Monday, December 31, 2012

Music Briefly Reviewed: 2012 Fin

As the Crow Flies

Aych is an extraordinary trio comprised of altoist Jim Hobbs, brass multi-instrumentalist Taylor Ho Bynum, and guitarist Mary Halvorson, all of whom comprise half of Bynum’s excellent sextet (rounded out by trombonist Bill Lowe, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Tomas Fujiwara). As the Crow Flies consists of twelve pieces evenly distributed between group improvisations and Hobbs’ original compositions. Without a rhythm section as such, the three musicians are free to foreground and recede at will, creating an alternative approach to developing supporting relationships. Aych can be hot and searing, as on the introductory collective improvisation, or laconic and folksy. At times they’re a stripped-down and modern analogue for the AACM trio Creative Construction Company (Anthony Braxton/Wadada Leo Smith/Leroy Jenkins), with Halvorson’s guitar in for Jenkins’ violin. The title track is a gorgeous example of a more easygoing craft, developing from a hymn-like structure into striking balladic duets and a wonderful Halvorson solo occasionally limned by breathy tones, the trio pensive and simple-like but able to unfurl into complex interaction. There’s a curious groove that roots “Kekionga,” Halvorson loping along as Bynum chuffs, swirls and shouts solo and with Hobbs’ muscular, funky commentary (approximating such forebears as Mike Osborne and Dudu Pukwana). Hobbs and Bynum are both extremely cutting players from a tonal perspective, slicing through the air with brays and whines as Halvorson’s somewhat more cerebral constructions deflect some of the trio’s energy into obliquely compressed areas. Shimmying and puckering against the guitarist’s jangle on “The North Wind,” the threesome segues from tossed-off racket into an early-jazz warble on “Over Yonder,” Halvorson’s rarely heard country nod delineating the pace. Bynum’s statements recall Lester Bowie and Bill Dixon, arcing from gleaming delicacy to bluesy swagger in a short chorus, while Hobbs grants a bitter keen. As far as a group without a “rhythm section” (however that’s conceived in this music) goes, Aych are a toothy and diverse trio well worth seeking out.

You’re Funkin’ Good

British-born reedman and improvising composer Bob Downes has been something of a regular in these pages, albeit primarily for the archival releases he’s been putting out on his Openian label over the past few years. Most of Downes’ work from the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s is freewheeling and of the vanguard, his incisive and lyrical tenor and flute peppered with unruly yelps, often supported by telepathic and voluminous rhythm-section counterpoint. But from Electric City (Vertigo, 1970) onward, it’s been pretty clear that at least part of his mettle includes a somewhat “bent” R&B/blues-rock aesthetic. And as one would hope, Downes’ soul and blues aren’t clean or crisp, rather knotty, wry and earnest. He’s joined on You’re Funkin’ Good, a fine disc of more recent material (recorded in 2001), by keyboardist Stefan Grau and electric bassist Bodo Ernst. Amid programmed rhythms, Downes unspools a deep and throaty cry from saxophones and flutes, just as frequently belting out arresting vocal exhortations like a slightly mellowed James Chance on an English pub gig. One has to be able to see past some of the abject goofiness (the lyrics can veer toward the absurd) and occasionally staid/canned rhythms to really feel Downes’ unpretentious, gleeful delivery and acerbic, powerful musicianship, but it’s all there in spades. You’re Funkin’ Good is one of the most unique records you’re likely to hear this year, and will hopefully elbow its way into the annals of unhinged classics from such peers as Byard Lancaster and Hans Dulfer. Highly recommended listening for those with a yen for the honest and abnormal.

Outpost Live

Hell-Bent in the Pacific

After an absence of recorded documentation spanning the last several years, 2012 could mark the reemergence of alto saxophonist and composer Marco Eneidi. Of course he didn’t really disappear, though much of his activity has centered on work in Austria with the Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music as artistic director. Eneidi studied and performed with Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixon in the 1980s (recording with the latter on Thoughts, Soul Note, 1985), and his collaborators have included reedmen Glenn Spearman and Peter Brötzmann, drummer Donald Robinson, bassists William Parker, Lisle Ellis, Damon Smith and Wilber Morris, bassoonist Karen Borca, and trumpeter Raphe Malik. Recently, Eneidi has worked with brass multi-instrumentalist Stephen Haynes and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris on sporadic (though hopefully becoming more frequent) return visits to the States.

Outpost Live is the first release on Eneidi’s Botticelli label in quite some time, featuring a go-for-broke trio with drummer Luther Gray and Joe Morris on bass recorded live in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2010. Packaged in a handmade edition of 100 with varying images on the sleeve, the disc consists of five improvisations that are in keeping with Eneidi’s extension of the searing, motivic approach of Jimmy Lyons – in other words, the music is prime Eneidi power trio material, picking up right where a record like Cherry Box (Eremite, 1999) left off. Dry and open, Eneidi’s phrases pop and curlicue on the opening “Touch,” biting and whinnying exuberantly with the supporting crashes and shoved floes of Gray’s limbs and girded by Morris’ gutsy pizzicato. A lengthy bass solo separates the opener and its follower, “Slang’n,” which enters at a slower tempo, almost pensive at the outset before Eneidi and Gray dole out biting surges, toying with a bluesy walk before the trio is off at a shimmering, squirrelly run. Working his phrases into odd patterns that zigzag and create dialogic asides, one is almost reminded of Lyons’ 1962 Copenhagen recordings with Taylor, though Eneidi is not nearly as tentative. I am unsure whether it is unfair to belabor the affinities between the two musicians because while Eneidi was/is very much a student of Lyons’ music, over three decades he has honed his craft into a personal, recognizable approach. Perhaps it’s something akin to the specific things that Eric Dolphy gleaned from Charlie Parker to build his own language, though I’d argue that Eneidi’s parallels are clearer, despite some crucial differences in rhythm and pacing (his short unaccompanied solo on “Flüchtling Wanderlung” is a thing of unique beauty). As a trio, Eneidi, Morris and Gray are elegantly complementary, and as much as the fires are continually stoked, the music develops from close listening and subtle interplay. Outpost Live is a fine and very welcome restatement of form and intent in Eneidi’s ongoing development.

Hell-Bent in the Pacific presents Eneidi in a California-centric quartet with reedman Vinny Golia, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and drummer Vijay Anderson on nine group improvisations recorded in the altoist’s former Bay Area stomping grounds. The set opens with an awesome three-horn charge, Golia doubling soprano and sopranino against Eneidi’s alto, twirling and dancing around latter’s sweaty brays. Mezzacappa and Anderson build up a howling storm of rhythm, though they’re just as easily able to delve into a litany of smaller accents that demark the hornmen’s cascading wails. Golia and Eneidi are interesting foils, because whereas Eneidi is a motivic, cellular improviser, Golia’s phrasing is broad, gestural and texturally rooted. As far as I’m aware, this is their first recorded meeting. Hearing Eneidi’s verbose accents alongside Golia’s shrill outlines and guttural warble, one gets the feeling that their differences allow them to triangulate a sound that is neither specific nor general. Eneidi is almost “cool” in the opening salvos of “Everything Imaginable Can Be Dreamed,” inquisitive and ebullient as Anderson and Mezzacappa motor and knock alongside before the trio moves into high gear. Following a dirty slice of bass/bass clarinet interaction, the quartet is delicate and fibrous on “Pendulum” and jaunty on the abbreviated “Fumbling Fulminations.” Laconic and stately with coiled strength, Golia’s tenor is front and center on the excellent trio piece “Prisoner of a Gaudy and Unlivable Present,” a fascinating point of compare to Eneidi’s vehicle a few cuts prior, especially as the rhythm section piles on in a painterly blur. Hell-Bent in the Pacific is an hour’s worth of West Coast Hot that one would be a fool to sleep on.

(Community Pool)

Selenographia is the second album to feature the Minnesota-based duo of soprano saxophonist Nathan Hanson and contrabassist Brian Roessler, who have performed together for a decade and a half as part of the vibrant Twin Cities creative music scene. As with quite a number of the Cities’ musicians, Roessler and Hanson have developed a connection to Paris’ improvisers through the curatorial efforts of Nato Records founder Jean Rochard (Paris/St. Paul) and performances at the Sons d’ Hiver festival. The duo’s longstanding collaborative relationship has resulted in a completely natural language, to the point that across these thirteen pieces, one ceases to think of them as saxophonist and bassist, rather as inseparable siblings or two inflections of the same voice. To be sure, Roessler’s throaty arco and sinewy attack are in keeping with preceding travelers like Jean-Jacques Avenel and Béb Guerin, while Hanson departs from the obvious lineage of Steve Lacy for a rounder phraseology (a la later Lol Coxhill) and occasional Arabic inflections (cue the Theo Loevendie-esque solo “Sea of Crisis”). So there are external reference points for this music, but among equally peerless players. The program is diverse, running the gamut from stark and incisive improvisations to deceptively simple and dusky tunes, such as the gorgeous “Life on its Way” ramble of “The Moonbeam Song.” Hanson and Roessler may be localized in their work to the extent that the larger improvised music world hasn’t caught on, but that being said, they bring copious technique, individuality and a healthy dose of “heart” to the creative music table. Furthermore, housed in a hand-screened jacket with translucent orange wax, Selenographia is as beautiful to look at as it is to listen to.

(De Stijl)

One wouldn’t be wrong in opining that singer-songwriter, guitarist and violinist Samara Lubelski’s records generally have a similar tenor. Her voice is wrapped in wet, gauzy textures and delivered with clipped breathiness, augmented by flinty jangle across a quilt of closely valued hues. Lyrically her lines are oblique, curious word choices and turns of phrase popping out from a broad field. Showing the influence of Kiwi rock a la The Clean as much as psychedelic femme-folkies, Lubelski has also brought to bear her work in improvisational lo-fi outfit The Tower Recordings and their German analogue Metabolismus for a series of fascinatingly personal LPs on De Stijl, The Social Registry and Ecstatic Peace, of which Wavelength is the fifth. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley returns for his second Lubelski band appearance, and the ensemble is fleshed out by PG Six and Helen Rush (Tower Recordings) and Thilo Kuhn, Mo Finkbeiner and Werner Notzel (Metabolismus), among others, on twelve original tunes. I suppose it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that Wavelength is entirely in keeping with the vibe one expects from one of her records, but at the same time Lubelski's music is continually being refined and she has cultivated a sound that is distinctly “hers.” After all, one can never truly step into the same river twice. Instrumentally abetted by gently-layered guitars, vibraphone, organ, keyboards and harmonium, Lubelski’s vision has a painterly haze that is both comforting and oddly arresting.But not all of the tunes are breezy psychedelic folk-rock – “Age of Decay” is comparatively aggressive, and hooks are prevalent. The closing title track has an oppressive, pulsing and fuzzed-out vibe, albeit in the form of a brief instrumental coda. Whether this is your first meeting with Lubelski’s music or she’s a familiar face, Wavelength is a fine new addition to the discography.


German bassist Peter Stock isn’t particularly well known outside of Europe (and actually he’s fairly obscure on his home continent), but that shouldn’t deter anyone from investigating Privatkredit, which features his committed return to music after an absence of more than three decades. Stock’s recorded output is small – the eponymous Just Music (JM 001/ECM 1002) and the Alfred Harth/Nicole Van Den Plas Quintet 4.Januar.1970 LP (AH 002) being the most recognized – but his impact in those ensembles is definitely felt. He’s also heard on the three-CDR set of Just Music archival material that Harth released on his Laubhuette imprint and appeared at the 40 Jahren Just Music concert in Frankfurt in 2009. Privatkredit joins Stock on a series of thirteen improvisations with bass-trombonist Matthias Siegel and percussionist Kuno Wagner; Stock’s instrument of choice is a homemade amplified contrabass that sonically straddles the line between fretless electric bass, diddley-bow, and a standard upright. Amid the light, tasteful chatter of cymbals and snare and Siegel’s metallic, garrulous chortle and subtonal guffaws, Stock’s eliding pizzicato and indeterminate electricity provides odd contrapuntal tension. Siegel’s brass improvising is deft and has a penchant for the absurd; he’s certainly following in the footsteps of the brothers Bauer (Hannes and Conny) in getting down to business on the lower horn. Across the disc’s fifty minutes, some of the improvisations seem to revolve around similar bases, and that can result in a bit of similarity. Nevertheless, Privatkredit presents three lesser-known voices in German free music with clarity and strength, and it will be interesting to hear how their music evolves.

The Weird Weeds

Together for nearly a decade and with five full length LPs and a couple of singles under their belt, Austin quartet the Weird Weeds have undergone a fascinating and utterly natural metamorphosis, from trippy and twee semi-improvisational folk-rock band to a taut and somewhat acerbic instrumental chamber outfit. Their music is incredibly deliberate and glaringly minimal. Scored for percussion, contrabass and two guitars (one accosted with a bevy of found objects), their latest eponymous LP consists of nine untitled tracks that recall more recent Earth, Lungfish with Daniel Higgs removed, or a toothier version of 3-era rex. But the minimalism of the Weird Weeds is not a put-on or something which nods to a particular trend in heavy music; rather, minimalism was arrived at because it makes the most sense in communicating the group’s ideas – repetition, slow and building toward a plateau or a simple “ceasing” of action before the next piece begins – and any window dressing would just get in the way.

There are simple things that showcase the Weird Weeds’ arranging skills and, while I’m not sure they’d be missed if absent, really make this record special. The group’s tonal fixations are uncommon and shocking – not only from Sandy Ewen’s chalk and cat brushes, but in Aaron Russell’s finger-picked electric axe and the play of sharp angles between these elements and Verrill’s wispy bowed moan (the album closer is a fantastic example of this). The triangle barrage and plucked bass harmonics on the opening overture-like piece, combined with Russell’s bunched and tinny guitar work, present an incredibly unique array of colors. There are, of course, aspects of this quartet shared by few other instrumental “rock” outfits – drummer Nick Hennies is a classically-schooled percussionist hip to the wiles of Orestes Morfin and Todd Trainer, surprisingly detailed and subtle in his application of muscular, brick-like rhythm action. Lindsey Verrill is a powerful bassist with a full, deep tone and beautiful bow attack, sort of like a country-tinged Jean-François Jenny Clarke. Guitarist Sandy Ewen is far from a traditional voice on her instrument, upending it into a lap-seated canvas. These are rare references in even the most left-field contemporary indie rock, but here they ring true.

Ewen’s horizontal string scrabble and Verrill’s roaring, throaty arco, along with tremendously particular drumming, elevate the second piece above a mere “stoner dirge,” while there’s curious parlor delicacy to the measured drift of the third tune. The latter segues into a brisk waltz-like piece with additional processed guitar from Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and finds the group’s elemental aspects at their most layered and lush. There’s an audible shift on the second side to something perhaps less severe – the seventh tune has a sunny, softshoe air even with its metronomic pulse, yawing guitar groans and sawed bass. However, altering the key a half step and switching to pizzicato and condensing the guitar attack provides a sea change in mood and scope. The final piece is both wistful and cutting, a lullaby shot through with inexact, somewhat warped filaments. There is one issue with The Weird Weeds that won’t bother the uninitiated – no Weird Weeds album has yet captured the intensity of their live shows, for which every bit of unsettled starkness is rendered with crackling, near-explosive energy. While that’s not a slight on the present disc, one can always hope for bottled genies.


An improvising trio absent the traditional markers of a rhythm section (bass and/or drums), the musicians on Haste explore longer forms with a balance of gestural, painterly swoops and pointillist detail. Featuring pianist Veryan Weston, cellist Hannah Marshall (both UK-based) and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock (German-born and for a time London-based, though now living in New York), the trio works through three collective pieces totaling just shy of an hour. Weston is an incredibly resourceful keyboardist, but his penchant for poise and deep listening ensure that his glisses and clusters remain on axis. It’s important to note that both Weston and Laubrock are accomplished composers and, while the music on Haste may be collectively improvised, it’s clearly from a perspective of naturally unfolding structure and organization (Marshall acquits herself excellently in this department as well). Therefore, as the trio moves through these tri-logues and conversations, it’s with an ear towards engagement, dynamics and resolution. “Sleeping Down Hill” comprises the disc’s first half, beginning with subtonal reed kisses and ponticello bowing against hushed, rhapsodic chords. Gradually the three layer and spread out, becoming unruly and dense in the process – Laubrock’s tenor alternately pillowy and harried in a controlled gush against the pricks and dives of Marshall’s cello. “Leaving Up” finds the saxophonist switching to soprano at the outset, twirling and fluttering as part of a delicate three-pronged counterpoint, the trio moving between skitters and telepathic elision with seemingly sharp left-turns often hinging on bow and strings. While not quite as theatrical as Tristan Honsinger, Marshall’s cello work is similarly mealy and dervish-like, extending modern classicism into an electrifying, madcap whorl. But at the same time, her sense of control within/of the classical tradition garners more than a few nods in the direction of János Starker. Haste is a gorgeously recorded and far-ranging slab of contemporary creative music, and a fascinating entry in each of these three musicians’ output.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Things We Like #3 - (Some of) The Best of 2012

It’s getting a little tougher each year to pick favorites, because of the sheer amount of excellent music that’s available, both new and reissued. Below you’ll find my non-hierarchical, alphabetized list of twenty four of the most compelling new releases and a dozen reissues/unearthed gems, including boxed sets. These lists should serve as a partial holiday buying guide for those of you looking for something to buy your tuned-in loved ones. Happy Holidays and educated listening from Ni Kantu!

Joshua Abrams – Represencing – (Eremite)
Jason Adasiewicz’ Sun Rooms – Spacer – (Delmark)
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop – Burning Live at Jazz ao Centro – (JACC)
Mick Barr/Kevin Shea/Tim Dahl – BarrSheaDahl – (ugExplode)
Neneh Cherry & The Thing – The Cherry Thing – (Smalltown Supersound)
Lol Coxhill/Barre Phillips/J.T. Bates – The Rock on the Hill – (Nato)
Joel Futterman – Blues for My Brother – (Creation Music)
Charles Gayle – Streets – (Northern Spy)
Grex – Second Marriage – (SUA)
Steve Gunn/John Truscinski – Ocean Parkway – (Three Lobed)
Barry Guy/LJCO – Harmos: Live at Schaffhausen – (Intakt)
James Ilgenfritz – Compositions (Braxton) 2011 – (Infrequent Seams)
Kidd Jordan – On Fire – (Engine)
Man Forever – Pansophical Cataract – (Thrill Jockey)
William Parker Orchestra – Essence of Ellington: Live in Milano – (Centering)
Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul – Reunion: Live in New York (Pi)
Jason Stein – The Story This Time – (Delmark)
Talibam! – Puff Up the Volume – (Critical Heights)
The Thing with Barry Guy – Metal! – (No Business)
 “Blue” Gene Tyranny – Detours – (Unseen Worlds)
David S. Ware – Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011 – (Aum Fidelity)
Weird Weeds – Weird Weeds – (Sedimental)
Nate Wooley – The Almond – (Pogus)
C S Yeh – Transitions – (De Stijl)

Don Cherry – Organic Music Society – (Caprice)
Codeine – When I See the Sun (collected works) – (Numero)
Jack Ruby – Jack Ruby – (ugExplode)
Sven-Åke Johansson – Early Works 1969-1973 – (SÅJ)
Steve Lacy – The Sun – (Emanem)
Noh Mercy – Noh Mercy – (Superior Viaduct)
William Parker – Centering: Unreleased Early Works 1976-1987 – (No Business)
Hal Russell – NRG Ensemble – (Nessa)
Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe – (Unseen Worlds)
Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society – Whispers from the Archive – (Porter)
Henry P. Warner/Earl Freeman/Philip Spigner – The Freestyle Band – (No Business)
Zs – Score: The Complete Sextet Works 2002-2007 – (Northern Spy)