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Thumbscrew (Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara / Mary Halvorson): Ours (Cuneiform Records)

The New York free improvising jazz trio Thumbscrew with long-time collaborators guitarist Mary Halvorson, double bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara in the 1st of 2 albums on the reborn Cuneiform label, here presenting creative original compositions from each of the three musicians in 9 virtuosic, sometimes quirky, and always warmly adventurous tunes. ... Click to View


Thumbscrew (Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara / Mary Halvorson): Theirs (Cuneiform Records)

The second of two albums from the reborn Cuneiform label by New York free improvising jazz trio Thumbscrew with long-time collaborators guitarist Mary Halvorson, double bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, here presenting compositions from jazz greats Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Nichols, Stanley Cowell, Misha Mengelberg, &c. ... Click to View


Paul Dunmall / Philip Gibbs / Neil Metcalfe / Ashley John Long : Seascapes (FMR)

Long-time collaborators, saxophonist Paul Dunmall and guitar Philip Gibbs are joined by Neil Metcalfe on flute and Ashley-John Long on bass for a concert at the Victoria Rooms, in Bristol, England in 2017, six collective improvisation of spectacular technique and inventive playing, often at very fast tempos, but always resolving to an inner calm and beauty. ... Click to View


Frode Gjerstad / John Stevens / Johnny Mbizio Dyani: Detail 83 (FMR)

A significant release from the history of the Detail trio of Frode Gjerstad on reeds, John Stevens on drums, and Johnny Dyani on bass, recorded at the Red Seahouses in Norway in 1938 during Detail's first trio tour, a smoking set of free jazz showing the power of these innovative players around the time of their first album, "Backwards and Forwards". ... Click to View


Fake Humans (Fisher / Didur): Exegesis [ VINYL] (Shhpuma)

The Toronto-based duo of Colin Fisher on woodwinds and percussion and Carl Didur on keyboards and bass bridge acoustic and electronic improv with science fiction sensibilities in their four part "Exegesis", a critical exposition of un-genred music that borrows from global sources in service to their unusual and exotic tale; a wonderfully perplexing album. ... Click to View


Jaap Blonk : Irrelevant Comments (Kontrans)

As he delves further into electronics, Netherlands vocal improviser and experimental artists Jaap Blonk finds an ever-increasing array of approaches to modify his voice and set it into alien and astounding environments, here in 16 tracks of musique concrete, sound poetry, pulse based electronics, soundscapes, and inexplicable hybrids of the same. ... Click to View


Tomomi Adachi / Jaap Blonk: Asemic Dialogues (Kontrans)

Performing together since 2004 between Tokyo and Amsterdam, Dutch vocal improviser, innovator and electronicist Jaap Blonk meets Japanese vocal improviser and fellow electronics artists Tomomi Adachi at Lettretage in Berlin in 2017, recording this, the 5th in Kontrans Electronic Improvisation, for two extended and energetic dialogs of unique creative interplay. ... Click to View


Jason Kahn : Voice and Sky [BOOK + CD] (Editions)

Sound experimenter and electroacoustic organizer Jason Kahn revisits previous works and expands on them with the book and CD release, with an essay on his approach towards public space interventions and text / sound installations, a track listing, photographs from the locations of his field recordings, and texts and prose poems to accompany the listener. ... Click to View


Jason Kahn : Space Text Sound [BOOK] (Editions)

A 244 page book documenting text material used in three of sound experimenter Jason Kahn's recent installations: "An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Hong Kong (After Perec)" (2016), "Drifting" (2016) and "Other Ghosts" (2015), emphasizing how words can convey the sense of place sounds can and how these words impart a feeling for inner spaces. ... Click to View


Sean Conly : Hard Knocks (Clean Feed)

The history of bassist Sean Conly's collaborations and releases shows a strong love of the jazz tradition and a perceptive writing style that references that tradition, heard here in free and lyrical original Conly compositions performed in the studio in a trio setting with fellow New York musicians Satoshi Takeishi on drums and Michael Attias on alto saxophone. ... Click to View


Caterina Palazzi Sudoku Killer: Asperger (Clean Feed)

A wicked hybrid of jazz, avant rock and cinematic elements, bassist Caterina Palazzi's quintet Sudoku Killer takes on the music of Disney in a suite where each track is dedicated to an antagonist from movies like "Snow White" or "Sleeping Beauty", performed with Giacomo Ancillotto (guitar), Maurizio Chiavaro (drums), Sergio Pomante (sax) and Antonio Raia (sax). ... Click to View


Alberto: Pinton Noi Siamo: Opus Facere (Clean Feed)

Multi-reedist and wind player Alberto Pinton's quartet Noi Siamo ("We Are") with Niklas Barno on trumpet, Torbjorn Zetterberg on bass and Konrad Agnas on drums, are caught at the Swedish Glenn Miller Cafe in Stockholm for this exciting album of knowledgable and passionate free jazz, a dynamic concert referencing Eric Dolphy, Freddy Hubbard, and Ornette Coleman. ... Click to View


Jemeel Moondoc Quartet: The Astral Revelations (RogueArt)

Saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc takes his masterful NY quartet of pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Hilliard Green, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker to perform live at Bimhuis in Amsterdam in 2016, capturing four remarkable improvisations of Moondoc compositions including an extended rendering of "Cosmic Nickelodeon", the band balancing lyricism with intensely creative playing. ... Click to View


North Of North (Pateras / Tinkler / Veltheim): North Of North (Offcompass)

The first release on pianist Anthony Pateras' new label OffCompass intended to explore a more diverse set of projects is from the North Of North trio of Anthony Pateras on piano, Scott Tinkler no trumpet, Erkki Veltheim on electric violin, using improvisation, Carnatic music, 20th and 21st century compositional strategies, mathematical theories and open forms of jazz. ... Click to View


Will Guthrie : 6 Days into 8 [CASSETTE] (Careful Catalog)

The sixth set performed during an 8-day tour of Japan in 2018 by Australian drummer / percussionist Will Guthrie (Ames Room, The Sommes Ensemble) took place at 0g in Osaka, captured here as a 32 minute set of vigorous playing tempered with introspective passages, using powerful technique and unorthodox approaches to his kit; cathartic and captivating. ... Click to View


Karl Berger: In A Moment - Music For Piano And Strings (Tzadik)

Pianist and vibraphonist Karl Berger is also a professor of composition, having won numerous awards and commissions for his work, here presenting the final part of a trilogy written Tzadik, a beautiful 14-part suite for piano and string realized with Berger himself at the keys in a septet of well known NY performers including Ken Filiano, Tomas Ulrich, Jason Kao Hwang. ... Click to View


Dave Holland Feat. Evan Parker / Craig Taborn / Ches Smith: Uncharted Territories [2 CDs] (Dare2 Records)

Reuniting late bassist Dave Holland with saxophonist Evan Parker, a longtime friend from their early days in London, and joined by Craig Taborn on piano and electronics, and Ches Smith on percussion, as the group performs as a quartet and also in a variety of permutations of duo and trio configurations, for a set of rich and informed dialogs of masterful skill. ... Click to View


Eugene Chadbourne : Fuck Chuck (Chadula)

An unsual album even by Chadbourne's standards, this reissue and remaster of material recorded in the 80s and 90s from his cassette series brings recordings from his noise group Chuck with Murray Reams and David Nikias together with recordings with Ut Gret (Joee Conroy and David Stilley) to create a hybrid of live experimental improv and found sounds. ... Click to View


Eugene Chadbourne : Lets Get Weird But Comfortable (Chadula)

Named for an audience comment that their music was "weird but comfortable", guitarist Eugene Chadbourne's band with Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jorrit Dijkstra on saxophone, Nate McBride on bass, and Curt Newton on bass are caught live in Boston covering the music of Thelonius Monk, Misha Mengelberg, Steve Lacy, Duke Ellington, Doc Chad, Willie Nelson and The James Gang. ... Click to View


Omelette: Live At The JazzLab (FMR)

Australia's performing trio Omelette of Jordan Murray on trombone, Ronny Fereller on drums, and Luke Howard on piano follow up their 2014 album on Jazzhead with this live album, the trio joined by Chilean percussionist working in Melbourne Javier Fredes, for a lyrical and rhythmically rich live performance at Melbourne's JazzLab in 2017. ... Click to View


Implicate Order, The : At Seixal (Clean Feed)

The very first album from Portugal's impressive Clean Feed Records is this live album at Auditorio do Forum Cultural do Seixal from the trio of Steve Swell on trombone, Ken Filiano on bass and Lou Grassi on drums, joined by Paulo Curado on alto sax and Rodrigo Amado on baritone sax, a significant concert merging free players from two nations with profound influence on jazz music. ... Click to View


Magnus Granberg : Es Schwindelt Mir, Es Brennt Mein Eingweide (Another Timbre)

An hour-long work for an ensemble of six musicians by Swedish composer Magnus Granberg performed by Anna Lindal on baroque violin, d incise on vibraphonen electronics, Cyril Bondi on percussion, Anna Kaisa Meklin on viola da gamba, Christoph Schiller on spinet, and Magnus Granberg himself on prepared piano, transforming material from a song by Franz Schubert. ... Click to View


John Cage: Two2 (Another Timbre)

One of a handful of John Cage's number pieces, this work for two pianists follows the forms of Renga poetry, composed with 36 lines of music, each containing 5 measures, and each line having 31 events occuring in the sequence 5-7-5-7-7, with the pianists allowed their own tempo but waiting to synchronize each measure, as performed by Mark Knoop and Philip Thomas. ... Click to View


Bondi / Martel / Schiller: tse (Another Timbre)

With backgrounds in both improvisation and compositional music, the new trio of Cyril Bondi on harmonium, Pierre-Yves Martel on viola da gamba, and Christoph Schiller on spinet, agreed on a sequence of pitches for this 5 part improvisational work, allowing space for the players to explore pitch and melody within a contemplative and pensive framework. ... Click to View


Angles 3: Parede (Clean Feed)

Martin Kuchen's Angles band changes shape constantly, originally a trio and expanding as large as Angles 10, but this album, recorded live at SMUP, Parede, Portugal in 2016, returns the band to the original trio of Kuchen on sax, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on double bass, and Kjell Nordeson on drums & percussion, reworking Angles compositions to their essence. ... Click to View


Honest John w/ Ab Baars: Treem (Clean Feed)

The Norwegian quintet Honest John of Ole Henrik Moe on violin, Kim Johannesen on guitar & banjo, Ola Hoyer on double bass, Erik Nylander on drums & drum machine, on Klaus Ellerhusen sax and clarinet, are joined by multi-reedist and shakuhachi player Ab Baars at Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria to capture this quirky, controlled, and incredibly knowledgeable concert. ... Click to View


Chris Pitsiokos / CP Unit: Silver Bullet In The Autumn Of Your Years (Clean Feed)

Pushing the envelope in genre-smashing collective improvisation, Brooklyn-based sax and synth player Chris Pitsiokos and his CP Unit with 2 electric bassists--Tim Dahl and Henry Fraser--2 drummers--Jason Nazary and Connor Baker--and guitarist Sam Lisabeth, take a twisted path through improv, rock, and electronics that always shows a fierce allegiance to free jazz. ... Click to View


Scott Clark: Tonow (Clean Feed)

Drummer Scott Clark continues to explore his Native American roots in this album dedicated to the protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, each heartfelt piece titled for aspects of those demonstrations, performed with bassist Cameron Ralston, trumpeter Bob Miller, saxophonist Jason Scott, guitarist Alan Parker, and extended with Chicago guitarist Tobin Summerfield. ... Click to View


Lynn Cassiers: Imaginary Band (Clean Feed)

Composer, vocalist and electronics artist Lynn Cassiers' new septet with Sylvain Debaisieux (soprano and tenor saxophone), Ananta Roossens (violin), Niels Van Heertum (euphonium), Erik Vermeulen (piano), Manolo Cabras (double bass) and Marek Patrman (drums) in their adventurous debut album blending improv, pop aesthetics, electronics, dreamlike voice, and solid playing. ... Click to View


AMM: An Unintended Legacy [3 CDs] (Matchless)

A beautiful 3-CD set with a hardcover book presenting 3 full concerts from 2015 & 2016 of the AMM trio configuration of John Tilbury (piano), Keith Rowe (guitar) and Eddie Prevost (percussion). The 70 page book, dedicated to saxophonist Lou Gare, includes an AMM discography, plus photos, and essays by Paige Mitchell and Allen Fisher; Keith Rowe; Eddie Prevost; and Seymour Wright. ... Click to View


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The Best Kept Secret in the East

Tom Rainey Sits Behind the Kit for Tim Berne, Mark Helias and Tony Malaby. Surely You've Noticed

By Matt Rand


Drummer Tom Rainey and saxophonist Tony Malaby looked like opposites performing at Brooklyn's Barbes with bassist Mark Helias' Open Loose. Malaby was turning back and forth at his waist, letting the bell of his horn project its sound waves left and right and left again. He shook his left elbow on occasion, showing his excitement at the notes he was fingering. Sometimes, his eyes opened wide, either exasperated or surprised.

But Rainey was another story entirely. His facial muscles seemed deadened, and his limbs only moved to play the drums. His movements looked heavy and deliberate. His overall affect seemed one almost of boredom. ("Don't take it personally," joked Tim Berne, a saxophonist and composer with whom Rainey has worked in various ensembles since the early 1980s, of Rainey's flat facial expression.)

And yet, with improvised music, the appearance of exertion is generally important. If music is being played for the first (and only) time, is not just a reordering of memorized licks, then we expect that we will see musicians stretching to the edge of their abilities. And, stretching to the edge of one's abilities usually inspires telltale visual cues: pained or rapturous expressions, sweat, oddly-timed laughs, uncontrolled body movements.

That's what we've come to expect at improvised shows, in addition, of course, to great music. Rainey doesn't make strange facial expressions when he plays. He doesn't grunt or shake. He just plays great music.

"He's gotta be the most underrated musician I've ever seen," said Berne. "I don't know anybody who's on as many records, plays with as many different, really great people, who doesn't get any attention."

Berne is a bandleader who has his own record label, Screwgun Records, and he knows a thing or two about getting attention. But, he said, Rainey doesn't have the instinct for it. "I think it's 'cause he doesn't have any aspirations as a bandleader. And he doesn't come off the bandstand and start selling his shit; he's just really into the gig and that's it. He doesn't have that much patience for the bullshit that you have to do to get attention."

Born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, Rainey said he started playing the drums before he can remember. In junior high and high school, he studied standard school percussion instruments like timpani, marimba and vibraphone, but he also played drums to rock music.

"My first professional experience was playing with a dance band," Rainey said. "At the time I loved it. Top 40 music at that time was very interesting. There was such a variety of stuff that was musically at the risk of sounding like some old fogey a lot more interesting than the stuff they're dancing to today. They were real bands; now I guess you'd have to go out and do, I don't know, Britney Spears covers or something. But back then you were playing Steely Dan, Chicago, Santana; it was really a variety of bands, some of which I still really like."

In 1975, he headed east for Boston to go to the Berklee College of Music. He was eager to get better at playing the drums, but "dropped out after my first semester. The drum teacher I had I think he was probably just out of Berklee himself he had me play for him, and he said, 'Yeah that sounds good; we'll come in once a week and talk about drumming.' I thought, 'I don't need to pay tuition for this; I mean, I do that with my friends.'"

When Rainey finally ended up in New York, he was just in time for the loft scene to end. His first gig in New York was with Mike Nock, which Rainey said impressed him because "he had an album out." He also played with Ratzo Harris and Tom Harrell, and then Kenny Werner. In the early '90s, he started doing gigs with Fred Hersch.

By the mid '90s, Rainey was playing steadily with the two bandleaders that would come to be his most valuable musical associations, Tim Berne and Mark Helias.

Berne said that, "With Paraphrase in 1995, I think, that was the first time that [Rainey] really had an equal part in what was going on musically. And from that point on, I think his playing really grew amazingly. He became a lot more confident about imposing his ideas on the situation, even when we were playing written music, and he stopped acting like a sideman."

As a sideman, Rainey said he can get bored. No matter how good a soloist is, if he feels like it's the third solo in a row after two other solos, Rainey said, he's lost interest. "I hate being on a gig and thinking this tune should have ended 5 minutes ago."

Both Berne and Helias, instead, offer Rainey opportunities for his ideas to become integral parts of the music when it is performed or recorded. Plus there's a great deal of comfort involved for Rainey. "All those bands, they're all my best friends. It's a lot more than just playing music; we've got our rapport on the bandstand but also socially," he said. "As a creative improvising musician, I couldn't be in a better situation in the world. If I'm going to get bored with these guys, then I should look for another line of work."

In Berne's and Helias' bands, sections of a song are composed and sections are improvised. But even with the composed sections, Berne and Helias generally leave the drum part blank, letting Rainey develop his own part. Helias said that Rainey is "great at processing a piece, sometimes a very complex piece, and just orchestrating his playing. And as we learn it and get more deeply involved in it, then we can start deconstructing it, and really superimposing he really gets oblique after a while."

Berne described the process similarly. "In the beginning, it's the densest because he's playing everything, because he's such a good reader. Then he'll strip it away. Once he internalizes it and finds an approach, he really varies it."

Berne added that he felt that Rainey's playing on 2003's The sublime and. (Thirsty Ear) was as good as he's ever heard Rainey recorded. The disc is a live recording of Berne's Science Friction band, which includes longtime collaborators Craig Taborn on keyboards and Marc Ducret on guitar. On it, among several other tracks, is a song called "The Shell Game," which was the title of Berne's previous release (with Taborn and Rainey), though not the title of any of the tracks on that release.

The piece incorporates elements from a few of the songs on The Shell Game (most closely approximating "Twisted/Straight Jacket"), but there's a lot more going on explicitly in terms of harmony than there was on the disc of the same name, mainly because of the addition of another harmonic instrument in the guitar. But Rainey's reactions to the differences could have been simplistic. He could have just sat back and outlined where the music was going, or went on its original versions, trying not to crowd out the sound with too much playing. And at some points this is what he does. He lets Taborn and Ducret play off of Berne's melodies with only the slightest of rhythmic accents behind them. But then Ducret takes off on a pyrotechnic solo and Rainey grooves hard with Taborn behind it. As the solo evolves, Rainey takes a more active role, varying his beats to keep Ducret's playing sounding like it's unfolding, as opposed to stagnating, as it might have had Rainey just sat in the same groove.

And then Rainey's solo, which follows a return, more or less, to the head, accomplishes in its evolution precisely what Berne said makes Rainey's solos so good: "His solos are always very transitional, from what's happening before to what's happening next. It sounds easy, but with most people, the solo's the shit and maybe the last ten seconds or so are setting up what's happening next."

Taking that one step further, Rainey doesn't just have a mastery of transitions of time; he also is adept at transitioning between any one part of the drum set and another. On Tony Malaby's recent release Apparitions (Songlines, 2003), Rainey is one of two drummers. Rather than antagonizing each other or getting bogged down in headcutting, however, he and Michael Sarin begin to sound like one drumset. A shared solo finds them following each other around their two drum sets, moving with a rare sympathy, even though Rainey said that he was at first skeptical about the idea of doing an album with two drummers.

It is this kind of adaptability that makes Rainey so good. He can internalize a piece of music in any situation and leave his mark on it.

"Everybody I've ever worked with, there's been areas that I've avoided just 'cause it wasn't the best situation for that person or for the combination or whatever," Berne said. "But I can't say with Tom that there's anything I really avoid."






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