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Bengt “Frippe” Nordström
Vinyl Box
Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu nvnc-lp032/36, nvnc-ep001

If one knows about Swedish saxophone player Bengt “Frippe” Nordström at all, it might be due to his having recorded and originally released Albert Ayler’s first recording, Something Different!!!!!!, on his Bird Notes label, initially with a run of 200 copies. Or maybe it’s from his appearance on a small handful of recordings from the 1980s on the Ayler label. But only the most dedicated crate diggers know about the astonishing cache of recordings Nordstrom made and released on Bird Notes, some in editions of between 1 and 10 copies. Mats Gustafsson and Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu label have changed all of that with the release of Vinyl Box, a deluxe collection of 4 LPs, a 7″ EP of Nordström playing along with the Ornette Coleman Quintet record, “When Will the Blues Leave?” and a 10″ tribute LP of performances by Gustaffson and others. The recordings were scrupulously researched and remastered by Gustafsson and accompanied by a 32-page booklet with essays by Thomas Millroth and John Corbett, unpublished photographs, rare press clippings, and notes from the artist, as well as a complete Bird Notes discography compiled by Gustafsson. What makes this all the more remarkable is that the unearthed cache documents solos Nordström recorded between 1964 and 1968!

All of this could easily be a study in discographic obsession, but the recordings reveal a singular saxophone voice encompassing an encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz tradition while embracing and internalizing the explorations of musicians like Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Albert Ayler, all of whom Nordström had met during their early visits to Stockholm. The reed player studied music in high school in the early 1950s, playing in Dixieland bands. By the late ‘50s, he was a participant in the nascent Swedish jazz scene, though he increasingly found it difficult to find musicians with compatible sensibilities to play with. Instead, starting in the early 1960s, he retreated to his rehearsal space with his tape recorder and began to probe at solo playing. One can hear vestiges of abstracted folk music, song structures, and the jazz tradition filtered through an inimitable sense of sonic exploration as he developed his individual voice on his instruments.

First up is an EP from 1962, capturing two takes of Nordström on Grafton alto sax (the same kind of cream-colored acrylic plastic alto saxophone that Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman sometimes played). Playing over a recording of “When Will the Blues Leave” from Coleman’s Something Else!!!, Nordström treats the two takes as far more than a “music-minus-one” exercise. Instead, he plays parallel to the quintet recording, leaping across the pulse of the tune with a propulsive, angular sense of phrasing and acerbic tone. He drops in and out, leaving odd spaces where the recording takes the fore, then charging back in. At just over 4 minutes each, there is a clear intentionality to the playing. He also starts and stops the Ornette recording at various points, adding a quirky sense of structural meditation to the mix.

Drastic Plastic jumps to 1964, combining three Grafton alto sax solos on one side of the disc and an extended piece on the other. The three solos, titled “Corsica 1,” “Corsica 2,” and “Corsica 3” extend the underlying angularities of the 1962 recordings. Nordström’s stabbing phrasing and biting tone display a sensibility that was already developing into a distinctive voice. One can hear the approach he was exploring on the earlier recordings, but bereft of accompaniment, it is as if he is responding to an inner sense of melody, unfurling acrobatic leaps and then dropping out for moments of silence. He masterfully utilizes the back-and-forth between inverted melodic threads and uneven breaks to imbue the pieces with developmental tension. The 11-minute-long “Corsica 3” stands out in particular, with wafts of implied melody emerging from the lithe, circuitous lines, mining the entire range of the alto, from the booming low end to piercing high-end overtones. Nordström methodically hits on phrasings, teases them apart, upends their flow with breaks, and then circles back for restatements and reappraisals, remaining keenly focused across the entire duration of the piece. Slap this recording on for someone unannounced and its unlikely they would pin this as a recording from 1964. The 14-minute “Drastic Plastic” starts out with a solo alto flurry as the reed player darts across the upper registers of his horn, gradually opening up and increasingly leaving pauses in the trajectory. Halfway through, there is an extended section of quiet and then Nordström charges back in with skirling intensity, leading to a slow, sonorous section that sounds like a take on a folk melody. Though bassist Conny Lundin is credited on the sleeve, this seems to be in error as the entire piece is a solo.

Reality features two side-long tenor improvisations with Nordström in a more meditative mode. Here, the reed player’s sliding tonality brings to mind the way that Joe Maneri toyed with pitch. Side one’s “Sigurd Rascher Variationer,” recorded in 1968, is the more settled of the two pieces. Breaks in the playing are sometimes interjected with coughs and throat clearing, something the reed player could have edited out but chose not to. While that gives the recording a somewhat casual feel, there’s nothing casual about the way that he metes out the changeable lyricism of the piece. Side two is a shorter piece from 1965, displaying a throatier tone and an approach to melody somewhat reminiscent of Ayler’s, though still distinctly his own. Motifs are more clearly defined, and it plays out as a study in the transformation of melodic kernels.

Natural Music, recorded in 1967 and 1968, is the only recording in the box that had any nominal official release, but even here, several different versions were issued with different recordings on them. “Bird Notes And Folk Tunes” features Nordström on tenor along with Sven Hessle on double bass. It is intriguing to hear Nordström in a duo format, the only instance in the box set. With a partner and bereft of the breaks of silence of the solos that preceded, there is more of an overall flow to the recording. The two proceed in parallel to each other, with the bassist playing an equal melodic role as the reed player. By the end, though, there is a bit more give-and-take between the two until the sudden cut-off where the tape may have run out. It sounds as if they were moving around the recording space as the presence of sound shifts a bit which adds a bit of performative presence. The tenor solo, “Spontaneous Creation” from 1968, delves into Ayler-esque vibrato with an edgy sense of momentum. For the first few minutes of the 16-minute improvisation, the reed player methodically works through phrasings and motifs, tossing out one after another but not quite settling in. But by one-third of the way through, he begins to string things together into blocks with mounting assurance, interspersed with pools of silence.

1968’s Någonting is comprised of two soprano sax solos. The two 17-minute explorations evolve with a more torrential arc than the other pieces in the set. The angularities are more pronounced as his explorations skitter along with resolute deliberation. Nordström draws on his approach to tone and phrasing on both alto and tenor, extending it to the reedy timbres of the soprano while traversing the solos along a more sinuous course of development. Again, he deploys long sections of silence to break the solos into counterbalanced sections. The title piece is a particularly good display of Nordström’s idiosyncratic sensibility, imbued with a spiky conception of melody and phrasing that bob and jab with assured abandon.

An effective addition to the box is the 10” LP featuring 14 short solo performances by Anna Högberg, Isak Hedtjärn, Dror Feiler, Jörgen Adolfsson, Gustafsson, and Sven-Åke Johansson titled For Bengt. Hedtjärn’s four compact clarinet solos kick things off, each probing a specific timbral area of his instrument with laser concentration. Alto player Dror Feiler, who played with Nordström, follows, with three melodic abstractions that recall the dedicatee’s bristly playing. Adolfsson’s two contrabass clarinet pieces provide striking timbral contrast, with low-end resonance that unfolds with unhurried reflection. Högberg weighs in with three intimate alto miniatures, each introducing a motif and then unraveling it with rapt introspection. Gustafsson’s three-and-one-half minute alto solo is the longest on the disc, displaying his canny balance of breath, tone, and the clatter of saxophone keys. One can hear the lineage of Nordström’s sense of experimentation throughout. Sven-Åke Johansson, who played with Nordström in the late 1960s and 1970s closes things out with a fitting montage starting with the dedicatee playing the theme of a popular Swedish song, leading to the percussionist on vocals and snare, crooning the tune.

Kudos to Gustafsson, Millroth, and label-head Antoine Plum for the dedicated research that went into this set. The music is revelatory, and the mastering and design displays the attention to detail and production values that Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu brings to all of their releases. The first run of the box is already sold out and a second run and digital version is soon to be released. One hopes that this brings some well-deserved attention to Bengt “Frippe” Nordström and his peerless musical vision.
–Michael Rosenstein


Dan Rosenboom
Orenda 0101

Trumpeter Dan Rosenboom has established himself as a champion of creative music in Los Angeles through his work as the founder of Orenda Records. Polarity is the 101st recording issued by the label, presenting a dynamic program featuring Rosenboom with saxophonist Gavin Templeton, keyboardist John Escreet, bassist Billy Mohler, and drummer Damion Reid. Produced by Justin Stanley (Prince, Beck, etc.), the date materialized from Rosenboom’s improvisational music series, Boom Sessions. Following an especially impressive, improvised performance, Stanley proposed recording a similar set at his studio, but a conversation with Reid convinced Rosenboom to record his own compositions instead.

Spontaneously composed in the studio, the expansive opener, “The Age of Snakes,” features a spectral horn fanfare drifting over a hypnotic backbeat, which elicits an ethereal solo from Rosenboom, underscored by Escreet’s rich electro-acoustic accompaniment. Eventually, the band launches into a nearly twenty-minute showcase of fiery improvisational surges and psychedelic transitions as Stanley’s production establishes an ominous soundscape.

The remainder of the program follows a somewhat more traditional path. “A Paper Tiger” highlights the band’s virtuosity with angular horn charts and odd-metered dance rhythms that recall Rosenboom’s Balkan-inspired band PLOTZ!. In contrast, the melancholy melody and march-like drive of “Walking Shadows” evokes missed opportunities for connection in our data-driven times. “War Money,” another up-tempo swinger, juxtaposes a carnivalesque theme against portentous bass drones and a driving rhythm, complete with ferocious baritone, piano, and trumpet solos. Recorded on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the tune’s critique of how money drives global conflict is reminiscent of Rosenboom’s protest band, Burning Ghosts.

Providing sonic relief, “On Summoning the Will” is Rosenboom’s tribute to his wife, who overcame cancer in 2021. Inspired by her resilience, Rosenboom emotes with long, pensive tones that rise and fall against Reid’s rumbling mallet work. Returning to the groove, “Ikigai” serves as a showcase for Escreet’s twisty mid-tempo extrapolations, before the fully improvised “Tidal Mirror” offers a futuristic dreamscape spotlighting Stanley’s cinematic vision as producer. The album ends on a high note with the labyrinthine “Minotaur,” which provides the band an opportunity to stretch out, revealing feisty baritone, tortuous piano, and blustery trumpet solos.

Throughout the session, Rosenboom’s trumpet leads the way, his stoic lines intertwining with Templeton’s alto, complementing each other. But on “War Money” and “Minotaur” Templeton swings heartily on baritone over the striding rhythm section, which ebbs and flows; Escreet and Mohler are a natural fit for Rosenboom’s protean aesthetic, while Reid supports the ensemble unequivocally. Fully realized by his bandmates, Polarity is another inspired effort from Rosenboom, an artist unbound by stylistic conventions.
–Troy Collins


Steve Swell’s Fire Into Music
For Jemeel: Fire From the Road (2004–2005)
RogueArt ROG-0126

For Jemeel is a three-disc set of live recordings from 2004 and 2005 by Steve Swell’s quartet Fire Into Music: Jemeel Moondoc on alto and the unimpeachable bass and drums tandem of William Parker and Hamid Drake. The set is a follow up to the quartet’s 2007 studio album Swimming In a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow, also on RogueArt. The group was planning to record a second studio album in 2021, but Moondoc sadly passed away before the session could be held.

The set opens with an hour-long free improvisation recorded on October 2, 2004, at the El Dorado Ballroom in Houston in the middle of the band’s tour of the Midwest. The hour is quite unusual for a collectively improvised piece; I don’t think I’ve heard an hour of free improvisation in which musicians had as much time to themselves as they do in this ensemble. Roughly half of the performance feature soloists alone with each soloist getting multiple opportunities. One of the most arresting sequences is Parker’s twelve, yes twelve, minute solo, which he plays entirely with the bow. As he moves higher and higher his lines become more twisted and curlicued, doubling back on themselves. His agility and speed recalls something that his former boss David S. Ware might spool out. It is as if a saxophone was being filtered through the sound of a bass. Moondoc and Swell enter when Parker is finished, playing and dancing around each other rather than sparring or conversing. The quartet starts boiling and the free jazz burn one had assumed might happen finally lights up. But instead of being a blowout just to be a blowout, there’s a restraint that keeps things from being gratuitous. It offers a stark contrast to the solo playing, allowing the quartet and soloists to define themselves against the others. Near the end of the hour Moondoc rides Parker and Drake’s groove hard and Swell enters with a fury: the weighty quartet transforms into the sound of inevitability.

Six days later the foursome assembled at the Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, Texas, for another scintillating set. It opens with Moondoc’s tune “Junka Nu.” The windy, herky-jerky tune locks right inside the loping, loose, and open triple meter. The soloists play a cat and mouse game with the rhythm section. Parker and Drake don’t wait long to go into a scorching double time behind Swell’s solo, trying to lure him into the rapids. Moondoc is patient during his solo, as Drake tries to goad him into turning up the heat with big fills and ripping double time. Moondoc gives in for a moment, but returns to a loose, melodic feel. The Marfa show’s centerpiece is a 30-minute improvisation in which Drake and Parker show off the endless depth of their groove vocabulary. After a somewhat amorphous opening with arco bass and Moondoc’s rubato alto, the rhythm section grabs hold and takes Moondoc, Swell, and the crowd along for a series of different rides, each with their own inventive groove. The band cooks, but after twenty or twenty-five minutes in the Marfa audience starts to lose focus, as the quartet begins to flirt with jam band aimlessness. The set closes with Swell’s “Space Cowboys,” which, pun intended, gallops. Moondoc and Swell have an exciting interplay and Parker and Drake charge hard, which makes their move to a lighter shuffle later in the track surprising and delightful. I’d want these cowboys in my posse any day.

The third disc finds the quartet eleven months later at the 2005 Guelph Jazz Festival in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. As in the Texas sets, the band is lively, bouncing, and charged up. Swell’s “Box Set” opens in a frantic and disjointed mood, with the horns careening and bouncing off the rhythm section before settling into the first solo by an inspired Moondoc. Over the piece the frontline and Parker share a series of shorter alternating solos played over a tight, up-tempo rhythm section. Over the course of his solos, Moondoc offers a mix of singing lines, runs, and angular shapes while Parker drives the band hard with firm walking lines. Moondoc’s “Junka Nu” makes its second appearance in the collection and like the Marfa set, shares the same kind of tension between the horns and rhythm section. In this instance, Moondoc and Swell mostly maintain a relaxed vibe, with Moondoc taking his phrases in unexpected directions and Swell briefly showing a quick and ornery temper. Drake’s long drum solo is stunning, as he moves from a hi hat devoted pianissimo, then as he gradually increases his volume he adds another cymbal, then a tom or two, expanding the kit to a full forte. It’s a clinic in how to build and shape a solo. The quartet closes out the Guelph set with Swell’s “Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow.” The piece is a sprawling journey, moving from a scattered, out of time, nervous section in which the band had conflicting opinions to another commanding arco solo from Parker over Drake’s minimal time keeping to big bulky blocks of written melodies that sound like boulders waking up after a millennia-long nap. Swell turns in a confident and brawny solo with plenty of kick and bite that is followed up by Moondoc, who transforms understated and quiet phrasing into freaky chortles. Like the rest of the band’s repertoire across these three discs, this final cut takes the listener into numerous realms and narrative modes, all while striking a fine balance between equally showcasing the soloist and the ensemble.

There isn’t a short performance to be found across these three discs, but the energy and inventiveness – especially when Parker and Drake lock in on a groove – makes fifteen or twenty minutes go by in a flash. This is post-Ornette improvisation at its finest, a document of a fine band with its own vocabulary and vision for what an improvising piano-less quartet can be, and a significant tribute to the memory of Jemeel Moondoc.
–Chris Robinson


Ove Volquartz + Gianni Mimmo + Peer Schlechta + John Hughes
Cadenza Del Crepuscolo
Amirani AMRN#072

This is really dark stuff! Of course, the “dusk” in the title should provide a clue to the sounds herein, but we seem to be thrust far beyond that transitional moment of day marrying night into the sordid depths. From darkness it arises, it moans, and writhes its way into shadowy existence and the various peaks prove illusory, leading ultimately back to the depths from which each sonic object has emerged. That the quartet of soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmio, clarinetist Ove Volquartz, organist Peer Schlechta, and bassist John Hughes manage to wring beauty from so much controlled fire and reverberant sludginess is to their credit.

Annotator Massimo Ricci is astute to observe the seemingly composed elements at play in this single piece of more than 40 minutes. Like the early Art Ensemble of Chicago’s People in Sorrow or the first side of Univers Zero’s monumental Heresie, this music emerges in glacially concentric textural waves of very gradually increasing rhythmic and contrapuntal activity. Listen at 7:39 to be immersed in the moment at which drone and chord slowly morph into something approaching, while never quite becoming, solos. Mimmio is the first to move beyond simple tone and timbre swells into the realm of motive and melody. His high-register repetitions and purposefully tentative explorations of breathy pitch, amidst the complex backlit drone supplied by the others, provide one of the album’s most beautiful and quietly harrowing moments. Hughes and Volquartz engage in similarly tortoisian banter a few minutes later, Volquartz’s melodies taking on vigor and purpose until the others drop out, leading the way to the rhythmic interplay that guides the music forward from about 15:40.

When the heights of expressionistic terror are reached, with Mimmo and Volquarts screaming for all they’re worth, it seems as if limits have been reached before the music’s half-way point has arrived. Schlechta now ups the ante by entering a phase of multifarious pulse and nearly aperiodic repetition, fostering a spirit of collective improvisation whose frenetic motion pervades many succeeding events. Various groupings provide articulate color, while register and technique blurred toward inseparability with volume a volatile force in constant flux. With a diminuendo and gradual decrease in activity, the music seems poised to reenter its birthplace, but at 33:55, a mystical near-silence ensues. Like the end of Mahler’s last completed symphony, wisps of sound serve as fragile supports, staving off complete stagnation.

A final rally proves ephemeral, but the concluding gestures vanguard the mystical once again, a calmly rapturous exit capping a harrowing experience. All is captured expertly in a generously reverberant church acoustic without which the whole thing would be an abject failure. Fortunately, all performative and production elements are aligned, creating an environment in which notions of boundary, genre, and dorm are both reenforced and refreshingly negated.
–Marc Medwin


Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade
Dion’s Quest
Sugah Hoof SHR23-01

Dion’s Quest is the follow-up to 2019’s Stomping Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf) and the inaugural release from Greg Ward’s own Sugah Hoof Records. This sophomore session re-introduces Ward’s band Rogue Parade, which once again features the alto saxophonist on the frontline alongside guitarists Matt Gold and Dave Miller, supported by the rhythm section of bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Quin Kirchner. The unique combination of alto and two electric guitars yields rich harmonic textures that color these memorable tunes with prismatic detail; imagine Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time crossed with the Allman Brothers.

If Stomping Off From Greenwood was an ode to Ward’s Chicago roots, then Dion’s Quest reflects how Ward’s career has gone global, while still calling Chicago home. The band’s second full-length reveals the group’s collective chemistry honed by its years working together, with every musician sublimating themselves to the demands of the new compositions, which are just as compelling as those on the ensemble’s debut.

The opening “Crimson Clay,” inspired by Ward’s trips to South Africa, is an uplifting tune that finds the leader magnanimously giving the first solo to Miller, before soaring melodically above the guitarists’ adroit interplay, as they punctuate bustling time changes with dazzling, highlife-inspired riffs. The program continues with “Dashing Towards First Light,” where Gold doubles Ward’s melody, ascending from melancholy to optimistic. The piece features vivacious statements by Ward and Gold, whose funky, effects-laden excursion builds to fusion inspired intensity.

Displaying a more relaxed mood, the mysterious “Noir Nouveux” opens with Ulery’s foreboding bassline and synth, as Ward’s alto and the guitarists’ reverberating lines drift over dark, cinematic underpinnings. There’s a surprisingly slow, bluesy coda at the end, complete with psychedelic guitars and an abrupt finale – a mood continued by the aptly titled “Blues of the Earth.” After the leader’s acerbic alto intro, Kirchner establishes a throbbing groove that inspires Hendrixian guitar salvos from Miller, with calm momentarily returning before Ward’s fiery closing statement prompts a menacing guitar sequence buttressed by flinty rhythms from Kirchner and Ulery.

The expansive “Bravo Constantine” offers respite with bright, soulful melodies and asymmetric harmonies over propulsive calypso rhythms. On the flipside, Ward’s emotive alto channels the social isolation of the pandemic on the brief “Porthole Dreams,” while a brash rock demeanor returns on the penultimate cut, “Beware of the Oh EEE’s.” The number begins with Miller’s fragmented, phantasmagoric soliloquy before morphing into a series of lilting variations by Ward enveloped in dense contrapuntal fretwork. Eventually, all three converge, yielding some of the most sublime moments on the record. The album concludes on a hopeful note with the rubato ballad “Ocean of Faith.” Ward’s prayerful intro serves as a reverie before the repeated melody becomes ecstatic, building like a rising mantra that evaporates unexpectedly into shimmering synth refrains.

Rogue Parade has been road-tested; Ulery and Kirchner lock in tight, while Gold and Miller – who are peerless soloists – veer from elegant to raw, blurring the lines between lead and support, whether doubling the leader’s sonorous cadences or augmenting the rhythm section. As bandleader and composer, Ward keeps the musicians focused, channeling their power and bringing conviction to his engaging tunes. No “sophomore slump,” Dion’s Quest is an exceptional follow-up.
–Troy Collins


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