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November 2022


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Ayanda Sikade
Afrosynth Records

There's both a satisfying sense of ease and a certain expressive urgency to the catchy melodies that South African drummer Ayanda Sikade spins around the minimally designed, extensively repeating structures on Umakhulu. Take the bluesy gospel concept behind opener "Medantsane" for example: Simon Manana's saxophone wraps the main melodic theme closely around a lush I-IV-V cadence with Nhlanhla Radebe following step in warm vibrating root movements. Sikade's contribution is subtle, as is the song, steadily swaying in synchronicity with his sidemen as the main melody gains new notes, experiences little twists and goes through alterations that seem to breathe more and more life into it. That game goes on for almost nine minutes, of which not one isn't intriguing.

More than an approach, it seems to be the general philosophy of the group. Letting little material breathe as much as possible. "Izzah" repeats the trick with a minor twist—the main chord progression being i-II-iv—and replaces carefree leisureliness with melancholy reflexion. Again the energy builds as the repetitions multiply, the melody molded to the instruments' will while ensemble interplay and solos blur into one single torrent, pouring out of the same stream. There's some swing in the mix too, alternating with another driven pulse on "Space Ship," while "Amawethu" pushes the speed to a whole other level. Again with the melody, spinning and swirling around, carried by all instruments, together creating a perfect orbit with gravity delightfully pulling the listener in. A rare pleasure, now—a year after its initial release—rewarded with a 2-LP Vinyl edition.

Qasim Naqvi, Wadada Leo Smith, Andrew Cyrille
Two Centuries
Red Hook Records

Both a continuation of former ECM Records producer Sun Chung's past collaborations with Andrew Cyrille and Wadada Leo Smith for ECM Records and the beginning of a new one with drummer and sound sculptor Qasim Naqvi on Chung's newly founded own label Red Hook Records, Two Centuries, the label's second release ever, introduces organic electronic elements to the sound world of two improvisor-creators, who are each partially responsible for the avant-garde we know today. Cyrille and Smith also happened to be Naqvi's teachers at CalArts university and the New School respectively. Adding up to more than the sum of its parts, what the trio has to offer here is none other than spectacular. Rarely does the acoustic and the electronic blend so seamlessly, like an independent organism digging its way through changing environments, fabrics, textures and spectrums, stacking frequencies and creating shapes and forms as Naqvi combines modules to sounds that aspire to become one with Smith's soaring tone, before a sequencer breaks the waves up into drops and bubbles, a melodically percussive drizzle that finds a co-conspirator in Cyrille's amenable drum set.

Both abstract and lyrical, for the mind and the soul, from the last and this century, Two Centuries is never less than captivating. "For D.F." is all soul, with Smith's trumpet crying through interrupted percussion and high-pitched, frequency-splitting synthesizer beams. The song is dedicated to Darnell Frazier, who filmed the killing of George Floyd. There are themes from electronic minimal music going on here too, but without the emphasis on the beat. Instead it's all scratch and sawtooth on "The Curve," seething parallel pulses at irregular paces on "Spiritual is 150," ambient narratives on "Organum" and "Tympanic," psychedelic intensity on "Bypass Decay" (referring to its constant echo) until acoustic percussion takes over "Palaver" and "Sadden Upbeat," confirming this sessions profoundly organic sound, rooted in an acoustic image with endlessly profound dimensions and absolute transparency. Fans of Cyrille or Smith will be equally taken by this as those of Radiohead or Floating Points.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Trio d'Été
Turning Point

This follow-up to the Grammy-winning album Skyline is the second act of what will ultimately become a Gonzalo Rubalcaba piano-trio threesome of albums and contrasts the smooth swinging first volume with grainy pulses, angular structures and a mode of interplay based on opposition in counterpoint. A reimagined version of "Infantil," originally premiered in 2007 likewise with Matt Brewer on bass, opens the session with a dynamic stop-and-go motion at its core. Brewer's straight fourths walk against Eric Harland's shuffling snare strokes as Rubalcaba stretches scales. Rhythmic changes and tempo shifts guide the process, some swing here, some choppy vamps there and finally an extensive drum solo towards the end.

The opener introduces the general modus operandi of Turning Point, where each of the three virtuosos flex their technical abilities while remaining a tight unit dedicated to the tune. On "Otra Mirada," a bolero first featured on his 2001 album Supernova (Blue Note Records), Rubalcaba lets the trio expand and contract several times over, with a restrained Harland keeping his Latin cool via a minimal set of impulses. Rubalcaba reprises several of his older tunes, never understated, but with the same urgency he's been known for since decades now and the pianist shows no signs of wear or tear. His rapid soloist nature shines especially bright on the swinging collective cuts "Turning I" and "Turning II," with the rhythm section keeping a robust pace to Rubalcaba's daredevil sweeps across the keyboard. Expert playing that makes the wait for volume three, according to the press release a more Latin-tinged endeavor, all the sweeter.

Die Hochstapler
Beauty Lies & Within
Umlaut Records

Both one and two albums at the same time, The Beauty Lies and Within belong together musically as they do syntactically, in one sentence, each containing approximately the identical material but the latter recorded live, in the same venue—the Au Topsi Pohl in Berlin—shortly after the first. With band members from France, Germany and Italy, Die Hochstapler's international appeal translates to high-energy interplay within varyingly free and avant-garde designs. A light-hearted, often humorous approach distinguishes the quartet and makes for an equally zany and swinging adventure. Some of the cuts without audience present leave room for nothing but the head of a tune ("Anesthesia" at twenty seconds) or even just percussive gestures ("Loop" at four seconds), breaking up the set in a successfully whimsical way, but also leaving the occasional great idea begging to be explored further. The weighty "True Love" exceeds the ten-minute mark and combines many of the elements that define the group's music in a homogenous way, bringing the scratchy trumpet playing of Louis Laurain closer to Pierre Borel's buzzing alto sax, accompanied by screeching double bass arco and drums that follow the lines instead of a beat.

The group's many ideas, however, blossom even better when uninterrupted, performed in front of an audience. Longer passages of intense swinging and soloing breathe welcome life into the material, subtracting some of the whims and multiplying the jazz. There's still plenty of room for textural explorations, interludial narration and chamber-musical conversations, but more than anything, there's simply more room. Within is an outstanding live album that hits hard in a way that's reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's quartet.

Sverre Gjørvad
Here Comes The Sun
Losen Records

The final album in a cycle of four, all engineered in the same studio, recorded with the same quartet and released on Losen Records, Here Comes The Sun paradoxically brings the seasons to a close with the re-awakening effect of Spring. The prior albums were Voi River (2019), Elegy of Skies (2020) and Time To Illuminate Earth (2021) and found drummer Sverre Gjørvad exploring in turns textural and chamber musical but always highly melodic elaborations with Dag Okstad on bass, Kristian Svalestad Olstad on guitar and Herborg Rundberg on piano. Here the band returns with what may be its most immediately melodic and least abstract material to date. Take the catchy cadence at the heart of "If You Were a Melody" for example, in Pachelbelian manner wrapping its diatonic three-note upward climbing motif sequentially around a downward spiraling progression that's as obvious as they come. It's sweet to the point of almost being saccharine, as is the somewhat blunt piano, bass and guitar unison that pulls through "Round About" like a lazy walking bass in desperate need of an explosion.

Gjørvad's strong suit is to shroud his ideas in mist and fog and then gradually, gently let them come to the surface, as in "And the Nutmeg," where the piano and guitar's lines only sporadically intersect and otherwise leave each other space to unfold. Gjørvad is a graceful accompanist and presents lovely brushwork, often centered around the snare, throughout the album. A subtle rendition of Paul Simon's "Dazzling Blue" further highlights the transparency and precision with which this album, as the preceding volumes of the cycle, was recorded.

Clark Sommers
Outside In Music

Intertwine is the debut album of bassist Clark Sommers' work under the 'Clark Sommers Lens' moniker, a five-piece with guitar on harmonies, two saxophones and drums. The idioms and influences this new outfit's playing spans are far-reaching and well executed, borrowing from and inspired by rock and RnB icons like Jimi Hendrix (see "James Marshall"), Donny Hathaway (see "Weeks and Weeks") and others. From swaying mid-tempo flows ("Also Tomorrow") through cracking eruptions ("James Marshall"), heavy heads and hard swing in the vein of the Jazz Messengers ("Second Guess" & "Silent Observer") to subtle and slightly exotic balladry ("Ancient Voice"), the Lens has a diverse array of convincing musical arguments on its side and finds the leader and main composer in top form.

The album's title itself suggest that the music covers a wide range of musical notions and sees them intersect elegantly. And, impressively, the cast is up for the task. On guitar Matt Gold smoothly steers his way through the changes, a whiff of tremolo here, a dash of reverb there and a slight touch of fuzz elsewhere prove him a versatile guitarist, equally capable of navigating stormy weather and smooth surfaces. He often contributes the harmonic framework for reed players Geof Bradfield and Chris Madsen, whose' parts elegantly 'intertwine' more than once throughout the set and make for a sleek dual lead.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Mdantsane; Izzah; Space Ship; Amawethu; Imithandazo Yeengelosi; Nxarhuni River; Umakhulu; Enkumbeni; Gaba.

Personnel: Ayanda Sikade: drums; Nduduzo Makhathini: piano: Simon Manana: alto saxophone; Nhlanhla Radebe: bass.

Two Centuries

Tracks: For D.F.; The Curve; Spiritual Is 150; Organum; Tympanic; Bypass Decay; Palaver; Sadden Upbeat; Wraith; Halide; Orion Arm.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Andrew Cyrille: drums; Qasim Naqvi: electronics.

Turning Point

Tracks: Infantil; Otra Mirada; Turning I; Iku; Turning II; Hard One; Joy, Joie.

Personnel: Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano; Eric Harland: drums; Matt Brewer: bass.

Beauty Lies & Within

Tracks: Time Machine; Loop; Le 34; Parade; When You Play the Jazz; Bells; Squid Pro Quo; Rien Nul; The Genius of Modern Music; How Many Hairs; Anesthesia; Loop; True Love; J&B; Hochstaplacy; Napoleon; Banana Cage; Beauty Lies Within; Two Kinds of Blues; Loop; Der Buerokrat; Hochstaplarker; The Great Wars; J&T; Loop.

Tracks: Part 1; Part 2.

Personnel: Pierre Borel: alto saxophone; Louis Laurain: trumpet, bird calls, vocals; Antonio Borghini: double bass; Hannes Lingens: drums, vibraphone.

Here Comes The Sun

Tracks: Birds Awake; Skumpa; Capers on Everything; Faren min; Prepare; If You Were a Melody; Round About; And The Nutmeg; Dagen svinner; Dazzling Blue; Voi River.

Personnel: Sverre Gjørvad: drums; Herborg Rundberg: piano; Dag Okstad: bass; Kristian Svalestad Olstad: guitar; Eirik Hegdal: saxophone (#11)


Tracks: Also Tomorrow; James Marshall; Second Guess; Harbor; Ancient Voices; Silent Observer; Skin and Bone; Weeks & Weeks; Invisible Arrow; Bass Intro; Nichols On The Quarter; Intertwine.

Personnel: Clark Sommers: bass; Dana Hall: drums; Matt Gold: guitar; Geof Bradfield: saxophones, bass clarinet; Chris Madsen: tenor saxophone.



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