Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Aruan Ortiz: Orbiting

Aruan Ortiz (piano)
Orbiting (Fresh Sound/New Talent; 2012)
Eric McPherson (drums)
David Gilmore (guitar)
Rashaan Carter (bass)

Aruan Ortiz was one of the outstanding contributors to Esperanza Spalding little known first album, Junjo. His playing is calculating and well developed. I freely admit that I don't own much other than his previous quartet record and the Spalding album but I really believe he is a serious rising talent.

Only on the scene for a few years, he is slowly becoming a well known name within the scene. His style at times reminds me of a young Chick Corea. 

His second (fourth as leader) album with his quartet, Orbiting is a wonderful and elegantly executed session that takes chances when needed and stays reverent on others. "Orbiting" features a set of stellar performances by Ortiz and Gilmore. Ortiz seems to move freely and applies a great deal of emotion with each chord. Gilmore's patterns add a nice groove that also turns bluesy on the next track "The Heir." This number includes a number sparkling movements by Ortiz and McPherson that ascend into a massive crescendo towards the end.

Ortiz shows adventure and inspiration with his version of Ornette Coleman's "WRU." A good dose of improvisation by Ortiz and Carter. Their movement together is fluid yet pulsating.

Deep, emotional and intensely rewarding. Aruan Ortiz has produced a superb collection that pretty much everyone will find a big surprise. Orbiting is modern yet still rooted in tradition. Highly Recommended.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ballrogg: Cabin Music

Ballrogg (trio)
Cabin Music (Hubro Music; 2012)
Ivar Grydeland (guitar)
Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (sax, clarinet, electronics)
Roger Arntzen (bass)

Ballrogg started as a duo exploring minimalist motifs with guest musicians joining in the creation of their organic sounds. Now expanded to a full trio with the addition of Ivar Grydeland, Ballrogg feel very expansive and even more creative. With their brilliant new album, Cabin Music, you'll actually want to go out and tell as many friends as possible.

Opening on an experimental folk tone with "Swedish Country" uniquely describes the Scandinavian musical landscape. A rolling pattern led by Grydeland's pedal steel guitar and swirling notes from Ellerhusen on clarinet make this journey beautiful and transcendent.

"Sliding Doors" is built on a repeating chord led Arntzen. Rydeland and Ellerhusen both improvise around it with creative resonate effect. The piece has a number of ebbs and flows that eventually led to Ellerhusen's sax gently riding the piece to its closing.

A short album (four tracks at a total of 35 minutes), Cabin Music still conjures up a great deal of inventiveness. An interesting comparison might the American low-fi trio Low which has crafted this ethereal minimalist folk for over two decades. Ballrogg, though, have manage to add a cold European beauty this sound that makes more than just meditative. It becomes enriching, passionate and reflective. Cabin Music sees this new trio bursting with new found direction.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Alon Nechushtan: Dark Forces

Alon Nechushtan (piano, composer)
Dark Forces (Creative Sources Records; 2011)
Mark Dresser (bass)  Oleg Raskin (sax)
Ned Rothenberg (clarinet)  Robert Dick (flute)
Steve Swell (trombone)  Nate Wooley (trumpet)
Okkyung Lee (cello)  Eliot Sharp (guitar)
Henry Kaiser (guitar)  Briggan Kraus (sax)
Marcus Rojas (tuba)

I've only recently discovered Alon Nechushtan's music (as leader) over the last year. Releasing two radically different records in 2011 is surprising. But for both to be so solid and inspiring is strong evidence that Nechushtan is becoming a important name on the scene.

I've discussed his early 2011 album, Words Beyond, with the latter year end release of Dark Forces, Nechushtan has made wider leap forward in the avant garde community.

Dark Forces is cerebral--and yes, dark. You might even call it, "a headphone record." Originally written and performed in live in 2006 (only now finally put on record), is densely packed with layers of slightly audible tones. This is a large ensemble spread over ten movements. And while  each member doesn't really standout (probably by Nechushtan's design), the overall sum of the parts is intense and very rewarding.

"Dark Forces II" employes a number of manipulated effects and electronics surrounded by some haunting sounds by the wind instruments. With "Dark Force III," Nechushtan manages to blend an ethereal esthetic into classical realism which makes for a fascinating experience. Both Dresser and Lee have some heavy exchanges which carry the piece through beautifully.

"Dark Forces VII" rolls along hypnotically on the found sounds and Wooley's ghostly trumpet. The guitars quietly blend into the background allowing Rojas to rise up in the mix. "Dark Forces X" leaves its final impression like a piece that could easily slide along side a Throbbing Gristle record.

Dark Forces feels like it could easily be a work for installations or an experimental dance company. But as a stand alone piece, Dark Forces is a deceptively effective work from a composer who seems to be a great more adventurous with each record. Well worth seeking out.

Monday, May 21, 2012

McPhee & Haker-Flaten: Brooklyn DNA

Joe McPhee (sax, trumpet)
Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (bass)
Brooklyn DNA (Clean Feed; 2012)

Revolving around the organic energy of Brooklyn (a borough of New York City), Joe McPhee and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten create a work that is inspired by their surroundings as well as their jazz forefathers. Brooklyn DNA is one of those shining beacons that helps others see the vibrancy and diversity of New York free form scene.

"Crossing The Bridge" and "Spirit Cry" quietly bring the listener into the spacious and inventive quarters of these renown musicians. A playful march with beautiful intersecting lines by McPhee that connect the two opening pieces with crisp fluidity. Haker-Flaten's bass lines, while improvised, are subtle but matches McPhee chords with every step.

The ballad "Blue Coronet," dedicated to the famous jazz club of the '60s, is a late night walk on the streets, feeling the vibe of the neighborhood and how it influences your sound and vision. "Here And Now" is the perfect conclusion to this journey. A number that embodies the jazz scene today while still reflective of the traditions it's built on. Calm improvisational chords by both musicians bold lines and immediacy as the piece reaches its latter stages.

Brooklyn DNA is not just a travelogue through the boroughs great jazz history, its a document of the quiet brilliance of two intercontinental musicians. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Resonance Ensemble: What Country Is This?

Resonance Ensemble
What Country Is This? (Not Two Records; 2012)
Ken Vandermark (sax, clarinet) 
Mikolaj Trzaska (sax, clarinet)
Michael Zerang (drums)
Tim Daisy (drums)
Steve Swell (trombone)
Per -Ake Holmander (tuba)
Dave Rempis (sax)
Magnus Broo (trumpet)
Waclaw Zimpel (clarinet)

One of Ken Vandermark's larger ensembles, Resonance, has always expressed itself with poetic vibrancy. On the groups latest, What Country Is This?, they again explore sound through a series of rising arches and steady calms. And as usual, spanning three long epic pieces that investigate some of the influences of Vandermark.

"Fabric Monument" (dedicated to Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz) drops down like an anvil with intersecting horn sections opening up in fine Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler fashion while later settling down into a dark sprawling, almost New Orleans funeral celebration. The second piece "Acoustic Fence" illustrates a series of ascending themes with the ensemble in devilish marching mode. Dedicated to the great Polish composer, Witold Lutoslawski, this piece has multiple layers and varying harmonic structures. Broo and Swell lead the group through a series of crackling improvised movements off-set by some terrific work on the drums by Daisy and Zerang.

The final piece is dedicated to the late, Fred Anderson. "Open Window Theory," is a great showcase of how the American and European free form ethos has evolved over the last two decades. Opening brightly and hovering just overhead, Vandermark and company deliver a message that has a chamber ensemble quality to it. The sound is broken into jagged chords and quickly electrified by Trzaska and Zimpel. Rempis, Vandermark and Holmlander each pour a great deal of haunting muted tones across the canvas before the rest of the group rejoin and turn the piece into a funky, Chicago blues style portrait. While Anderson was never a funky player, Resonance show the explosive and exploratory nature that embodied Anderson's music for over four decades.

Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble continues to astound with each record. What Country Is This? is just another brick in the foundation of one his best ensembles outside of the Vandermark 5. Definitely an album of the year on our desk. But isn't every Ken Vandermark record!?!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lorenzo Feliciati: Frequent Flyer

Lorenzo Feliciati (bass, guitar, electronics)
Frequent Flyer (Rare Noise Records; 2012)

I hadn't really listened to much of Lorenzo Feliciati music before but this latest release has got me intrigued. Frequent Flyer is a surprising record that spans both rock and jazz. And while his roots have always been firmly planted in both genres, this album seems to beam with more urgency and cohesion.

The addition of a diverse selection of musicians from both musical camps adds to the intense and exciting dynamic of this session.

"The Fastwing Park Rules" sees Feliciati laying out a dark set of tones that are both bluesy, romantic and still futuristic. The basslines are slow and revolving, while Bob Mitzer adds a great deal of impassioned chords on top of Feliciati's notes. Rich and very effective. Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" (made famous by both Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter at different time periods) receives a very funky Latin twist. Feliciati gives an interesting rendition that I had never thought about. The drum work from Gualdi is fierce. Hearing Miles' lines as a bass is very shocking and turns out to be really cool.

"Perceptions" provide a calming cover to the pulsating rhythms that proceed it. It's an ethereal journey whistling with gentle piano melodies and drones that quietly reminded me of Durritti Column or mid-period Cocteau Twins. This was outstanding only until you get to the next track, "The White Shadow Story" which pulls in both atmospherics and blues elements provided by Daniele Gottardo's guitar and DJ Skizo's manipulations. It's swirling and hypnotic but yet slings a very funky vibe.

Feliciati waits 35 plus minutes to unleash the crowning moment of Frequent Flyer with a rousing version of King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet." The Crimson classic is a perfect challenge for Feliciati's bass talents and he delivers with a crushing display. In addition, he does surprising very well on Adrian Belew's vocals.

Frequent Flyer is aggressive, bold and uncompromising. Lorenzo Feliciati delivers a document that really blew me away and has quickly become a recurring listen on my stereo. Frequent Flyer doesn't break the wheel of jazz fusion but it does present a constant and ambitious movement forward.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Intersection: Sobura

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

Sobura (drums, electronics)
Organic Lo-Fi (U Know Me Records; 2012)

Jazztronica is always a hard sub genre for my friends to grasp. It's one of the natural extensions for the newer generation of musicians. Moving technology into the schematics of jazz to create new sounds and thoughts is just part of musical evolution.

That concept has been present in European jazz for the last two decades and one of the newest talents to utilize these themes is Wojtek Sobura

On the Polish drummers debut, Organic Lo-Fi, he fills the speakers with pulsating trip hop beats, ethereal electronics and rolling drum patterns that create a surrealistic and infectious world view.

"Blue Rooms" starts off in a romantic rhythm that almost reminded me of Martin Denny before slipping into more slow funky drummer beat pattern. There are recurring looped piano notes and electronic tones that add an ambient quality to the piece that will bolster your mood and hold your attention.

"Psycho" feels like your head has been shoved into a toilet during a pub fight. Bubbling repetitive beats that still present a sense of experimentation and excitement that you just don't get on the American shores. "Turkey" has this scary cinematic sci-fi vibe that got me thinking about Japanese monster movies (I've also been watching a lot of Japanese monster movies lately. So go figure...). The electronic manipulation Sobura demonstrates here is probably the most adventurous on the album. It's loud, chaotic and dominating. Big beats like a Roots Manuva instrumental track. "Turkey" is arguably my favourite track on the album right now.

"Bells" closes out this groovy little adventure. No letting up here by Sobura. It's a heavy tone that features some nice effects and drum loops. Short (just under 3 minutes), but it leaves the lasting impression that Organic Lo-Fi is a rich and well balance affair.

Wojtek Sobura has a very specific way of playing that maintains focus and becomes enveloping. It is the compositions that he has written that really are the driving force on Organic Lo-Fi. They are captivating and indicative of an artist wanting to explore new sounds and directions. A very impressive debut that is worth seeking out.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard: Vesper

Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard (sax)
Vesper (Hiatus; 2012)
Jakob Bro (guitar)
Ole Visby (clarinet)
Birgit Bogh Sonderiis (clarinet)
Mette Alro Stoktoft (clarinet)
Jakob Buchanan (flugelhorn)
Marilyn Mazur (percussion)

Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard has matured with each record. His style has always been dense and emotional but it has grown deeper and more atmospheric with each release.

On his fourth album, Vesper, Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard has created a grand and ambitious work that simply overshadows anything else he's done to date. It's a massive achievement--brilliantly written and performed.

The Danish saxophonist sets the tone for that on the title track with a suite that is dark, ethereal and arching. "Vesper I-IV" contains some lovely lyrical patterns. Lokkegaard places special focus on the wind instruments to emphasize the harmony. Jakob Bro's guitar provides the sonic sculpture that delivers the gentle impact throughout the the suite. Buchanan and Bro share an expansive conversation on the final movement  - haunting and beautiful.

Lokkegaard utilizes space and tempo on "The Lover," a ballad that is as poetic as it is cinematic. Mazur illustrates her unique brilliance on "Alogl I-II." Her brushes and percussion are percolating and tantalizing. Lokkegaard creates a lush atmosphere that reminded me of recent work by Stanko or Rava.

Vesper is Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard most dynamic statement yet. It's beautiful like a clear night sky and shows the blossoming of a strong composer and musician. Vesper will be one of our favourite albums of 2012. Highly Recommended.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cakewalk: Wired

Cakewalk (trio)
Wired (Hubro Music; 2012)
Oystein Skar (keyboards)
Stephan Meidell (guitars; bass)
Ivar Loe Bjornstad (drums)

A poetic slice of noise that is both surrealistic and harmonically beautiful, Cakewalk, a Norwegian trio meld their rock influences with European improvisation to create a frenzy and captivating debut, Wired,  that is meant to heard loud.

Hailing from a series of bands, Skar, Meidell and Bjornstad make an opening statement with "Glass" and "Descent," two divergent pieces that really lay the groundwork for the session. "Glass" is steady repetition of sounds that is like Steve Reich meeting Slowdive. Peaceful, experimental and introspective but retaining a nice sense of intrigue that keeps the listener on their toes. 

"Descent" opens with echoing effects and distortion that quickly builds into Sonic Youth style cacophony. Soaring guitars and crashing drums mixed with drowning keyboards provide a raw indie rock dynamic to the piece that would draw in fans of fusion and rock.

"Soil" is a manner of calm that might float effortlessly. It is heavy in atmospherics with a slow moving melody that quietly becomes hypnotic. "Wired" rips along like a piece of John Zorn's Naked City. I loved this track. It's vicious, loud and full throttle till the end. The trio put forth a lot of fire in this piece and you can't help but be thrown into some hyperactive fit afterwords.

Wired is filled with elements of rock, Krautrock and fusion. But at the end of it all, it's still Cakewalk that comes screaming through. This is an impressive debut that if you like your music hard, loud and expansive--you might have found one of the best records for that all year. Enjoy...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Living Room: Still Distant Still

The Living Room (trio)
Still Distant Still (ILK Music; 2012)
Torben Snekkestad (sax; trumpet, electronics)
Soren Kjaergaard (piano)
Thomas Stronen (drums)

Precious, spacious, expressive and minimal. All the best words to describe this latest experimental trio from Norway featuring Torben Snekkestad, Thomas Stronen and Soren Kjaergaard as The Living Room.

Their highly impressive debut, Still Distant Still, was built out of a number of live performances and in the studio that energy is just as intense and beautiful.

Like its title, the album is filled with space that holds you in place but displays a freedom and unique curiosity of performance that leaves you wondering what note will be played next. "Tremelo Hiving" quietly moves along with long breathy squeals by Snekkestad and crackling improvised tones by both Kjaergaard and Stronen.

On "Still Distant Still," the trio execute a fine pattern of improvised notes led by Snekkestad and rolling divergent notes by Kjaergaard. Snekkestad stretches the air in the middle of the piece while Kjaergaard and Stronen add a layer of haunting effects over the top of notes.

"Rainbow Stomp" is the dark, loud polar opposite to "Still Distant Still." It's builds viciously from the start, an intense discordant exchange between all members sets the path for this number. The space is consumed by tweaks, squeals, crackles, muted manipulations and pulses that all form a beautiful cacophony that carries out to it's ending.

"Mustard Variations" could sit nicely inside the John Zorn songbook. It's short, staccato patterns reign down on you like large balls of hail. Stronen and Snekkestad are the most prominent here with a blast of humour and subtle rhythmic tones and almost suggest they were going to break into a melody. A raucous of noise but still revolving around the theme of experimenting with sound.

Still Distant Still is a powerful debut from three well known and prolific improvisers that demands you seeking it out. The Living Room hopefully is not just a one off. Let's hope we get a few more albums out of this trio in the close future. Excellent stuff.