This album is dedicated to those who recognize living as a heroic act: the occupiers of sunup barstools; the cubicle-planted; the ghosts of Greyhounds; the reasonably sketchy. A burlap hero is one who marches—consciously or not—back to the sea in hopes of making no splash, who understands and embraces the imperfection of being, and in that way, stretches the definition of sainthood to fit.
Nate Wooley, 2022
Framed by 4 interludes, (all named with an open parenthesis a sequence of periods and a close parentheis), which start with what sound like field recordings of fields or beaches into which the band gradually inserts itself, Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes roots itself in the natural world.
These interludes present a world where composition and improvisation are part of the order of things, not one where man and his ideas impose their will on nature or the world.
The 3 longer pieces on the album skirt any labels such as “Jazz”, “Free Improvisation”, or “New Music”. (Though, at any point, the music might sound like one, the other, or all at once.)
The core group of players, Halvorson, Alcorn, Sawyer, and Wooley, are all distinctive voices and Wooley gives ample space to express themselves solo and interact with each other over the course of the longer pieces.
Particularly fascinating is the interaction between the two guitarists, the pitch sliding of Alcorn’s pedal steel guital and the temporal sliding of Halvorson’s patented digital delay damaged playing.
Wooley himself has some burning passages and some poignant moments in his playing on the album, including a particularly nice break in “A Catastrophic Legend” that is practically Bebop (but not quite).
Sawyer displays astonishing flexibility, interacting and complementing whatever these iconoclastic players throw at him with poise and grace.
The album closes at the sea shore, perhaps in reference to the quote above, a group of saintly players ending their pilgrimage, and fading into silence.
Mary Halvorson; Guitar Susan Alcorn; Pedal Steel Guitar Ryan Sawyer; Drums Mat Maneri; Viola, Track 2 Trevor Dunn; Electric Bass, Track 4 Nate Wooley; Trumpet and Amplifier, Compositions
Recorded by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio, October 14-15, 2021 released July 29, 2022
The alto saxophone carries so much baggage in the “Jazz” idiom it sort of scares me. From Johnny Hodges to Charlie Parker to Lee Konitz to John Zorn, there is no escaping that instrument’s weight and history as a key melodic and textural component in the sound of modern Jazz and improvised music.
Playing the alto sax in Jazz Music is like playing the Electric Guitar in Rock Music.
You better either be really, really good or do something so interesting that you aren’t competing.
Somehow, Anna Kaluza is both really, really good at the alto sax and a fascinating player.
Ms Kaluza’s sax playing so deftly skirts back and forth from melodic bebop-ish lines to free-er expressionism while Mr Roder complements and urges her forward. Just an all around pleasurable album to listen to. (It’s been in the rotation all summer!)
Anna Kaluza – alto saxophone Jan Roder – double bass
That “Bent Ring” contains two tracks with a capella versions of the hymn “Abide With Me” caught my interest, for obvious reasons.
Wendy Eisenberg has interested me, as they appear to be a person whose musical output stretches from something like pop music all the way to freely improvised music.
Bent Ring is primarily a vocal album, with multi-tracked chorus-esque vocals on the songs. Accompaniment is primarily banjo, with sparing use of percussion (by Michael Cormier) on many tracks.
Eisenberg’s main instruments on the album are their mezzo-soprano voice and banjo, but it is the prose poetry of the lyrics that drives it.
I think the poetry, largely about living, being an artist and person, in the 21st Century, is what keeps me coming back to this album. It is witty, funny, and catchy. I also like that while being somewhat concise, the different songs are diverse in their sound and character.
The longest songs are around 4 mins, with most clocking shorter, yet the whole album feels satisfying, despite its brevity.
Released November 5, 2021
all songs written and performed by Wendy Eisenberg
percussion by Michael Cormier
produced by Wendy Eisenberg, Lucas Knapp, and Michael Cormier
In February, 2020, I started a writeup of the 2019 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight from Jon Huarong Li and Tong Xin Teahouse. Somehow, I never got around to writing up the second half of the teas in that sampler. I can’t remember exactly what distracted me, I vaguely recall something about a pandemic? Maybe a new job?
In any case, later that year I ordered their 2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight and will endeavor here to record my impressions of the teas and some photos of the teas contained therein.
2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight
In conjunction with the new year, I would like to show my gratitude to your continuous support by offering a premium yan cha tasting flight! I’ve spent half a month going through the selections of tea that I’ve sourced from Wuyi after the tea competition ended on the 18th of Nov to curate this premium Yancha tasting flight.
Tong Xin Teahouse
Grand Prize ShuiXian
Silver award RouGui
Hui Yuan Keng LaoCong ShuiXian
Golden Water Turtle (Shui Jin Gui)
Iron Arhat (Tie Luo Han)
White Cockscomb (Bai Ji Guan)
Heaven’s Waist (Ban Tian Yao)
Rock Milk (Shi Ru)
Jin Guan Yin
Yellow rose (Huang Mei Gui)
Huang Guan Yin
No 7-12 are much rarer tea varieties. These tea varieties are named after its terroir, allowed to grow naturally with minimal human intervention. Based on the rich soil, biodiversity, and microclimate of the terroir, the tea produced has all the goodness from nature.
Tong Xin Teahouse
Blend Da Hong Pao
Tong Xin Teahouse describes Blend Da Hong Pao as follows, “this rock tea is a very cost-effective blend of Dahongpao made by my brother Gao Peng. Among them is a blend of Zheng Yan Shui Xian. This blend of Dahongpao has a deep fragrance, no astringency, and is resistant to brewing. Rock rhyme is obvious, full of aftertaste.” Which makes it seem like a fine place to get warmed up for our tasting of the various teas provided in their 2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight.
White Cockscomb is lighter in oxidation and roast than more robust rock oolong. Sweet candy-ish scent from dampened leaves gives way to grain character, almost like a white tea. Light lingering herbal aftertaste with a touch of grip. Easier to appreciate as it cools, a subtle style of rock oolong.
Like the white cockscomb, Yellow Rose is also on the lower oxidation side, however it is a more robustly flavored varietal, paired with a bit stronger roast. This is a very good tea, with the complexity of scent and flavor I associate with fine yancha. A pure pleasure to drink, think, and savor.
Golden Water Turtle
Medium-light rock oolong both in oxidation and roast. There’s a tropical fruit/incense character to the early steeps. Lingering light huigan in the aftertaste.
A medium roast, medium oxidation rock oolong. About the name, Tong Xin She says, “Heaven’s Waist is originally produced on the halfway of Matouyan in Wuyi Mountain. It is difficult for ordinary people to reach directly. When picking tea, you need to take a ladder to go up in the tea garden. Hence the name Heaven’s Waist, this tea grows in the tea garden between the cliffs.” After an initial fragrance of flowers in the warmed pot, Heaven’s Waist is a bit on the savory side in later steeps. Scents of flowers return in the long lasting lingering aftertastes.
I am never entirely sure what is meant by the word “Milk” in the name of Milk Oolongs, does it mean they are supposed to taste like Milk? Which seems weird, since adults don’t really traditionally drink Milk in China. Is there some other word playing going on with the name not apparent from the literal translation? The Tong Xin Website explains about Shi Ru Rock Oolong, “…some people even directly regarded stone milk as the representative of Wuyi rock tea, which is well-deserved ‘essence in stone'”. So rather than the name meaning the tea tastes like Milk, it is more like Rock Milk teas are an expression of the essence of the rock they are growing out of. In any case, rock milk are one of my favorite type of rock oolong. This Rock Milk from Tong Xin She is no exception. Great damp leaf smell, good body and balance, long lasting aftertaste, and warming energy. Good tea for a damp San Francisco morning.
Iron Arhat is almost always one of my top favorite types of rock oolong. Again, this Iron Arhat from Tong Xin She is no exception. Stronger in oxidation and (especially) roast from any of the other 2020 teas I’ve tried so far from this sampler, it still manages to strike a beautiful balance between the flavor/scent of the base tea and the processing. A very good rock oolong!
Huang Guan Yin
As you might gather from the name “Huang Guan Yin”, this rock oolong is a cross involving Tieguanyin. The other parent is Huang Fen. To showcase the Tieguanyin fragrance, the producer has opted for a lower oxidation and light roast style, as you can see from the amber broth. Early impressions are of the narcissus perfume, with an undertone of slight astringency. As the tea cools, in later impressions, the rock character asserts itself. A subtle, but elegant, and very skillfully made tea.
Jin Guanyin strikes me as a very good medium. Medium roast, medium oxidation, pleasant perfume and flavor that is neither overwhelmingly complex nor underwhelmingly simple. It exhibits all the good qualities of great rock tea without being showy about them.
2020 Wuyi Mountain Rock Tea Competition Silver Award Rou Gui
I never quite know what to think of teas which are marketed as award winners in tea competitions in China. As I have neither the length of experience drinking tea nor knowledge about the judging criteria for tea competitions, I can only go from my impressions. I try to open all my senses and recalibrate my perceptions of the aesthetics for the tea variety around the characteristics I perceive. This is a medium oxidation, medium-light roast Rou Gui, which allows the base character of the tea to shine. Cassia/Camphor and more than slight grip give way to iris perfume in the very long after impressions.
Hui Yuan Pit Lao Cong Shui Xian
“Hui Yuan Pit Lao Cong Shui Xian 120 years old tea tree – Three times charcoal baked, total 42 hours of baking” The very well known areas of the Wuyi preserve are the mountainous rocky peaks, but between the peaks are areas known as “pits” and rock oolong tea is also produced in these areas. This tea comes from older tea trees in the Hui Yuan “pit” area. Funky and a bit savory, for all the baking, the charcoal isn’t as assertive as I would expect, nowhere near the level on the Iron Arhat, for example. Very strong rock character, twisted with slight narcissus in the finish.
2020 Wuyi Mountain Rock Tea Competition Special Prize Shui Xian
Overall, I feel that the 2020 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight highlights softer and more elegant teas than the 2019 Premium Yancha Tasting Flight. Well, what I remember of the 2019 Tasting Flight, anyway.
Awards aside, for me the highlights were the Yellow Rose, Iron Arhat, and Rock Milk teas. All, I thought, were fine examples of what I enjoy in Rock Ooolong and well worth your investment if you are investigating this fine purveyor of Fujian tea, (though, also check out their sneaky recent additions of vintage puerh to the store!).
Happy Holidays and wishing you a new year filled with great and enjoyable teas!
The first disk, (tracks 1-5,) is a trio album with Webber, Matt Mitchell, and John Hollenbeck, (Webber’s working group, aka “Simple Trio”). The second disk, (tracks 6-12,) is a large ensemble of 12 members, a mixed group of improvising and “new music” players.
The bulk of the pieces on both disks are made up of pieces which are part of Webber’s Idiom series, Idiom I, III, IV, V, and VI. In fact, the whole second disk, for large ensemble, is made up of Idiom VI, a six movement, (and three interlude,) Suite.
Webber’s “Idiom” series of compositions made its debut with “Idiom II” on her 2019 album Clockwise.
Idiom is a series of six pieces, each of which is based on a specific woodwind extended technique — a broad term meaning any non-traditional way of producing sound on an instrument, including the use of multiphonics, alternate fingerings, key clicks, overblown notes, and the like — that she has taken from her own improvisational language.
Idiom Bandcamp release notes.
In any case, with both discs, this is around a couple hours of music, so there’s a lot to think about. And as I pointed out in my notes about “Clockwise”, Webber is a composer and player who isn’t afraid of mixing modes of expression and influence that might be more common in modern composed music than modern “Jazz”.
For me, it’s a bit easier to think of “Idiom” as two albums, rather than a continuous piece of work.
First, for me, I find the second disk, with full rhythm section, to be a little more easily appreciated. While I wouldn’t exactly say it swings, it does, occasionally, actually almost rock, for example, on the last third of the first tune, “Idiom 6, Movement 1,”: The walking bass kicks in; sax and guitar scrawl screeching lines above; horns screech harmony chords seemingly randomly, until the whole thing collapses in on itself. Beautiful, I wish it had continued for another 10 minutes!
The first disk, on the other hand, is just more densely composed and tightly performed. You can tell this group has performed and practiced together A LOT. There is some super amazing, and playful, playing from all three musicians, (I, for one, would not want to even try to play the almost painfully complex syncopation written in these compositions,) but for me… Well, about a week ago, I wrote, “the first disk is a little harder to access.”
After another week of listening, I’m not so sure.
With time and repeated listening, the first disk has grown on me more than the second, as its playful nature expressed itself and met with my moods… now the noisier second disk now seems more formal, composerly, diagrammatic, and tense.
So, yeah, there is a lot of music and there are a lot of moods on these 12 tracks from Ms Webber and her compatriots. A lot to think about and contemplate.
I said the following about “Clockwise”, “Endlessly rewarding, and endlessly interesting, Webber’s Clockwise is some of the most ambitious writing and rewarding listening I’ve encountered for a modern jazz-ish ensemble in recent memory,” and that comment is even more applicable to “Idiom”.
Ms Webber is a modern composer and player at the height of her gifts, if you are interested in modern improvised or composed music you should be paying attention to what she is doing now and what she does next.
Musicians tracks 1-5:
Anna Webber – tenor saxophone, flute Matt Mitchell – piano John Hollenbeck – drums
Musicians tracks 6-12:
Anna Webber – tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute Nathaniel Morgan – alto saxophone Yuma Uesaka – tenor saxophone, clarinet, contra-alto clarinet Adam O’Farrill – trumpet David Byrd-Marrow – horn Jacob Garchik – trombone Erica Dicker – violin Joanna Mattrey – viola Mariel Roberts – cello Liz Kosack – synthesizer Nick Dunston – bass Satoshi Takeishi – drums Eric Wubbels – conductor
This album is surprising people in that it includes some rather raucous playing from Ava Mendoza on Electric Guitar. I guess, typically, we associate Mr Parker with acoustic instruments. (In fact, the only other electric guitar player I can think of, off the top of my head, that Mr Parker has played and recorded with a few times, is Joe Morris, (I’m sure there are others.)).
One way to describe the album would be “groove oriented”.
Basically the songs’ moods are set at the beginning by a short sequence of gestures from all three artists. The artists then repeat those gestures with theme and variation for the duration of the tune.
All three artists pursue their individual theme and variation simultaneously with each other. There aren’t many points where one or another of the artists drops out and allows the others to take center stage or to do a featured solo.
As far as I can tell, there aren’t any chord changes, per se, more a tonal space within each song operates.
The only tune which seems to really contain different zones of expression, is the title song, Mayan Space Station, where Mr Parker switches from plucked to bowed bass about midway through, giving the second half a different feel.
While the Rawk-Us electric guitar makes the album initially appealing in an obvious way to Rawk-heads, the density of the three artists’ gestures and the unrelenting pace of expression are ultimately not very Rock-ish.
It is a very dense album to unpack, with great playing from all three artists, but even after a week of listening, I still can’t quite decide how I feel about it.
Is it Expressionist Rock or Noisy Jazz?
I don’t know, and I don’t know if it matters, but it will definitely propel you into a different (head) space.
Mayan Space Station [AUM115]
William Parker: bass, compositions Ava Mendoza: electric guitar Gerald Cleaver: drums
Maocha is unsorted tea leaves. In the case of raw puerh, it is what producers/distributors buy from farmers and then sort, blend, and press into cakes (or ferment into shou Puerh). Basically, puerh maocha is green tea made from Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
A bit ago I posted about an earlier years’ Bitter Leaf Teas‘s Big Old Ass Tree raw puerh.
So, because the nice people at bitter leaf teas had some of the maocha they were going to process into the 2021 version of Big Old Ass Tree in the office when I ordered something else, (hint, the something else was a gift for Mrs Flannestad and it is in the pictures,) they sent me a sample.
Opening the bag, it smells great, spring forest meadow. Upon brewing, he first impressions are of mild flavor, thick body, and a bit of almost salinity. Towards the end of the first infusions, as it cools, a mild bitterness makes itself felt. The sweet bitterness lingers on the palate, with little of the harshness that young Puerh has a reputation for.
The energy is definitely a fast head buzz, rather than body.
An intriguing preview, looking forward to trying the finished tea later this year!
Every year White2Tea releases a few green teas for a couple weeks in the spring.
They usually include one with the March Tea Club shipment.
When I tried the one with the teaclub shipment a few years ago, I realized that it was both some of the freshest green teas I’d tried and some of the tastiest. The only disadvantage is that White2Tea only pre-sells a fairly small amount for a couple weeks in the spring and then they are gone for the rest of the year.
The teas are early spring harvest, (pre-qing ming,) but come from relatively uncoveted regions for green tea production, Sichuan and Guizhou, whose producers and teas, the proprietor of White2Tea maintains, are often tapped to fill in the production gaps of more desirable regions.
In any case, tea producer gossip aside, White2Tea’s green teas are great, well priced, and I usually order a big bunch of them for the couple weeks they are available to get me through my summer hot weather tea drinking.
Book Cover Green is a bit of an oddball. It is a blend of tea leaves that are sorted out from the Green Tea producers other high end productions. More single and broken leaves than you would expect from a bud only early spring tea, but great quality tea. If you’re familiar with the Puerh term, Huang Pian, it is sort of like that, but for early spring green tea. A little less subtle than some bud only green tea, but a good chance to drink high end pre-qing ming green tea at every day green tea prices.
You could brew Book Cover gong fu style, but I prefer to brew summer green tea lazy stylee: Put tea in a tall glass, pour over nearly boiling water, wait to cool, drink, and repeat with more hot water until it tastes more like water than tea. I find 4g in a 450ml glass is about right for me.
Tasting Notes: Sweet fresh spring asparagus, tarragon, a touch of umami, and lingering menthol. Calm, but strong and lingering, warming body centered energy. Some broken leaves does mean more caffeine.
A new album from a quintet organized by Ben Goldberg.
It would be easy to classify this as “Thumbscrew with Horns”, as the band IS Thumbscrew with two horn players. (And I always enjoy a good two horn blow out.) However, Ben is the brains of the outfit and composer of the tunes, rather than Mary, Michael, or Tomas being the instigators which gives it a very different caste. And more than Thumbscrew, this band is about melodic interplay and harmonies.
I read that the compositions are inspired by Chorale form, and, indeed, multipart harmonies and interaction between the different players melodic lines is far more prevalent than much modern Jazz.
I don’t know how through composed the structures here are, but it still feels mostly like Jazz, often very traditional Jazz, even while largely eschewing “head, solo, head” forms.
I think the somewhat Rococo sensibilities of all the players here just works well, making it feel like Jazz, even though the forms are a bit less traditional.
The album starts fairly placid and suckers you in, whistling along tunefully as you appreciate the interplay between Goldberg and Eskelin or Halvorson and Formanek. But by the time the we get to “Tomas Plays the Drums”, the album’s most raucus tune, and Goldberg pulls out the Contra Bass Clarinet, Halvorson cranks the distortion, Eskelin squonks enthusiastically, and Formanek and Fujiwara increase the tension, the album heads into very different territories.
To-Ron-To sounds like the sort of expressionist music landscape Jazz heads like Charles Mingus, (or even some light classical composers,) created to evoke modern car clogged urban environments of the 1940s and 1950s.
The album closes with a very traditional rendition of the hymn, “Abide With Me”, a fitting and peaceful Doxology for this enjoyable album and all the players contributions. I know I have been very happy to abide with this album over the last few days while I took the time to write it up.
Mary Halvorson – electric guitar Ellery Eskelin – tenor saxophone Michael Formanek – bass Tomas Fujiwara – drums Ben Goldberg – clarinets
All compositions by Ben Goldberg, except “Abide With Me,” by William Monk (by way of Thelonious Monk).