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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Masahiko Satoh + Sabu Toyozumi
The Aiki
NoBusiness NBCD 120

The Lithuanian NoBusiness label’s licensing deal with the Japanese Chap Chap imprint has mined a rich seam of 1990s Japanese free music, and in The Aiki, has unearthed another glistening nugget. It presents an exciting encounter between pianist Masahiko Satoh and drummer Sabu Toyozumi, two improvisers of the first rank. Although both have been active exponents of the scene since its inception, their tandem appearances remain limited, and never before available on record. This unissued recording in crystal clear fidelity of a 1997 concert in Yamaguchi now sits alongside several other contemporaneous performances from each man made accessible through the project in recent years.

Through the light and shade of two epic improvs, both principals unleash the tools of their trade: unfettered imagination; an innate sense of form; and playful animation. Part of the success surely derives from the fact that they draw on such wide hinterlands. Satoh’s untethered playing is informed by both his classical composition and swing and modern jazz exploits. His stylistically promiscuous flow periodically encompasses a bluesy right-hand embroidery, galloping classical formalism, and torrents of clipped notes which recall Cecil Taylor, all distilled into a unique personal amalgam. Only a brief pentatonic melody suggests any remotely Japanese flavor.

Toyozumi calls upon his experience with like-minded spirits across the globe, and his notable sojourn in Chicago where he became the only non-American member of the AACM, to forge unusual textures into a dynamic and vibrant contrapuntal stream. Through a shifting focus on distinct elements of his kit he demarcates and orders. Even when he co-opts march cadences into a solo, it convinces as integral rather than intrusive, while in another feature he evokes the tuneful percussiveness of a Roach or Blackwell.

Each feeds off the other in spontaneous syncopation. There’s an electrifying moment early on when Toyozumi suddenly accentuates a Satoh flourish on his rims. Later delicate piano prompts Toyozumi to accompany with hollow slaps on his body. Although “The Move For The Quiet” begins with unhurried quiet toms, inducing a ritual feel, it continues full of dramatic gushing rhythmically aligned unisons. “The Quiet For The Move” seems more conversational, with a stately character, at least to start, but quickly becomes wayward. Though there are tinkling and tapping downtimes in both cuts, it’s the thrill of the flailing full spate dash which proves irresistible.

Happily rescued from the vaults, for those in the know this session will affirm the significance of its two sparring partners, while for those unfamiliar it argues a forceful case.
–John Sharpe


Tim Stine Quartet
Clean Feed CF542CD

After issuing Tim Stine Trio, his 2016 debut on Astral Spirits, Chicago-based guitarist Tim Stine assembled a quartet featuring fellow Windy City peers Nick Mazzarella (alto saxophone), Matt Ullery (bass), and Quin Kirchner (drums), for Knots, his first recording for Clean Feed. Classically trained, with a background in bebop, and an appreciation for free jazz, Stine employs an array of advanced strategies in his compositions, including fragmented melodies, polytonal harmonies, and compound rhythms. Providing credence to the album’s title, many of these pieces are threaded into abstruse angles and coiled configurations. Navigating false endings, scuttled interludes, and metric pulses, the quartet members trade solos without deference to a leader and all contribute to the arrangements.

“SH8” opens the date in 3/4 lockstep, with Stine’s rangy solo underpinned by Ulery and Kirchner’s modulating rhythms. Both the melodic title track and saturnine “Fred Waltzing” have a similarly faltering pulse that distorts time; the former features Mazzarella’s keening alto, the latter spotlights the leader’s rhythmic audacity and harmonic dissonance. Signifying the quartet’s equality, Ulery steps to the fore on “Trempealeau,” his fluent bass sparring with Kirchner’s palpitating trap set, while the drummer takes the lead on “Gearth.” Tunes like “Quietus” and “Ride Wild Rides” on the other hand, are sparse and serene, demonstrating the frontline’s understated lyricism. The album ends with “Kjallstert”, where Mazzarella’s ardent tone and Stine’s expressive fretwork find concordance in Ulery’s resonant lines and Kirchner’s swirling patterns.

Although Stine plays electric in Mazzarella’s quintet, here he sticks to acoustic. Yet even on acoustic Stine can match Mazzarella’s sonorous tone. The guitarist’s solos have a lean, raspy bite; his deft leads and untraditional chord progressions elevate the proceedings. Despite his avoidance of conventional forms and a reliance on episodic narratives, Stine’s methodology never sounds disjointed or overly eclectic; Knots boasts an engaging chamber music-like vibe, where repeated listens reveal subtle surprises. When evaluating the current state of Chicago’s fertile jazz scene, Stine offers a compelling new voice.
–Troy Collins


David S. Ware New Quartet
Théâtre Garonne, 2008
AUM Fidelity AUM113 (DSW-ARC05)

This latest installment of AUM Fidelity’s David S. Ware archival series catches Ware, who died in 2012, with Joe Morris, William Parker, and Warren Smith live at the Théâtre Garonne in Toulouse, France. Taking place just weeks after the foursome recorded their only studio album Shakti, this concert is evidence that Ware had the makings of a group that could reach the same creative heights as his storied quartet with Parker, Matthew Shipp, and Guillermo E. Brown.

One of this dynamic recording’s most compelling elements is the way Ware’s compositions serve as an idée fixe rather than just being obligatory statements that give way to blowing. The concert opens with the twenty-six minute “Crossing Samsara,” which is split into two parts. The composition, like those on the other tracks, is built on short and catchy repeated motives that the group both restates verbatim and reworks into myriad new permutations. Parker and Morris hint at the tune beneath Ware’s solo, it turns up during Parker and Smith’s brief duo, and Smith creatively translates the tune onto the various elements of his kit. No matter how far removed from the tune the soloists get, they come back to it, often unexpectedly, without fail. It makes for a wonderfully cohesive performance throughout.

Morris’ guitar gives this group a distinct identity. As an accompanist, Morris plays tidy chords that serve as a great contrast to Ware’s fiery solos and Smith’s furious drumming. In his solos he largely sticks to single note lines, as on “Reflection,” on which he takes his time, giving the music space. The quartet’s instrumentation and Morris’ approach lends the group an open and expansive sound. Despite the band’s cohesiveness, there are occasional hints that its members were still in the process of working things out. After Ware ends a typically mammoth cadenza on part two of “Crossing Samsara,” there’s a brief pause before Morris brings the band back to the head. This transition felt like an ideal moment for the band to leverage Ware’s cadenza as a way to jump into the unknown and reach for a new level; rather, the energy dissipated, and the band moved on with the arrangement.

As Morris recalls in the liner notes, Ware’s health was in further decline by this time, as Ware spent nights in his hotel room receiving dialysis treatment. Morris writes that “as I played and listened I was aware that I was awed by the unlimited power in the sound and the melodies coming out of David’s horn. Here he was with a totally different band ... dealing with the tremendous challenges of deteriorating health, having to sit in a chair on stage instead of standing, and yet he played with the same level of power and beauty as always. David’s playing here transcends his struggles, and like every one of his performances offers us a means to overcome our own.”

Indeed, listening to this concert, one would never know that Ware was quite sick, and his performance is a testament to his strength. One hears this during Ware’s solo on “Durga.” At one point his horn screams with urgency and fire, and it feels as if this is exactly what he has to be doing at that very moment, which might explain how he’s able to play with such creative force despite his ill health.

It’s sad that Ware left us too soon, when he obviously had so much to give. But as is the case with his other posthumous releases, this recording is a chance to focus not on what we have collectively lost, but to rejoice in that which we have been privileged to receive.
–Chris Robinson


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