Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You

Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You

Jonathan Finlayson - trumpet
Jon Irabagon - alto saxophone
Ingrid Laubrock - tenor saxophone
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Mary Halvorson - guitar
Susan Alcorn - pedal steel guitar
John Hébert - bass
Ches Smith - drums

Just got through listening to Mary Halvorson’s amazing new album with her Octet, Away With You (Because of the letterspacing on the cover, at first I thought the title was A Way With You, which is a nice play on words if you think about it!) This recording hit me so hard that I had to come out of my blog retirement to comment on it.

No real dominant voice, everything is very well-balanced throughout, and it’s the ensemble sound that you notice. One unique quality to the arrangements is Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel, an instrument I generally steer clear of even though I was born in the South. Here, however, it blends remarkably well with the woodwinds and brass, as well as Ms. Halvorson’s guitar.

Away With You builds on Ms. Halvorson’s work on her previous Firehouse 12 group recording, Illusionary Sea; in fact, it’s the same group with the addition of Ms. Alcorn. Listening to Away With You brought to mind Michael Formanek’s The Distance, not in the specific sound but in the way each offers a fresh take on arranging for larger groups of instruments.

This is brilliant stuff. It releases on October 28, but you can pre-order at Firehouse 12’s Bandcamp page.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

My favorite things, pt. 4: Balance Point Acoustics

Wrapping up this series of "My favorite things" is bassist Damon Smith and his label, Balance Point Acoustics. Smith was active on the West Coast avant-garde scene, founded the label in 2001 and then relocated to Houston, Texas in 2010. Damon is known for his adventurous playing, an insatiable thirst for listening to new music, and his culinary adventures (which he documents on Facebook). He's also known for his outspoken opinions on other players, something of a rarity among improvising musicians, at least in public. I recall his comparison of MOPDK's Kevin Shea to Jimmy Cobb generated strong reactions when the group's Blue album, a recreation of Kind of Blue, came out.
Smith has played with musicians from all over the world, and is known for long-running collaborations with guitarists Henry Kaiser and Sandy Ewen. Some of the work on Balance Point Acoustics that I've enjoyed recently include:

Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith - Background Information













Fred Van Hove / Peter Jacquemyn / Damon Smith - Burns Longer













Peter Kowald/Damon Smith - Mirrors Broken - But No Dust













One other outstanding album on which he plays is on the Nuscope label:

Magda Mayas / Damon Smith / Tony Buck - Spill Plus


Sunday, April 3, 2016

My favorite things, pt. 3: Setola Di Maiale

I've sung the praises of drummer Stefano Giust's label before on this blog. Founded in 1993, Setola Di Maiale continues to put out a steady stream of releases that combine some names you know with some you don't, and are always challenging and worthwhile.

These CR-Rs are well-recorded and come housed in contemporary, eye-catching graphics, most of them designed by Giust himself, who trained as a graphic designer. Setola Di Maiale illustrates how vibrant an improvised music scene there is in Italy, in the same way For Tune highlights Polish musicians.

Some recent Setola Di Maiale releases I've enjoyed are:

One Lip 5 - Apro il Silenzio (I open the silence); with Guido Mazzon, Nicola Catteneo, Franco Cortellessa, Alberto Mandarini, Stefano Giust, etc.











Sabir Mateen (sax), Gianni Lenoci (piano), Giacomo Mongelli (drums) - Testing the System




Guido Mazzon (trumpet), Marta Sacchi (clarinets), Stefano Giust (percussion) - Neu Musik Projekt










The site is down temporarily, but you can see most of the catalog at Discogs.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My favorite things, pt. 2: Pi Recordings

Some labels put out a plethora of releases each year, and of course we should all be grateful that they do. Others, like Pi, issue a handful of what feel like carefully curated albums that cause you to really focus your attention. The most recent, save one, is drummer Dan Weiss’ Sixteen: Drummer’s Suite, which pays indirect tribute to famous drummers who have influenced him in one way or another. I say indirect because the suite doesn’t mimic any past styles but makes a very comprehensive statement of its own. 

I wasn’t a fan of Weiss’ previous Pi release, Fourteen, because it felt like a pastiche, with styles grafted onto each other. He’s taken a major step forward with Sixteen, displaying complete mastery in combining acoustic instruments, electronics, voice and percussion. Some themes remind me of the open, endless blue sky style of John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, but Weiss is his own man, and he has birthed a masterwork. 

The most recent Pi Recordings release ,which I haven’t yet heard, is Henry Threadgill’s Old Locks and Irregular Verbs.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My favorite things pt. 1: Leo Records

Leo Records puts out an amazingly diverse group of recordings, and has done so for an astonishing 37 years now. I always see names that are new to me, even though I follow the music closely. Not everything is to my taste, but I’m indebted to the label for their Anthony Braxton recordings alone. Leo Feigin, the founder, also has great taste in pianists: Simon Nabatov, Achim Kaufmann, and more recently, Uwe Oberg. Here are some recently releases that I’ve really enjoyed:

Simon Nabatov / Mark Dresser / Dominik Mahnig - Equal Poise


Sarah Bernstein Quartet (with Kris Davis) - Still/free




Kaufmann, Gratkowski, de Joode - Oblengths











Uwe Oberg / Silke Eberhardt - Turns

Taking a pause

It’s time for me to say goodbye to reviews, at least for the foreseeable future. As I mentioned in a previous post, early last year I accepted a challenging new job that has left little time for listening to music, never mind writing about it. The stack of CDs that I’ve not yet heard, or heard only once, is daunting. 

Before I stop down for good, I’m going to do a series of posts around the theme of “My Favorite Things”, the labels and recordings that I’ve really gravitated to over the past few months, and for whose existence I’m grateful. Hopefully this will help bring a little more attention to deserving artists and the labels which support them, and help ease my guilt about all those CDs that never got written about.

To the label owners, PR professionals, and artists, thanks for your passion, and for your friendship that has developed online as a result of this blog. You can stop sending me CDs now, but know I’ll continue to support you as I always have by purchasing your recordings and following you on social media.