I had been living in Seattle a short time when Jerry Granelli, the great drummer, who was teaching at Cornish at the time, called me up. He was making a record with Anthony Cox, Bill Frisell, Robben Ford and Kenny Garrett and he wanted me to write an arrangement or two. He was thinking about the book Coming Through Slaughter, the great novel about Buddy Bolden, so I wrote a tune for him called In That Number. The tune was a bit tricky, so Jerry asked if he could come over with a couple of local guys and rehearse it ahead of time, since the “real” band wouldn’t be arriving until the day of the recording. He arrived with Phil Sparks, a Seattle bass player I have worked with many times since, and Briggan Krauss, who arrived with blue hair as I recall. Briggan and I became fast friends. I was and still am a huge fan of his alto playing, and I think that he may have the most original concept on the alto of anyone of his generation. Through Briggan, I met a whole crew of folks that were going to Cornish at the time, all of whom became musical partners in time…Tim Young, Geoff Harper, Mike Stone, Eyvind Kang, Reggie Watts and more. I met Fred Chalenor through Fred Frith and Amy Denio, and he was floating between Portland and Seattle. He had been the last bass player in The President, and I was ready to put that band to rest and start something based in my new hometown. Briggan recommended Mke Stone. Musically, Pigpen was influenced by my tenure in Naked City, and my long time association with John Zorn more than any other project I have ever had. Actually I take that back – it was Naked City, and not my long time association with John. I played piano in jazz and blues bands, but keyboards and organ for me were mostly instruments I had come to use in more open situations. I had developed a language that I was very comfortable with, but in Naked City I was called upon to play keys on all styles of music, often following some stellar solo by Frisell, and on a DX-7 to boot. By the time the band broke up I felt I was just getting the hang of it. Also we had so many tunes that we often didn’t get a chance to dig into any of them, which was a blast, but also very challenging. So when I started writing for Pigpen I wanted to keep working on these challenges, and I also had in mind the aesthetic of the other guys in the band, and especially Mike and Briggan who were very young. I found this generation curious (they were all about 15 years my junior) because they were very literate about jazz through Coltrane, and familiar with current trends at the time, including my own work and other “downtown scene” types, but they tended not to know a lot about the AACM, Art Ensemble, Cecil Taylor, or for that matter all the important Dutch, English and other international improvisers. Also we came from two very different eras of rock music, so I was suddenly surrounded by Black Sabbath and AC/DC fans. Mike Stone was particularly well versed in this milieu, having grown up in Bremerton WA, home to the naval base. When he conjured up the spirits of what he so eloquently termed “butt-rock” it rang true in a way that many similar attempts by various jazz drummers sometimes didn’t. We made an EP, 2 full length CDs and a live CD for Tim Kerr – Halfrack, Miss Ann, Daylight, and Live in Poland. We also did a 7 inch for Tim Kerr, and V as in Victim for the AVANT label. Pigpen performed a few European tours, and some gigs on the East Coast, but mostly we played in the Northwest and down into California. Over time the Naked City influence seemed to wear away and I think both Miss Ann and Daylight really represent my favorite work the band did, although a lot of fans are especially fond of Live In Poland. My daughter’s favorite track is Kind of Dead which is the A side of the 7”. The piece used a sample from the first Grateful Dead album and some chords from Kind of Blue…hence the title. And yes, PIGPEN was named for the keyboard player in the Grateful Dead.
They have known each other since 1973 and since then have played together in numerous groups and ad-hoc combination, there have been countless recordings and still they have never made a duo record together. We're taking about Elliott Sharp-guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and composer-and Bobby Previte-drummer and percussionist. That is reason why The Prisoner's Dilemma sounds like a conversation between old friends about plans for the future and stories from yesterday, but at the same time sound new and unheard-of. It is a conversation that has never been carried out in public before in this breadth and with this love of details. Of course, neither Previte nor Sharp care about trends or hip attitudes, they know each other too well to do that. And moreover, they draw their music from an extremely rich history. Both are influential figures of the New York Down Town scene-from the very beginning. They haven't just played with the greats (John Zorn, Bill Laswell ...), but they themselves count among these musicians, without exception. In addition they have proven themselves as band leaders, label makers and composers, they helped make The Knitting Factory what it now is, and now, where they have passed their 50th year in the best health, they have enough energy to take on new large project. The Prisoner's Dilemma is such a project. In the foreground is the groove. No, in the foreground is the layering and condensation of rhythms and sounds. Or does one have to speak of sublime flow that they celebrate and that reminds one of Can or on the abstract projects of the SST family? The Prisoner's Dilemma cannot simply be typecast; too much happens, too much rocks at the same time. Never does the music, however, at any point in time, take on an arbitrary character. Seldom has one heard a grooving improvising duo play so resolutely. They don't make any false compromises. If the consequence out of their interaction means "noise," then they take it up and the music is exactly that: an outbreak of energy, a first-class power play. Bobby Previte and Elliott Sharp can also let the things run, laid back, they can allow themselves to cite musical-historical references without seeming so obvious or eclectic. As said, both have a lot to tell. The Prisoner's Dilemma presents the highlights of their conversation.
Featuring Steven Bernstein on trumpet & slide trumpets, Marcus Rojas on tuba and Kresten Osgood on drums. Multi-bandleader, arranger and trumpet hero Steve Bernstein never seems to rest. Besides running Sex Mob and the Millennial Territory Orchestra, he has four fabulous discs on Tzadik and has worked with Lounge Lizards, Kamikaze Ground Crew, Max Nagl's Big Four, Satoko Fujii and Mario Pavone. He was also a member of an early downtown trio called Spanish Fly with Dave Tronzo and Marcus Rojas, who still get together on occasion when Tronzo is in town. Since Mr. Tronzo has relocated to the Boston area, Spanish Fly plays gigs with guest members like Ned Rothenberg. Hence this new trio with Marcus Rojas and Danish drum wiz Kresten Osgood, who seems to get around and appears on more discs than I can count. It is Kresten who is the main composer on this disc. The very first sound you hear on this disc is Marcus playing his tuba like a dijeradoo, making this spooky hum/growl. Besides four originals by Kresten, there are a few select and diverse covers by Charles Brackeen, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Hank Williams. Charles Brackeen's "Prince of Night" starts things off and is a perfect opening piece. It has a peaceful, spiritual vibe and a delicate, somber melody. Kresten's skeletal yet seductive "Hope for Denmark" shows how to set the scene with a minimum of notes. It reminds me of how the blues works best with a handful of select notes, where each one counts. Marcus Rojas is a master tuba player with his own distinctive sound and approach. He starts Monk's "Thelonius" by rubbing and tapping on his tuba while he hums of just plays a certain eerie notes. When he switches to the bass line, he sounds totally old school and filled with friendly swagger. "Scaramanga" is an eerie, spacy improvised trio that floats freely and thoughtfully. Kresten's drums are recorded with breathtaking care and are at the center of "Abington". His mallet use is sublime and works well with Steve's haunting muted trumpet and Marcus cosmic droning tuba. Initially I thought that there is nothing that connects Mingus' "Eastcoasting" with Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". Both were written in the fifties and played next to each other, they both evoke a certain timeless quality, especially the way the trio turn Hank's song inside out and sent it to the outer space. The feeling that I get from this gem is that it is Kresten that called the shots and organized to session. This is indeed a wonderful job from all three members of this phenomenal trio.
As a member of Amsterdam's venerable ICP Orchestra, saxophonist Michael Moore's musicianship and playfulness can be assumed, a part of the raconteur spirit that unites the members of Misha Mengelberg's ensemble. Outside the ICP, Moore is involved in a number of projects, as diverse as they are satisfyingly, realized. From the Bob Dylan interpretations of Jewels & Binoculars to the offbeat Available Jelly and his longstanding Clusone Trio with Han Bennink and Ernst Reijiseger, Moore's wide-ranging interests never lack a sense of full commitment to the project.Moore seems to enjoy three-piece settings. Along with Clusone and Jewels & Binoculars, Moore has released two records (on his Ramboy label) with Fred Hersch and Mark Helias, and now premieres a great triad with Guy Klusevcek and Erik Friedlander. The title, Holocene, comes from the Greek word meaning "entirely new," but as Moore explains in the brief liner notes refers here to the holocene epoch, the geological period between the last ice age and the current day. It's a lot of temporal ground to cover, but the 13 tunes here, all composed by Moore, are sweepingly romantic. The rich, wet midrange of clarinet, accordion and cello can't help but evoke rainy afternoons and red-wine dinners, melancholy and nostalgia, and Moore is deft enough to hide his sentiments inside the music, rather than smearing them across its face. Moments of abstraction are mirrored by segments of sheer loveliness.
The Fell Clutch feature Ned Rothenberg on bass & regular clarinets & alto sax, Stomu Takeishi on fretless electric bass, Tony Buck on drums and Dave Tronzo on slide guitar (3 tracks only). There was rave review of this quartet playing live in Brooklyn last year by Andre Henkin in All About Jazz, so I've been eagerly awaiting this disc to arrive. And what an amazing and unlikely downtown all-star quartet this is. I recall Ned Rothenberg sitting in with Spanish Fly (Tronzo, Steve Bernstein & Marcus Rojas) in the recent past and fretless bass god, Stomu Takeishi (Threadgill's Make a Move & Myra Melford) has been a longtime partner with Tronzo in his trios/duo throughout the years, so that's where these connections were made. Australian drum wiz, Tony Buck (The Necks), has been coming to town pretty often in the last few years and has played at a couple of Zorn's monthly improv sessions at The Stone, which is where this quartet first played together. Enough history. Which brings us to this colossal trio and quartet date. The Fell Clutch love to twist its grooves inside-out. Ned establishes the groove on the opening piece, "moment of reloading" on his bass clarinet with Tony playing skeletal drums, Stomu throbbing those cool bass swirls and Dave playing his fractured slide sounds. Stomu's sly, distinctive fretless bass sound starts off "life in your years" with Ned's sumptuous clarinet and Dave's haunting slide slowly swirling around one another, a superb gem. What is most wonderful about this disc is that although it is mostly improvised, this trio or quartet sound as if they are playing mainly charted pieces, so focused is the overall sound. On "food for a rambling", Ned sets up an odd groove with a bent sax -line that he repeats and twists into odd shapes as he circular breathes with the bass and drums punctuate his groove. It's always great to hear Tronzo make his guitar talk, which he does on a number of these pieces with his wah-wah slide playing. I dig the way the guitar, bass & drums often set up these great little grooves, sometimes a bit bent but always infectious in one way or another. "epic in difference" is in fact an epic-length piece that begins with immense suspense, floats eerily with Ned playing dijeradoo-like bass clarinet. The bass and guitar sound like mutant ghosts as Tony plays alarm clock-like cymbals. It builds in intensity as it develops, feeling like some sort of ritualistic dance of the spirits. This is a most mesmerizing journey through some dark lands. An awesome endeavor from a fine quartet downtown's best.
Recorded in New York in 2000, this trio perform some exceptional avant-garde improvised music, using electronics and loops, featuring both electric and acoustic moments. The trio features two of downtown N.Y.C.'s finest avant-garde musicians of the '80s and '90s; composer and multi instrumentalist Elliott Sharp is a ubiquitous "downtown" player, and John Zorn's favored drummer, Joey Baron, is outstanding on this candid session. The trio is completed with Italian guitarist Roberto Zorzi, who is a unique and distinctive musician, seemingly unlimited by string instruments. With Joey Baron providing angular beats and electronic rhythms, Elliott Sharp and Roberto Zorzi exchange between sundry instruments — eight-string bass and acoustic guitar, soprano sax, and loops, dobro, and electric bass. Recorded and mixed by Sharp, the ten tracks on this CD exhibit some highly inventive music that sits on the improvised/post rock/experimental axis.
"Melding shards of avant garde, jazz, mainstream pop, etc., Elliott Sharp has concocted a visceral combination between Russ Meyer's phobic visions of American sexuality and violence with 'Gulliver's Travels' in the land of the savage yahoos, resulting in a humorous and excoriating soundtrack to the American landscape. Features Samm Bennett, Eugene Chadbourne and Anthony Coleman".
1/ Music Of Amrka (2:15) 2/ Biblebelt In The Mouth (2:00) 3/ Blinders (3:05) 4/ Pornshards (3:04) 5/ Iced (2:42) 6/ Splatter Dub (2:42) 7/ Triumph Of The Won't (2:52) 8/ Return Of The Pharm Boys (2:38) 9/ Obedience School (2:39) 10/ X-plicit (5:06) 11/ Top Ten (2:37) 12/ Semtex (letter to the court) (3:27) 13/ Golfgames (2:01) 14/ Late Capitalism Sexual Practices (2:42) 15/ Soylent Verde (1:23) 16/ Silenced (2:41) 17/ Fax or Fiction (1:51) 18/ The Pledge (3:26)
Elliott Sharp : guitars, bass, sampler, voice, alto sax, computer Samm Bennett : drums (1,2,3,4,6,11,12) Anthony Coleman : organ (3,9,18) Eugene Chadbourne : voice, piano (8), dobro (18) Alva Rogers : voice (3) Poison-Tete : voice (5,11) Sussan Deihim : voices (10) Shelley Hirsch : voice (12) Barbara Barg : voices (13) KJ Grant : voices (16) Lee Ann Brown : voice (18)
This is E#'s fourth self-produced Orchestra Carbon release and it features an all-star downtown cast with Ned Rothenberg, Andy Laster, Evan Spritzer & Tim Smith on reeds; Steve Swell & Julie Kalu on trombones; Brian McWhorter & Eric Shanfield on trumpets; Zeena Parkins, David Weinstein & Luke Dubois on samplers, Jim Pugliese on percussion and Elliott Sharp on soprano sax, computer, composition and direction. It was recorded live at Tonic in March of 2001 by yours truly, DMG founder (and NY Downtown scene archivist) Bruce Gallanter! 'Radiolaria' begins with Elliott's snaking charming soprano sax which introduces that sly undercurrent of things to come. Elliott's highly idiosyncratic music has unique rhythmic sense, as well as some bizarre, alien harmonies which seem to push the saxes and horns in waves which both collide and connect as they slide through some strange exotic scale. Each part of this seven section work, seems to deal with different textures and combinations of difficult harmonic layers. I dig how on the third section, what sounds like the random rhythmic placement buzzing fragments, begins to evolve into a recognized pattern before it ends. There segments which I could quite get the first few times I heard this, but which are finally beginning to make more sense as I dig deeper into the undercurrent of connection. The fourth part features those morse code-like staccato horn parts that I find fascinating in the works of Xenakis or Penderecki. Part five reminds me of the Mothers when they start stretching those notes in a twisted, yet humorous way. The final section is the most startling, the shimmering, somewhat scary mass of shifting horns and saxes radiates a breath-taking wall of dense textures which create a challenging environment of refracted images like a twisted mirror or lens. If I played it too loud, my next door neighbors might freak-out, but at a more tolerable volume, it becomes a kaleidoscope or swirling colors. A must for the scientists and true explorers among us.
There goes Chris Speed again, hogging the spotlight and never giving his bandmates any opportunities to shine. The preceding remark is intended as a joke. In actuality, Speed might be one of the least ego-driven jazzers around today, and if one measure of greatness in a creative musician is a demonstrated ability to bring out the best in his or her collaborators and unite them in a singular artistic conception, then Speed is indeed one helluva great creative musician. In fact, on Swell Henry, Speed's fourth CD leading his yeah NO quartet, the tenor saxophonist and clarinetist seems to have been fully absorbed into the band as a member equal to the others, although he wrote or co-wrote all but one of the recording's ten tracks. His name doesn't even appear on the outside of the CD booklet or back tray card; Swell Henry is presented as a recording by a group called yeah NO. And yet Speed's artistic persona comes through with full force, strength, and assurance on this release, even as the reedman steadfastly refuses to relegate his sidemen to the role of, well, mere sidemen. Speed's yeah NO bandmates — bassist Skuli Sverrisson, drummer Jim Black, and trumpeter Cuong Vu — are more akin to full partners in sculpting the group's overall sound, and are as committed to that sound as Speed himself. In fact, these days the likeminded musicians of yeah NO seem to be moving a bit closer to the sonics and spirit of Pachora, the Balkan/Mediterranean-themed quartet that also features Speed, Black, and Sverrisson. Pachora has no "leader" per se, and has continued to twist its traditional-inspired music into more forward-thinking shapes with each successive release. Meanwhile, the more open-formatted yeah NO appears to be headed in Pachora's direction, on Swell Henry often drawing inspiration from Balkan and Eastern European modes and combining the talents of all the participating musicians into a truly collaborative sound. Given the uniformly high quality of the material here, it's nearly meaningless to single out highlights, but certainly deserving mention are "Last Beginning"'s slow and dramatic build to an anthemic, rockish bridge and solo tenor break; the freewheeling clarinet that dances over Black's crisply driving rhythm in "Born in the Air"; and the Speed/Vu spirited interplay over "Camper Giorno"'s mid-tempo vamp. Reminiscent of "Drifting" from Pachora's Astereotypical, the virtuosic Sverrisson's moody neo-classical "Cloud Stopper" further proves the bassist's skill as a composer of strikingly beautiful music. And the fiery quasi-fusion of "Flanked" and skittering free jazz of "He Has a Pair of Dice" are full-bodied demonstrations of the chops these guys possess. Throughout the disc, the plaintive and melancholy qualities of Speed's tenor phrasing and tone add both subtlety and emotional depth to even the most groove-oriented tunes, while Vu continues to perfect his explosive, distortion-laden crescendos. And adding warmth to the proceedings is the lovely accordion of guest Rob Burger on five tracks, while additional guest Jamie Saft contributes some Mellotron here and there that might have listeners of a certain age flashing back to Starless and Bible Black-era King Crimson, of all things.
Roy Nathanson has always been a storyteller. In the late 1980s, his band with Curtis Fowlkes, called the Jazz Passengers, echoed the voices he heard from his New York streets. Deranged and Decomposed and Broken Night/Red Light, both nearly impossible to find recordings, spoke of multi-ethnic ramblings, preachers, and strange drugs. Nathanson also wrote music for performance artist David Cale, accenting his tales. Later work with the Lounge Lizards and the nineties reincarnation of the Jazz Passengers with vocalist Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, further broadened Nathanson's musical palate. He is a showman with an inclination for burlesque, a joke and a good time. Fire is the full realization of his storytelling. He constructs an imaginary tavern, with an assemblage of patrons and odd characters that include Deborah Harry as Cups, the bartender everyone lusts for, Elvis Costello the narrator, Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs as the would be arsonist, and various patrons that include a micro and a macro physicist. Not since The Who's Tommy or, well...The Van Trapp families exploits has musical theatre captured my imagination. Nathanson's theater is all about the bar's characters. Scored with tangos, a saxophone quartet, funk, organ grease, and Jazz Passengers circus music, the musical vignettes shed light on the tragic night of the fire, hint at relationships and turmoil, before disappearing into the smoke. Nancy King and Kenny Washington sing/scat "Bar Stool Paradise" ala' "Moody's Mood For Love" at true lush life where a few drinks create eternal love, at least for tonight. Nathanson casts his musical theatre with top musicians and eclectic styles. Where else can a B3, as if in a make believe jazz night, play opposite a cello and Dobro "kid song" next to a love song between two gay particle physicists? Somehow Elvis Costello's voice has become the narration of our times and Harry's graduation from Blondie signals a collective call for all of us to grow up already. Nathanson has given us the postmodern-Cheers, then burned it to the ground. See, jazz can be fun music, it can be theatre, and it can tell stories.
Mark Corroto (All About Jazz)
1- Fire suite 1 2- Fire suite 2 3- Fire suite 3 4- Bar stool paradise 5- Last call 6- Jazz night at Keaton's 7- A bend in the night 8- Carol Ann 9- Toast quartet 10- Loss 11- Cups 12- Fire suite reprise
Roy Nathanson : alto, tenor & soprano sax (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12) Bill Ware : vibes, piano, hammond B3 (3,8,11,12) Brad Jones : bass (1,3,5,8,12) EJ Rodriguez : drums, percussion (1,3,5,11,12) Marc Ribot : guitar (3,4,11) Erik Friedlander : cello (1,10) Jay Rodriguez : tenor sax (2,3,6,9) Curtis Fowlkes : trombone (5,6,11) Ben Perowsky : drums (3,6,8) Anthony Coleman : piano (7) Sam Furnace : baritone sax (2,3,9) Ned Rothenberg : alto sax (2,3,9) Rob Thomas : violin (5,6) Charles Earland : hammond B3 (4,6) Marcus Rojas : tuba (11) Deidre Rodman : piano (5) Cyrus Chestnut : piano (1) David Gilmore : guitar (8) Hector Del Curto : bandonion (5) Danny Blume & Chris kelly : programming (8) Mike Marshall : dobro (10) Rob Johnson : trumpet (6,11) David Driver & Darius de Haas : vocals (7) Nancy King : vocal (4) Kenny Washington : vocal (4) Juan "Coco" de Jesus : vocal (10) Corey Harris : vocal (8) Deborah Harry : vocal (11) Richard Butler : vocal (5) Elvis Costello : vocal (1,3, 12)
Veteran russian rockers Auktyon have enlisted the help of several notable american musicians on their latest release, so the music may well reach a wider audience than usual. But augmented or not, Auktyon's sound remains as curious and kinetic as ever. Guitarist Marc Ribot, who appears on "Girls Sing" with fellow recruits John Medeski on keyboards, Frank London on trumpet and Ned Rothenberg on alto sax and flute, recently called Auktyon "punk rockers with a surrealist edge." Although that description sums up the eight-piece band's temperament and theatricality as well as any, "Girls Sing" is label-defying. "Profukal" kicks off the album with frenzied Slavic funk: Ribot lays down chunky chordal riffs, Medeski scribbles away on a hammond organ and drummer Boris Shaveinikov vigorously assumes the role of pile driver until the atonal fade. In sharp contrast, the eight-minute-plus "Tam-dam" unfolds slowly and hauntingly, accented by Japanese flute and rustling percussion. The remaining performances tend to fall somewhere between those sonic strategies, though the energy level never flags for long. Eastern European dance music, Gypsy guitar traditions and fusion jazz tints play a role in the mix, as does Auktyon's trademark (and frequently unhinged) blend of brass, reeds, percussion, vocals, strings and showmanship.
Polish drum wiz, groove-king and multi-bandleader has upwards of a dozen discs out, each with different personnel from around the world, as well as some of downtown's best (Tronzo & Krauss here). Jacek seems to dig trumpet players and has worked with Kenny Wheeler, Cuong Vu, Eric Vloeimans, Franz Hautzinger and here he uses ECM great Palle Mikkelborg. This disc features a fine seven-piece band, the largest assemblage Jacek has recorded so far. Jacek works his wonders setting up sly, spacey, somewhat funky grooves that players can add their tones and colors to and solo on occasion. Often these slamming grooves push the soloists to come up with something different than what they are use to in their own situations. With so many fine musicians Jacek often selects melodic patterns that violin and accordion or the guitar and sax can add their harmonies to. Both Tronzo and Briggan Krause contribute one short piece each, mainly a solo interlude. On a couple of tracks Jacek sets up a quiet, spacious, slow groove so that Palle's muted trumpet and Tronzo's ultra subtle guitar can float on top. Rather than just set up some all-star jam sessions, Jacek works out each piece in advance so that the groove and background textures or loops provide a different challenge on each piece. I find Jacek Kochan to be more consistently successful than Nils Petter Molvaer who often provides a similar set-up, yet his results I find often less-than-engaging.
Bruce Lee Gallanter (Downtown Music Gallery)
"Double life of a chair" is certainly one of the more interesting disks of the last years.... Jacek Kochan ...(has)... an obvious inclination to the leadership that agrees to put him in field with a project of large beauty... The attractive music of this album is not easily classifiable...
Jim Staley is one of the best trombonists you've never heard. His playing combines the technique of George Lewis with the playfulness of Jack Teagarden to produce wonders on his instrument. This recording is a series of four trio groupings with elite members of New York's downtown crowd in the mid-'80s, and fairly represents some of the state-of-the-art performances at the time. Among Staley's partners are John Zorn (alto saxophone), Bill Frisell (guitar), Shelley Hirsch (vocals), and Elliott Sharp (double-neck guitar/bass and soprano saxophone). While the novelty of these unions has paled somewhat over time, the playing is first-rate, and the self-effacing, under-recorded Staley is featured throughout. Most of the pieces sound like snippets, without melody or linear development. Still, they are fascinating structures, both for the quality of improvisation and for capturing a slice of an important freestyle genre.
What would you make of a 1998 meeting between longtime vanguard jazz buddies like saxophonist Time Berne and cellist Hank Roberts? It'd be a skronk-fest, right? Wrong. This gorgeous duet album between Berne and Roberts explores improvisation to be sure, but more than that it picks up where their phenomenal collaboration left off in the early '90s. Cause & Effect explores the limits of compositional structure, as well as exploring their expansion via dynamics, phrasing, tonal equations, harmonic extrapolations, modular architectures, and intervallic episodes. Is it jazz? Yes, and much more; this is a dialogue, so symbiotic as to be almost uncomfortable. This pair can delve into the instinctual vibe so deeply that they surprise one another by predicting what the other will play. These written-out sketches offer the framework for one tonal or modal idea that can be expressed in numerous ways before being drafted out and stretched to the contrapuntal and harmonic limits before they have to give way to something else, which is as anguishing as it is breathtaking. The notion is that neither man wants to exhausts the inherent improvising capabilities inside a particular architecture. The absolutely wrenching "More Than One Dance" is one example, and "In Other Worlds" is another. That's not to say there isn't humor here. Berne's too loopy to leave it totally out: "Showdown!," with its striking western motif, and "Invasion of the Freudian Shrimp," with its nod to Wagner at the circus, is another. In all, this is a pure delight, and leaves listeners wanting to hear as much of this fruitful collaboration in the future as we have in the past.
A trio outing recorded with bassist Peter Chwazik and drummer Bill King, "I'll Always Remember" is another worthwhile addition to the Hank Roberts catalog; intuitively fusing jazz, prog-rock, classical and avant-garde sounds, the music defies easy categorization, with Roberts' original compositions (like the excellent "Living Bicycles/Jersey Devil") as well as the group's improvisational pieces infused with real energy.
Entirely improvised from start to finish, this collection of what were essentially jam sessions (both live and in the studio) captures some moments of extremely heavy jazz. On Ponga, fusion giants Wayne Horvitz (keyboards) and Bobby Previte (drums) are joined by two relatively upstart Seattle musicians Skerik (sax) and Dave Palmer (keyboards). All four players had credible resumés when Ponga was assembled in the late '90s, but nothing they had done (especially recently) suggested the power and rare musicality of this eponymous debut. The music is difficult to describe and the word fusion comes to mind most often, but with so much wrongheaded jazz and barely salient prog titles often listed under the lowly rubric, well, it wouldn't be a fair description. The minimal "Awesome Wells" is a standout only for its spacious, bluesy texture that effectively gives the listener a break from the full-tilt progressive and noisy jazz that comes before and after. Cacophonous but utterly musical, Ponga is first-rate funk, experimental racket, and free jazz combined into one righteous package.
On this extraordinary trio effort Ellery Eskelin plays tenor sax, David Shea plays samples & other keyboards and Alessio plays drums, loops, a wide variety of odd percussion (gong sculptures, water drums and metals, etc.) and tapes. Nice to hear something new from former downtown sampler wiz David Shea, who seemed to have disappeared from this scene in recent years. I know that he spent time in Italy a few years back recording for Sub Rosa, but even those discs have disappeared as well. Alessio's fabulous drumming is at the center of this trio, spinning and weaving his layers of rhythmic schemes as Ellery plays marvelously on top and David swirls mysterious samples and keyboard sounds around the mesmerizing blend. The artwork of Paul Klee graces the CD cover and booklet and was an inspiration for the great disc. About 69 minutes long and completely fascinating throughout !
A former student of Alvin Lucier, composer Nicolas Collins has been at the forefront of electronic music innovation since the mid-'80s. This disc contains three outstanding examples of his distinct and innovative approach. The first piece, "Broken Light" for string quartet and "hot-wired CD player," places the Soldier String Quartet in the position of interacting with skipping and otherwise damaged CDs containing the music of Corelli, Locatelli, and Torelli. The music is alternately frenetic and stasis-filled and, as Collins mentions in his liner notes, a nod toward Terry Riley's landmark composition "In C." "Broken Light" also displays an eerie sense of synchronicity between the players and the discs. "Tobabo Fonio" features Collins in the role for which he's achieved the most renown, that of the player of a trombone from which no trombone sounds emerge. His trombone contains a CD player and other electronics so that, when he puts lips to mouthpiece, one might hear a vocalist, an orchestra, a rock group or, in this case, a Peruvian brass band. By altering his breath pressure and manipulating his slide (and who knows what other machinations), Collins is able to widely vary the sounds emitted, so much so that the actual source may be only intermittently apparent. Here, he takes minute slices of original material and splays them out into fascinating drone patterns, only allowing the brass band to bloom in full force toward the end of the composition. The title track revolves around campfire stories nested into one another, beginning with and eventually reintroducing the title words as part of each embedded story. The voice triggers various electronic sounds wherein the words might disappear under an oddly syntactic rush of drumbeats or metallic pings. Collins uses some of the same music as in "Tobabo Fonio," both as a tape source and played live by the ensemble. The texts utilized generally have something to do with the themes of fraud (the art forger Van Megeren), misinterpretation, and appropriation, making ironic reference to Collins' own subversive use of found material. Its unusual combination of extreme and surprising sonic events with an underlying sense of Americana (storytelling around the campfire) make for a wonderfully rewarding and unique listening experience. Very highly recommended for adventurous listeners.
Based in New York City since the late '70s, the Roulette collective has been sponsoring new music events for years. By the time this compilation was released in 1992, Roulette had organized nearly a thousand performances, many featuring some of the most outrageous cutting-edge music. This CD collects excerpts from some of the best concerts during a seven-year period, and unsurprisingly, the uniformly stellar performances sparkle with excitement. Whether a Billy Bang solo violin tribute to Albert Ayler, the premiere of one of John Zorn's game pieces, David Weinstein's deconstruction of national anthems, or the shimmering beauty of vocalist Jeanne Lee and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith in tandem, the 14 tracks should delight anyone open to adventurous sounds.
Steve Loewy (All Music)
*1) : Bill Frisell, guitar & effects (16/04/1988) *2) : Christian Marclay, turntables (14/03/1987) *3) : Tohban Djan : Ikue Mori, drums & drum machine. Luli Shioi, voice & bass. Hahn Rowe, violin. Davey Williams, guitar (12/11/1989) *4) : Zeena Parkins, electric harp & electronics (22/03/1990) *5) : Billy Bang, violin (26/02/1988) *6) : Anthony Coleman, sampling keyboards. Jim Pugliese, drums & sampler. Don Byron, clarinet. Guy Klucevsek, accordion (30/03/1990) *7) : David Weinstein, sampling & electronic keyboard (27/04/1989) *8) : Chris Cochrane, guitar (14/11/1987) *9) : Ron Kuivila, home-made electronics & microcomputer (25/10/1987) *10) : John Zorn, reeds. Vicki Bodner, oboe & english horn. Carol Emanuel, harp. Wayne Horvitz, electronic keyboard. Robert James, tapes & sfx. Arto Lindsay, voice & guitar. Christian Marclay, turntables. M.E. Miller, drums. Ursula Oppens, piano. Robin Holcomb, prompter (27/04/1984) *11) : Mary Rowell, violin. Erik Friedlander, cello. Jonathan Storck, doublebass (23/03/1991) *12) : David Weinstein, sampling & electronic keyboard (27/04/1989) *13) : Shelley Hirsch, voice. Ikue Mori, drum machines. David Shea, turntables. Jim Staley, trombone (18/07/1991) *14) : Jeanne Lee, voice. Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet (21/10/1989)
Prisoner is Shea's homage to Patrick McGoohan's paranoid BBC TV spy series from the 1960s (as well as other spy/adventure shows from the same period), and liberally uses samples from the show. He continues working with additional musicians after the solo effort of I, but the musicians are used to better advantage than his debut work Shock Corridor. He has compared the work to sound cinema, and the description is particularly apt in the way that he transitions from one scene to another, and where the later pieces in the suite harken back to the earlier ones. Each piece has its own character, but the transitions between them occur in a cloud of brief, noisy segments, mixing Shea's turntable work and instrumental improvisation. The instrumentalists get opportunities to solo without dominating the work, especially guitarist Mark Ribot (who gets a long solo on #2 and some great feedback noise on #6) and Cyro Baptiste, whose Brazilian percussion dominates #5. The four pianists get a long workout on #4, which includes a beautiful stretch of neo-classical piano writing. The paranoia of the show is reflected in the alternation between circus music and ominous sampled voices and sombre string music. Prisoner shows Shea moving away from the cacophony of Shock Corridor and working with longer forms, towards his excellent later suites, Hsi-Yu Chi, Tower of Mirrors, and Satyricon.
Addi Somekh is recognized as one of the most innovative, prolific and well-traveled balloon artists in the world today. A self-taught balloon twister, his style incorporates improvisation, abstract design, and comic delivery, culminating in custom-made headdresses that have an uncanny ability to reflect the wearer’s personality. In the spring of 2004, Addi made 50 different balloon drums and then invited two of his favorite drummers to record a set of improvised duets : a much in-demand session drummer, Los Angeles–based Danny Frankel has recorded with the likes of Fiona Apple, Bebel Gilberto, and Lou Reed. He is also a regular member of KD Lang’s ensemble as well as the Dakah Hip Hip Orchestra. Danny is particularly renowned for his bongo playing. In addition to his recurring road gigs with Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob, Bill Frisell, and John Zorn’s Electric Masada, Kenny Wollesen has recorded with Norah Jones and Tom Waits. He also leads his own sextet, The Wollesens. Although Danny and Kenny had known one another for nearly 20 years, they hadn’t played together before teaming to record the Balloon Drum Album. Explains Kenny: “The balloon drums have so many different types of sounds that we were learning how to play them as we were recording. So it was a really fun and challenging musical conversation.”“Kenny has such great energy,” says Danny. “We never even talked about what we were going to play. We just started playing, and it was like ESP.”
Alessandro Cassin: What does the improvising conductor do, provided words like conducting, arranging, composing, qualify to describe the work ? Butch Morris: The improvising conductor arranges the extemporized material of improvisers. He has a vocabulary of signs to instigate the events: I'm not conducting in the traditional sense, I'm provoking or asking for certain things to happen, but even of those things I have no idea until I hear them. AC: Would you say of what you do that it's something between arranging and composing ? BM: Actually I wouldn't truly call it composing, but I could call it arranging, yeah, granted that you cannot start to arrange anything before you hear the material, before you have the material at hand. AC: As to the simultaneous process of listening and doing something with what you've listened to, how different is it from what a regular conductor does, and what about the risks of speed in this process, and the power trip which I guess shaping a whole ensemble should entail ? BM: At certain times it does create a sensation of power, yeah. The power trip didn't start with me, it started with the idea that someone had to stand before an orchestra. There is a certain kind of aura, of position of authority that conductors themselves have created over the years. However, what I'm doing is similar and different. It's similar in the sense that I'm keeping a number of people in line and I'm giving my view of direction, particularly direction of music. Of course with me you have no idea what direction the music will take. The traditional conductor instead knows the direction of the music, what it's going to sound like. I have no idea of what a person is going to do, or play, or what the first sound is going to be, the second sound or any sound. But I know that as soon as I hear it, if it needs a certain kind of care I have to shape it. AC: How is chance at stake here ? BM: Chance is a word John Cage has used a lot in his writing. I don't like to see it as chance, I like to see it as risk. I think risk insinuates also a certain kind of challenge. Chance doesn't necessarily do that to me. AC: Do musicians resist your method, what are the most common questions raised by people at work with you ? BM: I have had resistance to the method, though that's generally when I'm called to work with an existing ensemble that doesn't know quite what I'm doing or why I'm doing it. One of the most common questions or statements is, yes — why am I doing it ? and — if you want me to do it why don't you just write it down ? What I'm trying to bring about is ensemble spontaneity; there are still a lot of people resisting any kind of total improvisation. AC: Would you rather work with the same musicians on a regular basis, or do you envision being so familiar with the method as to be able to conduct improvisation with little or no rehearsals? BM: I do have a core group in New York of about five or six people that I use all the time not only for conductions but for notated compositions and other kind of projects. It makes my ensemble more flexible when I hire people that read music well. Believe me, I like a lot of different kinds of music, and I like to write it, and I also like to improvise. One of the reasons I even started thinking of this conducting was really to control, make more flexible and lucid my notated music. AC: Let's get to the second part of the question, do you envision being so familiar with the method as to be able to conduct improvisation with little or no rehearsals ? BM: I would like that very much, I hope it's coming to that. That I could call up three people in every country I've ever been, but there is not really that kind of familiarity at this point and I feel obligated to at least run through the vocabulary one more time. AC: You have been conducting for twenty years. How does progression in your work contemplate evolution ? BM: It still feels very young to me and it still feels very fresh, Conduction #1 is completely different from Conduction #31. I think there's a long way to go... I want to take it a lot further, a lot. There's only been one composer to write for my particular talent, that was Misha Mingelberg in '87. He wrote a piece for me to conduct and it really worked quite well. His identity was still in the music, it didn't sound like me, I think this could be a problem with some composers thinking they are bound to loose their musical identity.
On Gordon Bok’s “Rosin The Beau”, the great cellist Hank Roberts performs vocal harmonies with his earthy and wooden toned Cello lines as guitarist Jim Yanda kicks the proceedings into an affable all acoustic jazz motif. This and other imaginative renditions of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susannah”, “Beautiful Dreamer” along with American traditionals such as “She ’ll Be Coming Down The Mountain” and “Shenandoah” comprise some of the 13 pieces on drummer Phil Haynes ambitious and thoroughly refreshing new release titled, Phil Haynes & Free Country. Phil Haynes is a well-known drummer who has performed with the creme de la creme of modern jazz stylists such as saxophonists Ellery Eskelin, Gebhard Ullmann and many others too numerous in scope to cite here. Along with fellow New York City Downtown/modern jazz musicians - bassist Drew Gress, cellist Hank Roberts and acoustic steel string guitarist Jim Yanda, “Free Country” fuses grassroots Americana with hip, upbeat arrangements that toggle jazz, bluegrass and country. Wonderfully recorded direct-to-stereo, sans amplification Haynes and his cohorts extend or in some situations parallel concepts actualized by guitarist Bill Frisell with his recent forays into Country & Western and Bluegrass. Sterling resonance and soulful interplay witnessed on “Old Joe Clark” serves as a prime example of the striking sonic characteristics of this recording as Gress’ heavy and explicit bass lines in tandem with Haynes’ equally wooden toned drums emit a gorgeously radiant environment. Throughout, Haynes & Free Country breathe new life into American heritage and traditionalism with this joyous and to a greater extent, ingenious and immaculately executed outing.
Glenn Astarita (All About Jazz)
"When I first performed with cellist Hank Roberts on Andy Laster’s CD Twirler, I thought how Hank’s Appalachian barn dance roots - performing bluegrass with his fiddling grandfather - would be a perfect match with guitarist Jim Yanda’s Iowa-grown country & western dance hall beginnings. A few years later, my good friend Christian Kvech said “Why don’t you get a string band together to play all of that old pre-1900 American Folk music you wanted to arrange for 4 Horns & What? It might very well gain a wider ‘non-jazz’ audience and become a popular success.” At that moment, Free Country was born. Either Hank Roberts or Jim Yanda should have put this band together for themselves as it is a unique expression of their earliest musical influences. My leading role here as a producer, arranger, and drumming “sideman” in this romantic context creates a “looking glass” at our American roots, as well as our future. How could the “NPR crowd” resist?"
Alto/baritone saxophonist and composer Andy Laster was born in 1961, grew up on Long Island, and studied jazz at Seattle's Cornish Institute before moving to New York City in 1985. His first recording, "Hippo Stomp," appeared on the Sound Aspects label in 1989. This album was followed by two more Sound Aspects releases, Twirler (1990) and the first eponymously named CD by Hydra (1994), one of Laster's key ongoing projects. During the 1990s Laster emerged as a unique and significant voice on the so-called "New York downtown music scene" that has also served as a launching pad for musicians like Dave Douglas, Tim Berne and John Zorn. In 1995 the Songlines label released Polyogue, the second Hydra recording; next came another Songlines CD by Laster's Interpretations of Lessness Band in 1997. Soft Shell followed three years later. While leading these two groups Laster also appeared in collaborative ensembles Orange Then Blue and New and Used, as well as Erik Friedlander's Topaz; the Julius Hemphill Sextet; the Pink Noise Saxophone Quartet; Bobby Previte's Weather Clear, Track Fast; and Ballin' the Jack. He has also performed with Mark Helias, Hank Roberts' Birds of Prey and Lyle Lovett. Laster has developed a unique compositional style that often draws from techniques employed in modern classical chamber music, with highly scored passages that serve as a backdrop for or intertwine with soloists. While often complex, the music is also spacious, rhythmically open and expressive, with considerable appeal to fans of well-executed contemporary jazz and creative improvisation.
Dave Lynch (Allmusic)
nb : there is a hidden (or bonus) track not mentioned on the cd : track 8 = "Lyleland" !
San Francisco Bay Area bassist Trevor Dunn gets around. Dunn has worked with a vast array of such diverse artists as the Kronos Quartet, Tom Waits, Ben Goldberg, Wayne Horvitz, Mike Patton and Buzz Osbourne of the the slash and burn rock band, The Melvins. Dunn is also a co-founder of the avant-rock band Mr. Bungle. As one might detect from his broad resume, Dunn is equally at home playing Rock, Free Jazz or disciplined Chamber-esque charts. Here, with his “Trio Convulsant” Dunn provides a glimpse or two of his diverse musical talents which includes pieces that perhaps disclose his sophisticated mindset towards compositional approach. Along with the electrifying session guitarist Adam Levy and New York City Downtown Scene Drummer Kenny Wolleson, “Debutantes & Centipedes” is unconventional yet for the most part is gregarious, arousing and slightly tempestuous. “Perfumed With Crime” melds jazz-swing with loud grunge type guitar chords. Eventually matters settle down as Dunn and Levy become almost sheepishly conversational through their respective instruments. Dunn’s acoustic bass has a deep resonant wooden sound and there’s no doubt about his technical gifts. Moments of free improvisation, swing and death metal intermingle on the explosive “An Attempt At Jealousy” yet the brief moments of bombast eventually give way to serious dialogue. Kenny Wolleson covers the full spectrum of drumming and proves why he is such an in demand session musician within the “new” jazz scene. On “Ann-Margret” The boys partake in a manic, hard-core free-style romp. Adam Levy twists his guitar into knots aided and abetted by distortion-fuzz-wah-wah techniques and implementations. Again, as in most of these tracks the themes resurface in various forms and at times the Trio re-work these motifs into call and response settings and pursue dialogue which is insightful and quite interactive. “Premonitions” commences with an intentionally slow yet effective drag beat. Dunn continues to be inventive with proficient and skillful bass maneuvers. More dynamics from Levy and Dunn coalesce into interludes that may suggest mystical or spiritual reckoning. These fellows are definitely on to something here. “Echidna” features modern jazz motifs as Dunn shows amazing dexterity with more fleet fingered bass work. Levy shreds his guitar to bits with fast single note runs and “nasty” hard-edged chord progressions. The proceedings wind down as the boys take a well-deserved break via a slow ballad titled, “Aromatherapy”. Comparisons? A difficult proposition for sure. “Debutantes & Centipedes” is sure to delight advocates of the New York City Downtown and San Francisco Bay Area scenes where “new” music is at the forefront defying stereotypes and classifications. Trio-Convulsant blend free and mainstream jazz, sub culture grunge rock or at times heavy metal as the overabundance of innovative ideas and impeccable musicianship makes this alliance a triumphant success.