Playing in Tongues: New and Improvised Music

Steve Koenig

[April 2002.]

Noël AKCHOTÉ and Derek BAILEY: Close to the Kitchen: London Guitar Duos August 96 (Blue Chopsticks BC6, 47:36,

Duets between master improvising guitarists Noël Akchoté and Derek Bailey, originally on the very limited 12″ LP Rectangle REC F not so long ago, are now reissued on Drag City‘s improv imprint. I’m sort of ticked off because I have my copy autographed and it sounds swell and, as a collector, I love having rare stuff, but better I share my riches with the world, so here’s your very own copy. Bailey does his pointillistic, vertical (nonlinear; nonmelodic) playing and Akchoté is a fine foil and prodder, with his own multitude of textures, volumes and styles. I also recommend Akchoté’s Lust Corner (Winter and Winter) with Ribot, and Au Bordel, one of W+W‘s theme productions, placing Akchoté in a breezy, sleazy French cabaret milieu. Harder to find but worth it is Akchoté’s 1997 collab with Mark Sanders, Evan Parker and Paul Rogers on Siesta Records, Somewhere Bi-lingual.

Arlene BEAUCHAMP. (Renesants Records REN2807,

A pleasant singer of jazz standards, clearly enunciated and with a jazz trio. She has a slight impediment pronouncing her R‘s, which often brings her to a Morgana King nasality. In fact, fans of King will probably enjoy Beauchamp. Some missteps: Bernstein’s “Tonight” with “doo-doo doo-too doo” vocal finger-snapping, and an otherwise fine “Round Midnight” which ends with her baying at the midnight moon.

Eric BOEREN: 4tet. (BVHaast CD1501, 67:57,

The cornetist is joined by the ever-dependable (that’s an understatement) Han Bennink and Michael Moore, with Wilbert de Joode on bass. It’s fun from the first track, “Soft Nose,” which finds the fearless foursome playing and squawking all around the melody, calling to mind Ornette’s Atlantic frolics. “Ciz” finds a martial beat manipulated for melody and irony; it’s not Shostakovich’s Seventh, but frisky like his Suite for Jazz Orchestra. Must of the rest is a fine postbop session, but with that modern Dutch playful difference. I didn’t notice until after writing this that Boeren covers five Ornette tunes: “Mr & Mrs People,” “Moon Inhabitants,” “Alpha,” “Eos,” and “I Heard It Over the Radio.” “Alpha” gets an especially interesting treatment, as if it were from the later Benny Goodman quartet. Bennink is tasty and fun; no clowning on this one. Moore is volatile when appropriate. Good stuff.

WILLEM BREUKER KOLLEKTIEF: In Holland. (BVHaast Reissue Series CD 0101, 78:15,

Combine the sensibilities of Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Peter Brötzmann: There you have the Willem Breuker Kollektief. The amazing Kollektief just a few years ago put out a wonderful oversized book with a two-disc overview of their then 25-year span, Twenty Five Years on the Road (BVHaast 9914 / 15), containing much long-out-of-print work. Breuker, to his credit, has also released on his BVHaast label much important work by other artists, and an indispensable series of electroacoustic works by the likes of Berio and Pousseur long before many improv lovers expanded their tastes to include anything electronic. With this release, BVHaast has begun reissuing some of their considerable amount of out-of-print vinyl, here the double LP BVHaast 041 / 042. If you have the vinyl, I daresay they were always excellent pressings, and you might not need to replace it. For those unfamiliar, Breuker’s work is seriously, wondrously wacky. Both original works and parodies of, say, Pictures at an Exhibition or Sensemayá undergo a process of divining a balance of making music intelligent, yet of raucous spirit. There are no liner notes beyond tracks, personnel and soloists, but this 1981 session, their fifth disc, contains most of the same musicians still in the group. Think of them as the Funkadelic of jazz. It opens with an overture, then a tango, a ‘musical invasion,’ and an arrangement of a concertino by the Baroque composer van Wassenaer. The pieces generally flow together rather than form set numbers; in places quotations from Grieg’s piano concerto are inserted, and a delightful “Ride of the Walkyries” with piano ostinato underpin. A delightful cabaret song in English, “To Be with Louise P.,” quickly evolves into a rockabilly song complete with vocal hiccups, a hi-de-ho call-and-response, and a Dixieland horn section. With over 40 discs to their name, I’d be wrong to call this among the best (there are scant few weak ones anyway), but it is solid throughout, an excellent introduction, and I’d hate to be without this. It’s hard to find more enjoyment for fifteen bucks. People who know Breuker have probably already ordered this.

Guillermo E. BROWN: Soul at the Hands of the Machine. (Thirsty Ear Blue Series THI 57118.2, 48:00,

Well, the title doesn’t lie. The soul is throttled. Let’s start out politically incorrect and call this jungle music. (The ‘proper’ term for this stuff is drum’n’bass. In reality, it’s drum kit, synth and midbass — like the kids impressing you with their woofers installed in their trunks.) Add some of the nifty electronic samples, slurs and whooshes done well over a generation ago by Jon Hassell. I prefer Hassell’s theme for the TV show E.R. File this under fusion, and store it in your trendy basement converted to illegal club. Oh, Daniel Carter plays some fine sax, but there’s no need to catch him here. If you do like Remix Remodel music, try the superb Masses by Spring Heel Jack (also in this series), featuring Brown, Carter, Tim Berne, Roy Campbell, Mat Maneri and Evan Parker. Strikingly attractive cover art, typical of the Blue Series (but why the yellow spine?).

Billy CHILDS: Bedtime Stories: A Tribute To Herbie Hancock. (32Jazz 32215, 65:01,

I’m no expert on Hancock, first learning even “Maiden Voyage” through former Bette Midler backup singers Formerly The Harlettes on a disco-era Columbia LP, and “Cantaloupe Island” via Jean-Luc Ponty. But pianist Childs, on this trio date recorded in 2000, shines in a mainstream outing that is rich with flavor and style, and doesn’t flag for a second. George Mraz and Billy Hart are, of course, choice bass and drums for a standards session. The quality is apparent from the first track, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” (I’m guessing Hancock covered it, too.) I was going to write that this is done in a Ramsey Lewis style, but I see the liners have beat me to it. What they don’t say is that this track sparkles; clearly not a paint-by-numbers session. Even “Sophisticated Lady” surprises, finding notes in common with “Misty” and then doing delicate dancing cells within the structure. Strangely, the one perfunctory track is the closer,

“Maiden Voyage.” CORRESPONDENCE QUARTET: Live Performances 1999. (CQ-1, 4 CDs, 59:10 + 56:25 + 59:35 + 53:14,

This is for special tastes, but it is tasty. If you cherish your 1960s free-jazz LPs on tiny labels in tiny editions, swooshes, clicks and all, I’ll bet you’d enjoy this set of ten extended live improvisations, with its energy and bizarre recorded sound. They range in length from eight to 35 minutes. The quartet consists of Jackson Moore (s), Phloyd Starpoli (tb), Jessica Pavone (vln), and Seth Dillinger (b). All hail from the Hartford, CT area, where they were members of the Middletown Creative Orchestra, whose recorded work left me cold and whose audio was painful to the ear, but whose individual members have created much interesting work, even if all seem obsessed with processes whose results are strong despite the booklet blather. Of course, I often feel that way about one of their mentors, a certain Mr Braxton. Here, the liner notes consist of brief essays by each member explaining the group’s compositional process, having to do (as I understand it) with cells of melody, similar to words in conversation, used as cues for improvisation; this is not as interesting as the resultant music. I disagree with Moore’s claim that “the fundamental kinship of music and language is not widely acknowledged.” The music itself is sloppy and tight; it often sounds like a rehearsal, as the phrasing is very jerky and tentative, but I believe this to be a deliberate rhythmic choice. Sax, ‘bone, violin and bass also make a marvelous aural combination. (It’s a shame the audio is for roughriders, but this is and was the state of recording possibilities for people looking to get their music out there: Record it in concert and just get it out to the public. Even with a DAT, as I’ve discovered the hard way, one must take care to record the music, not the hall.) The interplay shows they do indeed have their private language, one readily accessible by anyone into free improv. As I’ve seen this set sold in a few stores at a most reasonable price, one needn’t fear dipping in. I find this continually interesting, a few dips at a time.

Lol COXHILL: Digswell Duets. (Emanem 4052, 73:18,

The quirky saxer here offers a pair of duets concerts — half with an electronics guy, Simon Emmerson; the latter with pianist Veryan Weston. The electronics set is superb; Coxhill plays freely and navigates the sounds Emmerson provides, processed from Coxhill’s playing. It’s not gimmicky. The sounds Emmerson creates are appropriately brassy and electronic in the analog sense. They both play hard. No tinkly, floating electronic fireflies here. The latter concert is disappointing; Weston and Coxhill’s ideas are weaker. Coxhill varies the phrases played by Weston and although it is fun, it’s not as deep or playful as is his wont. At times, his notes are off-kilter, and seemingly not deliberately so. Still worth the purchase for the first forty minutes of top-notch improv, and the rest is not bad except by comparison. Let me recommend highly Coxhill’s Alone and Together (Emanem 4034), where he duets with Mattios Marco and Stevie Wishart.

Marilyn CRISPELL: Amaryllis. (ECM 1742, 55:04,

Crispell has the ability to play in any context. Like the flower of the title, this one is powerful yet delicate, with the pianist eschewing her knuckle-busting talents for a more lyrical set. With Gary Peacock and Paul Motion as partners, some of this is bound to recall (but not sound like an imitation of) some of their best work with Keith Jarrett, pre-Standards era. The pieces are wrenchingly beautiful, or intelligent, every cut a delight and the whole disc speeds by, calling for repeats. Beautiful work. This makes the 15th Crispell CD in my permanent collection. I highly recommend her previous ECM outing with the same forces, a tribute to Annette Peacock’s work, but don’t let unscrupulous shops charge you double for the set, which ECM was kind enough to put on two discs for the price of one so as not to truncate the 87:41 session.

Chris CUTLER and Thomas DIMUZIO: Quake. (RéR CCDTD1, 44:43,

Chris Cutler, who adeptly crosses all borders from rock to noise to prog to improv (he once objected to my listing him as an improviser) here handles drums and electronics with Dimuzio, who also has a retinue of equipment for processing and other noisemaking treats. This is one fine disc for anyone into sound textures. Folks into ‘ambient’ music will dig it too, if their definition permits them to pay close attention. Both the 34-minute “When Cracks Appear” and the 10-minute “Gravity Waves” are powerful pieces containing metallic strokes, chunks and now-and-again rhythmic tattoos created by man not machine, as the latter swirls and whooshes up clouds and sparkles, rickets and grinds. I believe these were recorded in concert, as the Portland, ME and Lowell, MA addresses mention venues, but there are no hints of any audience in the recording. Not an improviser, indeed. What makes these performances so special is that one can’t predict which sounds will come next, and each evolution is right on the money. Maybe my recollection is poor and Cutler said he doesn’t play “jazz.”

Werner DAFELDECKER and Boris D.HEGENBART. (Grob lc 10292, 45:05,

Freely improvised drum kit, guitars and electronics by the former, samplers and other electronics by the latter. It’s a cross between an Emanem and an Erstwhile release; lots of close listening by them and by you, many small sounds interacting, and your complete attention. Guitar strings manipulated, froggy sounds. I’ve found it rewarding through repeated plays. For a daffier Dafeldecker, dig up Hot Burrito #2 (Extraplatte EX186CD), where he plays bass in a trio with Eugene Chadbourne and Walter Malli. I haven’t heard his hatHut disc.Digital Live Radio Session. (fibrr LP206CD, 46:42,

Bells, whistles, squeaks, a lot of fun. Scratches, squeals, squiggles, shortwave, ziiiping sounds, samples, slurps and scrunches; the whole hardware store of analog-sounding electronic sounds. One long 70-minute piece that, strangely, holds your interest if you’re listening closely, but used as background music it becomes noise. Packaging is slight and elegant: a simple textured-paper wrapper with an insert naming the four musicians (Christophe Havard, Emmanuel Leduc, John Morin and Julien Ottavi) and the equipment roster: turntables, samplers, dictaphones, motors, etc.

Bill DIXON / Franz KOGLMANN / Steve LACY: Opium. (between the lines btl 011, 50:59)

The formidable Koglmann, trumpeter and flugeler, goes horn to horn with trumpeter Bill Dixon on Dixon’s long track here, “For Franz.” This is a reissue of two invaluable LPs, Flaps and Opium / For Franz, from Koglmann’s Pipe label in 1973 and ’76, respectively. As the tapes were missing, these are from some worn but not scratched LPs. With music this tight, I wouldn’t care if the provenance were wartime shellacs.

Dominic DUVAL: Asylem. (Leo CD LR 316, 42:25,

By no means is this only Duval’s date; I assume his name is on top with the others listed below as “with:” for sales value. Super trumpeter Herb Robertson, Jay Rosen (here a percussionist rather than “just” a drummer), and Duval join to make a quartet with Bob Hovey, a trombonist previously unknown to me, but one I’ll be sure to look for. Hovey gets writing credits on all tunes here, half of them shared with bassist Duval, who does his usual fine playing. Hovey’s credited with playing “trombone, turntable, voice, foreign language.” This session’s really exciting. It’s very busy-sounding, rich with interplay. Hovey, in addition to the usual vocabulary, ‘bones with a blow that reaches out in an arc. Rosen shines on every track; this is one of his best outings. A super quartet.

Mark ELF: Dream Steppin’. (Jen Bay Jazz JBR 0009, 54:39,

Guitarist Elf is a fine picker. I’ve enjoyed his live disc, and this is the best I’ve heard of his studio sets. Nothing avant, but with Lewis Nash on drums and Neal Miner’s bass, it’s a tasty set of highly recommendable mainstream jazz, half originals, half standards.

FLIPPOMUSIC: Ganesh. (Southport S-SSD-0088,

The Chicago twin Northport and Southport labels are delightfully diverse, offering releases ranging from Ilhan Mimaroglu’s electronics works to George Flynn’s extended piano compositions and jazz far out, way out, and in. Here, pianist Dave Flippo’s group presents some (Asian) Indian-inflected titles, with music that tosses and turns between mainstream jazz, using heads which teeter-totter at the edge of worldbeat. These are wedged between solo piano pieces. I’d prefer the ensemble’s playing to be a bit rougher (the ethnic instruments and percussion are used to good effect, but even the varied percussion instruments are smooth). The tunes are interesting, a rarity in mainstream these days of good player using boringly generic heads. I can recommend this if electronic keyboards and halogen-bright sound are your cup of chai. I’d like to hear the same disc done in concert with acoustic piano (with or without ensemble), as the solo pieces here show Flippo to have a strong sense of his own idiom.

Frode GJERSTAD / Derek BAILEY / John STEVENS: Hello Goodbye (1992). (Emanem 4065, 73:65,

At first, Gjerstad’s soprano sax adds a (relatively) more focused path to a fine, but ‘traditional,’ free-improv session with his more famous peers. Stevens uses a full drum kit. The 25-minute “Three By Three” gets frisky, each playing angularly off the other, then leading to a large ensemble sound, then truly riveting solos (especially by Bailey), Stevens adding little wah-wahs to the texture with his mini-trumpet. The rhythmic exchange that develops toward the end in a guitar-percussion duo is breathtaking, and ends with bell-like notes, eventually bent, by Bailey. “Three Two Three Two One” ends with a two-minute spectacular sustained, seemingly electronic, sax note. The final shorter pieces of this complete concert made me exclaim aloud. Thanks are due again to producer Martin Davidson for getting this gem released. It was a private tape made by Gjerstad on his then-brand-new DAT back in ’92, and all the sound comes through just fine. Now, already having dozens of Baileys, and scads of Stevens, I’m going to seek out more of Gjerstad’s work.

HAAZZ & COMPANY: Unlawful Noise. (Atavistic UMS / ALP219CD, 42:25,

I know the name sounds like a 70s disco group, but it’s a 1976 free-jazz blowout. Two giant chunks of sound, “Unlawful Noise” at 28:12 and the 23:57 “Agitprop Bounce.” If you like Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, this is your cup of mortar. It’s not all loud, but look at the lineup: Brötzmann, Bennink, Moholo, Dyani, and leader Kees Hazevoet on clarinet and piano. What makes this special is the sound of the reeds: four clarinetists of different types, with Han’s brother Peter Bennink also on sopranino sax and bagpipes, the other Peter B also on tenor, of course, and the South African rhythm section. Another superb resurrection from Atavistic (KGB LP 7076) continues their invaluable reproduction of the original labels, one LP side on the CD, the other on the tray card beneath it.

Eddie HARRIS: For Bird and Bags. (Koch / Veejay KOC CD-8555, 40:46,

This is the first jazz record I ever bought. Originally on Veejay, I bought it for 99¢ on the budget Exodus label. Although I was forbidden to play my father’s records, I sneaked into his cabinet and played everything from Goodman to Grieg. Harris was there too, a disc called Mighty Like a Rose, and when I first heard that velvety sound, I was in love. I played the record to death, that is, ’til Dad noticed the damage I’d done through repeated auditions. Couldn’t have been more than nine years old. I still have the disc, the black Veejay with the rainbow swirl around the ridge like Capitol‘s. It still gives me chills. I didn’t know that Bird and Bags were musicians, just that this was an even more peculiar title than Mighty Like a Rose, and I didn’t like it as much, but most of it really got to me. The reason, clear now, is that Rose was mostly ballads and Bags is all kinds of postbop and pre-free. His composition “The River Nile” was, is, an extended composition with no overt Africanisms save a driving intensity and hypnotic flow, thanks to pianist Charles Stepney, bassist Melvin Jackson, guitarist Roland Faulkner and drummer Marshall Thompson.

Noah HOWARD: Live at Documenta IX. (Boxholder BXH 025,

Howard plays tenor and alto sax, and first came to our attention via a few ESP Disks in the 1960s. He’s active still but hasn’t had many new discs out in the USA, living in Belgium. Boxholder producer Lou Kannenstein has in a short time made it to 25 releases, nearly all of them by good folks otherwise overlooked, this one with a previous limited release in Europe. The first five tracks are co-written by Howard with pianist Michael Joseph Smith, probably best known through one 1970s disc on Paul Bley’s Improvising Artists label. The opener is neobop, and the second, “Karma,” brings us to the modal arena. Howard’s alto has that sound I think of as ‘pewter,’ not brightly metallic, slightly off but interesting. “Night Trip” gives us a few minutes of solo sax with an interesting riff, later his partners entering softly and on target. Smith’s pianism sparkles throughout; he creates whole soundscapes through arpeggiated chords and filigree which fill up the room without dominating. Kudos to engineer Sander Bos, who recorded this in 1992 in the Netherlands. Both Jack Gregg on bass and drummer Chris Henderson acquit themselves admirably with tasty support throughout. This is an exciting disc with no bum tracks, easily recommendable. You can also check Howard out at his own dot-com address.

Phil KLINE: Unsilent Night. (Cantaloupe CA 21005, 42:25,

If nothing else, I can always count on the Bang On A Canners to defy my expectations. I always hated Terry Riley’s In C, and never would have guessed they’d turn my feelings about that piece totally upside down. Reading about Phil Kline’s work with various people carrying boom boxes playing the same tapes, wandering as the works collide, elide and elude, I thought of the works of Wendy Chambers, and lately, especially the works I heard decades ago using the Twin Towers plaza as a sounding board, as it were, for an ensemble of thousands of percussionists. A gorgeous din it was, for nearly two hours, if my memory serves. I had a cassette document of that, but eventually discarded it as the recording was mud. The live event, however, was awesome (in the original sense of the word; I was dumbstruck). Chambers’ works, by their nature, often don’t lend themselves to strong recordings because of the large forces or wide spatial areas involved, indeed required. Which brings me to Kline. Actually, the recorded sound is exemplary, and taken from live recordings of these walks mixed with “some material recorded in the studio.” In many ways this is a disappointing release, because as the concept is strong, you get nothing at all like the Ivesian mash I had anticipated. Instead, it mostly sounds like MIDI music. Lots of twinkles in the air, however they merge. I’d dig catching these in the street, as intended, and would probably really enjoy being a participant.

J. P. TORRES and his Cuban All Stars. Cuba Swings. (Pimienta / Universal 176 160 501-2, 42:25,

Usually I’d pass on a disc I don’t care for, but given the recent resurgence of interest in Cuban music, I find it necessary to advise that despite the press packet’s touting of the leader’s trombone, he just lets things slide. He is no Don Drummond, roots reggae hero. This disc takes standards by Gershwin, Ellington and friends, and turns them into Miami elevator music. Sad; imagine the possibilities Rhapsody In Blue holds for a version with a Latin slant.

Sigi FINKEL and African Heart: African Echoes. Blue Danube / Edel 0000862X, 61:25,

Saxer Finkel has a fine group and disc here, opening, appropriately, with solo percussion. Fans of both Don Pullen’s Afro-Brasilian Connection and Fela Kuti will find much to enjoy here, in that hard-to-categorize everyman’s land between jazz and funk. Not worldbeat, not fusion, this is rich African music strongly informed by jazz. Because of this, my usual aversion to jazz keybs is waylaid, for it doesn’t replace piano nor is it used to prog-rockify the tracks. This wins in all categories. One plaint: Neither text, translations of those songs with vocals (in what language[s]?), nor bios of Finkel or his deserving Viennese and West African musicians. Fluorescent Tunnelvision. (Submergence SUB-0047, 2 CDs, / submergence) A mixed bag, as most double-disc anthologies are, this one compiled by Hadley Kahn. Let’s do a play-by-play. Circle is a Finnish rock group with a dark proggie sound. Pseudo Buddha hails from San Antonio, and has a psychedelic sound, jams improvised. Instruments include saw blade, llama flute, Pokémon guitar, camel bells and ocarinas, speaking in tongues, and of course, electronics.

FRIGG: Brecht. (Knitting Factory KFW-254, 53:22,

Produced by Elliot Sharp with guitarist / composer Bert Werde, about whom the notes give no information, this aggregate creates a super disc of Brecht texts set with a free-jazz backing, akin to Tom Waits’ musicians, but way freer between the sung portions. Phil Minton is the vocal star. Somehow this fell between the cracks in my home, and I’m more than delighted it surfaced. This is rich stuff. Fans of Brecht, Weill, Waits, Minton, Faithfull, Krause: You know what to do. Add Werde to your list of composers to look for, but know that this is listed under the group name Frigg, which I suppose means… you know.

John HENRY: A Gentleman’s Anaesthetic. (create.transmit CTCD001, 19:30, HDCD,

John Henry Zippa uses guitar, keyboard and accessories for this 3″ CD, limited to 500 pressed copies. The eight compositions range from most excellent electronic sounds — “Insectopia” sounds like prehistoric animal respiration and space-age high frequency transmissions with vinyl artifacts and digital clicks — to the droney ‘space music’ of “See You, Space Cowboy.” A mixed bag of sounds, and an interesting one.

K2: Sexencyclopedia. (Kinky Music Institute KMI 037-040, 4 CDs, 65:35 + 62:00 + 73:40 + 54:20,

The instrumentation will give you a good idea of the music of K. Kusafuka: “metal junks, friktor-bass synth system,” and other synths, modulators, samplers and voice. This is noise, boys, and it’s fun. Japanese noise usually tends to take on one of two extreme aspects, though I usually categorize both as rock and roll (which to me basically means any music designed to irritate your parents): There’s fun noise, noises and banging, like KK Null and K2 (lots of K’s on the scene), and there’s capital-S Serious noise, for people who tend to dress black and form cults around the likes of Heino Keiji and Aube. For the record, I like both styles a lot and buy way too much of it. The present disc contains recordings from 2000 / 01, some of it previously available only on limited (Russian and Ecuadorian!) cassette or on splits, and those are all remixed for this release. Noise of the whoosh, buzz saw, squeal and shortwave variety. Factory-type motor grinding (I’d call it grunge if that word weren’t appropriated by Seattle teens ten years ago). This may not be the Kontarsky brothers, but those who dug Stockhausen’s aleatoric works of the 1960s won’t find this too large a leap, sonically. Four discs are a lot; you wonder: Do the pieces sound different? Sort of. All are in the 20-minute range. “Submerged Attack from the Sea of Bliss” uses more processed voice, and makes me think of war; thematically it caused me next to play, albeit in a totally different genre, Yes’ “Gates of Delirium.” I like it. Limited to 300 copies. Inside and back graphics are fine, but the cover is surprisingly dull for a Japanese noise production; if you didn’t know what you were looking for, especially with the title Sexencyclopedia, you’d think it a generic pop record.

Neil LEONARD: Timaeus. (Cedar Hill CHR 316, 59:37,

The saxophonist uses electronic processing via Mac Powerbook with Rolands, Kurzweil and other processors. Unlike two well-known horn players I admire, sometimes even love, but regret that their otherwise strong playing is often diluted by weak use of electronics (I’ll name names: Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Whitecage), Leonard’s sax playing and composing are much less interesting than his use of electronics. The weaker ones remind me of Dave Liebman’s solo-with-electronics Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner. In fact, if this were a pure computer disc, I’d recommend it highly. To give a sense of where Leonard’s coming from, note his dedications: George Lewis, Carl Stone and Bob Brookmeyer. George Russell praises from the tray card that Leonard “can ‘in-soul-mate’ the computer … with the heart of a human.” Actually, the ocarina piece, “Sacred Bath I” is so much more than new age / world trance music, and “Sacred Bath II” for sax with an African-based percussion (electronic, I assume) recalls to fine effect Barbieri’s Latin America series, pared down. (Think what Gato could be doing now if only he wanted to.) “Caxionics,” the separated pair of “Timaeus” pieces and the three “Sacred Bath” works are superb. Note my caveats and follow your instincts.

Dave LESLIE: The Brim. (Louie 024, 49:46,

For those who can abide MIDI keybs and sequencers, this is an excellent disc. I wouldn’t call it Sex Mob lite; rather, it’s Sex Mob for lounges and radio. The tunes are fun, the playing is clever; you just have to be able to enjoy that super-bright, radio-ready sound. If it were all-acoustic, I’d love it. If you like MM&W, and aren’t scared of keybs, this music is savory. Leslie’s accordion gives many tracks that special frisson.

LEVENDIS (Duo): actions, productive of a practice. (Sachimay sach 9348, 40:21,

The oboe-and-piano team of Lenny Young and Joshua Yohe serves up some inspired improvising. If one heard it without knowing the provenance, one might think it a disc of a composed music influenced by Wuorinen or Carter, skewed by Cecil-T clusters and French chamber oboe. There are no notes as such to explain their process or concept, save some quotations and phrases as abstract as the music: “each act is virgin, even the repeated ones,” “the action taken to multiply.” Likewise the three titles: “sounds arising from actions,” “direct and instantaneous contact,” and the six-part “conscious organization (and its absence).” If audio quality is important to you, note that this is a distant-sounding recording from an auditorium, the last piece with a (silent) audience. It’s hard to fund studio time for music that’s not easily categorized, but I’m glad to have it available, much like the sealable independent jazz LPs of a few decades ago.

Myra MELFORD: Above Blues. (Arabesque AJ 0142, 66:08, Above Blues is a winner, revealing all the pianist’s strengths. I’m a fair-weather fan of Melford, but a fan nonetheless, as you’ll read here and below. She can be dazzlingly original, filled with ideas and boinging rhythms. Other times she’s maddeningly inert, her effort desiccated even when playing both inside the piano and with full elbow clusters (incorrectly, she has been frequently labeled Cecil-like just for this) in a wild extended solo, as she did one night at Roulette. (One companion agreed with my assessment, the other called us deaf idiots.) This one features her fine ensemble The Same River, Twice, consisting of trumpeter Dave Douglas, cellist Erik Friedlander, saxer Chris Speed (check out his group Deviantics), and Michael Sarin on drums. The songs and structures are composed, many of the tunes appearing on other Medford discs, and they leave plenty of room for improvising. None of it is stilted, and Sarin keeps things propulsive; Medford plays in a variety of styles, including inside the piano. Douglas and Speed play like intermingling vines, both decorating and holding up the tree. This is a step up from this ensemble’s eponymous 1996 Gramavision disc, about which I continually flip-flop, partially due to the glassy recorded sound.

Myra MELFORD / Marty EHRLICH: Yet Can Spring. (Arabesque AJ 0154, 51:53. Yet Can Spring is a disappointment. Ehrlich is one of the strongest reed players around, also one of the most adaptable, whether in duets or his own ensembles large and small, as well as his work keeping alive the compositions of the late Julius Hemphill. Here, the composing credits are split between them, and yet the only track that seems more than an exercise is the closing blues by Otis Spann, “Don’t You Know,” which is a lot of fun. I kept wanting to like the CD, comparing some tunes to performances on Melford’s other discs, but gave up after five plays.

MODERN JAZZ QUARTET: European Concert. (Label M 495721, 79:34,

Why Atlantic let this go out of print I’ll never understand. Formerly two LPs, this is a self-recommending reissue. For those unfamiliar with the MJQ, they are subtle but rich. When I was first learning ‘the music,’ Coltrane and Sanders blowing hard in Seattle was my thing, and I didn’t get what then seemed the prettiness of the MJQ, even when live as here in Scandinavia (no further info given), April 1960. They are not pretty; they are elegant. But folks don’t always have to show sweat when they work hard, and this is one of the hardest-working bands in the jazz business, and I’ve grown to love them more and more over the decades. This is a fine starting point for newbies, and if you don’t believe me, try “It Don’t Mean a Thing…” The MJQ may make you sway and think more than they rock and roll, but they do have that swing. The blue swirl label, an adaptation of Atlantic‘s, is a plus.

MÖSLAND & GUHL: Knack On. (Atavistic UMS/ALP217CD, 43:32,

The Unheard Music Series continues with this Swiss duo of Andy Guhl and Norbert Mösland, now well-known as Voice Crack, in their continuous piece formerly split on the two sides of the 1983 Uhlklang LP UK 1. Now this type of music, which combines acoustic instruments such as the prepared zither and horn mouthpieces with radios, dictaphones and other assorted noisemakers, is taken for granted. This recital retains its interest through ever-evolving texture. There are long stretches of musical clunks and chunks rattling over each other, tempered by other stretches of quiet punctuated by horn blasts: sound texture against silence in the manner now so well-mastered and refined by the likes of trumpeter Greg Kelley and saxophonist Bhob Rainey.

Sainkho NAMCHYLAK / Shelley HIRSCH / Catherine BOTT: Tenemos. (Leo CD LR303, 63:20,

The Tuvan, the Brooklynite and the British early-music soprano join forces for a quirky record that fans will want to own, with a few avisos. This is a soundtrack to a film, and so the voices gurgling, warbling and whispering to location recordings of birds, wind, helicopters, and bells are somewhat disembodied. There is also some narrative, and vielle and an overwhelming sense of spareness and strangeness.

THE HERBIE NICHOLS PROJECT: Strange City. (Palmetto PM-2077, 53:55,;

In concert, this group smokes. My hands still hurt from applauding their inaugural concert on Barrow Street eight years ago. I’m a major freak for Nichols as well, whose work I discovered before I belatedly discovered Monk. Nichols’ compositions are quirky and the ensemble’s arrangements of them have been simultaneously intelligent, witty, and smoking. Alas, this disc is tepid. I’ve tried it five times, and also spun it for an unimpressed pal just coming off their hot gig at the revamped Jazz Standard, part of the Jazz Composers Collective tenth-anniversary festival. Catch them live: Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough, Ron Horton, Ted Nash, Michael Blake, Wycliffe Gordon, Matt Wilson.

NO SPAGHETTI EDITION: Nerve. (Sofa 506, 70:46,

A most interesting new offering from Sofa, a Norwegian label. Ten Norse improvisers plus trumpeter Axel Dörner and pianist Pat Thomas. This offers some of the best aspects of Euro-improv, if you’ll forgive my pigeonholing. Lots of random sounds, but not random at all, for the members listen to each other. It’s perhaps more like lots of little instruments, used as if they weren’t little at all. And they’re not: What sound like toy instruments are your basic reeds, strings, and accordion. Dörner and Thomas fiddle cleverly with electronic additions. I’m surprised and delighted that here I like Pat Thomas, a pianist I haven’t been able to enjoy or figure out from either his Emanem discs or limited CDR duo with Lox Coxhill on Lol’s label

Oar.Ken PEPLOWSKI: Live In The U.K., Volume II. (Koch Jazz KOC-CD-8582, 55:58,

So many mediocre mainstream gigs come in over the transom here that often I cringe before hearing. No fears here. Peplowski plays tenor and clarinet. He’s clearly in the Stan Getz tradition, though not an imitator. One thing I like about this session recorded at the Concorde Club in Eastleigh, Hampshire is that these standards are played for the song, for the long run, though nothing runs too long here. Peplowski claims, in the notes, “For some players, every chorus is separate, like an exercise… I’m trying to present the whole curve.” His supporting cast of John Pearce (p), Dave Green (b), and Martin Drew (d) is strong but not special. If you generally enjoy Prestige, Concord and Telarc sides, I suspect you’ll enjoy this too. Peplowski and his crew really shine on the final two cuts when he plays clarinet; I suspect that instrument is his real love. I’d have edited out the brief song and solo introductions.

QUATUOR ACCORDE: Angel Gate. (Emanem 4050, 77:58,

These four strings (Phil Durrant, violin; Charlotte Hug, viola; Mark Wastell, cello; Tony Wren, bass) have an uncommon empathy. The language and texture here is clearly free improv, yet the unity of mind is that of a classical quartet who breathe as one. Wood. That’s what I think whenever I play this disc; the gorgeous sound of the wood of these instruments comes through. Of course the strings do too, the resin, the squeal and scrape of metal and gut, yet there’s something biological about these pieces, recorded without amplification or electronic processing (other than recording it, of course). In the tour-de-force “Fermage,” Durrant hits, I’m wary of calling it a solo, where the high metallic tone of a circular sawing figure recalls nothing so much as an Evan Parker soprano solo with its extraordinary, extended twists of sonic barbed wire.

OB REDDY’S SLEEPING DOGS: Seeing by the Light of My Own Candle. (Knitting Factory KF 291, 54:48, Saxophonist Reddy is accompanied by John Carlson on trumpets, the always-amazing violinist Charles Burnham, Dom Richards on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums (Brown’s own disc is covered in this column). Brown opens the disc with an excellent tattoo around which Burnham, on mandolin, twists a descending Monk-like phrase as the horns come close to making a Second Line, while keeping it totally original. This track, “Street Angel, House Devil,” has become a staple on my own subway-ride compilation, which means I can hear it incessantly with joy every time. Brown hits the kit hard without pounding; he makes it slinky. “Victim” starts out with mariachi-style horns and mandolin but caught in a meltdown, sour tones, twisted melody; this is stunning, and flashed moments of the original Liberation Music Orchestra. Seeing by the Light of My Own Candle is a hit from beginning to end. I can play it over and over, which is why this review came out so late.

ROCK OUT: Sound Check. (Ideal Recordings IDEAL008 / MKTH12, 21:04,

The Swedish team of N. Korssel and H. Selder uses turntabling, sampling and percussion to fine effect. (Don’t any avant people use their full names anymore or state what they play? This is getting to be sillier than dance-music names.) These 11 pieces combine the fun of surprise with the joy of free improvisation. It’s punk in the sense of short tracks, laugh-in-your-face, and lots of drumming. Fans of Christian Marclay and Martin Tetrault will like this very much. Most enjoyable, and at this length, easy to play repeatedly.

Carlos SANTANA: Divine Light: Reconstruction & Mix by Bill Laswell. (Columbia Legacy CK 61384,

Even those who dug Laswell’s Miles mixology will have a hard time with this dulcification, sapification and mutilation. I hold nothing as being too holy to process, pun as that may be regarding Devadip Carlos Santana, but what Laswell has created is elevator music where even the elevator would shut itself off in an insulin attack.

STARSHIP BEER: Nut Music 1976-88: As Free As The Squirrels. (Atavistic UMS / ALP220CD, 78:25,

For special tastes, to be sure, but tasty. This is where rock meets free improv (not psychedelic space jams like Caroliner Rainbow) with a twisted [sick] of Captain Beefheart. The notes describe it as ‘garage style’ improvising, and for those of us who collect series of rock “Nuggets” and other artyfacts, this is the equivalent. Added to the original Land Mammal 1066 LP of 1980 (recorded in 1979) are four tracks from ’76, ’78 and 1986. Pat O’Brien created the texts, poems, “too-doo”s and what-have-yous. Wes Mingin plays lots of instruments, and the third nut is the esteemed music journalist, Kevin Whitehead, on clarinet. A fun disc, no joke.

Matt TURNER: The Mouse That Roared. (Meniscus LP206CD,

Turner is a formidable cellist, totally worthy of a solo CD. The pieces are short and fierce, recorded in various locations, and, to the detriment of one’s listening pleasure, each track is followed by applause. Myself, I applaud recorded music in my head, so I burned myself a second copy with the applause edited out. Ahhhh: Beautiful grinding free cello improv. Good job, Matt.

Matt TURNER / John HARMON: Outside In. (Stellar! STL 1011, 42:25,

Outside, inside; man, this disc is all over the place. Cellist Turner, probably best known from various fine collaborations with Jeff Song (guitar, kayagum, bass), here is mostly in, with standards pop, jazz and religious, and with bizarre timing, an original called “Ground Zero.” The packaging is not misleading, a quite early-60s blue-green abstract photo, and the Stellar label in a wonderfully space-age script font. It’s not mood music, though. Harmon’s piano comping is solidly mainstream and Turner turns in some tasty slurs and off notes. From “I Fall In Love Too Easily” to the beautiful bop of “Solar,” all is lovely and often clever, but I miss fire or depth. Then they throw you off the expected with originals like “Rabid Poultry,” Harmon abstract in a Cecil / Bley way, with Turner scratching, skyrocketing and moaning. “Darn That Dream” has Harmon chroming on an organ-like keyb, with Turner truly taking off (a fabulous track), while the previous Ornette tune “Roundtrip” and the proceeding “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” again are pleasantly mainstream takes. (Is this the same Janet Planet formerly associated with Van Morrison?)

Ken VANDERMARK: Acoustic Machine. (Atavistic ALP128CD,

Not that his previous releases were electronic. Vandermark always confuses me. Sometimes, as in Standards, the Steelwool Trio, Cinghiale, FJF and Solid Action, the saxophonist’s ensembles blow me away. More recent official releases like his Sun Ra / Funkadelic tribute were disappointing, connect-the-dots jazz. This one falls in between. There are five briefs numbers each called “Hbf” dedicated to Morton Feldman, each quiet and exploring sound textures, all nice although nothing new; the traditional Third-Stream sound. The other tracks are individually dedicated to Shepp, Elvin Jones, Getz, Hemphill, Prez, and I’m not familiar with the other two: Robert Capa and William Klein. They’re all energetic and propulsive, yet I feel something’s missing. Jeb Bishop on ‘bone, bassist Kent Kessler, saxer Dave Rempis and drummer Tim Mulvenna all are solid, yet I know they can all do more. The Hemphill dedication, “License Complete,” uses “Dogon A.D.” rhythms and some often-uncanny imitations of Hemphill’s horn, but doesn’t go farther than that. So it goes for the rest.

DAVID S. WARE QUARTET: Corridors & Parallels. (AUM Fidelity 019, 48:54, Tenor sax whiz / wiz has a rep as a blower, and indeed he can, but here as on his two excellent Columbia discs, more often he cajoles, caresses, and throws out long lines like fishermen do. Bassist William Parker shines when he has these lines to wrangle with. On “Spaces Embraces” his arco is metallic and writhing, a real treat. If you are not already a Ware fan, this is the one caveat: Matthew Shipp plays only synthesizer, and although on the title track he creates interesting plates of sound for texture, and appropriate roars and deep space on “Somewhere,” mostly he adds glitter. Percussionist Guillermo E. Brown, playing an arsenal ranging from drum kit to whistles, gives this disc its vitality and thrust. Ware’s elegy to his mother Lucille, “Mother May You Rest in Bliss,” has the intensity and some of the phrasing of Ayler and early Murray, yet because of its purpose, it also brings to mind the introductions to many ultra-emotional pop pleas of the 50s and 60s. It’s absolutely riveting. Ask your record purveyor to sample this track for you (No.10), and I think you’ll be sold.

Davey WILLIAMS / John CORBETT: Humdinger: 14 Improvisations and a monograph on failed wind instruments. (Atavistic ALP134CD, 52:15,

At first I thought this another of the Corbett-curated Unheard Music Series, but these are new recordings, and diverting. Williams plays electric git, Corbett the acoustic, as well as turntable, synth, radio and harmonica. It’s a cross between tiki lounge music and tape-splice free improv; either way these two are cutups. Not deep, thank goodness, but much pleasure, as is the booklet essay about windy instruments that never made it, none of which are played on this recording. Call this not Two Virgins, but Two Friends Messing Around in the Studio.


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