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ORHAN DEMIR – FREEDOM IN JAZZ VOL. 2

It all comes full circle eventually. In the middle of the 1980s, before the internet made it easier to find rare recordings, Orhan Demir, a Turkish guitar player residing in Canada, had vinyl albums marketed in Wayside Music’s print catalog. This writer is possibly the first Italian ever to have purchased and treasured those records. They were distinguished by a blend of modern swing, innovative fingerings, scales that aren’t precisely typical in jazz, and frequently amazing speed. There were also plenty of contemplative ballads (sort of), and genuinely distinctive themes (with the occasional “free” outburst, for good measure). In a nutshell, Mr. Demir is, and always has been, a fantastic instrumentalist. Over thirty years have gone, and one fine day, much to my astonishment and merriment, a parcel with four CDs arrives at my house from the artist himself. The most recent, which was issued in 2020, is the one that can be seen in the image, whereas I’m listening to the equally good first chapter while typing. If in need to listen to guitar-based jazz music that sounds contemporary and never monotonous while still honoring earlier traditions, all you have to do is channel the Massimo Ricci of three decades ago, get some of these releases – do not start with that involving a guitar synth, perhaps – and get sucked into the sophisticated, understated yet consistently virtuosic playing of Orhan Demir. A man who could impart wisdom to the vast majority of heartless guitarists exalted by publications that praise the hollowness of their music.

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ALEXANDRA GRIMAL – REFUGE

I’ve been meaning to write about French saxophonist and composer Alexandra Grimal for a while. The bulk of her work is still unknown to me, to be honest; but what I did hear has always been quite absorbing. Grimal does her research all the way to completion when she commits to a project. Refuge, a set of eight soprano sax solos, is an example of this. It was recorded in the double stairway of Chambord Castle, a unique architectural backdrop. It might be very difficult to avoid clichés, if not boredom, in situations like these without understanding what it means to “immerse oneself in resonance”. Grimal delivers precisely that kind of enthrallment, alternating between wavering currents, gentle melodic sketches, more pronounced and fleshy tones, and protracted pauses full of contemplation. The overall result is endowed with an almost deceptive structural simplicity, but the artist’s profundity is audible in every fleeting second. This is an illustration of music that, via a respected humility, interacts with our inner space and is appropriate for all types of listening, from “totally focused” to “healing presence” in a room.

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Clara Lai – Creciente

Sure, it’s much easier to wear the usual sly face to get another dozen undeserved articles after having published records that haven’t delivered anything fresh in years. Yours truly, however, feels that Clara Lai, a pianist and composer from Barcelona, is a different breed of performer. Only apparently disjointed, Creciente is instead a flawlessly coherent record. It comprises sharp-cornered compositions that project an innately clever method of musical reasoning, beyond the ease of comprehension. It also features segments of improvisational mystery that leave the door open to hypotheses of “collateral sentience”. Lai, whose pianism is sensibly restrained despite the range of exploratory horizons, is supported by the similarly brilliant Albert Cirera (tenor sax), Iván González (trumpet), and Joan Moll (drums). Even in tracks where the ordinary ear may fail to clutch at the straws of “previously heard,” the quartet exhibits an inherent responsiveness that turns this CD into a welcome treat. My bit of advice? Keep an attentive eye on this woman, and pay close attention to what is being suggested between the interplay’s lines.

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Qonicho Ah! – Qonicho Ah!

The die-hard Kaczynski boys hold a special place in my heart, since their home in Northern Tuscany is quite close to the places where, as a youngster, I may have experienced some of the most “poetically internal” times of my life. However, the women who make up Qonicho Ah! (business headquarters: Marseille, France) are significantly less sentimental and unquestionably smarter than your reporter. Saxophonist (with effects) Morgane Carnet and drummer Blanche LaFuente alternate fiercely between contemporary tribalism with strong rhythms tempered with “soft” free jazz influences, and traces of more approachable, if rather autistic reed melody (but believe me, the sweetness lasts only a short time before the duo starts pounding and slashing again). The live recording, dated 2020, also includes a cameo by trumpet maestra Susana Santos Silva, not bad at all as a partner for a debut release. Lastly, the track titles are lovely – find out for yourself by clicking on the cover photo, I’m too old and tired for another copy and paste. Anyway, fun and sparkling stuff. And while you’re at it, take a little trip around there (Northern Tuscany, I mean; lots of beauty, though I’ve been missing for an eternity).

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AKKAJEE – Lastenkerääjä

Sadly, I don’t have a good command of Finnish. Its organic sonority melds effectively with Lastenkerääjä‘s sparse instrumentation (viola, nyckelharpa, voice plus other instruments constructed from scraps). Iida Savolainen and Meriheini Luoto are unique artists gifted with technical and emotional skills. The songs on the album, despite having local folk roots, deal with serious subjects, in this case as seen through the soul and eyes of a child, in accordance with the album’s overarching concept. The themes are varied, harkening back to the childhood of the two protagonists themselves, but filtered via a mature and profound type of analysis, in which the thought of detachment from earthly life emerges frequently. The music is just great: never predictable yet somewhat singable, like any popular aria worthy of the name. The crossing of strings into a form between contemporary folk and “haunting here and now” is the winning point of this record, Akkajee’s second. But the sweeter sections often give way to more restless, almost sinister segments. A many-layered, strangely resonant effort from 2021, definitely worth listening to.

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Robert Ashworth / Sarah Watkins – Moonstone

As the owner of a substantial library of classical music, both conventional and modern, I can nevertheless say without fear of dispute that I’m not an expert, not even competent to write a review that would persuade those with more expertise to listen to a record like this. It doesn’t help that none of the New Zealand composers that pianist Sarah Watkins and violist Robert Ashworth present in this program are familiar to me. But I can promise you that the duo’s brilliantly performed material is varied in terms of sources of inspiration and temporal placement, and unquestionably enjoyable. I spent the morning in complete calm, listening to harmonic passages and counterpoints that were alternately delightful and mysterious. There’s no need to justify the practically total absence of “radically avant” structures and signals; just open your ears and heart to a few splendidly sounding pieces (case in point, “Dream Lines for Viola and Piano” by Chris Cree Brown). In summary, this is a typical instance of a beautiful album that is just that – beautiful. It is exactly what is needed to start a day more pleasantly than normal, despite the constant stresses of daily life and the current state of the world.

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Fred Tompkins & Greg Mills – Curving Away

Over the course of 17 entirely improvised tracks, the methods and personal sensitivities of pianist Greg Mills and flutist Fred Tompkins blend together beautifully. The duo’s ability to interact on a contrapuntal level is so natural, based on tremendous responsiveness and equal quantities of intuition, that several of these small jewels truly sound composed. This is the enigma, so to speak, of this very good release, a more open-minded type of chamber music for a duet. The occasional existence of ambient background noises that, for some odd reason, seem just right at that moment is another fascinating feature of the recording. At one point in the album, a car starts up and pulls out of its parking spot while Tompkins and Mills are wholly engrossed in the interplay, as they always seem to be. These improvisations may not be really radical, but the combination of finesse, spontaneous movements, and ears attentive to every resonance gives us a handful of moments of pure pleasure.

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Antti Tolvi – Spectral Organ / Feedback Gong

I immediately said to myself “let’s go” after reading the title “Spectral Organ”. And I still hadn’t even started to contemplate the upcoming listening experience. Sound artist Antti Tolvi, a Finn, loves experimenting with the church organs in his native little villages. For those who crave being literally carried off their feet by drones featuring imperceptible alterations inside a static harmony, he gets really gorgeous waves out of it in this case. “Feedback Gong” is just another stunning illustration of minimalist droning done simply and well. A gong is positioned between two microphones in a 2019 sound/light installation and is brought into vibration purely through feedback, devoid of any physical touch. The end effect is a mass of low frequencies enhanced by higher harmonics that can’t help but trigger memories of the genre’s finest composers, whose names I won’t repeat here. It also made me reminisce about the Goodyear blimp that used to fly above Rome when I was a kid.

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SIMON WHETHAM – VELVET

It could be anything: the reflections of a city processed beyond recognition, the hyper-equalized murmur of a household appliance, the amplification of an ancient tape dirtying the head with its oxide. An aircraft, anyone? Now and then slightly tangible micro-movements are sensed, but these 24 minutes (on 3-inch CD) by Simon Whetham grant absolutely no chance to the hypothesis of accurate delineation of a sound source. As the deeper nuances make themselves audible in a subdued yet decisive manner, one can choose to raise the aerials, or simply be cuddled by the accretions of lightless frequencies. Homogenized with the stillness of a summer heatwave rarely broken by remote outdoor manifestation, it works to utter perfection. Until everything stops suddenly, and you are left like a fish without water.

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XOPHER DAVIDSON – SUBMERGED INFRASTRUCTURE

Xopher Davidson’s subsonic droning business may even appear hushed at times. By not paying attention to the loudness, though, your woofers will not be grateful. The title is self-explanatory: a wall of cumulative murkiness camouflages a diversity of thrumming organisms, well beneath the surface of the acoustic fabric. There are neither overly prominent variations, nor blasts of aggression. It is all in the form of silent menace. These sounds at the same time provide, in the very words of the man who crafted them, a “massage” and a “teardown.” For aural machinery, brain, and immune defenses the first presumption certainly applies. As for the second, let each one follow their own awareness.

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NULA.CC – RINGINGS

Lloyd Dunn unwittingly takes advantage of our fascination with the chiming of bells, providing us with four tracks in which the aforesaid sound – more or less treated – is blended with older field recordings. The evocative wealth of the outcome is copious; the mnemonic (and somewhat wistful) implications on the hearer inescapable. Starting with basic rhythmic patterns, the whole unfolds until it becomes a dusty haze with rare chinks of dim light, then turns into a quasi-Niblockian infinitum to close the circle.

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Raymond Boni – Mémoire De l’Oubli – Images For Donald Ayler

It takes a crazy guitarist to tackle Donald Ayler’s music. Raymond Boni is crazy enough, and he’s spiritually and technically gifted. Find the logic in the apparent disorder. Hear how those strings resonate rebelliously. For the most inquisitive, do your best to retrieve a copy of Christine Baudillon’s splendid film about this artist. Difficul task, but well worth a try. Mavericks like Boni are an endangered species.

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D’INCISE / LUDGER HENNIG / JONAS KOCHER / SCISS

Four improvisations for laptop trio, accordion and objects. Compared to the expected standard in such cases (we’re talking 2012, when “laptop” often rhymed with “snorefest”), here we find a near-perfect amalgam of extremely physical abstractions and transmutations. Textures in systematic change, bold juxtapositions, drones that last just long enough before turning into tangible electroacoustic entities. To give you a vague idea, assume a cool drink stand halfway down the road from Organum to Voice Crack.

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XOL – Plays X.EN

I love it when I find a recording of improvisation (or free jazz, if you will) that sounds refreshing even in these times of corporate-smelling formulas to get awards and coverage. The never tedious interplay of Guy Bettini (cornet, trumpet, fluegelhorn), Harri Sjöström (soprano sax), Luca Pissavini (double bass) and Francesco Miccolis (drums, percussion) vindicates brilliantly their past live experiences with such names as Peter Brötzmann, Derek Bailey and Cecil Taylor.

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YANN NOVAK + FABIO PERLETTA – Liminality

Perceptible yet invisible movements under thick clouds of lightless drones. The first collaboration between Yann Novak and Fabio Perletta establishes clear hierarchies in the field of minimalism obscured by greyness. Intangible music projecting the listeners towards an illusion of improvement, beyond their condition of extremely limited human beings.

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July – Animals & Giraffes

One must learn to accept spoken text as another instrument for improvisation. Claudia La Rocco and Phillip Greenlief, together with other equally talented musicians, apply the concept in a set of vocal/instrumental combinations never lacking in alluring ideas, both at a timbral and conceptual level. Only on the ever-wonderful Edgetone Records, a place where intelligent peculiarity is always welcome.

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The Infant Cycle – A Mysterious Disc

How to do things properly in a sonic field replete with clichés. State-of-the-art loops, drones that work on the subconscious in a surprisingly effective way. The willingness to repeat the experience for better understanding, without actually understanding anything but remaining in an optimal state of mind. For the little we do know of him, Jim DeJong usually avoids the mistake of committing to projects at too low a level. In this particular case, miss at your own risk.

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Edoardo Marraffa – Diciotto

A lot of saxophonists. A lot of useless, boring records. But my compatriot Edoardo Marraffa can play for real, composing spontaneously and intelligently. That he released two solo records in eighteen years says a lot. If only more people would learn to do the same, and publish only when it’s necessary. Sensible, lively, articulate music worthy of repeated tasting.

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Yann Novak – Ornamentation

When organic and transcendental meet, strange auditory hallucinations happen. Yann Novak knows how to handle the substance, giving us some relief from the mediocrity that has been affecting this genre as a silent cancer. Pregnant stasis leading to void, in a class of its own. And, needless to say, “infinite repeat” mode highly recommended for your own home installation.