Idiom

Idiom.
Idiom.

Idiom (bandcamp link) by Anna Webber.

The CD release of this album is two disks.

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

Idiom Album Art
Idiom Album Art

Mayan Space Station

Mayan Space Station
Mayan Space Station

Mayan Space Station (bandcamp link) by William Parker.

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

Mayan Space Station album
Mayan Space Station album

Everthing Happens to Be

Everthing Happens to Be.
Everthing Happens to Be.

Everything Happens to Be.” by Ben Goldberg.

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).

Everthing Happens to Be.
Everthing Happens to Be.

Purple Dark Opal

Purple Dark Opal by Kuzu.
Purple Dark Opal by Kuzu

Purple Dark Opal by Kuzu; Bandcamp Link: Purple Dark Opal.

Kuzu is a trio comprised of Dave Rempis on alto/tenor/baritone saxophone; Tashi Dorji on guitar; and Tyler Damon on drums.

Purple Dark Opal is their new album. It was recorded live on October 14, 2018, at The Sugar Maple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Purple Dark Opal, the album, is a single 55 minute and 31 second track called, “To The Quick”. A bold choice for these attention deficient times.

A lot of improvising percussionists have jettisoned their traditional drum kits for large assortments of small, and large, percussion. Unlike those players, Damon is a capital “D” drummer, who plays a, more or less, traditional kit. He skitters and twitches across the skins and cymbals, seldom allowing what I perceive as the “beat” to drop below 200bpm.

I would describe Dorji’s guitar playing as textural. He doesn’t seem to use a large array of modern digital FX with his playing, it is a fairly dry tone, albeit with some distortion. However, he does often employ the non-traditional areas of sound generated by his guitar. Harmonics from the strings below the bridge, etc.

Of the three, Rempis is probably the most traditionally melodic player, though he, as well, is not afraid to explore the outer limits of his saxes’ sounds and his technique.

Though Purple Dark Opal is, no question, “energy jazz”, the players leave plenty of space in sections for quieter, or more sparse, explorations. Other times, one of another of the players will lay out, leaving the other two, or occasionally one, time to change the direction or velocity of the energy flow.

The fact that there are different moods over the duration of To The Quick, mean that there is always something new to listen to. While a single track doesn’t make it the most accessible album in the world for whatever is left of Jazz radio, I found the album to be very enjoyable on repeat for the entire week, picking up and leaving off wherever it aligned with my daily commute.

#kuzu #PurpleDarkOpal #DaveRempis #TashiDorji #TylerDamon

Purple Dark Opal by Kuzu.
Purple Dark Opal by Kuzu.

Eris 136199

eris 136199

Eris 136199 by Eris 136199; Bandcamp Link: Eris 136199

Eris 136199 is a trio composed of Han-Earl Park, guitar; Catherine Sikora, saxophone; and Nick Didkovsky, guitar.

Han-Earl Park tends to explore the dry percussive side of the guitar, often functioning as the de facto rhythm section in Eris 136199.

Catherine Sikora is all about finding the timbral possibilities explicit in the unvarnished and unapologetic sound of the saxophone while at the same time maintaining a core of melodicism.

Nick Didkovsky, sometimes known by his alias “Doctor Nerve”, expresses digitally warped washes of static-like sound and angry slashes of melody. A radio listener flicking impatiently between stations.

I don’t really know how to talk about the music, other than to say it is 50-plus minutes of riveting music making from three fantastic and fascinating musicians. I’ve been listening avidly to Eris 136199 all week on my commute and have looked forward to it every day. Wondering what new thing I will discover in Sikora’s technique while at the same time trying to pay attention and tease out which guitarist is playing what.

Obviously, Eris 136199 isn’t Lawrence Welk, however, there is something in the players expressiveness and in their interactions which prevents it from being too harsh or overwhelming.

Rough enough to keep it exciting, yet tender enough to keep you coming back.

I’ll be a bit sad when this week we’ve had together is over.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #HanEarlPark #CatherineSikora #NickDidkovsy #eris136199

eris 136199

Sing as the Crow Flies

Sing as the Crow Flies
Sing as the Crow Flies

Sing as the Crow Flies by Laura Cannell and Polly Wright; Bandcamp Link: Sing as the Crow Flies

“Sing As The Crow Flies was created as a site specific sound installation for the 2019 Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, UK. It can be seen and heard between 2nd August and 8th September 2019. The installation sits around the trunk of a 30 year old Walnut Tree in a cherry orchard where five telephone handsets hang from the tree ready to be picked up by passers-by…”

Bandcamp album description

As beautiful as it is haunting, Sing as the Crow Flies takes its inspiration from the natural world and from choral vocal traditions of England and America.

The sound sources are primarily Cannell and Wright’s voices. Only occasional environmental sounds intrude, bird song, branches creaking, footsteps. There are no other instruments.

The two women’s voices entwine and dance through the air, at times echoing in a space echoing like a cathedral, at other times sounding as if they were recorded in a field.

The album cover, evoking a flock of birds spiraling in the sky, is particularly apt for the way their voices twist, double, and interact with each other with a flocking attraction.

#SingAsTheCrowFlies #LauraCannell #PollyWright #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Sing as the Crow Flies
Sing as the Crow Flies

Cycle of Restoration

Cycle Of Restoration
Cycle Of Restoration

Cycle of Restoration by William Hooker; Bandcamp Link: Cycle of Restoration

I’ve listened to William Hooker before, but never too closely. I do know he is a improvising drummer who often works with musicians outside of the Free Jazz/Improvisation scene.

This is a live recording of a trio, (William Hooker, Drums; Mark Kirschenmann, Trumpet; and Joel Peterson, bass,) recorded in Detroit, Michigan, spring 2018.

Initially, I was listening, and beyond Mr Hooker on drums, I was at a loss for what the other instruments were. My first impression was that it was a group that contained at least synthesizer, drums, and bass.

After listening for a couple days, I was actually pretty surprised to look at the bandcamp page and realize Mr Kirschenmann was playing a heavily effect laden trumpet. (If you’re a gear head, at the very least, he is playing with a flanger, delay, and some sort of multi-pitch shifting choir type effect. Probably some sort of distortion, too, and a volume pedal.)

The album starts very spare, with a lot of time between notes and no real interaction between the players.

It picks up a bit briefly around the 20 minute mark, but then returns languidity for the slow fade out.

While the drums and bass are not far from idiomatic free jazz expression, the trumpet is more in the pop/art/ambient realm. When it is recognizable as a trumpet, not far from Jon Hassell.

The whole thing is more like ambient space jazz, than what normally passes for free or energy jazz/improvisation.

In fact, the album that came most to mind while listening was Tangerine Dream’s first album, “Electronic Meditation,” except maybe played at about half speed.

Is that good or bad?

I just don’t know.

It’s not really my bag, I found myself impatient with its slow pace of development a lot of the time, but it might be yours.

#CycleOfRestoration #WilliamHooker #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #MarkKirschenmann #JoelPeterson

Cycle Of Restoration
Cycle Of Restoration

The People I Love

The People I Love

Falling down a bit on concentrated listening and write-ups. Trying to get back on the horse this week by listening to “The People I Love” by Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn.

Mr Lehman is a somewhat nerdy figure. His playing and ambitious compositions are often somewhat abstract. His last album, Sélébéyone, included Raps, Beats, and electronic processing.

The People I Love is not that. While the playing, especially that of Damion Reid, is often influenced by elements of modern music, this album is basically 4 musicians in a studio playing something often close enough to Jazz Music to pass on Jazz Radio, (if there still was such a thing). There’s even a Ballad, “Chance”. If I had to call it anything, I would call it 21st Century Bebop.

Mr Lehman is an impossibly lithe player on alto, sprinting over the changes at breakneck speed, daring his coplayers to keep up. And they are certainly up to the task, especially Mr Reid whose inventiveness shines out among a group of very talented musicians.

For the Sax nerds in the audience, on this album, Mr Lehman is experimenting in particular with what Sam Newsome calls “microtonal sax”. Which is to say, using alternate fingerings to purposely influence the timbre and intonation of notes.

So, if you are interested in the future of music, it behooves you to check out where Mr Lehman and his compatriots are going.

Steve Lehman, alto sax; Matt Brewer, Bass; Damion Reid, Drums; Craig Taborn, Keyboards.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack#SteveLehman#MattBrewer#DamionReid#CraigTaborn#ThePeopleILove#SteveLehmanTrio#SteveLehmanTrioPlusCraigTaborn

The People I Love

Unaccustomed Soil

Sol Sol
Sol Sol

Unaccustomed Soil by Sol Sol; Label Link: Unaccustomed Soil (Not on bancamp, but on most streaming services.)

The first couple times I listened to Unaccustomed Soil I was a little disappointed it was so, uh, Jazz-ey. As in Chord changes, solos, etc.

Among the group, I was only familiar with Swedish Saxophonist Elin Forkelid, (aka @elinforkelid on instagram, check out her Semla reviews,) mostly from her work on the Anna Högberg Attack album Attack, which as it sounds, is kind of an aggressive work, (and has one of the best album covers of all time).

Once I consoled myself that this wasn’t to be another “Attack”, I started to appreciate Unaccustomed Soil on its own terms, which are for the most part fairly quiet and relaxed.

In general, the rhythm section locks into a groove, while the horn and guitar run melodies over the changes. The only real exception, where some skronk and scrape enter the picture, is the tune Gotta Get Out.

My initial response was to compare it to some of the music along the Jim Black/Chris Speed axis, music which hides its power in pleasant melody and rhythmic repetition.

And I still think that comparison holds, but I also wonder if they might be wrestling a bit with the post “Kind of Blue” stylings of some of their Nordic kin on the ECM label.

In any case, it is hard to dislike an album that is as nice, yet at the same time interesting, as Unaccustomed Soil.

#DavidStackenas #MauritzAgnas #AnnaLund #ElinForkelid #SolSol #UnaccustomedSoil

Sol Sol
Sol Sol

Phalanx Ambassadors

Phalanx Ambassadors
Phalanx Ambassadors

Phalanx Ambassadors by Matt Mitchell; Bandcamp Link: Phalanx Ambassadors

I’ve been listening to Phalanx Ambassadors for the better part of 2 weeks and I still feel like I am still uncovering aspects of it with each listen.

Here are my notes:

“Pointillism, Zappa, A-harmonic, Harmelodics”

The ensemble is composed of keyboards, vibraphone, guitar, bass, and drums.

I say Pointillism as the melodic motif (such that there are any) are often divided between instruments, giving a feeling of spray.

It is super rhythmically dense, these players deserve goddamn medals, especially the drummer and bassist, for dividing and subdividing as they do here. Which reminds me a bit of some of Zappa’s work.

A-harmonic, as it feels like the pieces are more multiple melodies snaking through thickets of rhythm than a single melody with related harmonies.

Harmelodics, as Mitchell’s method seems a bit along the lines of some of Ornette Coleman’s ideas.

Which makes it sound a bit difficult.

And it is a lot to take in.

On the other hand, the tunes are not particularly dissonant, in fact the opposite, often quite tonally pleasant.

After a couple days, I started to think about who might enjoy this album most easily.

My conclusion, such as it is, is that probably a person familiar with modern classical music is going to be more likely to easily enjoy this album than a person who is stuck in the classic jazz rut. And maybe even a prog rock fan might be more easily entertained by some of these pieces, than a “Capital J” Jazz fan.

Try and prove me wrong.

#MattMitchell #PhalanxAmbassadors #MilesOkazaki #PatriciaBrennan #KimCass #KateGentile #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Phalanx Ambassadors