Friday, March 27, 2020

Wolfgang Muthspiel, Angular Blues, with Scott Colley, Brian Blade

I have had the pleasure of covering Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel on these pages (see June 30, 2014, December 13, 2013 articles). There is a new one and it builds on his legacy in the best ways. It's a trio date entitled Angular Blues (ECM 1655).

There is a beautiful three-way dialogue throughout that highlights a very simpatico rapport between Muthspiel, on acoustic for the first three tracks and electric for the rest, the always swinging and subtle Brian Blade on drums, and bassist Scott Colley turning in some of his best playing on disk.

For this, Muthspiel's fourth album as leader on ECM, there is a very appealing mix of well constructed originals and a couple of rather reassuringly fresh takes on old songbook items ("Everything I Love" and "I'll Remember April"), the latter of which are apparently the first standards Wolfgang has committed to wax as leader and fine blowing vehicles they are in the trio's hands.

With this freewheeling date that minds changes or motors through quasi-modal sequences with equal grace, Muthspiel gives notice that his consummate artistry excels with a ripening maturity rewarding to hear.

The three acoustic segments kick off the music with promise. "Wandering" gives Colley the lead melody and both he and Muthspiel get some open improv time that they do not let go by without good commentary and creative frisson. The title cut "Angular Blues" has full blooming abstraction in the head, some ravingly creative three-way interactions and a nice solo space for Blade. And so it goes, with promising openings followed up by well turned successions, all quite strong. Not the least is the final acoustic cut, the very lyrical anthem "Huttengriffe."

We must not neglect to mention the fully burning bop excellence of "Ride." It emits white hot flames and reassures us that the roots of the Jazz heritage continue to refresh and sustain with the patent originality and prowess of these three artists. Bravo!

The most electric and in its own way the most nicely freewheeling is "Kanon in 6/8" which allows Muthspiel to build elaborate multiple contrapuntal lines that Colley responds to beautifully well. The immediately following "Solo Kanon in 5/4" creates even more florid multi-Muthspiel voices that refresh with their extraordinary inventiveness. Both tracks are unforced and natural, super-musical and not the least gimmicky.

The concluding funk-laced "I'll Remember April" reminds us what Jarrett's Standards Trio might do with such things, only with Colley breaking into his own take solo-wise we end up heading toward a different destination. Wolfgang responds with a firmly swung solo of his own, a post-Abercrombie, post-Hall beauty of execution that sums it all up and then goes back to the funky pedal-pointed mantra that quite naturally gives Brian Blade space to comment on Wolfgag's lengthy exposition. It is a fitting end to a very worthwhile set.

After having lived with this music for a few weeks the album stands out to me as a testament to Muthspiel's full-blown artistry, his position among the foremost Jazz guitarists of the present-day. He has arrived, of that there is no doubt. Outstanding album this is. Do not miss it.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Giorgi Mikadze, Georgian Microjamz

One more review day, and another way to play? Yes, today an unexpected surprise--that is an album by Giorgi Mikadze entitled Georgian Microjamz (RareNoise Records RN0116[CD] RNR116LP). It is a most unusual combination of Georgian (Eastern Europe) Folk elements and well articulated Fusion-Progressive-Jazz-Rock utilizing microtunings.

What is further remarkable about it is that it really all works together to create a distinct whole.The band comprises Giorgi Mikadze on microtuned keyboards, compositions and arrangements, David Fiuczynski on fretless electric guitar, Panagiotis Andreou on fretless electric bass, Sean Wright on drums, and traditional oriented Georgian vocals by a male group Ensemble Basiani (on three tracks) and singer Nana Valishvili (on one track).

The Georgian vocal element draws upon the ages-old polyphonic primality that has great beauty and distinctiveness. That Mikadze manages to make excellent use of the style and fits it into the microtonal electric fusion complex he so nicely fashions with his band is rather amazing. And despite or in addition to the elaborate compositional element and the finely improvised Rock-ish Fuzoid the band adopts a set of microtonal tunings that hang together organically. They make sense once one gets used to them.

The band is excellent with Berklee College of Music's David Fiuczynski taking full advantage of the microtonal possibilities of his fretless guitar for a fused exuberance that Giorgi seconds fluidly well on his keys. Panagiotis does a fine job with rock-solid anchorage that his fretless bass retunes in synch microtonally with the others. Drummer Wright has a busy and driving heat that pushes the music forward with musical intelligence and fire.

The compositions make lively and memorable musical discourse out of the microtones and set up the improvisations with a weighty context.

Georgian Microjamz has it all--innovative ways, true artistry, compositional clout and a convincing amalgamation of styles into an exceptional whole. Do not miss this one if you are open to the new. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, Nels Cline, Music from the Early 21st Century

What pristine electric sounds were unfolding and evolving on the advanced Psychedelic Rock scene in the later '60s are still a touchstone, a foundation for the more futuristic "Progressive" electric music happening even today, most specifically in the Jazz-Rock nexus that keeps striving forward undaunted despite a world that sometimes seems to have gone otherwise astray.

If you need proof of that or even if not, even if you do not care what the flavor of the month might be, there is a recent release of value and significance. It is called (prophetically or otherwise) Music from the Early 21st Century (RareNoise Records  RNR0115[CD]. RNR115LP[Vinyl]).

The trio makes plenty of sense in terms of the backgrounds and interests of each player. The album consists of ten live improvisational Neo-Psychedelic excursions as recorded in four clubs in New York and Pennsylvania last spring. The instrumentation is Jamie Saft on Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes and Mini-Moog, Nels Cline on electric guitar and effects, and Bobby Previte on drums.

The first thing I noticed in the first listen was how much Jamie Saft's Hammond sound and note choice had deep roots in the classic organ vibe of bands like Deep Purple, early Soft Machine and the Nice. The rootedness is heard more in essence than in imitation, for this entire album takes those roots and does something original, freewheeling, and advanced in terms of a collective improvisationality,

There are a wealth of inspired three-way inventions that imply a high level of technique (especially from Nels Cline) without being a chops showcase per se. And that is a sign of a mutual maturity of course, of musical, group inventional values being foremost as they should be. At the same time there is a high level of electricity--sustain, feedback, signal synthesis, tunnels and walls of sound. And of course that is only right, since this is a stylistic complex that traditionally thrives on signal transformations--and the trio extends that aesthetic in ways both tasteful and gutsy.

The levels attained by this trio are consistently very high. It is not easy to take up this style nowadays and carve original and valid niches into some futuristic opening but that is just what Previte, Saft and Cline do. There are a few select riffs and they move the music ahead but the exceptional level of freely collective invention is what sets this one apart as unusually inspired.

Anyone who looks for new ways to be both electric and free, you will no doubt be glad to savor this one. An essential. Perhaps indeed a future classic.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Marc Edwards, Guillaume Gargaud, Black Hole Universe

Drummer Marc Edwards and electric guitarist Guillaume Gargaud team up for a highly energized series of incandescent duets via the album Black Hole Universe (Atypeek Music download).

Words are not entirely sufficient to describe the intensity of this session. Both Marc and Guillaume make full use of their seemingly near limitless troves of rapid-fire expressions to create some remarkable sounds. Guillaume has a highly electric Speed Metal exhaustiveness to his performances, especially the opening 20-minute salvo. Marc counters with the sort of superdynamic all-over busy free bombardment that rivals and even at times surpasses the recorded dynamos of relentless high-intensity flights with his eloquent Slipstream Time Travel outfit. This is edge-cutting sharp!

The music is best described as Free Avant Metal I suppose you could say. It is some of the best such I have ever heard and as a duet does not let up at any point, though each segment concentrates on a particular spectrum of feels without loss of built-in high kinetic density. Edwards and Gargaud hit record heights and we can only hang on as we hear it!

If you wonder where Free Jazz and Psychedelic Metal might join, here's an excellent example. Kudos! Devastatingly heavy.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Love Unfold the Sun, Live at Duel

Love Unfold the Sun is an offshot of guitarist-oudist Mustafa Stefan Dill's Trio in the form of a quartet, Dill plus Dan Pearlman on cornet, Dave Wayne on drums, all from the original 2003-4 incarnation, plus Ross Hamlin on bass. Mustafa listened to some old live tapes of the band and felt strongly that it should come together again. Dan and Dave agreed and Ross joined in,. The result is a very evocative set of two live dates in Santa Fe in November and December of 2018. Live at Duel (Norumba Records NJR 1903) gives us an extended and freewheeling group of six improvisatory numbers that combine nicely the kind of post-Milesian electricity of the Davis '70s bands with a Mid-Eastern sensibility and plenty of freedom.

Dill has his own way around the guitar and it has been influenced quite naturally by his own oud work. Everybody gets with it here. It is a good go of things, I would say!

You can check it out further by going to

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Dom Minasi, Remembering Cecil, Solo Guitar Improvisations

If you've never tried (assuming you play guitar) you may not realize how difficult, even counter-intuitive it can be to play "completely free" on the guitar. Part of it is percussiveness, gravity, the way that hands situate to the keyboard versus a fretboard-and-finger action that is not a first reaction-inclination if you are say three years old and somehow get next to a guitar. And in some ways it explains why we might find more absolutely freestyle pianists than guitarists? A child may sit down to a piano and wang away at it without a whole lot of thought. Because it is a percussing. Plucking is less obvious. On a guitar really you must already know how to play it pretty well or very well before you can hope to address a potentially valid "free" and completely open improvisation.

That does not mean an excellent free improvisation on the piano is something easy. It is not at all easy. If we lost a titan of the free improv piano around a year ago, that is the giant Cecil Taylor, we are in many ways still reeling from the loss, for he was one-of-a-kind, not someone you replace so much as keep in memory and pose as a model for such things regardless of the instrument. He was brilliant and so far beyond a merely intuitive stance as to be in the same select league as all exceptionally great players of instruments in human history.

Given all that guitarist Dom Minasi, someone readers of this column I hope know of and appreciate as one of the living lights of the guitar today, aimed recently to pay tribute to the master free improviser pianist in a full set of solo electric guitar entitled Remembering Cecil (Unseen Rain UR9912).

The album is the ultimate challenge of artistry at its most exposed. Just Dom, his guitar and the recording apparatus. He gives us four free improvs that as Dom notes in the liners, are a culmination of his 30 years of playing freely and so too of appreciating the music of Cecil Taylor.

What most intrigues me in listening long and carefully to Dom is the reality that he sounds like no other guitarist when he plays, both in a more straight-ahead mode as well as freely, and that he is a very original free guitarist with a style all his own. As he mentions in the liners this is not "atonal" music but it is not pre-planned nor is it in any set time frame. It cascades. It tumbles. It makes use of all the guitar technique, the considerable guitar technique and schooling Dom has gained and maintained over a lifetime of playing. The technique Dom has accumulated is put to use in a very personal way, in other words, and that is what makes his identity strong and thoroughgoing.

The improvs perforce do not sound at first blush identifiably like Taylor's playing, but that in many ways is because the guitar has its own challenges and playing free on the instrument means a different set of possibilities. And so there is a underlying closeness between the two players in intent, but not in the ultimate sound.

In the end as a free guitarist he sounds completely like himself--not like Derek Bailey, not like Sonny Sharrock, not Elliot Sharp. Like Dom Minasi. In the course of this album you hear the artist just as he was recording this in real time, a kind of self-portrait that is also necessarily a kind of portrait of Cecil Taylor.

And in the process we find on close listening one of the gem examples of free guitar art. And so there you go.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Michael Bisio, Kirk Knuffke, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Requiem for a New York Slice

Truism: the improvisational world in its finest flower these days is a bit underground compared to something like Duke Ellington or Count Basie in the '40s. It is true in spite of some foolish talk out there that has nothing to do with the value and merit of the music itself, any more than an illusion-example that you might hit on that shows how ridiculous the idea is: if you claimed that Johann Sebastian Bach could not be very good since he did not make enough money or reach all that many people in his lifetime. The economy of the arts changes and that in the end has nothing to do with the quality of the music at any point.

So the music I talk about today will no doubt not be on anyone's best-selling music lists. I mean the double-platinum loot and all that stuff. And so what? Fact is the trio of Michael Bisio on acoustic bass, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello is one of the high points of advanced free improvisation today to my mind, at least on the latest CD at hand, Requiem for a New York Slice (Iluso IRCD17).

Why do I say this? Playing freely is not just a matter of everything is great and "go man, go!" People singly and in units invent worthwhile things or they do not, or of course possibly something in between. In this case we have five improvisations that are excellent. It is a matter of the whole and the parts of course, and not any of either is necessarily equal to another. Here the level is high, in all senses.

Yes, Count on it. Here the level of invention is high throughout. The bowing-plucking possibilities of Bisio's contrabass and Lonberg-Holm's cello set up a textural matrix that contrasts very nicely with Knuffke's cornet.

All three are major players, it perhaps need not be said, and together they are something special. Each are at the top of my achievement lists (in my head) for their respective instruments today. And this album is one of the best examples of their art. So if such things interest you I suggest you give this music your full attention. Buy it. Hear it. Be cool. Make friends! I kid you not. This one hits on all cylinders and never lets up. It is supremely inventive trio music. So listen!