Avant Large Ensembles: Making Love to the Dark Ages, Suites, Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra, Open Port

Ivana Ng By

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Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber

Making Love to the Dark Ages

LiveWired Music


Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band




Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra

Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra

Thrill Jockey


Circulasione Totale Orchestra

Open Port

NRK MusikkTeknikk and Stavanger


Improvising within a small group is chaotic and difficult enough, but the four CDs here feature collectives of as many as 13 musicians, each band offering different approaches to avant-garde jazz in a large ensemble.

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber's Making Love to the Dark Ages traverses the most genres, fusing jazz, funk, rock, classical and other musical traditions. Inspired by the middle passage of slaves from Africa to America, bandleader Greg Tate wrote "Chains and Water," a scorching three-part narrative that utilizes the powerful vocals of Lisala Beatty and Jeremiah. Throughout the 25-minute meditation, these two voices, whether they are scatting or repeating a simple phrase like "I go back," always remain a powerful presence in the sea of blues-inflected harmonica riffs, drum-and-bass rhythms and woodwind reverberations. Burnt Sugar experiments with many different musical approaches and because it is a large ensemble, each layer of funk, electronica, blues and jazz is distinctive yet perfectly melded together in each tune.

Ulrich Gumpert's Workshop Band, a collaborative of eight improvisers prominent in their native Germany, is more traditional (if you can call it that) in the vein of free jazz. Suites, which is trisected—"Aus Teutschen Landen," "Sinfonietta" and "H-M-Suite"—is a fun record, because it approaches free jazz seriously, but also delves into orchestral and big band styles. A playful juxtaposition of moods and melodies characterizes the CD; the first track, "Es Fiel Ein Reif In Der Fruhlingsnacht," begins with a mournful piano and brass line and then launches into a cacophonous march. Gumpert begins several tunes himself with solemn piano notes and it is these enticingly simple overtures that make Suites so fascinating.

The collaboration between Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra and the underrecorded trumpeter Bill Dixon is, by far, most loyal to the avant jazz idiom. This may be due to the fact that Dixon composed two of the three tracks, with the third heavily influenced by him. The first and last tracks, titled "Entrance / One" and "Entrance / Two," explore ambient textures, distorted trumpet notes and polyphonic exchanges. Nestled between these two tunes is "Constellations For Innerlight Projection (For Bill Dixon)," written by Mazurek; in this 24-minute piece, guest Damon Locks narrates an eerie space lullaby as Dixon releases a flood of sharp, sputtering notes, which the Orchestra maps eagerly onto a dissonant, ethereal soundscape.

The Circulasione Totale Orchestra, founded in 1984 by Norwegian reedman Frode Gjerstad, features an ever-changing lineup of young, up-and-coming free jazz improvisers. The group's latest CD, Open Port, includes Norwegian and American players, as well as one British and one South African musician (legendary drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo). The CD consists of one 50-minute tune, subdivided into four movements. "Yellow Bass & Silver Cornet" features blistering reeds, like a flurry of birds, electronic distortions such as tortuous industrial noise, and jangling percussive motifs that weave through the other instruments. This abrasive interplay exemplifies the acoustic-electric nature of the Gjerstad's large ensemble vision.

Tracks and Personnel

Making Love to the Dark Ages

Tracks: Chains and Water A, B, C; Thorazine/81; Love to Tical; Dominata (the gabri ballad); Making Love to the Dark Ages.

Personnel: Greg Tate: guitar, laptop, conduction; Lisala Beatty: vocals; Jeremiah: vocals; Lewis 'Flip' Barnes: trumpet; Satch Hoyt: flute, percussion; Matana Roberts: alto sax; Petre Radu Scafaru: tenor sax; Mikel Banks: harmonica; Rene Akan: guitar; Vijay Iyer: piano; Bruce Mack: synthesizer; Jason DiMatteo: acoustic bass; Shahzad Ismaily: efx bass; Jared Michael Nickerson: electric bass; Chris Eddleton: drums; Will Martina: cello; Michael Veal: soprano sax, slap electric bass; Micah Gaugh: alto sax; Avram Fefer: alto sax, bass clarinet; 'Moist' Paula Henderson: baritone sax; David Smith: trombone; Mikel Banks: freak-a-phone; Ben Tyree: guitar; Trevor Holder: drums; Abby Dobson: vocals; Karma Johnson: vocals; Latasha Natasha Nevada Diggs: elec. vocals; Vernon Reid: guitar; Swiss Chris: drums; W-Myles Reilly: piano; Justice Dilla X: vocals, piano; Derrin Maxwell: vocals; Mazz Swift: violin; Andrew Lassalle: guitar; Meret Koehler: drums


Tracks: AUS TEUTSCHEN LANDEN: Es Fiel Ein Reif in Der Fruhlingsnacht; Tanz mir nicht mit meiner jungfer kathen; a) Der Maie, Der Maie b) Es sass ein schneeweiss' vogelin; Kommt, Ihr G'Spielen. SINFONIETTA: Part I; Part II; Part III. H-M-SUITE: Part I; Part II; Tango.

Personnel: Ulrich Gumpert: piano; Martin Klingeberg: trumpet; Christof Thewes: trombone; Michael Thieke: alto sax, clarinet; Henrik Walsdorff: ato sax; Ben Abarbanel-Wolff: tenor sax; flute; Jan Roder: double bass; Michael Griener: drums.

Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra

Tracks: Entrances / One; Constellations For Innerlight Projections (For Bill Dixon); Entrances / Two.

Personnel: Bill Dixon: trumpet, composer; Rob Mazurek: cornet, composer; Nicole Mitchell: flute; Matt Bauder: bass clarinet, tenor sax; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Josh Berman: cornet; Jeff Parker: guitar; Jim Baker: piano; Jason Adasiewicz: vibrapone, tubular bells; Matthew Lux: bass guitar; Jason Ajemian: double bass; Mike Reed: drums, timpani; John Herndon: drums; Damon Locks: voice.

Open Port

Tracks: Yellow Bass & Silver Cornet (In Memory of Johnny Mbizo Dyani And John Stevens)

Personnel: Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums; Morten J. Olsen: percussion, electronics; Anders hana: guitar; Frode Gjerstad: sax, clarinets; Nick Stephens: acoustic bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums; Ingebrigt H. Flaten: acoustic bass; Boore Molstad: Tuba; Sabir Mateen: sax, clarinets; Kevin Norton: vibraphone; Bobby Bradford: cornet; Lasse Marhaug: electronics; John Hegre: live sound.


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