Monday, 30 May 2011

Nate Wooley - Trumpet/Amplifier

As usual it's fun writing up reviews for Free Jazz Blog especially because you get to hear so much music that you'd not normally buy. Now when I say 'not normally buy' I don't mean I wouldn't spend the money on it. Of course one of the biggest problems in discovering new sounds is 1) have the money to spend and 2) discovering new LPs/CDs to buy. Of course it's easy just to buy everything, but if you have to organise your finances (which are probably not endless) it's probably better to buy chosen products. In fact a third element comes into playing/listening - time! Yes, it's no good buying things that you'll never have time to listen to. Oddly enough this is where I can't get my head round the idea of the digital revolution and the whole downloading industry, especially when many people don't pay for it. If I look on my iTunes I'm surprised to see only 13.5 days of music. However I'm not a good indication - I mostly buy CDs and LPs - but when I see some peoples systems they have a years worth of music? When do they have time to listen to it, after all that's 24 hours a day and one has to assume that if you listen to it only half the day it's already ........ etc? 

Anyhow I'm really here to talk about the music that I discover via reviewing music and today it's a brief update on Nate Wooley's latest offering. I'd put a link to Nate's website but he doesn't update it - he admitted to me that he should get himself organised on that level.  Below is the review posted on Free Jazz Blog and below I'll add a few bits to the whole thing, there's also a mini review of the concert where I saw Nate perform the piece here.

 Nate Wooley's LP cover for Trumpet/Amplifier

Nate Wooley - Trumpet/Amplifier (Smeraldina-Rima 2011) *****

This is one of the strangest records I've listened to in a while, yet it's also an easy record to give 5 stars to simply because what you hear defies any expectations of what a solo trumpet record, even with an amplifier, would or should sound like. It's this second element, the amplifier, which defines the outcome of Nate Wooley's sound explorations. I use the expression 'sound exploration' as what you hear on this record is anything but music in conventional terms, more an exploration of trumpets sonic possibilities. Wooley investigates the various sounds produced (and not normally heard), brought to the fore via the amplifier, a kind of microscopic sound-view of a brass instrument. Others before have also found new directions on which to experiment such as Evan Parker, Joelle Leandre, Derek Bailey, or more recently trumpeter Alex Boney, and it seems that Nate Wooley is following in the same direction, looking to find new ways of using his instrument.       

As for the LP itself. Side One has two tracks : 1) Trumpet A, 2) Trumpet B. Side Two, one track titled quite simply 'Amplifier'. I can imagine looking at this you wonder if it's possible to keep ones attention throughout, and if so are the tracks that different. The answer in both cases is 'yes, no problem'. The opening track takes you a short while to enter into and understand what you're actually listening to, but once you've 'caught on' the rest is just 'sit back and listen'. Even if the sounds are abstract to begin with, little by little you hear Nate Wooley's thinking process unfold as he uses both sound and rhythm in these improvisations which at times sound like early computer generated sound. In fact whilst watching a performance of this music I noticed he not only blows into the trumpet, but sometimes spits, blows at, talks, hits, and sings into his instrument, a more physical approach than the standard playing technique. The three tracks passed by as if in the blink of an eye and I ended up placing the needle back at the beginning as if to confirm what I'd heard, after all did I just hear a trumpet record where no actually brass (musical) note was sounded?     

I can recommend this album to all who are interested by new sounds, techniques and their possibilities. Of course if you're into the sound experiments of the likes of Schaeffer, Stockhausen, or even certain moments of Supersilent etc, you'll be quite comfortable with this music, like old friends. I'd love to hear how Wooley and Paul Lytton combine these sonic possibilities in there duo CD reviewed elsewhere. One should note that this is a limited edition of 495 LPs, so if you're interested you better get your copy whilst it's available.

As Stef would say ..... highly recommended!

To add a little to this post I would really like to encourage people to go and see this 'type' of music. As I mention in the article concerning the loft scene etc, it's sad that only a few people get to witness such music and also an indication of a cities artistic awareness. Henry Threadgill mentions in a recent interview with Ethan Iverson (Do the Math). 
Threadgill says this : 

I was thinking yesterday about these peoples' blogs, you know, and reviews and stuff talking about records, records, records.  When's the last time you saw something about a live performance?  I'm not just talking about jazz, I'm talking about all music.  The most powerful experience you ever have in your life is a live experience.

And he's partly right - I'll write a new post about this statement in the weeks to come as it's a little short sighted. Of course nowadays some people actually create records, never to be seen performed just heard, however some of the most thrilling moments are to be found in live performance. 

Friday, 27 May 2011

Wadada Leo Smith - Explains

Here's a series of video from the (in)famous YouTube with Wadada Leo Smith explaining some of his life and musical ideas. I'm posting this really just to make it easier to watch (for me?) in series, but also because it's a good way of highlighting another one of the unsung heroes of music - another being Henry Threadgill. Actually you could fill a hundred blogs with people that deserve recognition, or is it the other way round a 1000 blogs with people that have recognition, but shouldn't! Anyhow, that's not important here, and not today anyhow. I just thought to place these here in easy reach of the passer buy who maybe tempted to take some time out to watch this documentary about what seems like a very warm and honest musician. Enjoy :

::: Part 1 :::

::: Part 2 :::

::: Part 3 :::

::: Part 4 :::

Monday, 23 May 2011

Les Ateliers Claus - Sunday Afternoon.

I was inspired to write a quick blog post today after attending the Sunday afternoon session at the Atelier Claus - here in Brussels. A friend of mine had been saying, quite rightly, how little we try to get things to happen in Brussels. It is almost a sign of how the scene here in Belgium is not really pushing at the boundaries. There are few, if any, small 'loft' type gigs where the musicians in general are paid practically nothing. However they do make music, and maybe it's true to say that a well developed loft scene reflects on the health of a city's music and art scene in general? When one thinks of Steve Lacy's famed loft gigs back in the 70s it showed how music such as his was really not allowed in many clubs, or one could say they didn't really program that type of music. The same is apparent nowadays also with many places sticking to more commercial programs which unfortunately gradually numbs the general population into believing that 'that' is all there is to see.

Steve Lacy at Zabo's '83
Photo and copyright Jack Handy

In Brussels there are one or two places that still try and promote something new - by that one should understand 'new' as "we're trying something out". The Ateliers Claus (not really a loft as such) does try to help and develop the more underground music scene, as does (did) the Magasin 4, although it's now become a more 'metal and rock' type venue. 

A special mention should go to Fred Donche and Frederik Leroux who are also trying to get some new sounds and ideas across to the public. They've started holding sessions known as Karel Ball, sessions   based around experimentation and development of sound manipulation. The music is always interesting and if you pass via their site you can see a few videos of the work in progress. They hope to also develop their handmade recordings which is becoming an important way to get more underground music out to be heard, almost like coded documents which were passed around in periods of repression.

In the meanwhile this was meant to be a post about the Sunday session at Les Ataliers Claus so here goes (in short). It was great to get a chance to see some interesting music on Sunday with these three acts as seen below. The first two were fun to hear although if you need a chord change from time to time, then this is not your thing. I did wonder in the Mountains set what would most harmony teachers make of all of this? After all what they did (and well) was basically build up one chord through loops and live guitars. At times one wondered how a tune with no tonic, yet only one tonality could possibly end! Oubys on the other hand was more up my street with (as described below) a more Tangerine Dream or Kluster sound akin to that of Hans-Joachim Roedelius. The waves of sound washed over the public who sat quietly enjoying the sensation (me too). And finally the most interesting part was Nate Wooley who performed with his trumpet and amplifier (and that's how it's billed). If you think you know what a trumpet sounds like then this was for you. Nate blew not only into his trumpet but AT his trumpet, the amplifier picking up the sounds and then magnifying them. The result being anything but what one expects from this brass instrument. I use the word magnify as when one places something so close under a magnifying glass you are often astounded at the details that make up such an object. This was the effect given by the use of the amplifier. If you're interested there's an excellent LP (no CDs) of this music which can be found here from Smeraldina-Rima. There will be a review of the record posted soon of this excellent release either here or on Free Jazz Blog .... or both!

I should add that the texts under the pictures are from the press release and are NOT my property. However I found that they sum up each artist well and I imagine it's as they wish to be seen.

OUBYS is a one man ambient project from Hasselt, Belgium. The force behind Oubys is Wannes Kolf, whose music is made with live improvisations, electronic treatment and field recordings. Influenced by early kraut legends Faust, Can and ambient guru Brian Eno, this music has a nice sense of subterrenean depth and a pulsating progression. He just released the stellar ‘Terra Incognita’ LP on the newly founded Testtoon Records.

MOUNTAINS is Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, founders of the Apestaartje label in 1999. A love of sculpting sound in front of an audience is at the heart of Mountains. They seamlessly blend pastoral electronic sounds with both field recordings and a plethora of acoustic instruments. The resulting soundscapes are broad in scope and rich in detail. The effect is incredibly sublime and hypnotic as the sounds slowly wrap themselves around each other and alter themselves in the mind of the listener. Within their realm of experimentation, they share similarities with Fennesz’s guitar ambient or the 12K aesthetic but regularly cross over into psychedelic and kosmische (Harmonia, Cluster, Popol Vuh) territories.

NATE WOOLEY (b. 1974) grew up in a Finnish-American fishing village in Oregon.  He has spent the rest of his life trying musically to find a way back to the peace and quiet of that time by whole-heartedly embracing the space between complete absorption in sound and relative absence of the same. Nate currently resides in Jersey City, NJ and performs solo trumpet improvisations as well as collaborating with such diverse artists as Anthony Braxton, Paul Lytton, John Zorn, Fred Frith, Wolf Eyes, Akron/Family, David Grubbs, C. Spencer Yeh, ...

Other small clubs (not really lofts) that are trying to develop a more interesting scene are the Hot Club De Gand and the El Negocito. One could also maybe include the JazzOlder sessions. (click here and follow the links).

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Motif - Facienda (it's a lot of music!)

What's great fun about getting to write for Free Jazz Blog is that you get to hear an awful lot of music, much of which you probably wouldn't have bought in the first place, after all there's only so much money in my pocket (and yours also I suspect). And what's more is that you (often) receive a copy of the CD your reviewing yet the music is so interesting you end up buying a hard copy for your own collection. Yes, it does happen to me at least and this is one such album. It's also one that got the readers at the blog reacting to the 3½ star review written by the blog director Stef. It's certainly difficult to sum up and write about such albums - a 3 CD box set covering from 2007 to 2010 - and as always we don't always agree (luckily), nor do the readers. So here's the review I was writing for Free Jazz Blog except Stef wrote his a little quicker than I ... and believe me there's an awful lot of music in there to write about!  

Motif - Facienda (JazzLand 2011)

What a mammoth task to present and review such a sprawling work as this. A 3CD (21 tracks) box set which covers concerts and studio work from another top Norwegian jazz unit from 2007 to 2010. Motif is the compositional baby of bassist Ole Morten Vågen a prolific writer and player who seems to be very active on the Nordic scene. The music of Motif is a brilliant mixture of improvised and composed, probably even more developed than their label-mates 'Atomic' (a favourite on this blog). Many people talk about the way Ole Morten Vågen mixes classical, jazz and folk together in the compositions, also true for the musicians on here who draw from such diverse areas for their own improvisations. You're just as likely to be reminded of Keith Jarrett or Dewey Redman, as Misha Mengleberg and Evan Parker. In fact it's in part this which for me makes the record so interesting the music doesn't let itself be pigeon holed in one area although I should add that this doesn't make for a confusing mixture, the compositions and improvisations really flow easily between styles. What makes Motif different from Atomic is the writing style which for me (at least) is less immediate (catchy themes) and isn't such a bad thing as often the compositions take time to unfold themselves. As anyone knows who's a wine fanatic (such as I), the first sip is often not the whole story, it takes time for the flavours to reveal themselves.  

The box set has various line ups due to the 3 year period that the music covers (see below for complete details). The first CD represents the group as it is today and is a studio album. The second CD is a special expanded line up, a live concert that includes guitar and vibes along with an extra sax and a violin (not on all tunes). CD 3 is a collection of concerts from the 2007 Molde Jazz Festival, The Victoria in Olso and also the Pit Inn, Tokyo both 2009. 

Die Kunst (TK 5 - CD 1)

The first CD is probably the most developed in terms of composition and improvisation and it seems  this is a direction that the group is now moving towards. It also has the new trumpet player Eivind Lønning who now replaces the original member Mathias Eick. Lønning has to my ears a slightly more modern approach to playing, incorporating several extended techniques into his soloing such as half valves, flutter tonging and the likes. Strangely the album seemed on first hearing almost laid back in approach, however after a few listens I realised that due to the way the compositions often wove their way between themes, solos or duos one is not immediately aware of the intensity of the music. Nymo's Ayler-esque attacks after Håvard Wiik's flowing piano solos can take you (and your stereo) completely by surprise. However it's true to say that most of the themes on this CD use a sort of rubato to introduce the music ..... but it doesn't stay like that, not for long! You also get a clearer picture of the classical influences in the writing such as Tk3 Seksten and Tk5 Die Kunst (featured above).

The second CD is an expanded group or as Ole Morten Vagan told me : "The box covers the end of the quintet with Mathias, which was 2008 more or less, and the rise of the new and more open quintet with Eivind Lønning, and also our 10-year anniversary projects, featuring some of our friends like Håkon Kornstad, Mathias Ståhl, Ola Kvernberg and others." I guess this is the result of one of these projects as the expanded group plays some excellent up front music which is less introspective than the rest of the box sets offerings. With the addition of extra sax, trumpet, violin and guitar/lap steel guitar from time to time, the music takes off in a different way, the music is no less daring and still uses modern compositional ideas. Krakatau is an excellent example of the mixing of styles and one that (on the box set) really features Vagan playing his bass, it's also one of the highlights for me on this CD. In fact on the this CD Immunoflourescence is another bass feature (maybe a bass improvisation?) and it seems as though Vagan had more space for himself in these concerts. The titles also give us an idea of the general fun being had with the likes of Paddy Wack and Korean Barbecue SmokeoutYou can hear how the audience really enjoyed these sets recorded in several places in 2009

I Distinctly Heard the Sound of.... (Tk 3 CD2)

Finally the third CD in this set is the collection of live material from the original line up and is maybe where one might find traces of the initial influences from Atomic, as mentioned. I found the music more 'bop orientated' with strong swinging riffs. You get a good view of the interaction between Håkon Mjåset Johansen and Vågan a very strong bass/drum team. To a certain extent a tune such as Allkiss also has elements of Keith Jarrett's quartet featuring Dewey Redman and Co. There's also the trumpet of Mathias Eick on this CD who approaches the music differently again and gives a slightly less 'avante-jazz' edge to the music. There are many fine passages here and an excellent choice of music to finish of this mammoth collection and one that if you're curious to discover this group it's certainly well worth the effort to find. 

Personnel: Atle Nymo: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Eivind Lønning: trumpet (CD1, CD2, CD3#2); Håvard Wiik: piano; Håkon Mjåset Johansen: drums; Ole Morten Vågan: bass; Håkon Kornstad: tenor saxophone (CD2); Petter Vågan: guitar (CD2); Mattias Ståhl: vibraphone (CD2); Mathias Eick: trumpet (CD2#1, CD2#3, CD3#1, CD3#3-6); Ola Kvernberg: violin (CD2#1, CD2#3).

Footnote :
Sorry for such a long blurb, but it was difficult to do justice to these 3CDs (and 21 tracks) in only a few words. And after all that's what's blogging's about, eh!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Gentle Giant - not likely today.

I just had to post this which I must of heard dozens of times on my old scratched up LP version. What made me laugh when watching the video is how they just play this complicated piece live, no problem. Immediately I thought of all the rock bands that are popular at the present and wondered how many could actually do such a thing at all. Maybe in the studio with the help of Pro-Tools or Logic, but not live on stage! Can you imagine the likes of Blur, U2, Mumford and Sons or Lady Gaga even being able to play even a one instrument correctly, but certainly not two (and singing in some cases). Of course that doesn't mean that todays rock musicians or less talented, but it does show how lazy they maybe are, and of course less involed in the real art of composition. I would say that this is the best of Gentle Giant, but it's fun to watch the guys going through their paces.

And lastly it's also interesting to wonder how many popular bands can also produce a quality show where they can keep the audience captivated by their own talent. I suppose that from Genesis' show 'The Lamb Lies Down ....', it's more and more common to expect your favourite group or artist to produce something. The likes of Lady Gaga, Madonna or Michael Jackson to name but three, all went out with one can only call 'musicals' (and for me) not less pompous than the rock bonanzas of ELP, or Yes. Funnily enough those groups (and that period) is what inspired the rise of the punk movement in the UK, even if those bands also became more and more polished in their presentations, a kind of  'the pot calling the kettle black'. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the video from YouTube and if you don't know the group follow them up as there's plenty more interesting stuff to hear and see.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Peter Evans (and the ghost of Wynton M.)

Here's a review I posted on the Free Jazz Blog concerning the latest Peter Evans (Quintet) recording. I could of written more about this release but decided due to space on Stef's Free Jazz blog that I'd keep the words down and write a little more here, and include an mp3 or two for those interested. In the meanwhile read on as I'll write some more blurb after the review.

Peter Evans Quintet - Ghosts (2011) *****

The quintet : Evans (trumpet), Carlos Homs (piano), Tom Blancarte (bass), Jim Black (drums), Sam Pluta doing live processing. What they do with the music is like going on a roller-coaster as you're tossed up in the air, whizzed around corners, spinning down and around. The quintet mixes bop and electronics in an compelling way, reminding me of the direction John Zorn took with his zapping music. Track 1 is a post bop type melody, but with subtle use of electronics, a rhythm section that stops, starts, speeds up and slows down like a be-bop Captain Beefheart, and that's just the beginning. '323' (Tk 2), the music again hits right between the eyes before flying off into a free form improvisation that gradually reassembles itself only after visiting several different rhythmical sections, here the music is relentless. 

Carlos Homs plays excellent piano, managing to stay finely balanced between post bop and the music of now, mixing modern styles such as Matthew Shipp or Craig Taborn. Fine playing from all, Jim Black also is heard here in great form, maybe the most interesting drumming since the Tiny Bell Trio. Sam Pluta takes the music, in particular Evans trumpet, and sends it back to us the listener in many guises, sometimes it takes you a second to realise what you're actually hearing. Blancarte holds the whole thing together, probably more than we actually notice.   

There are a few stopping places on the journey though, Ghost (Tk 3) being the first - based on the standard 'I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You'. Here the music is calm and spacious, Evans trumpet fires off spiralling away in all directions although he stays close to the melody (never played). The music is often daring and endlessly interesting whilst staying very accessible. And 'that' is probably the crux of the album, the music always stays melodic even in the wildest moments.'Articulation' (Tk 6) is like a conclusion at 14 mins, the sum of all the music heard, forever changing. This is where Wynton Marsalis could of gone with his classic 4tet, but never did. 

In fact you could write much about this CD as there are endless details to discover and the music manages to subtly integrate many styles also. An excellent album with no weak moments, and I suspect one that will be high on 'best of' lists at the end of the year. 'Stardust' (the final track) is a nice way to leave the listener, don't you find?

A track that I originally mentioned in the review was Tk 5 Chorales, but due to space I decided to edit out the remark. However this was one of the sections that I really enjoyed due to the use of repetitive minimalism. It's something I love using in composition and here it works really well, if only a small section of the tune. 
Chorales (Tk5)

I also briefly mention at the end of the review a reference to Wynton Marsalis, and it's not meant either as a joke or as a put down, rather a question unanswered. In reviewing the CD I often found myself thinking (or being reminded of) the great bands that Wynton had in the 80s and how this CD (made only recently) had some of those lessons learnt and developed. At music college I remember hearing, as we all did, the great standards record for the first time and it's breath taking use of harmony and rhythm. The rhythmical direction that 'that' band took was then even further developed by Branford, but it is sad (to me at least) that Wynton seemed to loose interest in that side of his music. Maybe that's also because he changed his band? I was also reminded here - Peter Evans CD - of how Wynton Marsalis had turned his back on more adventurous forms of music something that at the time became a 'bone of contention'. Ridiculous arguments between Lester Bowie and the likes about could the young Marsalis play. However, when hearing this I had to wonder what fresh ideas he may have found if he'd gone down this route and as you'll here if you buy the album, Evans doesn't actually stray far from conventional music and jazz, he just embraces other possibilities and successfully combines them into his playing and composition. The group like Wynton Marsalis' band is also an important piece of the music and without those players supporting the music may not have worked so well.

Articulation (Tk 6)

Here is a final track from the album which really is excellent and quite worth the detour. As I mentioned in the review Evans' Quintet really plays this music in a way that reinterprets the past and stays (or looks) very much to the future. There are three re-worked standards on the record, two mentioned in the review - Mel Tormé's 'Christmas Song' disguised as 'One to Ninety Two' being the other. I should add that the album is a hard listen, not so much because the music is complex, it's more about the amount of information being sent out of the speakers making this album anything but background music!

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