Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Schwingungen 77 Entertainment - Act I: Notes In Freedom

Schwingungen 77 Entertainment
Act I: Notes In Freedom

Andrea Massaria – Guitar, objects, live electronics
Enrico Merlin – Guitar, kaospad, live electronics
Alessandro Seravalle – Guitar, toys, electronic substratums, samples, live electronics

Just when I thought I somewhat knew what to expect from the Setola Di Maiale label, along comes a curveball, at least for my ears. Act 1: Notes In Freedom contains elements of musique concrète, spoken word, massive amounts of signal manipulation, and occasionally some recognizable elements of electric guitar. 

The writer and poet Edmond Jabes’ quote “Banality is not harmless: It drives you furious” is featured on the CDR sleeve, and one would never call this record banal. Notes on the label website state that the work is inspired by Italian futurism, and I get the sense that the twelve tracks have a conceptual link, an aural equivalent to a Dadaist play.

This recording is well outside my frame of reference – I wouldn’t say it comes within a country mile of jazz, or even what most of us think of as free improv - but if you’ve got open ears and want to keep up with developments in guitar music, this is something you should check into.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stephen Gauci/Kirk Knuffke/Ken Filiano - Chasing Tales

Gauci/Knuffke/Filiano
Chasing Tales

Stephen Gauci – Tenor saxophone
Kirk Knuffke – Cornet
Ken Filiano – Double bass

I like to pull for the underdog, and I suppose that's why I like to check out what Stephen Gauci is up to from time to time. I'm not sure why I feel that way about him; perhaps it's because he came to music as a profession relatively late in life (I’ve read that his first studio session was at age 35), or perhaps because you don't see his name a lot. 

Stephen Gauci
Gauci has put out some albums on the CIMP label, displaying promise but also falling victim to the drawbacks of the CIMP aesthetic: A seeming lack of preparation and a tendency to let ideas run past the point of diminishing returns. But he was impressive on 2010’s SKM (Clean Feed) with Kris Davis and Michael Bisio, and now he’s part of another drummer-less trio on Chasing Tales

Six of the tracks are completely improvised, while Gauci contributes three compositions, and Knuffke and Filiano one each. The composed tracks have interesting arrangements and are crisply executed, with enough air in them to encourage dialog between the players. It’s a tribute to the group that the quality is consistent across all the tracks, whether composed or improvised.

Kirk Knuffke
Gauchi has sometimes come across as tentative to these ears, perhaps thinking a little too much, but he sounds confident and in control here, more fluid than I’ve ever heard him. Knuffke is so consistent; I sang his praises on Max Johnson’s The Invisible Trio, and he delivers here as well. Like Gauci, he doesn't feel the need to use a lot of extended techniques to make his point.

A few years ago I was on the fence about Ken Filiano, but he seems to get better and better. I still think Dreams from a Clown Car (Clean Feed) was criminally overlooked, and he's the glue for this record, whether walking under the other two players with a full, rich tone, adding his commentary, or playing unison phrases.

This album makes me smile, and who can't use a little of that in their lives? Great spirit, great interaction, mutual respect. It's the little record that could.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rodrigo Amado - Wire Quartet

Rodrigo Amado
Wire Quartet 

Rodigo Amado – Tenor saxophone
Manuel Mota – Guitar
Hernani Faustino – Double bass
Gabriel Ferrandini - Drums

Rodrigo Amado is a free jazz musician whose sound harks back to the classic saxophonists of the jazz tradition. His thick tone, bluesy in quieter moments and containing an R&B edge, brings to mind players like Gene Ammons and Lockjaw Davis. When things get heated, his tone takes on a grainy quality that reminds me of a young Gato Barbieri. 

His Wire Quartet is composed of bassist Faustino and drummer Ferrandini of the RED Trio; Ferrandini is also part of Amado’s Motion Trio with cellist Miguel Mira. Guitarist Manuel Mota completes the group.

The initial and longest track, Abandon Yourself, alternates between sections where everyone plays nice with each other, in sort of a free jazz version of a ballad session, and moments when things come to a full boil. Probably the most fascinating part of this track, and the record overall, is the tension of the interaction between Amado and Mota, where Amado’s rational explorations of thematic elements are juxtaposed with Mota’s frenzied finger-picking and bursts of noise.

The two shorter tracks that follow are even more compelling than the first, each providing a clearer arc of tension and release with a little more economy of expression.

You would expect the bassist and drummer of the RED Trio to be hand-in-glove, and they are, but this is Amado’s and Mota’s show. This round is a draw, and it’ll be interesting to see how things settle out should they tangle again.

Here's a video from 2007 of the group in concert, with Peter Bastiaan in place of Ferrandini.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fail Better! - Zero Sum

Fail Better!
Zero Sum

Luis Vicente – Trumpet
Joao Guimaraes – Alto saxophone
Marcelo Dos Reis – Electric guitar
Jose Miguel Pereira – Double bass
Joao Pais Filipe – Drums

What makes a free improv record successful can be an elusive thing to define. I think it comes down to how well the musicians listen to each other, how skilled they are at interacting, and if they generate some sort of forward momentum. I may be old school in my love of jazz, but for me merely exploring textures doesn't cut it. I still want a sense of the music starting at one point and traveling to another.

I started to wonder about Zero Sum as I began listening to the first track, but my fears were soon allayed. I'm happy to report that the collective known as Fail Better! has documented a successful live concert, one that gets stronger as the record progresses. 

The group is good at creating structures in real time. Even though it's free, there are places where each musician has a chance to shine out front, as it were, of the rest of the band. I recently reviewed Clocks and Clouds from a different group also featuring Luis Vicente, and he again impresses here, asserting the trumpet’s natural leadership position while still leaving space for contributions from the rest of the musicians. The other group members were unknown to me, but all acquit themselves well; Dos Reis shows an intriguing approach, using spare single note lines, but also developing monolithic slabs of feedback to ratchet up more intense moments. 

Zero Sum is yet another example of the extremely fertile Portuguese jazz scene.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tesla Coils - S/T

Tesla Coils
Tesla Coils

Blaise Siwula - Soprano, Alto, Tenor Saxophones
Harvey Valdes - Electric Guitar
Gian Luigi Diana - Laptop/Real-time Sampling , Sound Manipulation

This is the final installation in my four-part series on new Italian jazz from Stefano Giust’s Setola Di Maiale label. Previous reviews can be found here, here and here.

Tesla Coils is a trio exploring “real-time electronic orchestration.” My experience with records featuring real-time sampling/signal processing is mixed. At times I think it works really well, such as on Evan Parker & his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble’s The Moment’s Energy, and at times it’s used in an overly harsh way, putting a heavy layer on top of the music. Tesla Coils is one of the best examples of this type of digital manipulation that I’ve yet heard. The sampling adds to the dialogue and never seems arbitrary or random.

Valdes has a spikey approach to his guitar that at certain points reminded me of Mary Halvorson, but he also mixes in other tactics including a crunching, metal-influenced component. He’s a good listener too.

When I first encountered this CD my thought was, “Oh yeah Blaise Siwula, I see his name around, I’ve heard him on a couple of things.” At the end of the first track I was thinking, “Wow, I had no idea this guy was such a great soprano sax player!” And as it turns out, he’s not too shabby on alto or tenor either.

Siwula plays his reeds “straight” for the most part, with a full tone on soprano and an at times luxurious, almost Hodges-ian tone on alto. Unlike a lot of these types of records, things never get to the point where you can’t tell who’s playing what, and that’s actually refreshing. The tension between the jazz-influenced saxophone and the edgy contributions from the other two musicians ends up being fertile ground to explore.

This is my sleeper album of the year so far; don’t sleep on it.

Here's a 32+ minute clip of a Brooklyn concert from December, 2013:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Guido Mazzon/Roberto Del Piano - Il Tempo Non Passa Invano

Guido Mazzon/Roberto Del Piano
Il Tempo Non Passa Invano

Guido Mazzon - Trumpet
Roberto Del Piano - Electric bass guitar

(This is the third in a series of reviews spotlighting new releases from the Setola di Maiale label. The previous reviews are here and here.)

Il Tempo Non Passa Invano (Time Fails, or Time in Vain?) is a really nice duet album that begins In a Milesean Way with somber muted trumpet from Mazzon. The duo explores twelve short pieces, mostly under four minutes, some sounding composed and some improvised, with Mazzon on both open and muted horn, using both traditional and extended techniques. 

Mazzon’s name didn’t register with me, but he’s a founding member of the Italian Instabile Orchestra and a veteran of the Italian free jazz scene since the 70’s. Del Piano is a monster on electric bass, with tons of technique, but not used for its own sake; he meshes with Mazzon even in the quieter passages.

The mood of the opening track comes back around near the end of the disc in a slightly different way on "Se qualcuno si innamorera di me" (“If someone falls in love with me”), a sorrowful, elegant theme that could only come from the soul of an Italian jazzman. It’s a nice bookend to a rewarding dialogue.