Thursday, May 5, 2016

Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filliano, Lou Grassi - Live At Edgefest (NoBusiness, 2016) 

By JA Besche

Michigan has its own version of SXSW (i.e. a large music festival that takes place throughout a city with musicians playing in various venues around town as opposed to one large fairground), however, there are no insufferable scensters or oddly trendy new forms of electronic music like vaporwave, chillwave, or wavewave (I invented this genre just now). No, all there is at Edgefest are some of the best talents of free jazz and improv laying waste to Ann Arbor. Last year, Lerner, Filliano, and Grassi spoke their collective voice into the Michigan air, and it was luckily captured and imprinted onto vinyl wax thanks to the superb Lithuanian label NoBusiness. Here’s how it went down:

Quiet glissandos tip toe down a rigid set of keys, the light saw of a bowed double bass quickly scatters repeated phrases over top, while the tips of drumsticks dance between snares and hi-hats, touching them with what seem like precisely only the exact amount of force necessary. The instruments come together and take us strutting, with an obtuse delivery of piano notes walking over top of the rhythm in disjointed timing. Three rhythm instruments working as a collective propel the improvisation forward; all skip from percussive to melodic with a collectivist approach. The ringing echo of quickly played cymbal notes drift off and dissipate into the air like smoke before a solo of glissandos interspersed with playful blocks of chords takes the lead. The snare begins rumbling in the background, a tautly pulled drum skin emitting the expertly tapped vibrations that intermingle with the determined and manic-depressive piano. The bow cuts jagged lines across the bass strings, but it is not frayed, only precise. The hood of the piano has been drawn back and its guts are stroked, coaxing pure percussion as the bass flows back and forth between registers. They call. They respond. They push forward in exploring volume and intensity. Silence becomes the fourth member of the band. Improvisations grow and shrink from each other. A well taken drum solo of swirling patterns and ringing hi-hats leads to a whirlpool of notes between the trio, the bass and piano playing being the most nimble of the recording, exchanging rapid fire runs at each other like two armies in a gunfight. Moody piano runs bookend some grooving bass vamps and rolling snares. It becomes an incantation, repeating the calls of worship until it fades out. The audience introduces itself.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MMM Quartet - Oakland/Lisboa (RogueArt 2015)

Jazz is probably the most scrutinized music in the world.  Not necessarily by the media or public at large, but one would be hard-pressed to find the same level of debate within the fans, players, and historians of another genre, mostly asking the metaphysical question of “what is jazz?”.  This has to do with many factors, mostly how jazz originated as a truly American, truly black art form that came out of the bonds of slavery, and how far it has come since then, how it has branched out musically, and how it has been consumed and reinterpreted across cultures and social classes since that time.  Adding to this is the serious nature in which fans and players analyze the concept and technique behind a recording, which, if not more profound, is definitely more esoteric than most genres of music.  Even within free jazz, we have certain (false) dichotomies that have been created since the likes of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler birthed the concept.  Typically this has to do with the impetus behind free jazz, which in its infancy was mostly a response to the restrictions and staleness of post-bop paradigms, but in equal measure the rejection of the status quo of society, black empowerment, and cultural revolution through the freedom of expression.  On the other end of the dichotomy is what is commonly called European creative music, which some have taken as a sort of cultural appropriation, or at least less genuine than the free jazz being played in New York lofts during the 1960’s.  There is also the idea of the “white hanger-on” being less talented, more content to skonk and screech with no purpose or ethos, making wanky, long jam sessions that do nothing but satisfy their own neurosis.  As I implied before, I find this to be a false dichotomy and in reality the people who argue along these lines aren’t really serving any purpose for anyone except to satisfy their own egos (in my opinion), especially some 50-60 years after the fact.  Jazz has not died and it probably never will while music is still being made, at least in spirit and in the development of improvisation techniques.  Everyone is entitled to their personal opinions about certain music, but to write it off for some perceived lack of authenticity because it’s been analyzed too narrowly is not helping anything.

As I had recently read an op-ed dismissing the genre of free improv as generally talentless “white hanger-on music” (whereas third stream was the writer’s chosen authentic form of looser improvisation), these and other thoughts popped into my head as I listened to this album, which is quite comfortably in the free improv column.  This is probably the one (nebulously defined) genre that receives most of the criticisms I’ve described above.  Sometimes records in this vein take themselves so seriously that they come off as almost laughable in their pretense, others are so cheeky in their approach that they make the listener feel like the butt of a joke, and others still are just a woman playing “tenor balloon” (I love you Judy Dunaway!).  It’s often the kind of stuff that has detractors of the genre painting its musicians and fans as taking themselves way too seriously, but those who follow the genre know that there are incredible displays of musicianship and passion to be found on many recordings.

So, I had these thoughts swimming around in my head as I sat and listened to MMM Quartet’s album Oakland/Lisboa from Rogue Art records.  I can’t say that I like all free improvisation, or that it sometimes doesn’t feel like a huge exercise in pretense, but this is not the album for that.  This is a barrel load of talent, passion, technique, and most importantly FREEDOM.  I think that the creative music that spawned from free jazz was the natural progression, and that while the original free jazz that spawned in America is incredible and life- affirming in so many ways, it’s not something people should try to mimic ad infinium, which would obviously be against the spirit of free jazz in the first place.  Our need to define and categorize things can sometimes obfuscate the simple beauty of those things we take for granted because they don’t fit neatly into a specific box. 

I’ve already gone on too long of a rant without saying enough about this album, but its all here.  Yes, the band is irreverent (MMM stands for MillsMusicMafia, obviously tongue-in-cheek), but the music is as serious as it gets without being self-important.  You have, in my opinion; four of the best musicians in the world in this genre, who together have an incredible understanding of each other’s playing.  For a live free improv performance you would think that this had been expertly mapped out beforehand.  Leandre seems to know exactly when to pluck her strings or when to saw right into your head with her heavily bowed double bass.  Fred Frith is the best non-traditional guitarist ever, I assume.  On this record, he makes just the sound of plugging in an electric guitar (leaving the cord touching the input but not quite fully plugged in, creating a droning electronic squelch) sound like art.  It sounds like something anyone could do to the untrained (like those parents who think their kids can paint as well as Picasso or Pollack), but it’s about knowing the players around him, understanding space and timing; it’s not easy yet he pulls it off impeccably.  Urs Leimgruber adds so much texture through unorthodox playing of his saxophone that makes it sound more like a tenor balloon (I still love you, Judy Dunaway!), before he provides crucial counter points with melodic phrasing during the noisier moments of his compatriots.  Alvin Curran is most recognizable as the one playing a traditional instrument, his microtonal piano runs cutting through the fog at crucial times.  On the other hand, his sampling and electronics work provides immense layers of dense and tough to distinguish sounds, adding a large amount of textural and dramatic elements.  They do all of this for a long time, never losing steam, never running out of ideas, morphing in and out between tonal playing and pure texture, between cacophony and silence, showing their virtuosity one moment before deconstructing the idea of a musical instrument the next.  It’s not just thought provoking or ultra-progressive, but enjoyable, fervent, and well made.  Dividing and categorizing art, trying to fit it into neat categories, and then judging it based on how it fits into such categories is not what anyone remembers.  Records like this are what people will remember, and most importantly, what will continue to push other musicians to progress, take risks, and build an ecstatic community based on freedom of expression.  As a fan, one can’t ask for much more. 

Szilard Mezei - Feher Virag - 2016

Serbian composer and multi-instrumentalist Szilard Mezei has another recording out this year on Slam Productions, a further testament to his creativity, dynamism, and talent.  I first heard Mezei in 2008 on the excellent Nad/Reed, the first of many albums released under the Szilard Mezei Ensemble.  That side of Mezei showcases his work in experimental big band jazz releases, though he works in many different arrangements and genres.  The album at hand today is on the opposite end of the spectrum, an interesting trio arrangement with viola, flute, and acoustic guitar.

Mezei has a wide range of styles on display throughout his discography.  One of his main talents is
composition, and he brings a healthy dose of knowledge in modern classical music technique, which he blends effortlessly with jazz.  This can also expand to include more improvisation-based jazz, though he almost always has a strong compositional backbone.

When I first saw this lineup I was intrigued, but because of my proclivities leaning more towards noisy and raucous jazz I was a little weary that I may just not be able to get into it.  I had already decided in my head what an acoustic guitar, flute, and viola trio would sound like, and I was already missing the saxophone.  However, my expectations were subverted, and I was very impressed with the textural qualities of all the instruments, particularly in interplay.  I also really enjoy the way that Mezei plays viola, not a traditional jazz instrument, but one that has many incredible sonic qualities in the hands of a talented player.

In the three compositions here, Mezei moves around from free improvisation, full composition, and dramaturgical technique throughout.  The improv is wonderful, moving from full band to solos and duos, with a percussionist popping up for a little bit later on in the proceedings.  There are moments of onkyo/lowercase related improv (though not as extreme as those genres), with certain notes highlighted by the silence between them.  The compositions are aleatoric in technique, so they allow for a lot of improvisation between the clearer presence of melody, rhythm, and harmony.  The dramaturgical elements were great to me, and added a certain amount of gravitas to the whole thing.  This is music we’d probably describe as “cinematic” in a modern context, but the flute work is highly reminiscent of older stage music, particularly Wagner’s operas (and the Wagner influenced The Wood Nymph, by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius).

I thought it would be a little less adventurous than my favorite kinds of jazz, and that was accurate.  However, this album has a wide variety of technique that is constantly surprising and dynamic, while also retaining a unique thematic purpose.  It may not be something that speaks to me personally in the way some other Mezei albums do, but it is a great testament to how bright of a talent Mezei is in composition, as well as improvisation, while building on an already very impressive and idiosyncratic style that is bound to subtly surprise, a feat in itself.

Genta/VanZan/Wesseltoft/Stigberg - Det Krittike Punkt - 2015

Virginia Genta & David Vanzan form the musical collaboration known as Jooklo Duo, often playing as a drums and tenor duo, but regularly branching out to include others, with their arrangements going from trio to up to octet and beyond.  They are either the most psychedelic jazz band in the world, or the jazziest psychedelic band, and only a handful of their releases could be placed in one category alone (Where Has Jazz Gone? Is a great one if you want to catch their jazzier side, Peaceful Messages is a good one for the psychedelic feel).  This record touches on a lot of different things, and the Jooklos seem to be in a more supportive role here.

John Wesseltoft is another musician who jumps around genres, but is at his core is a (free) improviser.  I had come to know him from his work with C. Spencer Yeh and Okkyung Lee, if that tells you anything.  Here he plays a very loose version of electric guitar.

And finally there is Dag Stiberg, and this was my introduction to him.  A Norwegian altoist, Stiberg’s online bios have him playing in a number of bands that range from free improv, metal, psychedelia, to noise.  As such, he is what we would think of as the post-jazz/modern saxophonist, and from what I can tell this record most reflects his approach to improvisation.

I say that because the record title, “Det Kristike Punkt” is Norwegian, just like Stiberg.  Also, he seems to be given the lead on most of the album, with the intenseness of the recording seeming to fit very nicely into his discography.

Det Kristike Punkt means “The Critical Point” in English, and I think this record takes that idea to the extreme.  Rather than being that one moment that everything builds to, that moment of urgency, it is stretched and expanded, repeated and deconstructed.  It’s not a single moment here, but rather a continuous flow of equally critical points, an instant and sustained immediacy.

The opener demonstrates this ably.  Vanzan is lightly playing the cymbals, creating a kind of rolling, continuous drum din, and before you know it, Stiberg starts attacking the air with pointed, choked notes.  His improvisational style here is harsh in general, with him seeming to take a deep a breath as possible before sending out a deluge of notes into the world, until his lungs say, “enough!”, at which point he takes a break to re-inflate and goes right back into it.  It sounds exhausting, and of course it is noisy, and because of the high register he is playing it is harsh, but that is not to say it is without technique.  I would not say it is melodic, but it is tonal, and it does establish a hypnotic repeated pattern that sucks you in.  Aside from Ayler, I can’t think of many free jazz artists that used repetition techniques in their solos, but Stiberg is not just a free jazz artist.  It is reminiscent of the layered techniques of repetition used in psychedelic and experimental music, with a harder, freer edge.  The guitar comes in and it is a dirty, fuzzy tone, often played with both sustained and piercing notes, or as a furious, repetitive stream.  Genta’s tenor starts to add counterpoints with its languid, lyrical phrasing.  As some of the other instruments become undiscernible from each other, Genta’s sax sounds like a tugboat sounding its horn through the fog.  It borders on overstuffed at some points, but as described, the instruments all play different roles, helping to distinguish what is going on and creating very purposeful collective improvisation.  It’s not just everyone playing like maniacs over top of each other, but that happens sometimes too, thankfully).  

This is the basic framework for the record, though it also features moments of more third-stream type playing, where Genta picks up a melodica and develops great interplay with Stiberg on his Khene (a sort of pan flute looking instrument).  There is a lot of sparseness, especially in comparison to the jam-packed sections, with some well taken moments of silence.  It also further confirmed to me what a talented drummer Vanzan is, picking up the percussion and sleigh bells and just laying down a thick atmosphere of percussive sound for the others to traipse through.  The Jooklos being the artists I am most familiar with, I can also say that Genta’s saxophone technique has definitely developed and expanded since I started listening to them, and I am impressed with the playing on this record.  Wesseltoft also can make his guitar sound like whatever he wants, with floating, almost ambient and barely strummed walls of texture throughout the quieter parts.  Stiberg also shows range, by going from the choked, repetitive soloing to longer, less powerful but more dynamic playing, and of course shows even more range in taking on different instruments and styles.  His improvjazzmetalpsychedelicnoisesaxmadman reputation I read about online definitely comes across here.

So, I highly recommend this record, but with the caveat that you better like your jazz noisey, or your
metal jazzy, or your mellow harsh.  I could say that it lacks composition, or the solos aren’t defined, but that would be unfair to the spirit of the adventure.  The ideas do seem to run short, and the way it is put together seems like a serious of vignettes that aren’t really related, but in those moments of infinite critical points, it does exactly what it intends to do, without any restriction or limits, and by god is it cathartic.

-Mehitabel Grimalkin

Konstrukt - Live At Tarcento Jazz (Holidays, 2015)

Konstrukt have another live record out on the fantastic Italian, experimental/free/improv label Holidays.  This one features the core group, with no appearances by favorite collaborators Joe McPhee or Peter Brotzmann.  As someone that is relatively new to the Turkish quartet, I’ve been listening to as many of their records as I can get my hands on to get an idea of their style.  I think I can now say that their signature style revolves around dynamism.  

Konstrukt are most rooted in free jazz to be certain, but like many of the modern bands in this arena they neither fit neatly into the molds of New York loft jazz, or the offshoots of creative music coming out of Chicago, Europe, etc. shortly thereafter.  They draw a lot of their style from modern experimental music, using a lot of electronics and affected instruments to create droning, ambient textures throughout.  They also touch on psychedelic music quite often, best demonstrated on Sun Ra-esque electric organ boogies over washing sounds of static and dissonance.  
This live set starts with some very free drumming reminiscent of Sunny Murray; all cymbals and snare, no time keeping.  A low grumble of electronic drone remains consistent in the background, slowly shifting guitar tones set the tempo, oscillating and sounding like it’s going through a wah pedal.  The reeds soar over this in ecstatic bursts of lyrical phrasing and short adventures into high register squeaks and skronks in-between.  Korhan Futaci shows that he is definitely a very capable player.

The focus shifts and the guitar and reeds begin to establish some interplay while the ominous droning continues underfoot.  Ozun Usta’s bass starts to pop up more in places and helps to bring things back to the jazz genre at times.  My only complaint would be that we didn’t hear enough of this.

The rest of the album effortlessly moves in and out of style, and some of the players multi-instrumental leanings help with this.  The sections where the guitar is replaced with flute are excellent as well, as it mixes in with the reeds and does everything from providing textural underpinning to lyrical soloing. The rhythm section, too, goes from totally free into a somewhat disjointed fusion funk.  When the guitar takes the lead there are some beautiful/destructive shades of Sonny Sharrock present.  There are also very spacey moments of sparse percussion with introspective flute playing over top of it.

I think what Konstrukt does best is pull together related but different forms of music and improvisation and ties them into a nebulous but purposeful approach.  It doesn’t feel too scattered or unrelated at any point, which is a good thing.  Some of it is definitely reminiscent of older free jazz musicians, but none of it is mindless aping.  They have an effortless ability to flow in and out of styles and moods, but at the heart they have a unique style that is more than just the sum of its parts.

If I had any complaints it would be that maybe they release too many albums (which is really a complaint based on not having enough money to get so many records shipped over from Europe!) and that maybe some of the albums could be edited down.  It’s fantastic that we can hear so much of their playing, especially because free jazz is a genre where we sometimes have limited access to a musician’s recordings, but there is something to say for being very deliberate and selective when it comes to releases.  Regardless, I’m ready for the next one.

-Mehitabel Grimalkin

Review for a forgotten album

Rippiling waves of synth drone, high pitched strings giving way to bellowed vocals. It begins very displaced before the strings begin to give slow melodic form to the cosmic droning.

singular drone slowly building and oscillating errant electronics sneak in before several low pitch drones come through glitched voices even some guitars cutting through the mist slowly fades out into warm rustic acoustic guitar strings and looped field recordings, slightly longer than the short first half.

second LP

weirdo outsider folk played on a guitar with a few blown out strings somehow playing pretty melodies with songs of tales of trauma and lamentful woed memories

can go through inner space crooning to damaged jamming storytelling romps earthy hymns of psychedelic goo

free improv jamming with feedback into melodic finger picking into slowly growing vocal

meandering rags

nonchalant reimaginins of jerry garcia brutally frank


spacey orchestral pop joke?

bleepy bloops with some overall computer cpme to life through atonal notes and no time signatures, children speaking, heavy synth fuzz

sick jazzy freak outs over heavy snare and tom pounding

-Hermione Marquis

Friday, February 19, 2016

Black Unity Trio - Al - Fatihah (1971)

Artist: Black Unity Trio

Album: Al-Fatihah

Label: Salaam 777A

Year: 1971

Genre: Jazz

Sub-Genres: Free Jazz, Spiritual Jazz

A very rare, limited, and often times only available to buy at auction for $1,000 or more kind of album.  Desperately in need of a reissue, this is one of the holy grail albums of jazz collectors.  The music therein justifies all of this.  A one off pressing on the Oberlin, OH based Salaam Records, a "label" created by the band themselves.  The recording itself is relatively brief, clocking in around 35 minutes, with many unrelenting moments of this (sounding larger than a) trio blasting through dense pieces of pure free jazz.  This record is also based around the group members conversion to Islam, and the burgeoning of the afro-centric cultural movement, as the name and images suggest.  There are many classic "spiritual jazz" moments as well, with more atmospheric playing and light chanting based around the tenets of Islam.  A very profound, heavy, and often ecstatically noisy record that remains an all-time obscure classic.  Only cellist Abdul Wadud would go on to have a career in music, but he and altoist Yusuf Mumin and percussionist Haasan-Al-hut certainly hit a homerun on their first swing.  Next time you see it on eBay, skip that rent payment and put it towards this.

-Mehitabel Grimalkin

Friday, January 3, 2014

Arthur Doyle, Takashi Mizutani, Sabu Toyozumi - Live In Japan 1997 (Qbico, 2003)

Arthur Doyle is a free jazz legend, his now (relatively) famous 1978 LP "Alabama Feeling" goes for upwards of $500 (when you can actually find it for sale) and is listed by Thurston Moore as one of his favorite free jazz record of all time. Doyle is a wild man on the sax, taking even the fiery playing of guys like Albert Ayler and pushing it to its breaking point, for better or worse. Takashi Mizutani is best known for his work with Les Rallizes Denudes, possibly the most fabled and best of all psychedelic Japanese rock bands, which says a lot. Mizutani basically took what bands like The Velvet Underground were doing with their multi-media shows and turned it up to 11, while simultaneously creating a formula that generations of psychedelic and hard rock, even noise, bands would emulate all over the world. His guitar work is one of the most copied styles out there. Part of Mizutani and LRD's appeal is their extreme aversion to creating anything commercially viable (most of their releases are fan made bootlegs from concerts), creating a mythology that few bands come close to matching. Apparently, this concert was the last time Mizutani was seen in public. Finally, Sabu Toyozumi is a Japanese free drumming legend. He has held down the fort for Japan's wildest sax player, Kaoru Abe, no small feat. He also did amazing work in Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction band, again working interplay into holding down the rhythm for one of the world's most dynamic guitarists. Given his background work with an explosive sax player and an unorthodox guitarist, he seems like the perfect drummer to work with Doyle and Mizutani.

Personally, Mizutani and LRD are one of my favorite acts of all time, and while I'm not as versed in Doyle's discography, I love the 2-3 albums of his I've heard. Furthermore, I have always been a Kaoru Abe and Takanyanagi fan, and Toyozumi's work with both of these artists is some of the finest free drumming I've ever heard. Thus, this LP is like a personal blue jeans cream dream, on paper at least. Add the fact that it was put out by kind of makes me wonder how dumb I was to never have heard of this album. Any way, it's now way out of print and probably worth upwards of $100, but there is plenty of help via google, so lets dive in.

The playing on this is very "free" to say the least. Lets just go ahead and say that it's not going to be as good as everything these artists did in their prime added together and smushed down into a LP. The sum is not always greater than the parts, but it has it's moments. Mizutani really pins down Toyozumi's drumming and Doyle's fire skronk in a lot of places, using feedback and sustained notes to create atmosphere under the chaos. In other parts, my favorite parts, Toyozumi really gets a groove going and lets Mizutani do what he does best, going HAM over the groove with controlled guitar playing that balances between melody and atonality. And there are even sections where Toyozumi gets a chance to just drum solo like a maniac.

It's good stuff, not the kind of canon type record the names imply it to be, but when are supergroups ever better than their member's original output? It does rock and roll and is a real enjoyable listen (especially the second LP). If you have any interest in any of the guys in this group, check it out.

-Hermione Marquis

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jooklo Danish Group - Mixture of Energies (Holidays Records, 2012)

Limited to 200, glow-in-the-dark vinyl

Jooklo Danish Group is one of many incarnations featuring Italian musicians Virginia Genta and David Vanzan, otherwise known as the Jooklos. This LP is aptly released under this new moniker, as it includes two Danish musicians, Johns Lunds on baritone sax and Maria Bertel on amplified trombone. Genta and Vanzan typically approach albums as a duo, with Genta on the alto or tenor sax and Vanzan playing every kind of drum or percussion instrument he can find. From what I know, they are self-trained musicians whose output is more a force of power than it is mind-numbing exercises in theory or instrument virtuosity. What they make is modern fire music, and they do it quite well. However, the Jooklos often extend their group to include like-minded musicians. Unlike many groups that have a defined aesthetic and incorporate other musicians into that fold regularly, the Jooklos often form their groups based on the strengths of whom they are playing with. For the most part, this stays on the free jazz/free improv side of things, but they also have a strong footing in the neo-psychedelic scene, creating krautrock or eastern tinged exercises that focus less on free-form improvisation and more on the building of repetitive themes and their deconstruction (Peaceful Messages is an excellent album in this vein).

As you may have guessed by now, Mixture of Energies is jazz-based. Bertel and Lunds are great musicians to share an LP with the Jooklos, as they both play what are typically considered jazz instruments, but in a way that touches on modern experimental, ambient, psychedelic, etc. music. However, this album is still fiercely free jazz/improv related. Also, at this point I should stop referring to it as an LP, because it is a single-sided vinyl with one 23 minute track and is listed as an EP on Holidays Records website. Anyway, I do wish there were a second-side to this and hopefully this is a collaboration that sees another chance to record together because I think that the pairing works very well.

The album opens with wailing, serious wailing. This album features Virginia Genta on synthesizer, which was not something I was accustomed to her playing. She and bandmate Vanzan are mostly in the background during this opening blast, the sustained synthesizer notes climbing upward and providing texture and direction under the squall of the horns while Vanzan’s frenzied and completely free form drumming propel the piece forward. Bertel and Lunds are just blowing their lungs out here. There is little in terms of interplay, as this is a focus on histrionics and not subtly. The rollicking ride reminds me of Coltrane’s large ensemble for Ascension or Brotzmann’s big groups of the late 60s. The baritone sax and trumpet (I’m not sure what type of trumpet it is or if there are any effects being used on it) provide thick and low-register notes that, when played in unison, have the aural equivalent of the feeling of breathing, as did most of Ascension in my opinion, while also being played so violently at other parts that it has the intensity and feeling of suffocation so present on Brotzmann’s early work. This is in about a 12 minute span, so it’s exhausting to say the least (in a great, challenging but rewarding type of way).

About half-way through the 23 minutes the brass and reeds drop out and Vanzan switches to percussion. At this point, the percussion is creating a varied and sparse atmosphere and extends beyond instruments with a “drum” sound, while Genta hits the synthesizer with more aggression than the first half, the instrument sounding like a cross between an electric organ and an electric piano, raining down rapid fire notes with a serious lysergic quality that is also reminiscent of some of Sun Ra’s more spaced out jaunts.

In another couple of minutes the band hits the third part of this three part suite (my designation, not theirs), with both Lunds and Bertel jumping back into the mix. There is a moment of disjointed and uncomfortably spaced free playing, but when they ratchet up the energy again it takes on a different tone. Vanzan jumps back on the kit and becomes more rhythm based as he rides the high-hats with abandon, throwing in unorthodox fills using his toms. The synthesizer takes on a bigger role, filling space with long bouts of atmosphere, but also joining in with the leads in bursts of notes. Lunds takes the lead here and instead of straight blowing, also touches on several themes and melodic runs. It’s still almost an oppressive and thick sound due to the low-register of the instruments, but it features more nimble interplay in-between all the free cacophony, and the players develop into a type of call and response jam that is a little lighter in mood.

This is a very fine piece in my estimation. I really like the interplay between the band, whether it’s outright emotion and power, or more subtle back and forth. I like that this played to the strengths of Lunds and Bertel, but also in a way where each Jooklo had more of a supporting role, which isn’t something I often see on their records. The instrumentation was also very interesting in creating mood, because it really does have a bigger sound than four instruments. Like I said before, it is a jazz record above all else, but it does have a highly lysergic quality lurking beneath the fa├žade. This is the main reason I always look out for Jooklo releases. The atmosphere in which music is currently created is shifting away from tropes to a more free mingling (as well as freely shared) of genres and ideas. Everything seems muddled, much to the chagrin of purists. I think the Jooklos are a great example of this new paradigm working out in the right way. They don’t have a seriously strong foothold in either jazz scenes or neo-psychedelic scenes (though, perhaps moreso the latter because of their aesthetic and devotion to limited edition and highly collectible vinyl), yet they deserve respect from each. Their music has been a free sharing of ideas and concepts that has stretched beyond genres and the borders of countries, and in doing so has blossomed into something that represents everything that goes into it without being too busy or over-crowded. I think this has worked so well, and I don’t pretend to know the intent of any artist, because they play with a sincerity and emotional investment that is not contrived, and they use music to touch on what all good music (in my opinion) should strive for; music not for the body or the mind, but for the spirit (paraphrasing Sun Ra there). That’s what this record does so well. It’s a freeing of the spirit without pretenses. It is disjointed, sometimes you are being taken somewhere, sometimes youre being stuck in place and bludgeoned with sound, but it’s always about passion and energy, focusing the purpose away from a narrative or linear path into pure feeling. That’s why this record works. It’s a mixture of energies, in terms of the players, their backgrounds, their instruments, their musical sensibilities, where they come from, the actual physical act of exerting energy to bring these ideas to life, and the result is beautiful.



-Mehitabel Grimalkin

Joelle Leandre & Jordan Bordellon (Relative Pitch Records, 2012)

Jazz and improv musicians have consistently been some of the most adventurous in terms of instrumentation/lineup choices in modern music. Due to this, the concept of the duo lineup has been an incredibly rich source of excellent explorations into the composed and the improvised. The reason, I believe, is it is the only circumstance where you have two musicians creating a dialog. It is not a single voice or a varied crowd, but two musicians directly communicating with each other, for better or worse. This was originally, in our preferred vein of jazz, a reason to get together a drummer and someone on reeds to just spend the course of an LP blowing or drumming their brains out. Exhibitions in technical ability and unrestrained free playing were the norm and were highly effective, but naturally, the musicians began to experiment and forge new musical conversations based on different paradigms.

Two of these artists are present on this CD. Joelle Leandre should be recognizable to most of us. She has been a preeminent double-bassist and composer working with some of the best musicians in modern classical, free improvisation, and jazz over the last couple of decades. She has also appeared on any number of duo albums, including the phenomenal A l’improviste with Barre Phillips. Jerome Bourdellon, whom I am admittedly less familiar with, has been an active flautist in the French free jazz scene and beyond, teaming up with legendary sax man Joe McPhee on several occasions.

So naturally flute (and other instruments) + a double-bass (played mostly bowed) is an interesting jazz duo instrumentation to say the least. This album seems to be shaded more toward free improv than jazz, but personally I found it to feel like an orchestra of two playing for an experimental opera. Both musicians show off how talented they are on several occasions. The playing really is top notch, as both musicians are having the kind of true dialogue you would hope for, not the type of scenario where one party is waiting for the other to stop talking so they can say something. There are a lot of highly complex changes and transitions as they work through and around each other’s distinctive voices.

Both artists, interestingly and playfully, mimic each other’s instruments in several passages, Leandre plucking quick and shrill notes to mimic the flute and Bourdellon drawing long and deep on his flute to create the kind of droning notes a bowed bass would. I think that is part of the appeal on this album. It’s playful and it’s never dreadfully serious. For being more of a free improv based performance, it does not smack of the kind of stone-faced approach that draws on serious themes and massive amounts of space between notes. This album is not entirely playful; there are some beautiful instances of slow moving, spaced, and heavily dense pieces. However, it retains a certain amount of levity, buoyed by the diverse nature of the playing, and a certain cinematic aspect that is hard to achieve with a duo, but mostly possible because of the part the strings play. You will feel the range of atmospheres and emotions shift across the course of the record, then all of a sudden find yourself in the middle of a hoe-down with each performer using vocals as well as their instrument to turn it into a rambunctious quartet piece for a moment. It’s a fun, enjoyable, and ultimately impressive set of pieces throughout.

-Mehitabel Grimalkin