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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…

MMM Quartet - Oakland/Lisboa (RogueArt 2015)

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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 imp…

Szilard Mezei - Feher Virag - 2016

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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 procliv…

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

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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 Norweg…

Konstrukt - Live At Tarcento Jazz (Holidays, 2015)

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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…