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Okkyung Lee / Christian Marclay: Amalgam (Northern Spy)

A wild and exciting duo between cellist Okkyung Lee and legendary turntable improviser Christian Marclay performing live at London's Cafe Oto for a single long track that runs through a astonishing dynamic of invention and atmospheres in a gripping and spellbinding set. ... Click to View


Okkyung Lee / Christian Marclay: Amalgam [VINYL] (Northern Spy)

A wild and exciting duo between cellist Okkyung Lee and legendary turntable improviser Christian Marclay performing live at London's Cafe Oto for a single long track that runs through a astonishing dynamic of invention and atmospheres in a gripping and spellbinding set. ... Click to View


Saint Francis Duo: Los Bordes De Las Respuestas (Dropa Disc)

The Saint Francis Duo of Stephen O'Malley (Sunn O))), KTL) and Steve Noble (Rip, Rig and Panic, Brotzmann, Parker, Edwards ...) present a tour-de-force of darkly improvised drone and doom in a studio album of violently dark guitar work and ferocious drumming. ... Click to View


John Escreet (w/ Evan Parker / John Hebert / Tyshawn Sorey): The Unknown (Live in Concert) (Sunnyside Records)

Pianist John Escreet brought his trio with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist John Hebert on a tour of Europe in 2016, meeting with British saxophonist Evan Parker in Amsterdam's Bimhuis and at Rotterdam's Lantaren Venster to record these profound performances of free improvisation. ... Click to View


Frank Schubert Paul / Rudi Fischerlehner: Willing Suspension of Disbelief (Not Applicable)

Long-time collaborators and compatriots Frank Paul Schubert on soprano sax and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums and percussion recorded these intricate and engaging improvisations in their shared studio in Berlin, presented as a live album, unedited and in the order performed. ... Click to View


Silver / Sanders / Wheatley: NAX/XUS (Confront)

Performing together since 2014, the free improvising trio of Yoni Silver on bass clarinet, Mark Sanders on drums, and Tom Wheatley on double bass are captured live at the Hundred Years Gallery in London, in 2015 for a dark and spacious journey in two large improvisations. ... Click to View


Porta Chiusa: Because Life Should Be So Wonderful (I) (Herbal International)

A beguiling and atmospheric work of overtones, harmonics, tonal and microtonal progressions from a trio of clarinetists (Hans Koch, Michael Thieke, and Paed Conca) with Japanese vocalist Maki Hachiya, an immaculately paced and exotic work of sound. ... Click to View


Jean-Luc Guionnet / Dedalus: Distances Ouies Dites (Potlatch)

Composer Jean-Luc Guionnet wrote "Distances ouies Dites" ("Distances: Hearsay") for the 7-piece Dedalus Ensemble, who are positioned in separate rooms at Le Consortium, each having to use the features of the room and distance from each other to confer liked musical ideas. ... Click to View


Jack Wright : Thaw (Spring Garden Music)

12 improvisations representing various groupings with saxophonist Jack Wright, including solo work on alto and soprano, a duo with trombonist Stan Nishamura, six trios with 2 different groups, and a sextet; a great introduction to his diverse interests and exploratory nature. ... Click to View


Jack Wright: Rattle OK & Rattle Still OK (Spring Garden Music)

Combining two albums from free improvising saxophonist Jack Wright's 1999-2000 tour across North America, presenting music in various configurations with Bob Marsh, Tom Djll, Bhob Rainey, John Shiurba, Matthew Sperry, Ben Wright, Greg Kelley, Bob Wagner, Joe Giardullo, &c. &c. ... Click to View


Morton Feldman : For John Cage (Hat [now] ART)

Morton Feldman was a friend, flatmate and student of John Cage's innovative approaches to composition; he wrote this 3 part work for violin and piano in 1982 as a 70th birthday present for Cage, here performed by violinist Josje Fosie Ter Haar and pianist John Snijders. ... Click to View


Morton Feldman : Patterns In A Chromatic Field [2 CDs] (Hat [now] ART)

Feldman's idiosyncratic large composition is also one of his more active, influenced by John Cage, and using a score that defines organizational procedures in chordal and chromatic patterns, as realized in this '93 recording by Rohan de Saram (cello) and Marianne Schroeder (piano). ... Click to View


Katharina Rosenberger : SHIFT (Hat [now] ART)

First recordings of composer Katharnia Rosenberger's SHIFT and other dynamic and exciting works incorporating spatialization, by an electroacoustic orchestra including Rage Thrombones captured in 2016 at the University of California, in San Diego, California. ... Click to View


John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / Matthew Shipp: Tangle (Fataka)

After "Exta", where saxophonist John Butcher and electronics artist Thomas Lehn met with pianist John Tilbury, the duo now meet with New York pianist Matthew Shipp for a distinct improvisational entanglement of Butcher's dense streams, Lehn's rich sound floor, and Shipp's thick repetitions. ... Click to View


Michel Edelin's Flute Fever Orchestra with special guest Nicole Mitchell: Kalamania [2 CDs] (RogueArt)

French flutist Michel Edelin leads this 6-piece band named in honor of Jeremy Steig, with 4 flutists including Sylvaine Helary, Ludivine Issambourg, and Nicole Mitchell, plus John Betsch (drums) and Peter Giron (bass) in exceptional, unexpected and inclusive approaches to improv. ... Click to View


Anthony Braxton / Miya Masaoka: Duo (Dcwm) 2013 [2 CDs] (RogueArt)

Two performers who have stretched the boundaries of their instruments--Miya Masaoka on 12-string koto and Anthony Braxton on saxophones and software-based electronics--in subtle and unusual environments where each player fills the phrases of the other in unforseen ways. ... Click to View


Corsano / Courviosier / Wooley: Salt Task (Relative Pitch)

First recorded meeting of Chris Corsano (drums), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), and Nate Wooley (trumpet) in the studio in Brookly, 2015, for a completely open, sensitive set of improvisations that are constantly on the edge, at times explosive, and always in a focused dialog. ... Click to View


HMZ (Hubsch / Martel / Zoubek): Drought (Tour de Bras)

A live performance at the Loft in Cologne, Germany, 2015 from the recording and performing trio of Carl Ludwig Hubsch on tuba & objects, Pierre Yves Martel on viola da Gamba & harmonica, and Philip Zoubek on the prepared piano, restrained yet highly active playing. ... Click to View


The Wire: #395 January 2016 [MAGAZINE] (The Wire)

Wire's essential annual survey of the last 12 months of key underground music activity in 26 pages of crucial charts and critical comment, including 50 new releases of the year and 50 archive releases of the year, plus writers and artists review the previous cultural year. ... Click to View


The Wire: #394 December 2016 [MAGAZINE] (The Wire)

December 2016 issue of the essential UK new music magazine with: Spirits Rejoice!; NON Invisible Jukebox with Dagmar Krause; Pamelia Stickney; Magnetoceptia; Kill Alters; Chris Cobilis; Bonaventure; Global Ear Taipei; Oliver Coates on Mike Nelson; and Epiphanies: Richard Pinhas. ... Click to View


Keith Rowe : The Room Extended [4 CDs] (erstwhile)

A massive and rewarding work of organized sound extending ea-improviser, AMM guitarist Keith Rowe's work "The Room" into a massive 4 CD set of compositions, layering work familiar from his recent improvisations with classical compositions, field recordings, &c. &c. ... Click to View


Taku Unami / Devin DiSanto: Taku Unami / Devin DiSanto (erstwhile)

A live performance at Fridman Gallery in New York City as part of erstwhile's AMPLIFY 2015 festival from sound artists Taku Unami & Devin DiSanto, using electronics, concrete sounds, and spoken word to create a diverse active environments of narratives and pure sound. ... Click to View


DNA: A Taste Of DNA [12-inch VINYL] (Superior Viaduct)

An essential part of the late 70's influential Downtown NY scene, the trio of Arto Lindsay (guitar and voice), Ikue Mori (drums), and Tim Wright (bass), released few albums, but this 1981 EP captures the essence of their tightly controlled manic approach to wildly improvised rock. ... Click to View


Epitaphs: Epitaphs [CASSETTE] (Wee Space Tapes)

New York City poet Colleen McCarthy & drummer David Grollman both read and improvise on McCarthy's book of short verses, "Epitaphs", honoring the deceased and the not-dead-yet who suffer(ed) variously psychoses and suicide, with Grollman accompanying on snare drum. ... Click to View


Christof Kurzmann / Mats Gustafsson: Falling And Five Other Failings (Trost Records)

Two versatile and innovative improvisers, Mats Gustafsson on saxophones and Christof Kurzmann on electronics and voice, extracted improvisations recorded in the studio to create the 7 parts of this rich, pulse-based and intensely understated work about Falling and Failing. ... Click to View


Okkyung Lee / Lasse Marhaug: Jukebox-Series 006 [7-inch VINYL] (Trost Records)

An unusual duo of electro-acoustic improv from cellist Okkyung Lee and sound artist Lasse Marhaug, extending Trost's Jukebox series of 7" releases with two tracks of extreme playing recorded with no overdubs and minimal editing, mastered by Martin Siewert. ... Click to View


Pita & Chra: Jukebox-Series 005 [7-inch VINYL] (Trost Records)

Christina Nemec and Peter Rehberg, members of Shampoo Boy, here as a duo under the Pita & Chra moniker in compelling sound work of sinoid rhythms and eerie electronic noise, great textural work in a tapestry of unusual sound mastered by Martin Siewert. ... Click to View


Borbetomagus: The Eastcote Studios Session [VINYL] (Dancing Wayang)

A rare studio album from the aggressive and influential free improv trio Borbetomagus of saxophonists Jim Sauter & Don Dietrich and guitarist Donald Miller, recorded in London in 2014, and described by Sauter himself as "unlike anything we've ever recorded before". ... Click to View


Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom (Eremite)

Chicago/West Coast guitarist and Tortoise mainstay Jeff Parker in, surprisingly, his first solo guitar album, in four beautifully moody and atmospheric improvisations including Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids", Neil Young's ""Discreet Music"" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life". ... Click to View


Eyvind Kang / Jessika Kenney: Reverse Tree [VINYL] (Black Truffle)

One large work each from Eyvind Kang (viola) and Jessika Kenney (voice), Kang presenting a chamber work inspired by a text by the Tang dynasty poet Hsueh T'ao with a large ensemble; Kenney using an ensemble of strings alongside Seattle's Gamelan Pacifica, performing on Javanese instruments. ... 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.

Bluiett
Bluiett
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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