Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Michael Bisio, Kirk Knuffke, Fred Lonberg-Holm, The Art Spirit

 

Michael Bisio is among today's very most important contrabassists in Avant Free Jazz. Similarly Kirk Knuffke is a cornetist of great stature, a master artist. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm may not automatically call up associations with the greatest living improvisers, yet he shows us in the company of Bisio and Knuffke to be in every way a potent third voice, a master of line and sound in himself. All that we hear in a recent trio recording of the three called The Art Spirit (ESP 5053).

The general breakdown on this eight segmented improvisational suite is a kind of natural grouping together of bass and cello against a very horn-like set of utterances from Knuffke's cornet. Three of the works are by Michael, the rest are collective compositional endeavors.  It makes for a cohesive and dynamic energy trajectory and a way of expression clearly with the roots in a jazz tradition, yet free and open too.

It is one of those sessions where everything clicks, where all three in tandem define a way to explore simultaneous lines and textures. 

The album is dedicated to modern artist Robert Henri (1865-1929).

Happily the aesthetic underpinnings are at the forefront. This is ART MUSIC, Jazz rooted excellence throughout. Do not miss it!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Dom Minasi, Hans Tammen, Harvey Valdes, Briggan Krauss, Eight Hands One Mind, In Memory of Bern Nix

 

The Dom Minasi Guitar Quartet jumps ahead on their tribute to Bern Nix, guitarist with Ornette Coleman 1975-87 and then a key force on the New York improvisational scene until his untimely death in 2017. The album is appropriately titled Eight Hands One Mind (UR Unseen Rain Records).

The project came about when Dom Minasi put together some six compositions for four guitars in a kind of New Music Modern zone that required all four players idiomatically to realize the written parts while also as called upon to improvise freely in ways that rhythmically-harmonically fit the overall compositional framework. The original guitar line-up was Dom plus Hans Tammen, Harvey Valdes and Bern Nix. Rehearsals went well and then a final rehearsal was scheduled before the studio recording was to take place.  Sadly Bern Nix passed away before that could happen. Eventually the quartet was reconstituted with Briggan Krauss in place of Nix. And the music was finalized and performed as a fitting tribute to the brilliant guitarist, and at the same time a memorable New Music-Improv offering that Bern no doubt appreciated in those rehearsal days.

Listening to this one is a real pleasure--the compositions are intricate, detailed, advanced and filled with Modern openings outward in ways that seamlessly join fully interactive four-way compositional counterplay to free improvisations that in turn serve to extend the music's province while also bringing out the collective musical personalities of the players.

It surely is a triumph of bridging between New Music and Avant Improv. The musical content makes initial sense and intrigues on first hearing, then proceeds to grow ever more rewarding with repeated listens. Dom's compositions are outstanding examples of the synchrony of possibilities between to two domains, a series of exploratory gems that end up showing us a musically astute route between the compositionally profound and the spontaneously vital.

Kudos to all concerned. This is music that resonates in part with how Bern Nix thought of his guitar role, something akin to what he was hearing-playing in his head then. It is an album anyone interested in advanced guitar should listen to carefully but also some great music for anyone who follows the "serious" music scene. Either should find this a joy to hear. Bravo. 


Monday, May 17, 2021

Fake Dudes, Magnet Animals, Todd Clauser, Eyal Maoz, etc.

 

As time passes we sometimes get a feeling of coming full circle, other times of absolute linearity. And of course these event-flow perceptions can be mixed up in some lived moments. So the event-ual feeling of linear history might hit us in the experience of historical time lately, while the art-music present can also feel like a re-thinking of music we have heard and appreciated? And so the very electric quartet of Magnet Animals on their recent album Fake Dudes (RareNoise RNR0126CD RNR126LP) nicely reminds me in some ways of later King Crimson, yet not at all in some obvious sense, and other times goes beyond that to some other, often enough unique territory. 

Yet there is an emphasis on in-time poetic recitation and sometimes musical vocals from Todd Clauser against a two guitar psychedelic haze of post-prog from Clauser and Eyal Maoz, a busy, creative and rock solid electric bass from Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, and the fire-y rock drumming of Jorge Servin.

Ten advanced, artfully arranged and musically contentful tracks await the hearer. There is a moment or two that has an affinity to Hendrix's "Third Stone" rhythmic envelopes, other times a backbeat laying out, and sometimes some other creative spontaneity. I found the second hearing assured me that this is substantial music to grow into and the listens after that only reaffirmed the feeling.  The poetics-lyrics are descriptive narrations, openly deep, both expressive-factual and at times surreal, but ever worth your time and attention.

We need music like this, that despite the tumult of the times insists on creating an electric art music that is somehow authentic and continues to open up advanced Rock horizons. Hurrah for that. Definitely recommended.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Gary Lucas, The Essential Gary Lucas

 

A major guitarist and musical artist of the caliber of Gary Lucas is one of those brilliant rareties one misses at one's own peril. He has created a body of recordings no serious student of the instrument should miss. But then of course his art can and does speak to those who do not necessarily play guitar, for those seeking pioneering and exciting sounds as a whole. 

There is so much that's worthwhile to hear in the Lucas discography that those new to it face a daunting task--to sort through the whole of it is very worthwhile but of course it takes some doing. Enter just now a two-CD best of compilation that gives you a succinct overview of where he's been, The Essential Gary Lucas (Rarelum  018-2 2-CD).

The challenge with somebody as diverse and inventive as Gary over the years is what to leave out more than what to include, because there are an awful lot of essential aspects. So there of course is the extraordinary guitar artistry--the original and rather amazing fingerpicking on acoustic or electric, there is the striking slide work, the execution of intricate patterns, the shredding electricity in a band context, or all combined in a solo digital delay sequence. And then one must not forget the rhythmically lively pattern of strums and picking articulations that compliment collaborations with particular vocalists, often enough involving a special niche of the world revisited and rethought. Then there is the song wielding songwriting especially with Gods and Monsters, the pathbreaking collaborations that stretch music boundaries, the beautiful work with Jeff Buckley, the adoption of classical gems to solo guitar, solo guitar music for movies,  the Captain Beefhartian adventures, and countless other features and subtleties one catches on lingering listens.

For those that appreciate the Bockley-Lucas song collaborations, there is the wonderful Dutch symphonic-guitar-vocal version of the Buckley-Lucas song "Story without Words." It's inclusion alone n enough to make the whole set worthwhile, but of course there is so much more, too much really to enumerate minute-by-minute in this space. 

If you are guitar happy and/or a fan of the advanced out there this makes for a valuable  single-source introduction or confirmation to the thoughtful artistry of the master. He has the sort of originality that a mere note or two from him serves to remind you that his sound(s) are one-of-a-kind.

Some of the additional rarities may help you decide to get this--The "Music for the 'Golem'" sequence live from 1989, "All Along the Watchtower" for Gary and vocalist Feifei Yang, the live guitar Beefheart "Flavor Bud Living." All that is great to have but then the whole set stands out after a while. A major living guitarist presents some hand-picked best. What more could you ask for? Get it.

You might well find after hearing this a bunch of times that you will want more Gary Lucas in your ears. That is partly the point, but even so this is one helluva listen! Grab it!



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Michael Gregory Jackson, Change, A Suite for Nelson Mandela

 


If there is a constant in the world today, it is uncertainty. Or that is one constant. And for me it is also the artistry of Michael Gregory Jackson, guitarist, vocalist, composer, bandleader. He one of the musicians I have listened to and appreciated for a long while. The constant is that I am likely to appreciate anything he does. 

So a while ago he released one that actually goes back to 1994 but is worth waiting for. It is Change, A Suite for Nelson Mandela (Golden Records, Bandcamp DL). It is a 20-minute work for Jackson on guitar and vocals, his sextet and three background vocalists. That includes Stephen Haynes on trumpet and Chuck Langford on saxophone.

One thing about Michael is his ready, exceptional combination of drive and lyricism. That is very true of this one--the melodic line is not something you'll forget. It's a wonder of a tribute to Mandela. And it is Fusionoid in nice ways and gives us drivingly tight ensemble, wonderful lead vocals and some excellent guitar. 

It is 20 very necessary minutes. You should check it out!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal

 

Susan Alcorn's pedal steel Avant Jazz excursions have been an important part of the US East Coast scene for a good while now.  Her Susan Alcorn Quintet release Pedernal (Relative Pitch Records) has a lot going for it and should help to bring her the recognition she so deserves.

The outfit is a very special kind of string band with drums. So there is of course Susan on pedal steel, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar, Mark Feldman on violin, Michael Formanek on acoustic bass and Ryan Sawyer on drums. 

They deftly, adroitly, brilliantly make palpable Susan's varied and memorable compositions, all five in their differing moods, some anthemic, some ruminative, all excellent platforms for Susan's subtle and very musicianly style and her co-band members and their discerning co-improvisations.

It is an album that hangs together remarkably well and brings us to different places that we might not have anticipated but are glad to have been, repeatedly as one listens multiple times.

So I happily recommend this one to you. Good music it surely is, so do not hesitate.


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Damon Smith, Whatever is Not Stone is Light, Solo Double Bass

 


The solo double bass album, like the solo drum album is perhaps somewhat esoteric compared with a more standard ensemble offering. There are not all that many either. A Dave Holland solo many years ago was something to appreciate, truly. And then a Michael Bisio one, I believe reviewed here, was a standout. One is better not trying to compare one with another if each says something well--for it is in the saying that we get the substance, not necessarily in fanning out every one ever made like a hand of cards.

So there is a new one, this time by Damon Smith. It has a title that is in itself something to think about, namely Whatever is Not Stone is Light (Balance Point Acoustics BPA-10). There are some 23 solo segments, which are titled based on Lysander Kemp translations of poems by Octavio Paz.

Damon Smith has deservedly garnered a reputation over the years as one of the foremost bass players in the "Free" or "Avant Jazz" camp. His own albums are well worth hearing and I have reviewed some of them on this page and also my Gapplegate Music Review page. He has been a focal point for the New Jazz and now this new solo album extends his voice and makes us happily appreciate his view of the instrument as a solo voice.

There are of course pizzicato passages, all of poetic interest, as are the bowed segments and the extended technique masteries--that all combine together for a very lively and satisfying aesthetic statement. It is music occupying the upper echelons, the highest psychic registers of upper-dom.

It is an album of uncompromising solo bass statements, a poetics of  contrabass utterance, a landmark of directed improvisation, of bass imagination. It is an album your should hear and have. Definitely recommended.