Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: Kris Davis

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Kris Davis (piano)
Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed; 2011)

A solo performance from Kris Davis is something not to be missed. On Aeriol Piano, Davis deploys various themes and imagery that are both spellbinding and invigorating. She improvises and moves with dense angles that lead you on a complicated journey but its one that will surprise you.

The complexity of Davis' compositions are sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett or Friedrich Gulda. High praise but Kris Davis is the real deal. Just as John Escreet is creating modern ideas that are moving jazz forward; Kris Davis is moving the idea of free-jazz and minimalism is can go either further.

Check out our original piece on Aeriol Piano.

Best Albums of 2011: Kevin Brow

JazzWarp revisit a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Kevin Brow (drums)
Dolls & Guns (Blackout Music;2011)
With various collaborators

Drummer, composer, Kevin Brow released his third album, Dolls & Guns (his first two were with his group Koptor) this year and it didn't disappoint.

A unique mixture of improvisation, minimalism and classic themes, Dolls & Guns is an album that demands repeated listens. Featuring 13 collaborators, Brow has managed to make each piece highly rewarding and different. You get the feeling that each piece could be developed into its own full length album.

Kevin Brow's main outfit, Koptor, is more a modern jazz quartet. As a solo artist, Brow has presented a beautiful work in Dolls & Guns that demonstrates his stature as leader and composer are growing rapidly. Definitely an artist to look out for in 2012. Check out our extended piece on Dolls & Guns.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: A Giraffe

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

A Giraffe (group)

Under A Table (self produced; 2011)
Joe Santa Maria (sax)
Mike Lockwood (drums)
Steve Blum (piano)
Emilio Terranova (bass)

Hailing from California, A Giraffe was a pleasant surprise when I first gave it a spin. They are contemporary but with just enough young bite that it standouts from a crowded field. The band's debut, Under A Table features some fine performances circling around some complex structures. Tracks like "You Shouldn'tven't" and "Crucial Present" demonstrate the quartet's flare for excitement. But at its heart, A Giraffe are a modern group with some fascinating ideas rolled into the mindset of four excellent musicians.

The opening track "A Ranger" has multiple counterpoints and is driven by some great improvising by Blum and Santa Maria.  Lockwoods drums cut across the plan is crisp, sharp fashion; along with Terranova's pounding drone-like bassline. Check out our full discussion of Under A Table as well as the interview we conducted a few months ago.

Best Albums of 2011: ASA Trio

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

ASA Trio (group)
Plays the music of Thelonious Monk (self produced; 2011)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Anders Thor (guitar)
Agnar Mar Magnusson (organ)

When I first heard ASA Trio I was blown away. Now almost 12 months later, I'm still stunned by the unity and excitement this trio can generate. Their debut full length, Plays The Music Of Thelonious Monk is fueled by leader, Agnar Mar Magnusson's driving organ. A challenging mixture of John Patton and Larry Young, Magnusson knows when to swing and when to pull back. Both McLemore and Thor add the colourful force around that help the trio's drastically different selections on Plays Monk. The trio move from bluesy rhythms of "Raise Four" to the resounding version of "Straight No Chaser."

ASA Trio was a refreshing discovery earlier this year and I've been trying to spread the news to as many friends as possible. You don't get trios like this very often. Especially a trio led by the organ. Plays The Music Of Thelonious Monk is and album that let's everyone know ASA Trio is a group that must be heard!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: Daniel Levin

JazzWrap revisit a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Daniel Levin (cello)
Inner Landscape (Clean Feed; 2011)

Releasing three records in a year made my decision extremely difficult as to what to choose from cellist, Daniel Levin, growing catalog. But after some intense listening and probably even closing my eyes and pointing, I finally decided on Inner Landscape. A solo work divided into six suites (if you don't mind me calling it that) that are expansive, challenging and entertaining.

Levin's great skill comes in creating a sound that is not only enveloping but it explodes your original theories of what the cello can do. His performances on record and live are beyond both jazz and classical. Inner Landscape is an improvised masterpiece but burst with undulated patterns and themes. You should expect the unexpected when taking this journey. "Landscape 3" might be the only piece that is calming to uninitiated but this is an album that demands you attention to the detail.

Inner Landscape was Daniel Levin's first solo cello album after a series of duos, trios and ensemble sessions. It's great to hear what his world sounds like all on his own.

Best Albums of 2011: Sunna Gunnlaugs

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano)
Long Pair Bond (self produced;2011)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Thorgrimur Jonsson (bass)

On Sunna's seventh album, Long Pair Bond, she really steps into her own. Her language has always been very intimate. But within this trio setting she has writing material that is well suited for the format. There are also a few numbers written by others (including drummer, McLemore).

The intimacy and calm that Long Pair Bond has a chamber like quality to it that could easily be place along side Keith Jarrett or Fred Hersch. But there is also the vitality in her work that shines for me, as evident on "Autumnalia" and an older number "Crab Cannon."

As an independent artist, Gunnalaugs has the liberty of writing, produced and recording when and what she pleases. I think this allows the really artist's personality to shine through. I discussed in our original piece on Long Pair Bond about the unique process on how this record was being produced. It's an interesting venture for musicians who have solid and devoted base. It's not for everyone but it is worth looking at. And in today's music/economic environment, not a bad idea at all.

On the musical side, after continually listens over the last month, I really have to repeat, Long Pair Bond is phenomenal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: Tomasz Licak & Artur Tuznik

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Tomasz Licak (sax) & Artur Tuznik (piano)
Quintet (Blackout Music; 2011)
Andreas Lang (bass)
Anders Mogensen (drums)
Tomasz Dabrowski (trumpet)

In a similar fashion to The Fowser/Gillece Quintet, Tomasz Licak and Artur Tuznik debut a new group this year with the simple title, Quintet. It's has all the traditional elements of a modern jazz record but with nice balance of hard bop and a few refreshing breaks in improvisation. Licak's horn is bold and well rounded. While Tuznik adds soft melodies when needed and an almost McCoy Tyner-esque rhythm. 

The group can definitely swing ("Uwaga"), caress a note ("Nardis") and even set the flame ("Hobbit"). Early into the session, "Rainman" provides a nice glimpse into the bond this group have develop as Lang and Mogensen move things along at groovy but sweet pattern. 

The Polish/Danish quintet wrap and number of influences but still come out with something fresh and rewarding. The are American effects at play but Licak and Tuznik are developing their own voice. And that voice should hopefully expand beyond Poland and across Europe and hopefully stateside some time soon. We hope. Read MoreQuintet is an excellent contemporary record and real must listen in 2011.

As always, many thanks to Maciej at Polish Jazz blog for turning me on to Licak and Tuznik.

Best Albums of 2011: Behn Gillece & Ken Fowser

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Ken Fower (sax)
Behn Gillece (vibes)
Duotone (Posi-Tone Records; 2011)
Donald Vega (piano)
Willie Jones (drums)
David Wong (bass)

Of all our favourites we might discussion this week, Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece's Duotone is probably the one album that could be universally accepted by both jazz new comers and hardcore listeners.

Duotone is like a good club night out. It's smokin' at the right moments ("Overcooked" and "Back To Back"), gently ("In Twilight") and even playful ("One For G"). But outside of setting the mood, Gillece and Fowser grown as musicians and writers. The music on their third album is tighter, well balanced and executed brilliantly by everyone in the quintet.

Gillece and Fowser have made a name for themselves in the New York scene by playing frequently at a number of smaller clubs. This is a duo will definitely be around for a while and if you ever wanted a great contemporary hard bop jazz record, you absolutely can't go wrong with Duotone. Check out our full discussion on Duotone from a earlier in the summer.

The following video was done David Rapoport.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: Equilibrium

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Equilibrium (trio)
Walking Voices (Songlines Recordings; 2011)
Sissel Vera Pettersen (voice, sax)
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet)
Mikkel Ploug (guitar)

Simply put, Walking Voices is one of the most beautiful records you'll hear all year. There is a blissful nature to the music. Pettersen, Badenhorst and Ploug weave a delicate web of electronics, folk and chamber classical themes into a dream-like soundscape built on the 15 solid pieces. Incorporating these themes may seem difficult but this trio do it with ease.

The spiritual flowing "Silverise" embodies the aesthetics of the group. It's atmospheric, organic and exploratory. Invoking the essence of Eno, Glass or Laurie Anderson, "Whitless" is awash of multi layered effects both vocal and electronic that will leave a dizzying effect on you as to the strength of this trio.

In our original piece on Walking Voices,  I discussed how Equilibrium have shown they are beyond description and that the music revolves and involves with many themes and varying sounds. This still holds true as I listen to again today. Each of the musicians has there own successful groups that they led but together they are one of the most innovative to come on the scene in recent years.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: Nicole Mitchell

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011.

Nicole Mitchell (flute)
Awakening (Delmark; 2011)
Avreeayl Ra (drums)
Jeff Parker (guitar)
Harrison Bankhead (bass)

Awakening was one of a slew of records that came at me out of nowhere. I quickly feel in love with Nicole Mitchell's performance here. The writing is tight, spiritual and groovy all at once. As I mentioned in my discussion of the album, it brings back a lot of that Black Power Jazz that floated between Detroit, Chicago and New York in the late '60s and early '70s. There are also moments where the experience of playing with the likes Rob Mazurek in Exploding Star Orchestra seems to have rubbed off ("Journey Of A Thread"). The quartet setting allows the individuals to stand out more. Mitchell's quiet and personal display on "Snowflakes" is indicative of touching Awakening can be on the listener.

Jeff Parker compliments Mitchell on this session with stellar playing that shift from blues to improvised jazz so smoothly you barely notice the changes. Harrison Bankhead and Avreeayl Ra (bass and drums respectively) do more than keep the time and rhythm. Ra's solo during moments is killer and unexpected after the mood Mitchell has set to this point. Bankhead adds a funky but sinister bassline to "There" which Mitchell tempers with some gentle but free moving colours.

Awakening is a laid back, psychedelic, soulful work that won't have you talking about the flute. It will have you taking about the composer. Here's our first discussion on Awakening.

Best Albums of 2011: Hugo Carvalhais

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2001.

Hugo Carvalhais (bass)
Nebulosa (Clean Feed; 2011)
Tim Berne (sax)
Gabriel Pinto (piano)
Mario Costa (drums)

I have probably listened to this record at least 3 times a month since the beginning of year. That might not sound like a lot but I've got a lot of music so trust me--it's a lot. Hugo Carvalhais created a record in Nebulosa that is so dense yet vivid with imagination that you really have to stop, sit down, and focus your mind around the instrumentation and sonic resonance his group are shaping.

Even now almost two months later I'm finding new sounds and classical elements from Tim Berne ("Impala") and from Gabriel Pinto ("Nebulosa II" and "Nebulosa III") that I hadn't noticed originally. Even the more contemporary flavor of "North" I'd hadn't noticed until a few months ago. Carvalhais' writing is sparse and allows for improvising at just the right moments.

The sonic adventure alone is just one of the many reasons why Nebulosa is one of my favourites of 20011. Check out our thoughts from earlier this year: Hugo Carvalhais Nebulosa.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best Albums of 2011: John Escreet

JazzWrap revisits a great year of discoveries in 2011. 

John Escreet (piano)
The Age We Live In (Mythology Records; 2011)
Marcus Gilmore (drums), David Binney (sax)
Wayne Krantz (guitar), with Brad Mason (trumpet)
Max Seigel (trombone), Tim Lefebvre (bass), and
Christian Howes (string orchestration)

Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross; 2011)
David Binney (sax), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums)

John Escreet has been on the rise the last few years. A well disciplined associate of Jason Moran, Escreet combines complexity and beauty into a more cerebral jazz that is both forward-thinking as it is accessible.

This year has seen the release of two distinct albums, both recorded a month apart. And both albums show that Escreet is quietly climbing up the ladder of important post-modern jazz musicians. The first release of the year came in the form of the expansive, The Age We In Live In (Mythology Records). A Pandora's box of possibilities, Escreet creates a document that encompasses  elements of fusion, ambient, modern, and rock, and all with sincere cohesion and deep sense of adventure. "The Domino Effect" rolls out the gates like a beast, thanks to some fantastic playing by Krantz on guitar and Escreet's infectious, Headhunter-esque work on fender and keys. Binney and Gilmore both cut a large chunk of counterpoint, which makes for blistering conclusion.

The title track feels like it has more in common with King Crimson or Mahavishnu Orchestra. It's epic, with monstrous tones from Binney and Gilmore. Escreet draws a futuristic picture with an inward performance that pulls you into a different soundscape. Guest musician, Max Seigel (trombone), provides a foil for Binney to bounce concepts back and forth with as the sounds get bigger and bigger. "As The Moon Disappears," is an ethereal piece featuring Escreet in a mixture of piano and keyboard. A haunting piece that has the beauty of Eno's Discreet Music and Komeda's Rosemary's Baby. The Age We Live In turns out be a melting pot of rich ideas and shows Escreet really stepping into his own.

One of things that continually astounds me about John Escreet's music is the diversity of his compositions. His language is rising to a different level, higher than some of his contemporaries. Only few weeks later, he returned to the studio to record similar abstract themes with a second set of musicians (also including Binney) in the shape of Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross). There's a small bit of contemporary playing here that reflects the sound of the label, but overall this is still a broad-minded John Escreet session. "Collapse" demonstrates the group in beautifully twisted form. It's a complex piece with multiple themes that rise and fall. Escreet allows the musicians to work freely, but they all seems to come back together at just the right moment. This creates a unique melody and rhythm that is both somehow transcendent and linear before you realize.

"Escape Hatch" is a dizzying array of improvised notes, with the group in moving in various directions and at times creating a groove out of nowhere. Opsvik's bassline holds things together so the rest can roam freely. There's a classic approach to "Wide Open Spaces" in which  Escreet provides a chamber music setting. The piece is dominated by Opsvik's bass. But Escreet has delicately placed notes for everyone to touch upon creating a wonderful sound out of nothing. 

The electronic work on "Electrotherapy" feels like something off a John Foxx album. It's brief and atmospheric and really shows Escreet has been listening to a lot of different sounds over the last year. "Waynes World," is a piece originally on Escreet's first album. Consequences has the same fiery structure but features a lot more texture than its parent version, and it represents a nice way of closing the album but reminding the listener that this is where we came from but not where we're going next...

You don't get artist releasing two records in a year these days (with the exception of say, Wynton Marsalis). But when you have an artist with the exceptional talent and complex compositional thinking as John Escreet, you have to take notice. The Age We Live In and Exception To The Rule could easily be one double album under the same concept, but they are enjoyable and challenging as separate entities. These are two records that you shouldn't miss out on this year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wadada Leo Smith: Dark Lady Of The Sonnets

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Live At Roulette NYC 16.12.2011
Dark Lady Of The Sonnets (Tum Records; 2011)
Pheeroan akLaff (drums)
Min Xiao-Fen (pipa; vocals)

A Wadada Leo Smith record or concert is always going to be an experience. There will be unquestioned excellence on the part of the leader. There will be intricate direction given to his bandmates. And there will always be unique use of sound and space which creates a very interesting ride for the listener and audience.

Wadada celebrated his 70th year with a devoted group of New Yorkers (yours truly included) who experienced a wide range of styles and ideas flying from the dreads to trumpet. It was an evening of two distinct lineups. First his Sextet, which deployed more of a "work-in-progress" minimal session. The trumpet gave very tight direction to the members but they each utilized it with superb effect. The standouts were Susie Ibarra, who continually shows why she is one of the best avant garde drummers on the scene. She had a force and fluidity that felt like a tsunami. John Lindberg on bass was also stellar, with a performance that seemed to move in and out of consciousness. The closing piece I swear his bass was set up to a wah wah kit because those grooves were funky and psychedelic all at once.

The second lineup featured members of his Organic Ensemble and Silver Orchestra's. This lineup floated between experimental, funky and fusion. Their previous releases, Spiritual Dimensions and Hearts Reflections are reflected in this performance. There's a more structured and obviously larger sound. The group feels more unified and head in the clear direction. There is space within the notes to improvise whether it is with electronics, vibes, guitars or Smith's distinct notes. This set had more for the audience to grasp onto and went in enough directions that it was immensely enjoyable.

Moving away from the present's large ensemble works to a recent past studio session, Dark Lady Of The Sonnets (Tum Records), recorded in 2007 but only released this year, celebrates life with a real sense of intimacy. It actually took me a couple of listens to really connect with the record. I had been so accustomed to the larger ensemble works that hearing this relatively quiet piece was a little jarring.

The trio setting really allows you to feel a lot more of Smith's playing than ever before. "Sarah Bell Wallace" is dedicated to Smith's mother and it is a somber piece but also features high moments which signify the celebration of her life.

"Blues: Cosmic Beauty" is more what I was used to. A burst of energy from Smith's trumpet with a unified but free form moves from both longtime bandmate Pheeroan akLaff and Xiao-Fen's excellent and unique sounding pipa. The piece gently descends in the middle with akLaff and Smith sharing interchanges with Fen's improvised vocalise. Both "Dark Lady Of The Sonnets" and the closing piece "Mibra" both see Smith's trumpet rising higher and higher. The proceedings are more upbeat and enthralling but still challenge your patience.

Dark Lady Of The Sonnets is about emotion and inner beauty. It's one of the more well focused yet still open flowing albums Wadada Leo Smith has recorded. This is a great record hot on the hills of his Organic releases. And its a great way to celebrate his 70 years of adventurous sounds. Happy Birthday Mr. Smith.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stacey Kent: Dreamer In Concert

Stacey Kent (vocals)
Dreamer In Concert (Blue Note France; 2011)
Matt Skelton (drums)
Jim Tomlinson (sax)
Jeremy Brown (bass)
Graham Harvey  (piano)        

There are some artists where integrity and tradition are integral to their delivery and success. Stacey Kent has delivered integrity and a sweet panache for tradition for almost two decades now. She has maintained a huge following with a sweet mastery of the American Songbook but with her last record, Reconte Moi (Blue Note; 2010), she advanced and widened her net a bit among jazz fans. The addition of a number of interesting French standards may have been a big part of it too.

The album was obviously a big hit in France which is probably what prompted the concept of her first ever live album, Dreamer In Concert (Blue Note). I've always had a tough time describing Kent to friends. But the best description would be soft, calm and undeniably impressive. Like a young cool Astrid Gilberto and soft lion-like courage of Tony Bennett or think on the pop side, Carole King. And now in addition to dragging my friends to her shows every year I can now bombard them with a truly stunning document of what its like to sit in the audience and get lost in her voice and her band's unique strengths and unity.

"Postcards Lovers" a love song awash with memories and passion that is built on the poetry of Kazuo Ishiguro, but delivered by like a wise sage, Kent will have your heart melting. The upbeat tempo of "If I Were A Bell" would put any music fan on their knees in awe. Kent captivates here in way that Anita O'Day or Rosemary Clooney would. Hitting the forceful notes but always keeping a gentle handle on the proceeding so the listener remains focused on the lyrics and creates their own life-story.

The Latin rhythms of Jobim's "Dreamer" are accentuated by the her marvelous band, especially Harvey's enveloping fender rhodes. Tomlinson's romantic notes feel like something out the best periods of Stan Getz. Skelton and Brown adds lovely touches on percussion and bass the are integral to the movements. This is a group that has been together for awhile and you can hear it in every note. "Jardin D'Hiver" sees Kent absorbing herself fully into recent French popular music (the piece originally written by French musician, Benjamin Biolay). The chanteuse delivers a sultry and impassioned version adds a gentleness to the husky original. The two versions do stand apart and Kent has made this piece her own.

The best part about Dreamer In Concert is that fans who may not have seen (or may never get to see) the illustrious Stacey Kent, now have an opportunity to experience what I've been telling them for years. She is one of the few true female jazz vocalists on scene today. A warm, inviting tone that is captivating as well as invigorating. This is one of those few and perfect live albums that is a must own. Highly Recommended.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Ames Room: Bird Dies

The Ames Room (group)
Bird Dies (Clean Feed; 2011)
Jean-Luc Guionnet (sax)
Clayton Thomas (bass)
Will Guthrie (drums)

Power trios come with various sounds and sizes. The Ames Room may be small but their sound is bold and forceful. This French/Australian trio lays into you like the first time you got beat up as a kid. It's sheer brute force and once you finally give in there is this little blissful nature that sets in. The feeling that this might be all there is left for you. But The Ames Room help you realize there's more inside the noise than you realize.

The Ames Room have only been on the scene for a short time (since 2007) but have crafted a sound that is blistering and beautiful. Fans of Vandermark, Gustafsson, Haker Flaten and Nilssen-Love are sure to gravitate to the trio's new album, Bird Dies (Clean Feed). This one piece live recording follows up where their debut, IN (Monotype Records; 2010), left off--a full frontal attack of chords against the borders of a genre.

There's no build up here. The Ames Room make their statement known from the first note. They come out of the gates ripping forward like Gustafsson's The Thing in mid-performance. The staccato drums, breakneck sax and suffocating basslines that dominate the first 15 minutes of the piece are impressive for the duration as well as the stellar delivery.

The gears shift only slightly around the 23min mark. Guionnet's takes the lead but is challenged perfectly by Guthrie's cascading patterns. Meanwhile Thomas paints a small rhythm in the background. There are moments just after the half hour mark that remind of Ornette Coleman's Change Of The Century. A calm descends on the closing ten minutes only to be resurrected to the opening salvo of white noise which cuts deep then comes full-stop.

The audience at this performance was probably left in awe. You can only briefly feel it from low volume mic on the audience. But make no mistake The Ames Trio is building a following and will leave an indelible mark on your senses. Bird Dies is challenging music but isn't that what music is all about?


Friday, December 9, 2011

Pascal Niggenkemper: Upcoming Hurricane

Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)
Upcoming Hurricane (NoBusiness Records; 2011)
Simon Nabatov (piano)
Gerald Cleaver (drums)

I was already familiar with Pascal Niggenkemper's work as a result of the release, Klippe by Thomas Heberer, early this summer and a superb trio with Robin Verheyen and Tyshawn Sorey, PN Trio. So this was always going to be an exciting adventure to see what his new trio would put forth. And the new album, Upcoming Hurricane, pretty much says it all. This is a heavy storm of sound that comes on quietly but resonates brightly over 60+ minutes.

Clean, open and improvised, Niggenkemper is a brilliant performer but more importantly an astute and crafty composer and leader. Niggenkemper's idea of space, wind and earth as a theme for exploring music is embedded throughout this session.

The title track comes rolling in like a swarm of bees. The addition of Simon Nabatov (piano) provides a deeper and introspective outlook than PN Trio which was sax, bass and drums. Nabatov's free formed pounding keys intersect with Cleaver's pulsating drums and Niggenkemper's expertly dense bowed bass making for an intense listen. But it unfolds beautifully in all its clattering glory. There a rising tempo that reaches an epic two thirds of the way through that you have to really hold on tight because things could get out of hand. And suddenly all three musicians release you as if you were never there.

"Arbol de piedra" reverses the setting. It's a piece with a lot of space and room for each member to interpret freely. Cleaver touches around the outside of Nabatov exploratory notes. While Niggenkemper floats in and out of the melody with dreamlike quality. It's piece that allows the listen to think a dwell and become absorbed into the spaces between the notes. 

"Fighting The Mill" is Niggenkemper's piece. It's improvised yes but Nabatov and Cleaver add the chaos to talented bassists more cerebral movements on this number. The storm hits midway through as the trio goes off in different directions while somehow still holding your attention as to what the next note might be. Exquisite execution by composer and trio. There's even a small groove that develops about three minutes from time (I sensed it while listening on my headphones). It doesn't last long and is a direct result of the free flowing atmosphere of the session that notes and ideas began to fold into one.

Upcoming Hurricane along with Niggenkemper's previous PN Trio are both excellent documents of this rich talented bassist with an ever-evolving palate of themes.

This video is from PN Trio.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Julian Siegel: Urban Theme Park

Julian Siegel (sax, clarinet)
Urban Theme Park (Basho Records; 2011)
Liam Noble (piano)
Gene Calderazzo (drums)
Oli Hayhurst (bass)

I really hadn't listened to much of Julian Siegel's music. I had always known about his highly influential band, The Partisans, but was always unable to find the albums here in the states. His latest release Urban Theme Park (Basho), from the unfortunately infrequent but extremely rewarding quartet with his name, Siegel has created a commanding work well deserving of wider attention (especially Stateside).

The group consisting of all dominant and very notable leaders, runs like a well oiled machine. Noble, known more for his work in avant garde circles (as well as his own quartet) with recordings featuring Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey, delivers some powerful statements on the keys. Calderazzo, a veteran of both U.S. and British scenes, has played alongside some of best of the modern and contemporary era--from Phil Woods to The Partisans. His drums propel and at times gently guide the group on wonderfully melodic passages. And finally, Oli Hayhurst, delivers dense and emphatic performances that have monumental effects on the groove throughout this session. His work with Gwilym Simcock, John McHenry as well as Tom Rainey, allows him to move between contemporary and improvised worlds.

"One For J.T." (for British pianist, John Taylor) and "Heart Song" show off two different and distinct sides of the quartet. "One For J.T." is a hard driving boppish number that sees the group performing on all cylinders. Siegel's playing blasts upwards but is equalled by each member. There is a clear sense that while the name on the CD says Siegel, the group is defiantly a group. The exchanges and cascading notes that Siegel has with each member on this piece are clear and individualistic.

"Heart Song" is more intimate. A piece that revolves around some excellent and touching work from Siegel on clarinet. Noble's playing adds colour and shape to Siegel's free flowing notes. Calderazzo and Hayhurst are slightly reserved in the mix but their tone is felt at key moments in the piece--especially a small effective exchange towards the closing notes from Siegel.

"Interlude" sees Siegel switching to bass clarinet for some interesting results. The opening chords alone should make you stand up and take notice. Not in the same free jazz realm as the recently discussed Jason Stein release, but Siegel's display here suggests that he has more hiding up his sleeve that will be revealed as the records continue to flow.  This is a vibrant piece that may be classical in theory but is free spirited in performance and energy. 

"Drone Job" might be the one piece that throws you for a loop. The quartet turn slightly Headhunter-esque but somehow they pulls this off. It's bold and refreshing to hear, even as a closing number. Featuring frantic notes that move sideways and upwards but still level inside the group's unison dynamics--this is an unexpected fusion treat.

While not knowing much about Siegel's previous efforts and going on the strength of this project alone I feel I have unfairly shut myself out from one of the best un-kept secrets in British jazz. Urban Theme Park is one of the best and exciting British records of the year. And now I have a lot of new records to buy in the next few months. Thanks Mr. Siegel...

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Intersection: Otso Lahdeoja

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artist that blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Otso Lahdeoja (guitar, electronics)

Yonder (Audio Tong; 2011)

It's always wonderful to make new discoveries. And with music it provides even greater emotion gratification. Music is designed to connect with you on a psychology and emotional level.

When the music is surprising and startling its even better. That's how I felt when I finished listening to Finnish guitarist, Otso Lahdeoja's solo debut, Yonder (Audio Tong).

Otso comes at the music from many different angles. Working in both art installation, dance, science/research provides him an interesting prospective into how to construct his pieces.

With what Lahdeoja calls an "augmented guitar" of his own design he sculpts atmospherics that are reminiscent of the some of the best ambient work by Michael Brooks, Terje Rypdal, David Gilmour or David Sylvian. It warm, creative and highly exploratory.

"Haunted" opens with such a feeling. A feeling of loss but also an open road on a journey to something new. I felt like this piece would make the perfect opening to psychology sci-fi thriller. Errie with loops, effects and melodies that are also lush and beautiful. It's a listen that carries the listener on a journey where there might not be an ending.

Lahdeoja's use of real-time manipulation electronics forms infinite possibilities on the sounds he constructs. One would start to assume this would mean that the music is just one person playing around on-the-fly for giggles and kicks. That would be far from the truth. The soundscapes created here are improvised but within a certain set of constructs that have to be specifically performed as well as programmed.

"Aivovuoto" and "Banjo," the two lengthiest pieces both explore sound, empathy with hovering harmonics that leave a visual and sonic fingerprint on the listener. "Banjo" has a blissful undulating quality that would almost sound like an outtake from David Sylvian's Gone To Earth.

Otso Lahdeoja appears to have brilliantly utilized his skills in various multi-media to create a real document of sound and vision, in Yonder, that exciting as it is intriguing. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Intersection: Alog

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Alog (duo)
Unemployed (Rune Grammofon; 2011)
Espen Sommer Eide (percussion, trumpet, electronics)
Dag-Are Haugan (guitar, electronics)

The Norwegian duo, Alog have matured with each release. As they've grown, so have the sound techniques and dimensions of their recordings. Their fifth full-length release, Unemployed, is a major milestone in the duo's development.

Built on pure improvisation, Alog looked to create a soundscape on the spot as opposed to starting with one theme. Yes the ideas how to start the first few notes or lines was always a part of the mix but after that it was up to the participants to decide where to go next.

Unemployed is a testament to the free flowing aesthetics of European music and what it means to go beyond genres. In some ways this is almost the most alternative and accessible record to date by the group. The album features collaborations with a variety of fellow Norwegian musicians including Sigbjorn Apeland (of 1982 Trio). "Orgosolo" features the duo's signature harmonic drones but with the inclusion of what feel like deep horns and pulsating organ-like movements, Alog have created a haunting operatic and transcendent hymn.

"Unemployed" revolves around a looping hypnotic gallop that would make A Guy Called Gerald and Aphex Twin very excited. It's a wintry mix of loops, clangs, claps and effects that swirl into a melody. It gave me memories of Bruce Gilbert's (of Wire) side project He Said. Dreamy and evolving work that leads the listener along a journey beyond sound borders.

"Last Day At The Assembly Line" could easily be part of a Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire or Test Department album. There are "found sounds," electronics and drums that blend into a tribal cacophony that sounds like a cello/fiddle ensemble gone mad. The piece later gives way to a melodic drone and the buzzsaw of cacophony is laid underneath. Only to return towards the end with a vengeance along with a number of counterpoints. "Bomlo Brenn Om Natta" featuring warped vocals by Dutch poet, Jaap Blank, is rhythmic and intense like some of the better work by Moby. Not danceable but an intense beautiful listen.

"Januar" is a return to their previous work. It's beautiful ghostly atmospherics have a repetitive nature that are dreamlike and pull you further into the speakers to Alog's own "third world." Again, Alog have moved a little bit further than their contemporaries with ideas that seem so remote but yet feel deeply personal and accessible. Unemployed is sublime and highly recommended.