs. The percussion parts often move independently from the rest of the orchestra, which Schulkowsky promotes without undermining the main thrust of the material. She sustains the same balance during her solo towards the end of the piece, smoothly moving around her assembled instruments in a concerted but unobtrusive manner, a mark of her collaborative fastidiousness with conductor Lothar Zagrosek and the SWR orchestra. Completing the albumis “Rhapsody,” a piece for three orchestras from 2009, which highlights how Wolfe’s other career as a classics professor informs his music. Instead of the common applications of the term, Wolfe reaches back to its Greek roots, a verb meaning “stitching together,” which applies in general terms to his overall methodology. While there are no obvious source materials in the latter piece, they both demonstrate how fluidly Wolfe joins his materials; on “Rhapsody,” Wolfe sets a high bar that Ostravskà banda, conducted by Petr Kotík, Peter Rundel and Roland Kluttig, easily clears.

While there are four discrete pieces on Now You Hear Me, the seamlessness of Schulkowsky and Baron’s transitions between rhythms, modes of interactions, and skin, wood and metal timbres promotes listening to the album in its entirety and its consideration as a whole. The tangle of foliage in the cover photograph bears no resemblance to the music – if there’s feng shui in music, it’s here. The temperature rises and falls throughout, but with a light touch – theirs is a bash-free music. Subsequently, despite briskly paced passages, there is a prevailing meditative hue to the proceedings. Intakt’s catalog already has several exceptional percussion albums led by Pierre Favre and Lucas Niggli – add Now You Hear Me to the list.
–Bill Shoemaker


Black Motor
We Jazz WJCD05

Pepa Päivinen & Good Romans
Felix Culpa
Finnish Explosions 006

Sound & Fury
Thundering of Dawn
Karkia Mistika Records KARMI-094

Drummer/composer Edward Vesala (1945-99) has been a singular figure in the development of European free jazz. In the ‘70s, he developed a compositional style that drew on jazz traditions and world music fundamentals, the two coming together around his special knack for adapting traditional Baltic sonorities and melodies. His international associations soon ranged from Jan Garbarek to Peter Brötzmann to Kenny Wheeler. One of Vesala’s enduring achievements is the band Sound & Fury, formed with some of his students in the mid-80s. Debuting in 1989 with Ode to the Death of Jazz (ECM), a trenchant response to Marsalis era neo-conservatism, the group played and recorded until Vesala’s death a decade later. The group reformed in 2010 as a nonet, and since then they’ve recorded previously unheard Vesala compositions, arranged by his widow, Iro Haarla. These three CDs represent Sound & Fury’s latest work as well as other current projects by some of the band’s members.

Vesala’s values are evident in the band’s spirit on Thundering of Dawn. Many of the original members are here, including three superb reed players, each a firebrand of Finnish free jazz, Jorma Tapio, Tane Kannisto and Pepa Päivinen as well as guitarist Jimi Sumen. They’re joined here by trumpeter Antero Priha; a second guitarist, Julius Heikkilä; bassist Sampo Lassila, percussionist Hannu Risku; and a recent arrival, drummer Simo Laihonen who, fuelled by studies with Milford Graves, brings precision and complexity that can recall Vesala’s own.

With the latest CD, the band continues its prior practice of introducing unrecorded Vesala compositions orchestrated by his widow Iro Haarla, but here extends itself, with Haarla, a significant pianist, composer and bandleader in her own right, providing two compositions as well as arranging four by Vesala. Tapio – who plays alto saxophone, bass clarinet and various flutes – adds the concluding “Peace Is the Language of Stars and Stones.” All of the music is of a piece, roiling work whether at dirge- or up-tempo, all of its voices wrapped together in turmoil stretching toward grace, a musical “thundering at dawn.” Its individual voices explode in the foreground, driving forward from the collective emotional power of the ensembles. The music recalls the dense, reed-rich music of Charles Mingus and Sun Ra, but there’s frequently a brilliant melding with guitar electronics. For a piece like Vesala’s “Alvreda Daia” there’s no easy description, its fractured themes suspended over looming guitars with strange vocalized interpolations from the winds.

At the first edition of Helsinki’s We Jazz Festival in 2013, I heard Black Motor with guest trumpeter Verneri Pohjola playing Vesala’s music with a combination of spare lyricism and naked expression (an unreleased CD of the project was recorded for Tum, hopefully to appear soon). Since then the Vesala connection has gotten even stronger for the band. The trio’s original saxophonist Sammi Sippola has been replaced by Sound & Fury’s Tane Kannisto, while Black Motor drummer Simo Laihonen has joined Sound & Fury. Bassist Ville Rauhala is responsible for the bulk of the compositions on Branches, the group’s latest CD, and they’re tuneful, focussed structures, far more than launching pads for blowing.

Branches defines its own terrain, a spirited and spiritual jazz in which Rauhala’s settings highlight Kannisto’s lyricism, which somehow connects those of Albert Ayler and Dewey Redman. On the opening “But Not Willingly,” his tenor has rare warmth and a breadth of inflection that can traverse gruff and lilting. “Decision Jump” takes the lyricism and adds a gently mad, rapid swing that somehow matches Ayler and Ellington qualities. Meanwhile, Rauhala and Laihonen have been playing together for 14 years and the chemistry is highly developed, a complex, hand-in-glove rhythmic interplay that comes readily to the foreground. The sole piece to come from outside the band is “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” beautifully executed with just a hint of bathos in the theme statements and a nice touch of chaos in the blowing. The collectively improvised title track has its own intensity, with Kannisto’s keening nadaswaram, a Southern Indian double-reed, matched against Rauhala’s pressing, lyrical bass and Laihonen’s delicately expanding metal percussion and drums. It’s music that uses restraint to develop its most potent effects.

On Felix Culpa, charter Sound & Fury member Pepa Päivinen plays with Good Romans, the duo of guitarist Ilari Filander and drummer Jussi Miettola. It’s the trio’s third CD together, and there’s never any sprawl or sameness to the improvised set: the opening “Felix Culpa I” clocks in at 1’36”. That jolt of happy chaos introduces the trio’s energy and its electronics, which soon expand on “Pahoehoe,” more meditative music that has Filander simulating an organ, while Päivinen seems to be playing an electronic reed instrument. Sonic variety and energy define the meeting, though the instruments are literally listed as just reeds, guitar and drums. Päivinen plays saxophones from soprano to bass with flute (most notably on the India-suffused “Lighthouse”) and bass clarinet. Filander is always finding ways to expand the band’s timbres with a simultaneous mastery of technology and fretboard, creating polyphonic lines in some places and atmospheric sounds in others. On “Lowlands,” it sounds like he’s playing acoustic 5-string banjo, though it might be a patch. Miettola provides consistently inventive, percolating drumming and, I imagine, a significant portion of ambient sound and possibly electronic texture to pieces like “We Are Not Alone.” It’s improvised music, but it’s willing to engage in a far broader range of transient forms – from raga to soundscape – than the term often implies.
–Stuart Broomer


Martin Blume + Wilbert de Joode + John Butcher
Low Yellow
Jazzwerkstatt JW 184

Evan Parker + John Edwards + John Russell
Walthamstow Moon (‘61 revisited)
Byrdout BYR002

Trio Sowari
Third Issue
Mikrotron CD 67

The trio of John Butcher, Phil Durrant and John Russell was one of the finer improvising ensembles of the late 1980s and 1990s. Albums like Conceits, Concert Moves, and The Scenic Route vividly reflected what Butcher called “a particular understanding – rather than a method.” At their best, their respective subsequent recordings share this quality of interaction, Low Yellow Walthamstow Moon (‘61 revisited) and Third Issue being prominent among them. Unsurprisingly, they all feature trios.

Butcher, bassist Wilbert de Joode and percussionist Martin Blume had occasionally performed as a trio for a dozen years when Low Yellow was recorded in 2016 at the Sound Disobedience festival in Ljubljana. Although the absence of a piano results in wider open spaces, the carefully mediated bearing of the album’s four improvisations is faintly reminiscent of the saxophonist and Blume’s first collaboration as half of Georg Graewe’s early ‘90s Frisque Concordance quartet. Blume has never doctrinally shied away from discernable rhythms, and de Joode occasionally combs out fully formed figures; even though such elements surface for only brief spells during the proceedings, they adhere to Butcher’s multiphonics, pad pops, and double-tongued textures to simultaneously anchor and propel the music.

Russell and bassist John Edwards have been integral to many of Evan Parker’s projects for over 20 years; but Walthamstow Moon (‘61 revisited) is their first recording as a trio. Not only does the saxophonist encounter his longtime associates in a new context, but the venue as well – the old cinema in Northeast London where the teenaged Parker marveled at John Coltrane’s quartet during their ‘61 UK tour. As Russell eschews sound reinforcement when playing acoustic guitar, negotiating a balance between close micing and room acoustics can be a tricky engineering proposition, one that is ably met here, resulting in a detail-rich mix that is not only well-suited to the overlap of string textures and harmonics, but to Parker’s simmering tenor sound and his more finely feathered soprano timbres. A limited edition of 300 LPs, Walthamstow Moon (‘61 revisited) is a smartly sequenced album, each side being a self-contained statement.

Over the past 20 years, Durrant has become one of the more deft exponents of software-generated sound; while this entailed his dispensing with the violin, an instrument on which he had honed a singular voice in the trio with Butcher and Russell and other ensembles, he has created a similar approach emphasizing small fluctuations of pitch and timbre and keen attention to dynamics. Percussionist Burkhard Beins and tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler have complementary sensibilities; subsequently, Trio Sowari has developed a fully integrated ensemble sound that has survived long periods of inactivity over the past 15 years. The LP-length Third Issue is their first album in a dozen years, yet it picks up where their predecessors on Potlatch left off, giving stark, even grating sounds a magnetic property that pulls the listener deeper into the music.
–Bill Shoemaker


Alan Braufman
Valley of Search
Valley of Search VOS 001

This vinyl-only reissue of alto saxophonist Alan Braufman’s 1975 India Navigation album is a bracing shot of spiritualized Loft Era energy. Braufman and his band’s pianist, Cooper-Moore (then going by the name Gene Ashton), lived at 501 Canal Street, a living and performance space in a decaying Chinatown industrial building whose residents – who also included David S. Ware – all had concepts very much their own.

Braufman is a traveler on the path blazed by Coltrane, Ayler, and Pharoah Sanders, in which spiritual pilgrimage and musical exploration are inseparable. He favors simple written melodies and extended individual and collective improvisation. It’s what he does with this familiar head-solo-head format that sets Valley of Search apart. Choosing the immediacy of spontaneous structures that crystalize only as they are created somehow mirrors more closely than composition the bewildering, sloppy, ever-changing process of living; it grabs just a bit more of the maddeningly brief revelations that bring spiritual solace. It’s powerful music.

Each side of the album is a continuous set of compositions that flow into one another to create extended structures that tell a story. Side one opens with a ritual invocation that calls down the spirits followed by a recitation by Cooper-Moore of a Bahá’í prayer. One of the things sought for in the prayer is serenity, and this opening invokes that peacefulness, although the shadow of the sorrowful world still darkens the edges. By the time the side builds to “Love Is Real,” the music is celebratory. The sturdy folk-like melody is sheer exhilaration. Cooper-Moore’s piano, initially part of the weave of percussionist Ralph Williams and drummer David Lee, gradually flies upward like an ocean wave hitting the rocky shore. When Braufman steps forward to solo, the joy of his wails and the exuberance of his tumbling lines lifts the music higher. It’s also on this track that one gets the most vivid sense of how close-knit the band is, a community as much as a musical group.

Side two is just as compelling and dramatic. It opens with bassist Cecil McBee’s unaccompanied “Miracles.” With a tone as eldritch and sturdy as a stand of Redwoods, McBee delivers a beautifully articulate statement, as precise a summary of his soulfulness as anything he’s ever recorded. “Ark of Salvation” crosses back and forth over the border between pure sound and energy and a keening lyricism that evokes both visionary ecstasy and worldly compassion. “Little Nabile’s March” sounds like Ayler in a playful mood and the music juxtaposes a sense of wellbeing with an opposing outrage. The blues by any other name.

This is a great album and a major personal statement by a rarely considered master.
–Ed Hazell

New World Records

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