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Taking stock, a year half over

Mark Corroto By

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This month, at the halfway point in the year of music, we are taking stock, and there have been so many great discs released. Here is my list (in no particular order) of the best albums so far. I predict many of these will make final top ten 2013 lists. Sorry, I couldn't keep my list to ten.

The Ex & Brass Unbound—Enormous Door (Ex Records) Federico Ughi—Federico Ughi Quartet (FMR) Rachel Musson/Mark Sanders/Steve Noble—Tatterdemalion (Babel) Matt Parker—Worlds Put Together (BYNK) Petr Cancura—Down Home (Roots To Boot) Hashem Assadullahi Quintet—Pieces (OA2) Frank Rosaly—Cicada Music (Delmark) Fire! Orchestra—Exit! (Rune Grammofon) Ken Vandermark/Made To Break—Lacerba (Clean Feed) Steve Coleman—Functional Arrythmias (Pi) Ivo Perelman—Serendipity (Leo) Gilad Hekselman—This Just In (Jazz Village) Peter Evans—Zebulon (More Is More) Rudresh Mahanthappa—Gamak (ACT) John McNeil—Hush Point (Sunnyside) Mats Gustafsson/Merzbow/Balazs Pandi—Cuts (Rare Noise)

But wait, there's more to consider for this year's best of lists. The Spaceways' galaxy is ever expanding...

São Paulo Underground Beija Flors Velho E Sujo Cuneiform 2013

Beija Flors Velho E Sujo is the fourth release from the Brazil/Chicago trio São Paulo Underground. It's the band's second disc for Cuneiform Records, following Três Cabeças Loucuras (2011). The band's first two efforts can be heard on Aesthetics Records label. Like the city of São Paulo itself, the music is crowded, joyous, messy, and both modern and primitive. Recorded in Chicago after an acclaimed North American tour in 2012, the disc opens with a tsunami of sound. Guilherme Granado's bass synth motor blares distorted waves on "Ol' Dirty Hummingbird" like a punch to the solar plexus, as the percussion induces movement. Their sound draws from the new tropicalia electronic movement and the work of cornetist Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground bands. Like a futurist rendering of technology incorporated into the jungles of the Amazon basin, the altered DNA of this South-meets-North American collaboration could be a soundtrack for a Philip K. Dick sci-fi novel ghost written by Roberto Bolãno. Granado and Mauricio Takara, are both members of Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra and have dabbled in rock and hardcore musics. This trio has now established itself as the heir to bands like Tortoise, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Collections of Colonies of Bees. They can take a classic piece like Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow" as Sun Ra could, configure it to have a rough exterior while remaining sincere. The band's clash of fuzzy electronics, percussion and melody is definitely urban, but the jungle's entropy has subverted the sounds of the metropolis. "Taking Back the Sea Is No Easy Task" applies noise to rhythm and hints at Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" as it unwinds itself into a wilderness of sound.

Chris Kelsey & What I Say The Electric Miles Project Self Produced 2013

No longer does the music of Miles Davis post-In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) have to be a guilty pleasure for jazz fans. A reappraisal of the day doesn't so much cast Miles as the harbinger of jazz fusion or it's brain-numbing stepchild smooth jazz, but as an innovator that synthesized rock, funk, and blues into his own electrified vision. It was his imitators, or perhaps the non-improvisers, that nearly extinguished the jazz flame. For saxophonist Chris Kelsey, born at the tail-end of the baby boom, albums like A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970) and Dark Magus (Columbia, 1974) were nothing shocking. Just as someone born in the 1970s or 80s might not grasp how the music of Thelonious Monk or Ornette Coleman could cause an argument, Miles plugged-in was another music spun before Jimi Hendrix and after Sly Stone. A product of the Downtown music scene, Kelsey revisits Davis' music with What You Say, his trumpet-less band of two guitarists Rolf Sturm and Jack DeSalvo, bassist Joe Gallant, and drummer Dean Sharp. Place this disc next to Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser's Yo Miles! bands, Bill Laswell's reconstructed Panthalassa (Columbia, 1998), and Dave Liebman's Back On The Corner (Tone Center, 2006) in the Electric Miles tribute catalog. Also though, nudge this disc up to the San Francisco's Splatter Trio record A Fistful of Dewey (Racer, 1992). Like Fistful this electric project is bold and fearless. "Agharta Prelude" hits with the immediacy of the original 1975 version but this time there are two versions of Pete Cosey nailing back guitar licks. Funk flies, James Brown towels-off from a cold sweat and the groove is communicable. When they turn inward with the ambient traced music on the originals "Mad Love Pt. 1" and "Mad Love Pt. 2," the groove persists. This tribute band succeeds because they are indeed, a band. Kelsey organizes the sound but refrains (like Miles) from monopolizing the spotlight. His soprano and straight alto saxophone work sound is piercing, translucent, and uncomplicated. On "Sivad," from Live Evil (Columbia, 1971), he traces the melody over the tenacious groove of Gallant and Sharp, before the guitarist carves up the corpse. Yes, it is such sweet meat.

Michael Coleman/ Aram Shelton/ Alex Vittum Stratic Stratic Music 2013

About one hundred years ago a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong, playing in a military-styled jass band, decided to not to play his part as written. His unscripted ad libs—improvisations— became the vogue and have fueled jazz music ever since. But what happens when computers and electronics also want to get into the act? In the 1980s, the sampling of Casio keyboards and drum machines created a music of well- ordered precise time that had no soul. Android fans, fear not, your electronics got pneuma. The West Coast improvisers (humans)—Aram Shelton (saxophone), Michael Coleman (keyboards), and Alex Vittum (drums) release the ghosts in their machinery by mixing the acoustic with the electric. Shelton is known for his work in the Chicago- centered bands Fast Citizens, Arrive, and Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown and his West Coast groups Cylinder and sextet, Marches. Here he processes his saxophone through a Max/MSP patcher turning his horn into a waking dream memory of music. similar to Evan Parker's Electric-Acoustic Ensemble and his experiments with the Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer's Furt ensemble, Stratic imposes improvisation upon electronic effects, or perhaps the electronic effects exploit the acoustic. The keyboards of Michael Coleman, a Wurlitzer and Yamaha synth, are scrabbled by pedal effects to sound like the interesting snippets and outtakes from Joe Zawinul's Weather Report years. Surrounding the machines is drummer Alex Vittum's vast array of post-apocalyptic percussive devices. The vocabulary is post-rock improvisation with a petri dish of possibilities for sound creation.

Lucien Dubuis & The Spacetet Design Your Future Unit Records 2013

The Downtown beauty of Lucien Dubuis' music is that things fall apart, or to be accurate, his music gives the impression that things fall apart. Like the tumult of the bands Rootless Cosmopolitans or Ceramic Dog led by Marc Ribot (a frequent collaborator of Dubuis), his music walks the jazz precipice, one side hardcore, the other Eric Dolphy's free jazz. After a string of excellent power trio records, Future Rock (Unit Records, 2013), Ultime Cosmos (Enja, 2009), and Le Retour (Unit Records, 2007), the trio returns with the chamber ensemble Spacetet. Sometimes the band plays off of a beauty-and-the-beast theme, contrasting the charming sound of violins, viola and cello against the honk of bass clarinet and Django swing of Roman Nowka on a piece like "Oh My God." Other places, "Albumblatt Für Herrn Schprögel," the Spacetet sets the table for Dubuis' intricate post-punk jazz. The presence of the ensemble is an epoxy for the trio. The heavy drumming of "Parl" and "Agiato" is balanced by the strings, and the delicacy of the woodwinds lightens the trio's touch on a piece like "Au Bois," where Dubuis' contrabass clarinet plays the straight-man to the Spacetet's jocularity. The band doesn't eschew the hardcore. "Autägleche Wandverchehr" is a hair-curling piece that wouldn't be out of place at a Led Zeppelin concert and the title track, is a heavy funk/rock piece, a Dubuis trademark sound solidified by the strings.

Mummu Mitt Ferieparadis Va Fangool 2013

From the edges of the spaceways comes this low-fi 7" vinyl recording by a collaborative band Mummu. The two songs represent both ends of their musical spectrum. The quintet features the punk improvisers Christian Skår Winther: (electric guitar), Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard (electric bass), Joakim Heibø Johansen (drums) from Ich Bin N!ntendo, whose disc Ich Bin N!ntendo & Mats Gustafsson (Va Fangool, 2012) was a nihilist's dream of a noisy night. They team up with the low frequency noise musicians Anja Lauvdal (keyboards) and Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck (tuba) from Skrap, who released K.O. (Va Fangool, 2013). Mastered by noise giant Lasse Marhaug, the garage feel of "Logatunellen" assaults with shovelfuls of metal chards and dense beatings. The whistling keyboards fight for attention over the lumbering guitar chords, and distorted tuba. By contrast, "Feda Bru" hesitates, its lingering feedback and undulations of distorted noise make for an eerie combination of gestures. Strange, but true music.

Caspar Brötzmann Nohome Trost 2013

Brötzmann is back! No, not Peter Brotzmann, thank God he plans to live forever, making art and traveling the world performing free jazz. No, it is the return of Caspar, his son. The guitarist, seemingly absent since the 1990s reappeared at his father's 70th birthday celebration documented with the recording Long Story Short (Trost, 2013), where Caspar and his band Massaker to perform a 15-minute barrage of sound.

Now there's more. He formed Nohome with bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller and invited F.M. Einheit (probably best known for his work with Einstürzende Neubauten) to sit in on two tracks. Pliakas and Wertmüller are 2/3 of the power trio Full Blast, Peter Brotzmann's modern version of Last Exit.

This live recording from Berlin in August of 2012 attacks from the start with a hurricane of sound. Brötzmann is content to remain in the eye of the storm throughout, delivering an unrelenting attack of guitar. His wave upon wave of sound is equally matched and complemented by the heavy guns of Plikas and the thunderous drumming of Wertmüller. The second piece comes with Brötzmann playing sounds not unlike an emergency warning system. By then you are already on notice that this music will be cause to take shelter. Einheit's contribution, steel objects amplified, add an industrial touch to the assault that give the trio pause, but barely slows the storm clouds from enveloping the night.

Star Rover Western Winds Bitter Christians FYO 2013

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