Playing In Tongues: New And Improvised Music

Steve Koenig

[July 2002.]

Time, place, mood and moon, all things affect one’s response to music. Speaking recently with a gentleman in Carnegie Hall who was researching what folks get out of hearing music performed live, I began to think a lot about the various methods by which, and reasons why, we listen. Why some days some things work and other days they don’t. All this is a convoluted way to lead into a disc I reported tepid last issue, but which has grown on me. I am still way underwhelmed by Ken Vandermark’s Sun Ra / Funkadelic tribute, but his Acoustic Steam (Atavistic, both) has gained steam with me. Within his own genre, it’s like a strong Blakey album, with a lot of slinky Sex Mob thrown in. The majors may be in trouble, but the musicians, wow! And the reissues of things we never thought we’d find again in any format, or never even knew existed… On to the new, and there’s lots of it, much more than I can even begin to cover here.

ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO: Live in Milano. Leo Golden Years GY 16 [36:48],

This is one of the indispensable AEC discs, the more cherishable because it was scantily available on the Praxis LP Among the People even when new. In 1980, the going price of over 15 dollars seemed exorbitant, so I passed it up at the long-lamented Soho Music Gallery back when John Zorn was the clerk; now it’s a bargain. “Tutankhamen” is a slow drag, marvelously slinky with little instruments building up the texture as it proceeds. Then there are full-force horns, and it fades back into little instruments that segue to the next piece. It’s very different from the magical version from Paris on Freedom / Black Lion, but runs the exact same 18 minutes. “Illunstrun” continues the small and large percussion instruments, a marimba of some kind (vibraharp?) taking the front with a melodica. “A Jackson in Your House” is the one classic AEC album not in my collection. Here it begins with duck calls and mouthpiece splats. Favor’s bass starts a vamp and it becomes an insane Disney second-line, led by Jarman’s bass clarinet followed by author Roscoe Mitchell’s trumpet. A brilliant piece, and a necessary acquisition. Excellent thin but sturdy gatefold packaging.

Albert AYLER: Llorach, Paris 1966. HatOLOGY 573 [65:19],

Hopefully needless to say, this is a requisite purchase if you didn’t buy the original hatArt double LP. These live performances are well-recorded, and remastering by Peter Pfister, always excellent, clarifies the sound from the LP. The LP, however, is both richer and muddier in bass. No need to replace, but a must to acquire.

Han BENNINK / Terrie EX: Laughing at the Owl. Atavistic ALP129CD [46:49],

Han Bennink is the Clown Prince of European Improv’ed drumming. The Ex is a punk / improv group known equally for its left politics and its punkjazz music. This is a set of 17 intense, brief drum-guitar duets. Both are in a close-listening, serious mode, which does not preclude or highlight sound jokes. It rewards close listening well but tends to disappear if you’re not paying attention.

David BERKMAN: Leaving Home. Palmetto PM 20787 [56:00],

A fine post-bop pianist with a style that varies but is not imitative, even though the title cut recalls but betters Jarrett with his fluidity. Berkman’s with his regular band, which indulges itself with three impeccable, well-integrated saxophonists: Sam Newsome, Chris Cheek and Dick Oatts. At times Oatts’ alto runs excitingly close to the border of sour; it has edge. Ugonna Okegwo and Brian Blade run the rhythm. The interplay and styles are a contemporary equivalent of the Ornette and Coltrane Atlantics. “Mayor of Smoke” is a perfect example of the strength of Berkman’s ensemble. It begins with Okegwo’s gripping bass walk that just keeps getting cockier through its six minutes. The three horns are intricately arranged, but don’t sound arranged; this is the totally natural path for them to follow. The closer is a surprisingly unremarkable, slow “Embraceable You.” Then again, I don’t like Bill Evans. If you like yours a wee left-of-center, cleverly composed, with tight ensemble and a sax section, this is savory. So is his previous Communication Theory (PM 2059).

Paul BLEY / Evan PARKER / Barre PHILLIPS: Sankt Gerold Variations. ECM 1537 [67:17],

The trio’s previous ECM disc, Time Will Tell, found them duetting as well. On Sankt Gerold they solo between trios. I assume these are improvisations, recorded in the Austrian mountain monastery of the same name. No liner notes, just lovely black-and-white photos of the scenery and musicians. The cover omits the word “variations”; only the back says Variations 1-12 in black type on a midnight teal background. I am unable to detect thematic variations. It opens with Parker running a multiphonic theme echoing in the church, as Bley runs a figure that at first repeats, then runs like a happily wayward child around the sanctuary. I made the mistake of first listening to this while doing other things. While not holy, this is noble music and demands full attention for complete revelation.

Joel BRANDON: Haven’t We All…? Southport S-SSD-0089 [42:44],

This is a little bit jive, and I dig jive. Brandon is a jazz whistler. He’s a flutist as well, but his whistling sounds like a flute in the jazz idiom. His “The Whistler’s Rhyme” is a fab song about his work, with wit and, more important, some truly fine playing. I prefer his whistling to his flute, through no fault of his; it takes a lot for me to like jazz (or classical) metal flute. He whistles a fine version of Coltrane’s “Countdown” in duet with pianist Kirk Brown. This duo also covers “In a Sentimental Mood” sweetly. Also featured on some cuts are Famoudou Don Moye and Billy Higgins, although this is a happy, mainstream date; nothing left-of-center. My wish is for a disc of all whistling, not just three tracks.

Jorge CASTRO: Sin Titulo #2. Public Eyesore number 37 [44:14],

Packaged in a beautiful sleeve, the music is likewise beautiful, but luckily not pretty. No info on the cover; it starts with two layers of guitar. One warbles like a marble down a long highway, the other serves as continuo. Then come in what I guess you could call the sound effects, but these glistening, parabolic or diagonal moments make this extended piece so different from ambient or other composed electronic music.

Dr. Eugene CHADBOURNE: Texas Sessions: Chapter Two (To Doug). Boxholder BXH 027 [72:58],

By no means is Dr. Chadpunk’s output even; it’s rather odd. Here the great string improviser cum repository of American Traditional Popular Music hits some country, Big Country, through some originals but mostly the tunes of the great and recently late Texican-Mexican, Doug Sahm, most famous to “the public” from his ‘Sixties group the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Chadbourne is just having a freaking good time on this rollicking disc. You probably already know the myriad traditional and bizarre (and traditionally bizarre) sounds he makes on his electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, and whatever else his hands can reach (he once played a five-minute solo on the Velcro tabs of my sneakers during one of the regular free Sunday in-store performances at DownTown Music Gallery). On this disc he’s accompanied by a real live quartet of Texan harmonicas, steel guitar, bass and drums, and they sound like they’ve been playing together every day for years. Some of these tunes first appeared on a 45 on the Rectangle label.

This is probably the funnest of all his copious output of the last few years, and there have been literally dozens. This one’s a brainer: Great songs, amazing chemistry, and every note sounds as though no one had thought of it before, yet as familiar as whatever you have in your palm. Excuse me while I put on my old Smash LPs of Sir Douglas, while you pups have to try to dig up the “Best of” Mercury CD from 1990 which, if still available, has 22 tracks, including some first releases. Then, of course, this goes back on the spinner.

Loren Mazzacane CONNORS: The Daggett Years. Ecstatic Yod E#101b/FYCD#11-4b [51:11],

Suzanne LANGILLE / Loren Mazzacane CONNORS: 1987-89. Secretly Canadian SC 34 [42:58],

This selection by Connors from a four-disc retrospective of his earliest works on his Daggett label, much only on 7 ” vinyl, shows him at his most basic and elemental. I still have some of the original seven-inchers and recall fondly the years I kept trying to decide if I liked this work or didn’t. Connors, then better known as Mazzacane, moans the blues while delicately doing the same on acoustic guitar. “While his guitar gently laments,” might be a succinct way of describing this period. Most tracks sound alike, but the cumulative effect is hypnotic. Indicative is that the 17 tracks have no names.

Longtime collaborator Langille is a deep-voiced singer who here sings trad and blues such as “Motherless Child” and “Amazing Grace.” Again thanks to Secretly Canadian, for whether a particular disc is to your taste or not, you can be sure the CD will be quirky and worthy of release. The “Kumbaya” seems off here, but I usually react that way to the dialectal use of “kumbaya” rather than “come by here” when the rest is in formal English. I confess Langille’s voice never did anything for me. A slight Judy Collins tremolo, a Joan Baez sound that doesn’t ring out, with phrasing that tries to be different, but Langille doesn’t quite hit it. Connors, however, plays very strongly: both emotional and yearning in a way that doesn’t always mesh into a gloomy background. The duo’s Crucible (Black 4) is a better introduction, but collectors will be glad for this release of hard-to-find material.

Stephan CRUMP: Tuckahoe. Accurate AC-5045 [65:04],

Bassist Crump offers a mainstream jazz date with some ballads, some bossa, the tunes all originals and interesting. Chris Cheek’s tenor and soprano playing is strong, and drummer Dan Rieser always picks just the right notes and rhythms. The strongest tracks are blues. “Hazy Days” is a moving, hazy blues, and “Stolid” is anything but; kudos to the rhythm section — everything held tight and taut.

Gerd DUDEK: ‘smatter. psi records 02.01 [61:04],

Saxophonist Dudek is an important figure in the free-jazz scene in Europe. As stalwart of the most excellent European Jazz Ensemble (look for an upcoming Konnex release of their 2001 tour; the unmixed advance copy is slamming), and player in the Globe Unity Orchestra, it is far time that he got his own disc. psi is Evan Parker’s new label. This is Dudek’s first disc as a leader. What surprised me — the title seems to address this — is that this is a tame, mainstream date with Tony Levin on drums, John Parricelli guitar, and Chris Laurence bass. The first three tunes are by Kenny Wheeler, the others one apiece by Jimmy Rowles and George Coleman, and the perennial “Body and Soul.”

Paul DUNMALL: Solo Bagpipes II. Duns Limited Edition 012 [61:04],

This is superb; it is indeed bagpipe improvisations, but master saxophonist Dunmall is a Scotsman, after all, and improv often uses roots music. You won’t do a jig to any of this, though “The Day Before Freedom” combines extended shenai-like sounds in ways that are clearly inspired by traditional music of the isles, but then he goes into multiphonics. On some pieces, like the opener “Infinity Within a Semitone,” Dunmall’s playing brings to mind Evan Parker’s sax more than it does Dunmall’s own. I bought this from him at the Vision Festival 2002, and asked him to autograph it. He wrote, “I like this disc.” He’s much too humble. It’s a mindblower, and sure to be on my year’s-best list.

Hannes ENZLBERGER: Songs to Anything That Moves. between the lines btl 022 [49:54],

The bassist, new to me, offers a choice disc in all-original hommage to the compositions and mindset of the fabulous (there is no other word for her) Carla Bley. With Oskar Aichinger on piano (I recommend his own btl discs), Hans Steiner on bass clarinet, and Thomas Berghammer on trumpet and flugelhorn, this has the giddy spirit of Carla’s comps, and the crazy camaraderie of co-conspirators. Eat this cookie.

Jerry GRANELLI / Jamie SAFT: The Only Juan (The Meeting of the Juans, Vol 1). Love Slave LVS 105 [45:34],

Drummer Granelli and piano/organist Saft have again teamed up for a winner; a tasty disc that’s free improv, but clearly their own style. The disc has a variety. Both do percussive vocalizations at times, and are good at it. Sometimes they sound like good-time jazz bands Sex Mob or their own Mr Lucky. Other cuts work with textures, silences and skin slaps. I’m starting to become Love Slave’s love slave, and I’m not easily taken.

Joëlle LÉANDRE / Hasse POULSEN / François HOULE: C’est ça. Red Toucan RT 9315 [53:52].

The bassist, guitarist and clarinetist, respectively, make an interesting trio. This is one complete set, divided into eight tracks. Houle’s clarinet here is sometimes straight, often multiphonic, and at times sounds like a flute. He plays several clarinets, and it appears possibly more than one at a time. In #6, his playing seems an hommage to the high, cycling sound of Evan Parker. Léandre goes from pointillistic to tree-grinding, and does a lovely vocal line in #7. Poulsen’s interplay and solo section are consistently interesting. A fine but not brilliant live set by master players. Fans (I am one) will enjoy this. I’m glad to see this important Canadian label back in circulation.

LEMON JUICE QUARTET: Peasant Songs: The Music of Erik Satie and Béla Bartók. Piadrum 0201 [50:10],

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen is the only name I know here, but clearly these musicians have been playing together a long time. This quartet is refreshing in instrumentation, with picked guitar, bass and drums plus trumpet. Naturally, Cohen plays Satie’s “Trumpets of the Rosicrucian Order” and twice at that. I listened to it in its own right, without first referring to the compositions these improvs are based on.

First impression: askew, almost Beefheartian rhythms on Euro folksongs, avoiding the commonplace placidity of too many avant-Euroroots bands. The LJQ have fun, but the veins run deep. They play the game smartly by not being too respectful, and using the tunes as tunes. Cohen’s trumpet solos are musical rather than showy, and Eyal Moaz’s guitar adds appropriate ingredients each time he plays. Bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Kevin Zubek hold the center together, but also create a vortex that gently but firmly propels each piece.

“On a Lantern” is deeply slinky and passionate. Gnossienne No. 1 finds the gnome dancing a sort of tango with the guitar alluding to a balalaika, until it instead pulls bossa-nova notes. A winner on all levels. I’m frustrated because I can’t find the Bartók pieces, mostly the Hungarian peasant songs, in my collection in volumes 1-4 and 7 of the fine Zoltán Kocsis piano set on Philips. I did find No. 1 of Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs as well as the “Bear Dance” from Ten Easy Pieces in Hungaroton’s four-CD set, “Bartók Recordings from Private Collections” (HCD 12334-37).

LO Ka Ping: Lost Sounds of the Tao: Chinese Masters of the Guqin in Historic Recordings. World Arbiter 2004 [64:01],

It is not mere hyperbole when the back cover claims that Lo’s work “resembles the spirituality of gospel guitarist Blind Willie Johnson.” It’s not the spirituality so much as the spirits, and the notes and the form. One can hear Loren Mazzacane in here as well, for that matter. The important thing about this disc is that Lo’s work, from 1970-71, and that of two colleagues recorded in the 1940s, transcends any concept of world or even traditional ethnic music. Lo plays a few traditional tunes, emotionally riveting and demanding close listening. It doesn’t even permit you the option; it calls to you. I was wary about requesting this one because there’s so much vapid world and ethnic music being released, and clearly it sells: In New York, Tower has a store just for World. I’m so lucky I did, because this is the real deal. The kind of disc that would appear on Revenant if it were blues. I recommend it for all tastes, and it’s already an easy pick for this year’s Top Ten list. This is the first publication of these recordings.

Ernán LÓPEZ-NUSSA: From Havana to Rio. Velas Cuba VLS 2006-2 [45:38],

Pianist López-Nussa delivers an exciting disc of jazz that is also wonderful Latin music. I’ve been bemoaning the weak mixes that have been coming my way, but this is top-notch jazz. Mostly originals, with one Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”) and one Bauza (“Mambo Inn”) in the mix. It begins with “Baião de Lacan” by guitarist Guinga, and the pianist immediately rivets with a nervous note-twitching intro ironically like that to Bernstein’s “Cool.” The Ellington gets romantic, pianistically, but the rhythm and Carlos Malta’s flute keep this Lady walking down a beach at Ipanema. (I didn’t consult my atlas; it always felt like that girl was on a beach.) Bravos to all.

LUV ROKAMBO: Maze. Public Eyesore 47 [40:49],

This outing by Toru Yoneyama and Osam Kato is of the rambling, psychedelic, semi-improv genre. Imagine the seriousness of Mazzacane mixed with the goofiness of Chadbourne. If Bert Jansch took acid. Fans of the Legendary Pink Dots, the avant-garde side of Tim Buckley. If this weren’t on Public Eyesore, there’s a good chance it would wind up on Secretly Canadian, or, if produced by Kramer, on Shimmydisc. They play “tokai-talbo, toys, junk microphone, percussion and vocals,” but the plucked instrument and the vocals are the key to the continuity of this disc. It doesn’t sound like toy-instrument randomness. Only the last two (of nine) tracks, by virtue of piercing, ringing string feedback, might be filed under noiz. Kato is listed as “jazzmaster” and “rapman”; luckily, no such evidence mars this delightfully weird disc. It’s in PE’s traditional thin cardboard sleeve which can be, if pressed (I roll the body of a pen along the spine, as I do for similar LP sleeves), inscribed with the title. I hate not finding my cherished weirdo discs on the shelf. Really nice job, boys. (I think they’re boys.) Nice circumstance: filed between Lutosławski and Gloria Lynne.

Tim LYDDON: I’ve Traveled So Far. Essence 7466-2 [60:06],

The pianist is excellent, and within the mainstream, but the cream of the stream. Mostly all originals, yet they sound and are treated like standards: an integral part of the makeup of Lyddon, bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Scott Latzky. Much better than most of the “names” that have been coming my way, and with excellent sound to boot. One good sign is that it works better for close listening than for background. There are a few sentences of liner notes stating the obvious about collaboration, but nothing about the artists, new to me. Look elsewhere for groundbreaking, but if you want a casually solid mainstream date, this one is delightful.

David MARANHA: Noe’s Lullabye. Rossbin RS 004 [52:46],

Maranha, a Portuguese musician best known from his group Osso Exotico, has created a powerful extended work here; a long march, a slow evolve, a non-drone (although it has a droning undertow). The layers recall the stately Japanese court music, gagaku, but there is absolutely no Japonaiserie here. The musicians are identified in the thin, elegant gatefold sleeve, but not their instruments. One can make connections with other slowly-unfolding music, but this sounds like neither Dreyblatt nor Bolero. What is remarkable about Noe’s Lullabye, clearly marked “play LOUD,” is the interplay of the drone, which I tend to tag as continuo — the intermittent splashes of what I perceive as bowed cymbal, bent guitar chords and percussive touches. The piece remains strong whether listened to attentively or while doing chores. The dynamic rises and fades are natural but not predictable.

Osso Exotico’s Musica #1 (Kormplastics KIP 004, 1993) lists Maranha and partners Patricia Machás and André Maranha, both part of the septet performing Noe’s Lullabye, playing violins, bowed mandolin, glass harmonicas, tubes, bowed xylophone, maranhophone, Chinese bells and other instruments. That piece is quite different from Noe, sectional and with prominent play to didgeridoo and other “solo” instruments. Both are composed, although I don’t how much (if any) improvisation is incorporated.

Maranha states, on Musica #1, that he wants “two parallel structures: one microtonal, produced by [random] instruments, and another one tonal… with the only concern of creating one macrostructure… bringing coherence to the whole.” In that context, Noe’s Lullabye succeeds mightily, and is the stronger of the two works.

The MIYUMI PROJECT. Southport /Asian Improv S-SSCD 0078 [65:11].

The MIYUMI PROJECT BIG BAND: Rooted: Origins of Now. Southport /Asian Improv S-SSCD 0092 [55:50],;

The Miyumi Project disc opens with a Fela-like saxophone riff over the primal rhythm of Japanese taiko and other drums. The sax, however, starts moaning and chugging, and one is not solely in Japan but in Chicago with the AACM. (The Miyumi Project is named after bassist Tatsu Aoki’s daughter.) I’ve been a fan of Aoki’s bass playing, and this ensemble combines excellent free improv with strong rhythms provided by various Asian drums. Mwata Bowden drives a super bari sax as well as clarinet and didgeridoo, and Robbie Hunsiger plays a variety of double reeds: the European oboe, Indian shenai and Asian sana. Excellent paintings by Michael Bochner in the booklet and inner traycard.

I really wanted to like the big band. This suite, funded in part by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, has a fine premise: an Asian immigrant’s sojourn in America. This is a co-production with Asian Improv Records, which has an excellent track record.

“Part One: Now” features an unrelenting taiko drum, but the effect is less improv or ethnic than a faux hiphopism which simply lets the musicians improvise, freely and lightly, over the beat. This is not the best part of now. Perhaps the rhythm is entirely, traditionally Japanese and I’m unaware, but it doesn’t cut the rug for me. Reading the notes, I find that this “rock drumming” is what Aoki wanted, “very different from the African rhythmic idea, which is very complex.”

The following track, “Origin. Intro: Hua Hua,” starts with an excellent bass-percussion duet. In squeak the horns, and eventually a feeble funk rhythm evolves into a weak bass vamp. Unlike on Miyumi’s first disc, the didjeridoo is used just “because it can,” as the old joke goes. So many jazzers have used this instrument to better effect, Craig Harris and Tom Abbs just to name the first who come to mind, and it took Harris a decade before he employed it as more than a long prop.

“Part Three: 1.5 Generation” gets whimsical, a relief. These intertwining winds and squawks wend a wickywacky march recalling the wizardry of some fellow Chicagoans when they too got their groove going; it too evolves into fun and funny horn interplay. After a brief, quiet segue, sadly a machine-like beat intrudes and despite fine hornplay, is a letdown.

“…of Now, as Well” is an interesting dirge; again we have repetitive drum figures, but the interweaving trumpet and sax fascinate me with their allusion to Ayler played at quarter-speed; Yoko Noge’s effective vocal adds Japanese flavor to the mix (I wish texts had been included).

The conclusion, a brief chamber version of “Origin,” is the strongest part of the suite, finding the bass (or some kind of drum) boinging like a jaw harp; then electronic “steam” and trawls come in, but this quickly fades, leaving a most satisfying ending to a hit-and-miss work by fine artists.

Justin MORELL: The Music of Steely Dan. Sonic Frenzy CD-2000 [53:26],

Mainstream jazz takes on a group whose work has always eluded me. Drummer John Guerin and bassist Todd Sickafoose are the better-known names to join the guitarist’s small ensemble. You know already whether this is for you.

Lauren NEWTON / Joëlle LÉANDRE / Urs LEIMGRUBER: Out of Sound. Leo LR 337 [50:35],

The great improvising singer and bassist are continually interesting here. Saxophonist Leimgruber, as usual, is the wild card. I’ve heard him live several times with frequent cohort drummer Fritz Hauser, and they were of one mind. Ditto for a live gig of Hauser, Leimgruber and Myra Melford. On disc, he sometimes plays without trying to hear his partners. That happens here on some cuts, where he seems out of sound, but not on all, and there are many wonderful moments on the 15 tracks, but some are just exploratory. Most of the titles refer to the night, though there’s nothing particularly nocturnal here. “I Think…” is a fine work — Newton’s singing, declamation and Sprechstimme fascinate. “Somnambulism III” is a duet for voice and sax where they are in total empathy. There’s enough power from the women that fans will easily enjoy this.

Lauren NEWTON / Patrick SCHEYDER: The Lightness of Hearing. Leo CD LR 347 [64:37],

Evan PARKER / Patrick SCHEYDER. Leo CD LR 326 [65:47],

I’m delighted to report that Newton, once best known from her work with the Vienna Art Orchestra, is at the top of her form, and Scheyder’s piano is a perfect foil for the kind of music they create together here. I was hesitant about this, as Lauren Newton is one of my favorite improvising singers, but Scheyder’s work didn’t make a favorable first impression on his duo CD with Evan Parker (Leo CD LR 326). This new collaboration has given me a fresh appreciation of Scheyder’s playing, so I’ve even warmed to the Evan Parker duo, which finds Parker more subtle than in much of his other work, both men meandering in an improv-pointillistic kind of way.

In the liners, Newton describes Scheyder as “not at all jazz-like.” She says both of their backgrounds “lay deeply in the so-called ‘classical’ music.” Their premise for this recording is to create brief pieces like a “cycle of lieder,” and at that they succeed. She also refers to the title of the 12th track: “One Finger One Voice.” It’s not literally that, but it is spare and rich. He plays straight man to her showmanship, making them equals. If you don’t know Newton’s work, imagine Cathy Berberian in improv mode. I find this release more gripping on each hearing, and welcome it to my ever-widening Newton shelf.

Rebecca PARRIS: My Foolish Heart. Koch Jazz KOC-CD-7887 [61:14],

Parris has a deep, velvety voice that can sustain long notes without boomeranging tremolo. She’s an excellent conveyor of the song, and though I find it hard to tolerate synth backgrounds, the sound (on the few songs to employ them) somehow meshes well with her vocal tone. Of course, I favor those with pure instrumental support. Like Morgana King without nasality, Carmen McRae without taffy-pulled syllables, and with no noticeable quirks of her own, her work here enchants me. All standards, nine of them, and not a weak note or misjudged phrase, save a few bars of minor over-emoting in the Manilow / Mercer (!) “When October Goes,” and everything tasteful without that word being pejorative. I gained new (actually, first) respect for “Crazy He Calls Me,” thanks to Parris’ delivery of the story. I look forward to hearing her future and back catalog.

Lx RUDIS / André CUSTODIO / Ernesto DIAZ-INFANTE: Crashing the Russian Renaissance. Pax PR 90253 [61:04],

Diaz-Infante, who seems to be everywhere at once and on half the recordings that exist, has an exceptional new release on Pax, where the electronics and percussion of his cohorts (apparently fellow San Franciscans) are wonderfully improvised excursions — focused, tight, powerful. After a series of desert-piano meanders, here he rivals Chadbourne in his note-per-second git-picking, and he also plays violin and, um, voice. The title? The cover is an attempt to crash a code, despite the lack of Cyrillic, but inside is a photo of a restaurant called… This made my Top Six Picks of June 2002 in AllAboutJazz-NY, if that matters.

Alexander von SCHLIPPENBACH Quartet: Hunting the Snake. Atavistic / Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 213CD [77:07],

This is the first appearance of a magical performance by pianist Schlippenbach with Evan Parker, Peter Kowald, and Paul Lovens — recorded in clear, rich sound by Radio Bremen (Sept. 1975), and a must-have if you care at all about any of the players. Each solos and improvises brilliantly within these four extended pieces. Blowing session? Yes, at times, but not just because they can. Lots of space, breath, oh just buy the thing. (It’s also a fine starting point, if you don’t know any of their work.) Each at the top of his game, these great improvisers are captured in a session with rare energy. Perhaps the best release from an already fine series by Atavistic. A few are important only historically, but this performance is timeless. Great photos, too. Dream: This disc is filled — could there be more? Meanwhile, you can pick up the more recent Schlippenbach Trio discs on FMP (the above less Kowald), starting with Elf Bagatellen.

Louis SCLAVIS: Dans La Nuit, for the Silent Movie by Charles Varnel. ECM 1805 [55:01],

Clarinetist Sclavis is a versatile player; a staple in the French jazz improv scene as well as an early force in the European mix of popular, world and cabaret music with jazz, which is now common in the States as well. Regular Sclavis collaborators, violinist Dominique Pifarély and cellist Vincent Courtois, are joined by Jean Louis Matinier on accordion and marimbist François Merville, to give this a definite French-café sound. In his disc Danses et Autre Scènes (Label Bleu LBLC 6616), Sclavis wrote, “These [waltzes, tangos, etc.] were the first melodies I heard and then listened to in depth. They opened me up to the pleasure of music.” He uses all-original melodies to accompany the 1929 film, which is the only hesitancy I have about a total recommendation. Musically, this is pure charm, but would be stronger with anchoring. One dreams of this ensemble taking flight like the Piazzolla Quartet, or achieving the quiet intensity of Sclavis’ powerful Rouge (ECM 1548) or the clever, teasing takes on the Duke in Ellington on the Air (IDA 032), all with similar instrumentation. Excellent sonics and well-designed booklet, with photos and an essay by filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier. Sclavis is also featured on a brand-new Ivo Perelman disc, The Ventriloquist (Leo 345), which is a must-have.

SCORN: Greetings from Birmingham. hymen/ant-zen ¥712 [51:24],

Mick Harris’ dub / noise moniker. The draggy riddims aren’t reggae, more like PIL on quaaludes. Many of the distorted-bass paint strokes have that dinosaur-calling-for-mom sound. A few short tracks of beatless ambience are interspersed. Subtle but not delicate; a simple dub. For when you’re tired of actively listening to your Adrian Sherwood dub plates and just want to zone out. Also available on vinyl.

Dave STORRS: Another Thing: Percussion Soundscapes. Louie Records 023 [57:01],

The subtitle tells all. Thematic rhythms, mostly Cuban-based. Titles such as “Bumpity Bump” and “Sticks & Moroccans.” What’s missing is the inevitability one finds in such seemingly simple but riveting solo percussion discs as Pheeroan ak Laff’s House of Mirth. Rhythm freaks might enjoy this. The excellent, hazy back photo of percussion instruments should replace the clueless cover shot of vehicles on a highway.

TALKING PICTURES / Jorrit DIJKSTRA: Humming. Songlines SGL 15233-2 [55:58],

Easily overlooked but not easily forgotten. Talking Pictures was formed to accompany some silent films, and remained together, recording some discs for Red Toucan that I haven’t heard. This is what the back cover of Humming says: “Amsterdam meets Vancouver… extending jazz and improvisation into the realm of electronics.” The electronics are so well integrated that one is aware of music, not “electronics,” but all the musicians use it in some way. I’m familiar only with Canadian cellist Peggy Lee, documented recently not just on Canadian labels but also by hatHut; I want to hear more. Humming is a winner, and I can’t wait to track down their earlier work.

Per Henrik WALLIN / Sven-Åke JOHANSSON: Proklamation I / Fan Vet. (With free bonus CD: Per Henrik WALLIN / Peter JANSON / Leif WENNERSTRÖM: Farewell to Sweden.) hatOLOGY 563 [114:54],

Sometimes a fan can do more damage than good. The confident liner notes by admirer and fine bassist Peter Niklas Wilson carry on through four paragraphs about how Wallin is not in any of the music dictionaries (“I’m confident you will agree that Mr Wallin, Per Henrik, deserves a major entry in any jazz dictionary”). He then says the same about the trio on Disc Two, yet provides no data of his own. He never states Wallin’s age, just implores, “Could a 25-year-old possibly play the way Wallin plays?” Um, yes, if these discs are any indication. Disc One is a duet with drummer Johansson, whom most might know through a solo CD just reissued on Atavistic / UMS, which I enjoy but many friends don’t. The 10 Proklamations, even before I looked at the notes that referred to these influences, made me think of Cecil T watered down with Bill Evans. Then I heard some Bud Powell chords. (The double title of Disc One isn’t explained.) Disc Two contains some originals interspersed with Monk, Powell, Gershwin, Freddie Redd and Sonny Clark. The notes spend a lot of time talking about the tightness of “the Han Bennink-Misha Mengelberg unit,” I assume to tie them to the pair here, especially in relation to Monk. Well, You Needn’t. Lest it seem I’m reviewing the notes more than the music, there’s not that much in the music here to discuss, except that Disc Two is a live recording before an audience that applauds, um, politely. A rare bum disc from hat. (Note: A music pal disagrees with me and likes Wallin’s touch, calling him “very pianistic” rather than percussive. He brought over another Wallin disc on Dragon for me to hear, and my friend was delighted, but I was still unmoved.)

Ed WARE: Ed Ware’s Tree. EW 7240 [59:12].

Drummer Ware is joined by superb trombonist Joe Fiedler and guitarists Pete McCann (making delightful bends and slurs) and Jerome Harris, who joins McCann on three tracks with some excellent bass guitar (at least I think it’s Harris). All of them are excellent. My only problem is one so prevalent, especially in the last decade: Intricate arrangements of original themes that themselves aren’t very interesting, even though the playing is. Given that, make your move. Recommended is Fiedler’s 100 Bridge Street (CIMP 185) with Ware and reed player Ben Koen, as well as Jerome Harris’ tasty Rendezvous (Stereophile STPH013-2) with Marty Ehrlich, Steve Nelson and Billy Drummond. In private correspondence, Harris and I thought his work might be too conservative for me. If Rendezvous is typical, how wrong we were; one needn’t be “avant” to be out there.


Those who read this far might be interested in my interview with the charming, friendly and interesting Anthony Braxton in AllAboutJazz-NY. I’ve created a spam-free, ad-free, bimonthly listserve to notify readers of my new reviews and interviews in journals such as (La Folia always remaining my first love, of course) Signal To Noise,,, and the new newsprint AllAboutJazz-NewYork, which later appears on the AAJ Website as a .pdf download. Just send a blank email to

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