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Derek Bailey & Company: Klinker [2 CDs] (Confront)

Derek Bailey's Company in recordings from 2000 at The Klinker in London, with four performers--Bailey on guitar, Simon H. Fell on double bass, Mark Wastell on violincello, and Will Gaines tap dancing--the concert presenting various permutations of these musicians improvising, with narrations from Bailey, Fell, Wastell and Gaines punctuating the recordings. ... Click to View

Phil Maguire / James L. Malone: Working Title (Confront)

Phil Maguire (Verz label) exchanges abstract electronics from a variety of lo-fi devices with glitch and aberrant guitarist James L. Malone, a London improviser who has worked with Eddie Prevost, Phil Durrant, Steve Beresford and Adam Bohman, as the two trade strange sonic disruptions, avoiding pandemonium, instead using noise in pointed discourse. ... Click to View

Phil Minton / Roger Turner: Scraps Of Heard (Confront)

London Free Improv Scene long-standing members, vocalist Phil Minton and drummer/percussionist Roger Turner's first album together, "Ammo", was released in 1984; the two have continued to record together, and this live recording from 2016 in Hanover, Germany shows the two continuing to create distinctly bizarre and wonderfully personal dialog unlike any other. ... Click to View

Golden Oriole: Golden Oriole (BeCoq)

Rough and ready, angular instrumental rock from this Stavanger, Norway-based instrumental duo of Kristoffer Riis on guitar and Thore Warland on drums, two parts of the power-trio Staer, here creating a massive dose of momentum as they push heavy rhythmic riffs with odd tonality and a great sheen of prickly effect layers, in a compelling and muscular album. ... Click to View

Loubatiere / Warnecke: Couleurs Chimeriques (BeCoq)

An album of rich aural environments contrasted with clamorous action and disintegrating sound from the duo of French percussionist Rodolphe Loubatiere performing on snare drum and Berlin-based sound sculptor Pierce Warnecke, their second album as a duo presenting a sophisticated and diverse set of compositions that both entrance and disrupt their listeners. ... Click to View

IKB: Apteryx Mantelli (Creative Sources)

IKB continue their series of albums graced with taxonomic latin names for animals, here with the North Island brown kiwi bird, as the string- and wind-heavy electroacoustic ensemble led by violist Ernesto Rodrigues present this extended improvisation of subtle motion and understated complexity live at O'Culto da Ajuda, in Lisbon, Portugal in 2017. ... Click to View

Finn Loxbo / Erik Blennow Calalv : Snow Country (Creative Sources)

A duo between Swedish guitarist Finn Loxbo (Fire! Orchestra) and bass clarinet Erik Blennow Calalv, in a low-key, moody and tranquil album of improvisations with titles implying their unhurried approach to their dialog--"Clouds", "Moving, Dancing", and "Ryoanji"-- making a beautiful album of nearly ambient but decidedly determined music. ... Click to View

Kang Hwan Tae : Live at Cafe Amores (NoBusiness)

Korean free saxophonist Kang Tae Hwan recorded this album of sincere and satisfying solo improvisations in 1995 at Cafe Amores, in Hofu, Yamaguchi, Japan, two decades after forming his first free jazz trio of experimental improvisations, demonstrating powerful technical skills and a unique voice on the sax; a long-overdue distillation of his music. ... Click to View

Kang Hwan Tae: Live at Cafe Amores [VINYL] (NoBusiness)

Korean free saxophonist Kang Tae Hwan recorded this album of sincere and satisfying solo improvisations in 1995 at Cafe Amores, in Hofu, Yamaguchi, Japan, two decades after forming his first free jazz trio of experimental improvisations, demonstrating powerful technical skills and a unique voice on the sax; a long-overdue distillation of his music. ... Click to View

Jeph Jerman : The Bray Harp (White Centipede Noise)

Aural explorer Jeph Jerman reworks 20 years of source material into this large work of recurring sound, obscuring sources in a rugged mill that turns its sonic grist into a mesmerizing flow of ringing tones and resolute grit, constructed from Jerman's own recordings and tapes from Eric La Casa and Oskar Burmmel, and metal & wood from Ben Brucato. ... Click to View

Stephen O'Malley / Anthony Pateras: Reve Noir (Immediata)

Pianist Anthony Pateras and guitarist Stephen O'Malley (Sunn O))) performed a concert in 2011 at Instants Chavires in 2011, which they took into the studio to deconstruct and recompose on 1/4 inch tape, creating a compelling landscape of fractured musique concrete, introspective meditations, electro-acoustic textures and heavy guitar; includes a 20 page interview with O'Malley. ... Click to View

Rohan Drape / Anthony Pateras: Ellesmere (Immediata)

A founder of the Slave Pianos collective and co-organizer of the Inland Concert Series, Australian computer and synth artist Rohan Drap joins keyboardist Anthony Pateras for an extended exploration of interlocking vintage electric organs, allowing their tones and timbres to interact in microtonal richness as they create tonal environments and gradually unfolding progressions. ... Click to View

Max Eastley / Steve Beresford / Paul Burwell / David Toop: Whirled Music [VINYL] (Black Truffle)

Remastering a singular album of joyfully disruptive free improv recorded in England in 1979 at Ikon Gallery from the quartet of Max Eastley, Steve Beresford, Paul Burwell, and David Toop, their goal: to create music from instruments and objects that would be whirled to produce sound, performed behind a net and played with masks to protect the performers and audience. ... Click to View

Jean-Luc Guionnet / Daichi Yoshikawa: Intervivos [VINYL] (Empty Editions)

Recording at Empty Gallery in Hong Kong furing a week residency, the duo Jean-Luc Guionnet (Ames Room) on saxophone and Daichi Yoshikawa (Eddie Prevost) using self-developed feedback of speakers, contact microphones & found objects, create intense yet constrained improvisations of impressive control, technique and exotic soundscape. ... Click to View

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk)

Focusing on sound, warmth and exploration, pianist Matthew Shipp leads his quartet with saxophonist and clarinetist Mat Walerian, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey through 10 tracks that explore a diverse set of moods and styles, allowing each player space for expressive solo space, while never leaving the jazz and blues behind in this beautifully paced album. ... Click to View

Matthew Shipp: Zer0 aka Zero [2 CDs] (ESP-Disk)

New York pianist Shipp extends his infrequent solo career with this set of eleven solid studio recordings, taking us into the inner working of the influential pianist's approach to improvisation through lyrical, structured, enigmatic and unusual approaches to the keyboard; the first CD pressings include an hour talk "On Nothingness" that Shipp gave at The Stone. ... Click to View

Loren Connors: Pretty As Ever [VINYL] (Recital)

The Recital label continues its Loren Conners editions/reissue series with their 4th album of the guitarist's music, collecting and remastering tracks from out of print albums "Sails" and "Little Match Girl" in an album of ballads, complemented with a 12-page art-booklet of previously unpublished illustrations by Conners himself. ... Click to View

Sun Ra & His Astro-Ihnfinity Arkestra: Sun Embassy [VINYL WITH DOWNLOAD] (Roaratorio)

Recordings from Sun Studios made between 1968-1969 with Astro-Ihnfinity Arkestra including Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Daddy DAvis, Ray Thompson, Danny Davis, &c. in nine tracks, six of which have never been heard before in any form, plus remasters on 1950s classics "Sunology" and "Ancient Aiethiopia", plus an early rendition of "Why Go To The Moon". ... Click to View

Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra: Sleeping Beauty [VINYL] (Art Yard)

An extremely soulful electric album from Sun Ran and the Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra, a groove driven and funky swirling masterpiece from the late 70's, with Sun Ra on piano, electric piano and organ, the Arkestra propelled by the drumming of Luqman Ali over a full band with Craig Harris, Michael Ray, Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Danny Ray Thompson, &c &c. ... Click to View

Bistre (Muller / Rodrigues / Wong): As We Read Along... (Creative Sources)

A trio of free improvisers recording five detailed and subdued dialogs in the studio, from trombonist Matthias Muller (Splitter Orchester), cellist Guilherme Rodrigues, and guitarist Eric Wong, collective improvisation guided by long pointillistic passages that converge into lyrical focal points, a profound example of concentrative discourse. ... Click to View

Anthony Braxton : Sextet (Parker) 1993 [11-CD BOX SET] (New Braxton House)

Originally released on Hat Hut in '95, this 11-CD box blows open these 2 European concerts in Zurich and Koln, reworking the music of Charlie Parker and associated bop composers, with Braxton himself on reeds, plus saxophonist Ari Brown, trumpeter Paul Smoker, pianist Misha Mengelberg, and alternating between drummers Han Bennink and Pheeroan AkLaff; superb, essential! ... Click to View

Yoni Kretzmer's New Dilemma (Kretzmer / Loriot / Hoffamn / Sinton / Niggenkemper / Van Hemmen): Months, Weeks and Days [2 CDs] (OutNow Recordings)

The 2nd album for NY-based saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer's Chamber-Improv ensemble New Dilemma with Frantz Loriot (viola), Christopher Hoffman (cello), Josh Sinton (bass clarinet), Pascal Niggenkemper (double bass) and Flin Van Hemmen (drums), investigating "the intricacies differentiating and combining the written and the improvised continue with further depth and chance". ... Click to View

Quin Kirchner: The Other Side Of Time [VINYL 2 LPs + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

Known as a superlative sideman, Chicago drummer/percussionist Quin Kirchner's debut as a leader brings together trombonist Nick Broste, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, saxophonist Nate Lepine, pianist Ben Boye and bassist Matt Ulery for an excellent album of spiritual free playing with compositions from Sun Ra, Andrew Hill, Charles Mingus, Paul Motian, Phil Cohran, &c. ... Click to View

William Hooker Trio (Feat. Ava Mendoza / Damon Smith): Remembering [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

Downtown NY drummer William Hooker leads a trio with West Coast players, Damon Smith on double bass and Ava Mendoza on guitar, for a live album at New York University in 2017 that blends free jazz and avant rock forms to create something unique and powerful, yet filled with moments of intrinsic beauty and drama, a great amalgamation of free playing. ... Click to View

Eave (Anna Webber/ Erik Hove / Vicky Mettler / Evan Tighe): Eave [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

A mix of New York and Canadian players, "Eave" is the quartet of Anna Webber and Erik Hove on saxophones, Vicky Mettler on guitar and Evan Tighe on drums, a collective abstract improvising band that uses its instruments as much for effect as for conventional playing, with commanding skill in all approaches as they surprise, bemuse and mesmerize the listener. ... Click to View

Tony Irving / Massimo Magee: The Fog [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

London scene free players since the 90s, drummer Tony Irving and alto saxophonist Massimo Magee, both of the improvisation duo Ascension, meet in the studio to record seven distinctive and quirky dialogs of strong technical skill, Irving often thundering over Magee's strangling runs and melodic diversions and asides; powerful and unpredictable. ... Click to View

Muyassar Kurdi / Nicholas Jozwiak: Intersections & Variations [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

Interdisciplinary vocalist Muyassar Kurdi and Chicago-born, NY-based cellist Nicholas Jozwiak use the ambient sounds of their recording spaces in Brooklyn to add a presence to their introspective dialogs that take an almost devout approach to their calmly measured performances, making an intimate and evocative album of unorthodox improvisation. ... Click to View

Udo Schindler / Korhan Erel : leben | nebel (Creative Sources)

Live at the 66th SALON fur Klang+Kunst in Krailling, Munich, Germany finds festival leader Udo Schindler on cornet, bass, contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone in a duo with Berlin-based Istanbul-born computer musician Korhan Erel, who designs his own unique instruments with unusual controllers, performing 9 singular dialogs of ethereal and unorthodox sound. ... Click to View

Yoko Miura / Jean-Marc Foussat: When Lowlands Consume the Space (Creative Sources)

Two approaches to keyboards from Japanese acoustic pianist Yoko Miura and keyboardist Jean-Marc Foussat (Fou Records) recording these extended and excursive improvisations in Paris in 2017, contrasting Foussat's alien and encompassing synthetic and electronic worlds with Miura's sophisticated playing inside and out of the piano. ... Click to View

Michael Winter : Approximating Omega (Edition Wandelweiser Records)

Composer Michael Winter uses the "maximally complex, incomputable number" known as Chaitin's Constant, plus text adapted from Gregory Chaitin's 1994 book "The Limits Of Mathematics", samples from 36 creative musicians, the voice of Muirgen Eleonore Gourgues, plus cello from Judith Hamann and piano from Winters, to create this curious and compelling narrative work. ... Click to View

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  Fiasco in Chicago  

The 2003 Jazz Festival, and the Story that Needn't Be Told
Text and Photos by Kurt Gottschalk

Fans of challenging jazz in Chicago know that the best shows to see during the Chicago Jazz Festival aren't at the festival. The clubs light up at night, especially the Hot House and the Velvet Lounge, with after-hours jams that blow the lakefront concerts off the stage.

But the Jazz Festival has, in recent years, tried to do better by its hometown heroes. Founding members of the seminal Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians - the collective founded by Muhal Richard Abrams in 196# that has seen the likes of Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith and the Art Ensemble or Chicago rise from its ranks - have been booked and even honored by festival organizers. Last year, the festival introduced an "artist in residence" position, scheduling concerts and workshops with trombonist George Lewis and following that this year by giving Roscoe Mitchell the title. Recent years have also seen performances by Threadgill's Very Very Circus and a reunion of Abrams' Experimental Big Band, the group that gave birth the to AACM.

Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell
Mitchell presented a big band and an octet during this year's fest, and two other Chicagoans of note were given slots: Ari Brown played a soulful set of standards with brother Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass and onetime Sun Ra drummer Avreeayl Ra behind the kit, despite the increasing rain (which, by the time McCoy Tyner's big band was to come on had chased many, including this reporter, away). Also on the bill was a "Velvet Lounge" jam and a recognition of the 50th anniversary of Chicago jazz/blues label Delmark. (Famadou Don Moye's "Sun Percussion" drum summit was sadly canceled.) In short, they've come a long way from the days when the smooth jazz label GRP was underwriting and overwhelming the schedule.

There's still room for improvement, however. Their hair-brained seating policy at the main stage doesn't allow entry to the seating area once the capacity has been counted at the door, leaving people sitting on the lawn and empty chairs up front. Why they hold a festival from Thursday through Saturday and then skip the Labor Day holiday on Monday is a mystery, and poor promotion outside the city guarantees a loss of potential tourist dollars. A new outdoor amphitheater, designed by Frank Gehry, is under construction, and may hold promise for more satisfying festivals in the future. But until then, as Howard Reich pointed out in the Chicago Tribune, "sub-par acoustics, semi-pro emcees and constant audience chatter ... are intrinsic to this jazz festival."

The runaway smash of the fest, according to a number of people with whom I spoke, was Art Ensemble founder Roscoe Mitchell's Big Band set Friday evening. Because of flight delays, however, I missed the most exciting set of the weekend trying to fly the friendly skies. I did catch a strong set by Mitchell's octet Saturday afternoon, however. The group was billed as a septet, but at the last minute a third percussionist was added (that fact whispered to the emcee by Mitchell as the band was introduced). The group was at least part Note Factory, with Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver, Tani Tabal and Jaribu Shahid all hopping over from Mitchell's other mid-size group. They were joined by Vincent Davis, Cory Wilkes and the excellent Chicago bassist Harrison Bankhead, making for a rhythm section of one pianist, two bassists and three drummers.

They opened with one of Mitchell's slow bops, a pure jazz piece that was almost frustrating in its refusal to ignite for minutes on end. Mitchell can (and later would) play extraordinarily fast without risking cogency, but his tenor solo here began as single, articulated notes, slowly building to runs and blurs, the mighty rhythm section simmering to a boil behind him. The piece allowed for lyrical solos by Bankhead and pianist Taborn (the former ably comped by fellow bassist Shahid) before Wilkes pushed it into a storm warning. By Mitchell's alto solo on the second piece, the rhythm sextet behind him pushing as hard as they could, the storm had erupted into a tornado. Mitchell picked up his soprano, blew two notes and signaled a drum trio before taking a soprano solo with the full band that made his previous eruption sound subdued.

Mitchell can carry two or three distinct lines at a time. His remarkable speed and control over register allow him to drop a midrange statement here, a false-fingered phrase there and a low blow between the two. It's like a Picasso solo: at once a portrait and a profile of the same subject.

Mitchell's set unfortunately overlapped with a memorial tribute to the late, great AACM trumpeter Ameen Muhammed, which probably left many devotees opting for the living over the dead (Mitchell's set at the small outdoor stage, in any event, was packed.) The afternoon sets also included a surprisingly strong solo recital by Kurt Elling's pianist and arranger Laurence Hofgood and a Cuban pretension by saxophonist Jane Bunnett that started out entertaining but quickly became uncongealed party music.

The evening held a premiere of a new group by Windy City stalwart Ken Vandermark. The Crisis Ensemble opened with a brief, serene, motionless intro before moving straight into a funky bop propelled by Jason Ajamian's electric bass. After a few minutes, the groove stopped dead for a dense duo by Kent Kessler on upright bass and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, during which Ajamian switched to the upright as they led into a pointillistic avant blues carried by trombonist Jeb Bishop, then into an Ornettish bop led by Dave Rempis on alto sax.

The restless tentet take their name not so much from the obscure 1969 Ornette Coleman record, according to Vandermark, as the cover art for that record, which featured the Bill of Rights in flames. Vandermark drew his politics from the jazz pantheon for the set. One of the three compositions he presented was a piece called "Globe Unity," named after the big band pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach founded in 1966 ("The sentiment is still relevant," Vandermaek said from the stage.) Here again, the namesake didn't follow the music so much as the message. The piece was a carefully sculpted suite, moving quickly, as Vandermark often does, through varying moods and ideas, and impressive piece that sounded nothing like the music of Von Schlippenbach's wild and wooly orchestra.

It could be said that with CrisisVandermark has found his soapbox. In the past, he has suffered from spreading himself too thin, often in an effort to pay tribute to previous generations. This group seemed to mold all the ground Vandermark tries to cover, from different eras of jazz history to his own compositional voice, into a strong (though hardly seamless) whole. The group included players he's worked with before (Bishop, Kessler, Rempis and drummer Tim Daisy are all in the Vandermark 5), and was supposed to feature Sun Ra alum Robert Barry on drums. (Illness unfortunately prevented Barry from participating, and he was replaced by Frank Rosaly.) Keeping a 10-piece band together in the current jazz economy is a difficult proposition, but the ever-resourceful Vandermark might, with luck, make this more than a one-night stand.

Getting into the after-hours at the Velvet Lounge - or at least getting into the main part of the club - means missing the last set of the festival proper, in Saturday's case the mechanized churnings of the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. The room seats about 75 (Anderson would be wise to get rid of the tables, at least during the festival) and a recent spate of occupancy- and code-violation enforcement in Chicago resulted in head counts inside and a long line of people outside hoping someone might give up a bar stool. The Velvet packs as much of a punch in a few hours as the festival does all week, so it's not too tough a choice to make. Kidd Jordan and Bluiett (who's dropped the "Hamiet" from his name) were both in town to play the after-hours sets even though they weren't booked on the downtown stages.

Bassist Bankhead opened the first set at the Velvet Saturday with an unaccompanied meditation (what Chicagoans called a "naked solo" back in the day), as Hamid Drake set up his drums. Jordan joined in, keeping the mood, and Bluiett followed on wooden flute. With Drake they soon hit the fury then found the swing, Drake's syncopations keeping them in the pocket. By the time club proprietor Fred Anderson joined in on tenor, they had settled on the swing and the fury, locking into grooves when it wasn't expected and slipping out of them again almost unnoticed.

Chicago is a saxophone town. It's a town where a dozen horn players line up to play with a single rhythm section on a wobbly stage in a club with peeling paint and after the Bluiett/Jordan/Anderson/Bankhead/Drake quartet finished (and a 50-minute break) the ranks began to swell and flank the stage. Douglas Ewart, Billy Brimfield, Malachi Thompson and Mwata Bowden were among those standing offstage, adding flourishes and waiting to take the stage.

Bluiett began the second set, yelling "This is Gene Ammons country, right? Let's let this shit roll" and doing an odd, brief squeal on his baritone sax before giving up the stage to hometown saxophonist Paul Taylor with Brimfield deftly leading punctuations from the offstage horn section. Ewart took his turn on sopranino, showing that with all his excursions into pure sound, he can still play the hard way. Thompson played clear and low as Bluiett took over leading the backing horns, everything well supported by Bankhead and Drake. Fred Anderson's Velvet Lound is considered home by many jazz travelers, and on such a night it's easy to understand why. This is their community. This is theirs.

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