10 SchlippenbachWarsaw Concert
Schlippenbach Trio
Intakt Records CD 275 (intaktrec.ch)

As pianist, composer and bandleader, Alexander von Schlippenbach is a major figure in European free jazz, numbering among his achievements the founding of Globe Unity Orchestra, a pan-national improvising big band in 1966, and the recording of Monk’s Casino in 2005, in which he performed all of Thelonious Monk’s known compositions. Perhaps above all, though, he’s the leader of Schlippenbach Trio with saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lovens, a group that has been performing regularly since 1970, releasing some 20 LPs and CDs without any personnel change beyond the occasional addition of a bassist.

Schlippenbach still embraces the term “free jazz,” and there’s little reason to fuss the delineation. This largely improvised music belongs undeniably to the category: the group moves fluidly through patterns of harmonic agreement and it swings mightily. The credits acknowledge “briefly played themes,” one by Schlippenbach and two by Eric Dolphy. When Schlippenbach launches an unaccompanied solo in the midst of the 52-minute track called Warsaw Concert, it’s rooted in the twin sources of blues and bop, the former a specific melodic content, the latter a characteristically jagged rhythmic exploration that becomes only more specific when Lovens joins in.

The trio has a unique sense of momentum: a sparkling conversation among old friends includes some fine turns of inspired individual rhetoric – Parker can spin a tale while wandering through mazes of cycling harmonics – but Lovens’ dizzying cymbals are there to highlight the finish. It’s particularly fine when the three seem bent on an idyllic ballad, only to have the collective pulse race at the promise of adventure.

11 Keith Jarrett

A Multitude of Angels
Keith Jarrett
ECM 2500-03


The ECM label is continuing to release high quality previously unissued live performances from master musician Keith Jarrett’s catalogue. Recent archival concert releases include Sleeper, Bregenz and Hamburg 1972 – all issued over the last few years. The latest in this series is A Multitude of Angels, a four-CD set encompassing consecutive concerts from his 1996 European tour. This was the final time that Jarrett would perform the extended solo improvisations – up to 45 minutes in length without a break – for which he had become famous. Following a several-year performing hiatus, Jarrett returned to the concert stage with a new approach and format that would instead feature shorter solo vignettes. As he would never perform his extended solos again, A Multitude of Angels gives us a glimpse into this fruitful period of his last documented lengthy solo improvisations.

Also, as all of these concerts were recorded within one week, the listener gets a rare view of Jarrett’s creative process on a nightly basis as he performs concerts in Modena, Ferrara, Torino and Genova. Modena Part 1 begins with a beautiful, reflective ballad structure through shifting tonal centres. One gets the sense of the artist finding his way over a long, winding path, as he takes his time exploring a continuous thematic arc. Midway through, Jarrett segues into one of his trademark pedal point vamps as he improvises over a funky gospel left hand figure. The pianist then subtly shifts into a stunning contrapuntal section of intersecting right and left hand lines, until he eventually returns full circle to a pristine ballad.

Other highlights of the set include Ferrara Part 1, in which the pianist moves from a powerful chant-like section into musical territory that is infused with rhythmic influences from central Asia and Africa. The crown jewel of the set, though, is the Genova concert. The concluding tremolo-based section of Part 1 and the hymn-like opening of Part 2 may be some of the most sublime music he has ever created. All told, A Multitude of Angels is a major masterpiece: a testament to the transformative power of music.

12 DroughtDrought
Hübsch; Martel; Zoubek
Tour de Bras TDB 9017 CD

Like a carefully coordinated multi-nation NATO exercise, but anything but bellicose, the distinctive soundscape that is Drought is the result of a longtime alliance among tubist Carl Ludwig Hübsch and prepared piano stylist Phillip Zoubek, both from Köln, and Montreal-based Pierre-Yves Martel, who improvises on the soprano viola da gamba. Dating from the 15th century and with both viola and cello tone attributes, that instrument, played in tandem with the others exposes a rugged postmodern concept on the seven selections here, which the trio presented last year in Toronto.

With the sophistication of undercover agents adopting new identities, each player functions in unexpected ways. Zoubek spends most of his time plucking and stopping the piano’s internal string set plus deadening the key action to produce a clavichord-like exposition with marimba-like reverberations. On pieces such as Darth, Martel meets the contrapuntal piano challenge with a series of staccato buzzes. Rounding the duo’s abrasive thrusts into connectivity, Hübsch produces a breathy continuum so fluid and watery that it appears distant and segmented, nothing like the brass beast’s usual rhino-like snores.

As the nearly opaque narratives unroll, individual contributions are still clearly heard. On Guts, for instance, the interruptions resemble – or are – Ping-Pong balls bouncing on inner piano strings. Later the unusually delicate harmonies created from juddering brass reverb and high-pitched tremolo strokes from Martel, is a highlight of Civilisation. Like a computer manufacturer able to reproduce any desktop function on a handheld device, the 15 1/2 minutes of Conditions miniaturizes themes in solo, duo or trio forms. Comparison of string vibrations from Martel and Zoubek expose subtle differences; while downward whistling tones are expressed individually by Hübsch’s measured breaths and Martel’s pinched strings. Finally the swelling cacophony of twitters, plucks, twangs and judders settles into a reductionist coda where tick-tock piano chords are perfectly segmented by abrasive metal scratches from the outside of Hübsch’s horn.

Not as dry as titled, there’s also no musical drought when it comes to dynamic interaction on this session.

13 BloodA Boat Upon Its Blood
Jason Sharp
Constellation Records CST 1119 (cstrecords.com)

No gimmick, A Boat Upon Its Blood could be termed a medical as well as a musical advance, since Montreal-based bass saxophonist Jason Sharp uses amplified heartbeats and breaths to trigger a wave-form pulse. Like the plasma dripping out of the blood bag during a procedure, this signal-processed continuum is incorporated with synthesizer amplifications alongside acoustic textures from Sharp, violinist Joshua Zubot and pedal steel guitarist Joe Grass, for an operation that’s fascinating as well as worthwhile. Swirling, irregular strings plus the sound of the healthy human heart’s orderly progression reach a congruent crescendo on Pt.2 of the title tune, later climaxing on A Boat Upon Its Blood Pt.3 as invasive reed gusts bring distinctive balm to suture any remaining gashes left by the tonal surgery.

Unconventional, but cohered harmonies characterize all the CD’s tunes, inspired by Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley’s collection The Heart, with concentrated motor-driven timbres, sandpaper-like rubs and screaming reed explosions creating constant surprises, but ones which reflect the unique half-antiseptic and half-amorous program. These implicit tonal contradictions tersely blend with a lessening of polyphonic stresses on the concluding Still I Sit, With You Inside Me Pt.2, as string plucks and thumps are as prominent as undulations on a heart monitor. Before that, on Still I Sit, with You Inside Me Pt.1, textures as distinct as infant-yelping resembling saxophone squawks and concentrated pipe organ-like-processed reverberations are stacked as solidly as medical equipment in a supply cupboard. Even the occasional reed growl or drum machine pressure doesn’t detract from the therapeutic nature of the performance.

A New Way of Hearing Notated Music

Like labels being taken off beverage bottles for blind taste tests, the designations of what characterizes distinct musical genres has become increasingly fluid over the past few years. This is most evident when it comes to Western improvised and notated music. With established so-called classical music ensembles becoming increasingly hidebound and conservative, it’s new music companies that showcase composers’ new works, many of which feature improvisation. In a mirror image of this, jazz musicians create novel programs not only tweaking classical composed material, but also premiering contemporary composers’ scores.

01 MassArguably the most audacious admixture occurs on Mass (RareNoiseRecords RNR CD 072 rarenoiserecords.com), a reimagining of Missa Sancti Jacobi, a nine-part choral work by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474). As if he’s draping cathedral walls with an embroidered tapestry whose intricate designs reflect secular as well as sacred concerns, Niagara Falls, NY-born percussionist Bobby Previte aggrandizes the Dufay work by having it performed by a combo of himself, electric bassist Reed Mathis, electric guitarists Don McGreevy, Mike Gamble, Jamie Saft, with Marco Benevento on pipe and electric organs, and most prominently, guitarist Stephen O’Malley of drone rock band Sunn O))). Benevento’s nave-shaking grandiloquence appears equally influenced by resonant organ compositions by Olivier Messiaen and the prog rock blowouts of Rick Wakeman. Ecclesiastical connections are maintained not only by Messiaen-like pipe-organ tropes, but also by Latin vocalizing from the 11-member Rose Ensemble. The sonic brocade is most evident on those tracks where Dufay’s choral sections are harmonized with instrumental breaks that could have migrated from a death metal session. On Gloria for instance, vocal polyharmonies move upwards alongside organ glissandi and fuzzy guitar riffs. Previte’s sinewy percussion and Mathis’ jazz-like bass line create a backdrop on which the beauty of stacked and intertwined male and female voices can be appreciated on Credo. This is followed by a sequence that contrasts triple vocal hocketing and pseudo-psychedelic guitar riffs. In a similar fashion, vocal chanting snakes around augmented and diminished riffs from the rhythm section on Alleluia. Benevento’s beat-club variants give way to accompanying the delicate vocals on Agnus Dei. The guitars absent on that track move to the centre on the concluding Communion. A showpiece for O’Malley, the track highlights as many shaking effects, whistling distortions and dial twisting that could be found in an electric guitar demonstration, yet polyphonically matches this swaggering display with liturgical infusions from the ensemble. Before the piece climaxes with guitar riffs and jackhammer percussion, Benevento’s incessant tremolo, which sounds as if numerous church organs are quivering in unison, is swept away by harmonized vocal and instrumental timbres. A mixture of profound and profane, Mass is awe-inspiring in both its original and contemporary meanings.

02 CordameCompositionally moving forward a few centuries is Montreal’s six-piece Cordâme, whose interpretation of 17 Variations (Malasartes MAM 022 malasartes.org) by French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) adds free-floating swing to these animated miniatures. Composer/arranger Jean Félix Mailloux does so with agile shadings for his own double bass, Mark Nelson’s percussion and Guillaume Martineau’s piano, with themes largely interpreted by Sheila Hannigan’s cello, Éveline Grégoire-Rousseau’s harp and Marie Neige Lavigne’s violin. Like experimental chemists testing new substances Mailloux encourages the musicians to intermix their experiences. On a track such as Danses de travers for instance, Martineau moves from prosaic note reading to healthy swing, backed by drum pops; while four sets of healthy string slaps make Un morceau en forme de Poire peppier than what Satie envisioned. Avant-dernières Pensées: III Méditation et Variations picks up on the lighthearted run-through of II Aubade that precedes it, but the churn comes from Neige Lavigne’s fiddle and slippery piano comping. Novel tinctures beyond Satie’s ken are suggested as well. Shades of jazz piano phrasing and almost rock-styled drumming are audible on Autour de Gnossienne III; while like the additional detailing added to the frame of an Impressionistic canvas, the centre section of Hannigan outlining the theme in careful fashion is preceded by call-and-response from the other string players and followed by rooted harmonies from piano, bass and drums. The sextet brings out the unblemished beauty plus looming unease that characterizes Les cloches du Grand Maître with the skill of conservatory graduates, but pizzicato motion enlivens the pieces so that it climaxes with percussive plucks and thumps. More characteristically Cordâme confirms its position as a group of more than mere interpreters on Airs à faire fuir. As if the players are superimposing a transparent diagram of new nations on top of the composer’s Edwardian-era map, Grégoire-Rousseau’s bell-like reverb and tick-tock drum beats provide a groove upon which Neige Lavigne sluices out passages that would be equally acceptable in a Balkan ditty or a Satie composition.

03 Three PlacesA near contemporary of Satie, the work of Charles Ives (1874-1954) was as unconditionally Yankee as the other’s was Parisian. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer and his Quintet on Prehistoric Jazz Vol. 3 (Creative Nation Music CNM 028 erichofbauer.com) move one of the composer’s iconic works, Three Places in New England, into the improvisational idiom. Like actors performing Shakespeare in modern dress, what Hofbauer and his associates – trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, clarinetist Todd Brunel, cellist Junko Fujiwara and percussionist Curt Newton – do revamps the material. The strategy evolves contrapuntally throughout, with the jazz forays flowing more freely than the somewhat rigid composed material. This works most obviously on Putnam’s Camp, Redding Connecticut, where the march-like gait played by bass clarinet and trumpet is reminiscent of 19th-century brass bands. As Sabatini remains Maynard Ferguson-like orotund in his obbligato, Brunel and Hofbauer float other airs like secular musicians on a nearby bandshell. Crunching guitar thumps and a walking bass line (from Fujiwara’s cello) combine for the final section, which not only swings but refers back to Ives’ original. Similar alchemy is exhibited on the brief The Houseatonic at Stockbridge. While the guitar parts are concentrated and undoubtedly 21st century in execution, the leisurely themes from cello and clarinet affirm the antebellum songs that vibrate alongside the modernist interpretations from the CD’s beginning. Imagine a gentle stream flowing past a plantation porch in 1857. But the plucking on that veranda is from a modern jazz guitarist.

04 Apartment HouseModernism is taken for granted on Fonogramatika (Lithuanian Classics CD 089) as the five members of the German-British Apartment House ensemble interpret seven compositions by Lithuanian composer Antanas Rekašius (1928-2003). The players are conversant with both notated and improvised music, with reedist Frank Gratkowski, a recognized jazzer as well. Like an illusionist intent on showing his range, Gratkowski brings a sophisticated improvised temperament to the tracks on which he’s featured along with cellist Anton Lukoszevieze and percussionist Simon Limbrick. Gratkowski invests the five-part Phonogram with unexpected snorts, split tones and swizzles, applying Rudy Wiedoeft-like showiness to insets ranging from menacing chalumeau to visceral coloratura tones. Two sections may be labelled Grotesque but have confident rapport with the main theme. Topping low-frequency string swerves and hard drumming as if additional seasoning is being added to a recipe, Gratkowski’s dribbling alto saxophone and robust flute quavers make the three-part Musica dolente e con brio the more overtly jazzy. Atonal bass clarinet snarls contrast enough with stolid drum beats on the five-part Epitaph to encourage ratcheting pizzicato cracks from Lukoszevieze. The cellist’s spiccato multiphonics bring needed airiness and a telephone-wire-like buzzing to Fluorescences the CD’s longest track. Otherwise consecrated to Kerry Yong’s synthesizer, pushed to its limits with hocketing replicating pipe-organ fluctuations, Lukoszevieze’s later string slaps prevent the keyboardist from lapsing into silent-movie-house excess. Regrettably reminiscent of faux ragtime, though composed in 1970, Philip Thomas’ out-of-order reading of Rekašius’ seven Atonic fragments for solo piano are at best performed with staccato high frequency, but at worse resemble early 20th-century composers’ parlour music-like appropriation of American syncopation.

05 Sound of HorseThe performance most contiguous to improvised music on Sound of Horse (HUBRO CD 2582 hubromusic.com), the Norwegian asamisimasa ensemble’s interpretation of five pieces by British composer Laurence Crane (b.1961) occurs on the seven-part title track. Like a radio broadcast leaking into another program, the unexpected jump cuts when Anders Førisdal’s gritty electric guitar distortion disrupts the leisurely theme expressed by clarinetist Kristine Tjøgersen and cellist Tanja Orning, recall several of John Zorn’s militant compositions. Aggressive as well are Ellen Ugelvik’s expanding organ glissandi which introduce Riis, before settling into a comforting narrative in tandem with the cellist and clarinetist. The remainder of the material is precise and clean, though lacking in anything resembling syncopation or swing. Yet the composer and the ensemble members – filled out by percussionist Håkon Mørch Stene and soprano Ditte Marie Bræin – are young enough to have grown up when improvisational techniques were as much part of the musical gestalt as the reductionist piano lines and aleatory string buzzing reflected here. As notated as the material may be, the group’s dexterity confirms that these tracks and the other CDs would have been composed and played markedly different years earlier.

01 MacMurchyJohn MacMurchy’s Art of Breath Volume One
John MacMurchy
Independent (johnmacmurchy.com)

Toronto woodwind stalwart John MacMurchy has produced a sonically refreshing album that manages to combine sophistication and accessibility across a variety of musical genres. The eight original compositions contained in Art of Breath flow together in a natural way, a testament to MacMurchy’s writing and arranging skills. The somewhat unusual instrumentation, a septet augmented by vocals and a string quartet, makes for a broad colour palette. The front line of MacMurchy’s tenor saxophone, clarinet and harmonica, Bruce Cassidy’s trumpet, flugelhorn and EVI (electronic valve instrument) and Dan Ionescu’s guitar provide a large ensemble sound with a few twists. Alan Hetherington’s highly informed percussion work adds a nice touch of groove and authenticity to the tracks.

Expat Cafe introduces most of the band with Ionescu’s slightly overdriven guitar tone and soaring approach giving way to pianist Mark Kieswetter’s patiently constructed and harmonically lush solo. MacMurchy and Cassidy build intensity with spirited trading on tenor and EVI. Working Title Blues evokes Art Blakey in its soul jazz vibe and bop-oriented improvisation. Drummer Daniel Barnes and bassist Ross McIntyre swing hard and make concise solo contributions.

Vocalist Whitney Ross-Barris is also the lyricist of Now You’ve Gone Away. Her understated style and economy of phrasing lend themselves perfectly to the Latin-tinged ballad, as does the atmospheric string quartet arrangement and MacMurchy’s soulful harmonica. Yvette Tollar brings her rich voice and poignant delivery to Dandelion Wine, MacMurchy’s hauntingly beautiful elegy to a departed friend.

11 MicroCD002Micro and More Exercises
Sergio Armaroli Trio with Giancarlo Schiaffini
Dodicilune Dischi Ed 360 (dodicilune.it)

Like friends who should be made for one another but avoid hooking up, improvised and new music have grown closer recently but rarely mesh. Yet the Italian stylists here show how handily this could be done. Percussionist Sergio Armaroli and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini consistently move between those genres, and assisted by bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri put their stamp on 19 Microexercises composed by Christian Wolff, and six extended pieces by Schiaffini. Member of the New York School, Wolff also had improv experience working with the AMM band. Commissioned to write pieces with fewer than 100 notes, Wolff’s bagatelles leave open instrumentation, ensemble size, playing order, transposition and dynamics. Schiaffini’s compositions reflect his background as a pioneer free music player and collaborator with composers Scelsi, Nono and Cage.

Armaroli and the trombonist are the main soloists, with many of the mini-tunes vibrating with contrapuntal contrast between gutty brass lowing and feather-light vibraphone resonations. Like a group painting project, the performance of many Wolff miniatures, such as Microexercise 8, becomes more dramatic when unbroken vibraphone splashes are paired with spiccato string slices. Analogously positioned drum rolls and pops add gravitas to tunes such as Microexercise 15 that, when coupled with blurry trombone blats, resemble a child of show tunes and nursery rhymes. Armaroli’s skill with reductionist marimba chiming elsewhere is augmented Janus-like on Microexercise 20, 21 and 22 where Wolff’s pieces open up so that they could come from an imaginary Milt Jackson-Al Grey session. Replete with walking bass line and drum smacks, Schiaffini romps through the changes and Armaroli displays four-mallet ingenuity.

Bringing jazz feeling to Wolff’s miniatures is balanced by adding notated precision to Schiaffini’s tunes. Testa’s woody bowing and Stranieri’s processional drum breaks keep the bottom balanced, while Armaroli’s percussion collections interpolate polyrhythms plus nuanced tones onto the tracks. Throughout, the trombonist quotes snatches of Italian pop songs and Baroque fanfares with abandon. Most spectacular is Rib, where Schiaffini’s output could come from two different ’bone players: one smooth and unaccented, the other raucous and gutbucket. Structure is never neglected though, as this performance eventually relaxes into sparse new music reflections with spaciousness as prominent as rhythm. Musical masters, this quartet scores as musical matchmakers as well.

Ken Waxman

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