Taking stock, a year half over

Mark Corroto By

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From the Walter Sobchak files entitled: "Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?" comes a limited edition cassette only (and thankfully as a download) by Will Graefe and Jeremy Gustin. Known as Star Rover, the pairs' commitment to the recondite may fail as they deliver an original vision of folk, rock, blues, and a sort of James Blood Ulmer American jazz. Taking a nod from early Black Keys sessions, the pair favor the raw over the refined. The title track brays with equal parts distortion and propulsion. Graefe, who can be heard on Jeremy Udden's Plainville disc If the Past Seems So Bright (sunnyside, 2011), has a knack for blues/folk guitar that sounds both backwoods and urban wise. He takes the folky ballad "Rye" from a porch ditty to a cosmic anthem. Likewise, the blues rollick of "Revolt Of The Dyke Brigade," with the pounding drums of Gustin, could have been penned by Kurt Cobain for an unplugged Nirvana (that is, if he'd been born in the Appalachians instead of the Pacific Northwest). They deliver a low-fi (and brilliant) scrubby blues on "My Station Will Be Changed After While." The highlight of the release is the multi-part "America" with its repeated patterns as a lyrical poem. Maybe they will re-release this someday as a 78 RPM. I'm just sayin.'

exclusiveOr Archaea Carrier Records 2013

In 1978 a small band pop from Akron, Ohio asked the question, "Are we not men?" The answer was, of course, "We are Devo!" The inside joke was that their version of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," performed as if the band were robots, was more humanoid than the cartoons that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had become by that time. But then, humans have been making machine music since the Italian futurists predicted machines would take over that chore in 1910. Enter Sam Pluta and Jeff Snyder, the duo known as exclusiveOr. Their machine music, delivered via Pluta's laptop (and custom built software) and Snyder's analog modular synthesizer build upon the futurist tradition of mechanized music. Pluta has collaborated with trumpeter Peter Evans on Ghosts (More Is More, 2011) and Sum And Difference (Carrier, 2011), and he performs with Rocket Science made up of Evan Parker, Craig Taborn, and Evans. Snyder can be heard with Federico Ughi's Quartet, the noise trio The Mizries, and laptop ensemble Sideband. Their collaboration, although it renounces anthropomorphic tendencies, bounces along by switch-via-switch and electronic bleep-and-spurt, cannot eschew its humanity. It does try. The pair deliver as much noise as a Merzbow recording, but without the Hurricane force distortion. The music is at once old school computer low-fi and modern de-evolution.

Franco D'Andrea Today El Gallo Rojo Records 2013

My Italian-immigrant grandfather born 1902 was always fascinated by my earliest computer. He never could quite grasp the concept of the internet, asking "how do you put those things in there?" He did, though, delight in the sounds and images on the screen. I surmised that he resigned himself to believe in the magic of the unexplained. The same can be said for Today pianist Franco DAndrea. The maestro of Italian jazz follows up his award winning ensemble recording Traditions And Clusters (El Gallo Rojo, 2012) with a solo session of standards and imaginative improvisations that pulls together pieces and parts of familiar sounds. With seemingly the entire history of the jazz piano stored in his hard drive (brain), he samples bits and pieces of the familiar to pull together his "Rituals" and "Cluster" of sound. These, like "Ritual N. 1," may quote "Caravan" and "Love Supreme" while dangling piano convention over quixotic improvisations. He can make, and essentially remake, a standard like John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" to sound like a semi-stride piano piece that could have been played by Duke Ellington. Or he can mix Ed Ory's "Muskrat Ramble" and Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" to reconfigure it to his tastes. His insouciant style and the ease in which he approaches the tunes belies all that jazz history that is packed in his playing. There is no need to draw the curtain back on his magic, one just needs to believe.

Tim Daisy / Jason Stein Bascule Vincent Peirani 2013

Last week, while perusing my local beer shop, I saw a bottle of peanut butter & chocolate ale. I had to buy it. God bless small craft breweries, they are the only ones willing to experiment with new tastes and combinations of flavors. The same can be said for small music labels like Peira Records. A fine example of new flavor combinations is this duo of drummer Tim Daisy and bass clarinetist Jason Stein, both in-demand Chicago musicians. Daisy, a gravitational body himself, can be heard in many bands, including Dave Rempis' Percussion Quartet and The Engines, Ken Vandermark's Made to Break and Resonance Ensembles, as a solo artist and in duo with everyone and his brother. Likewise, Stein is a stunning solo performer, as demonstrated in his release In Exchange For A Process (Leo Records, 2009). He also leads Locksmith Isidore and is a member of Frank Rosaly's Cicada Music and the Boris Hauf Sextet. Daisy and Stein play together in the Russ Johnson Quartet and Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack.

Pairing them for a snug session was pure genius. Stein's woody sounds complement the signature percussive work of Daisy, that can shift from an ethereally free sound to jazz to rock without, as they say, missing a beat. The pair opens with "Calumet," a probing and tentative exploratory piece that layers popping and fluttered clarinet against the rattling of brushes on metal. The piece gains a (sort of) momentum that forecasts the remainder of the session. Switching to sticks on skin, Daisy's locomotive style fuels deeper passages from Stein on "Center Pier," and "Standing West." The bass clarinetist might begin his approach at Eric Dolphy, but he has developed his own voice. Perhaps more nimble than Dolphy, he possesses his instrument by barking out those low notes but also commanding the upper register with ease. The highlight here may be the title track, where the two combine their inside/outside approach, displaying their full arsenal of sound. Daisy and Stein, two great tastes that taste great together.

Thomas Heberer / Achim Kaufmann Knoten Red Toucan 2013

A first time recording from a pair of longtime collaborators, Knoten finds German trumpeter Thomas Heberer and pianist Achim Kaufmann performing a series of stark duets. Confederates since the 1980s, the pair come across as a natural fit. Perhaps the rise of minimalist and free trumpeters like Axel Dorner, Peter Evans, and Franz Hautzinger and pianists Matthew Shipp, Andrea Neumann, and Sten Sandell makes the timing right for this session. Kaufmann, a frequent collaborator with Frank Gratkowski and Wilbert De Joode, also recorded the stellar discs Second Reason (2012) and Grünen (2010) with Christian Lillinger for the Clean Feed label. Heberer, a member of the Instant Composer's Pool (ICP), has also found critical success with his band Clarino, an inventive trio with bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and clarinetists Joachim Badenhorst. The music on Knoten balances its scored chamber music approach with improvisation and extended technique. Leaving one to ponder if the breaths Heberer takes on 'Großer Onkel" (Big Uncle) are scripted or impromptu. The trumpeter displays some fine circular breathing here, while Kaufmann investigates the insides of his piano. Heberer can imitate the sounds of a baby crying or a dog panting, as he does on "Mâchoire." Even though the pair are skilled at extended technique, the freedom displayed is not the main attraction here. Their 'sounds' are made in service of the compositions, both scored prior to this session and instantly composed.

Albert Ayler Live On The Riviera ESP 2013

Even after forty-plus years, the sound of Albert Ayler's tenor saxophone can cause chills to run down your spine. His short life (he died at 36) and even shorter career shook up not only the jazz community, but it also altered the music of John Coltrane and Peter Brotzmann. As part of its 50th anniversary, ESP-Disk, perhaps the most important free jazz label ever created, has selected several releases to be remastered and re-released. This celebration is from Ayler's final recordings (he would be dead 4 months later) July 25, 1970, at the Maeght Foundation in St. Paul de Vence, France. Recorded as a trio, with his pianist Call Cobbs stuck at the airport, Ayler pulls music from his free jazz beginnings, eschewing the rock, funk, and R&B elements of his New Grass (Impulse!, 1968) and Music Is The Healing Force Of the Universe (Impulse!, 1969) sessions. He was also without his brother Donald Ayler, who had suffered a breakdown. The saxophonist carried the weight of this entire performance. He opens the night with a plaintive wail that scorches the curtains and thumps the chest. Mary Maria's spoken words deliver Ayler's philosophy, a true belief (it was the end of the 1960s) that revolution and peace could be attained through the popular movements of the people. The clarity of this remastered recording is quite remarkable. Ayler's voice delivered through multi-phonics and upper register tongues. He plays through his love of marches, some calypso, arriving in the end at "Ghosts," his signature tune. The crowd responds to the music, cheering and stomping. Or is that the beating of my heart?

Richard Pinhas Desolation Row Cuneiform 2013

The Godfather of 70s electronic and experimental music Richard Pinhas, is back. Actually, back again. After forming Heldon in 1974 (the French equivalent to Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen), the guitarist began a solo career that has spanned avant-rock, ambient, industrial, and since the 1990s, noise genres. His ability to pull together disparate musics and styles has marked his later work, such as his collaborations with Japan's Masami Akita, aka Merzbow and Wolf Eyes from the States. Here he teams up with noise and experimental giants Lasse Marhaug, Oren Ambarchi, and Noel Akchoté. The session is rounded up with Pinhas' son, Duncan Nilsson, Erick Borelva, and saxophonist Etienne Jaumet. There is a little bit of everything here to appease his fans from the various phase of his forty years of music making. The disc opens with "North," a smattering of noise layered with insistent guitar that mushrooms over the 16-minutes of fervor. The piece gains locomotion and is continually animated by the tenacious drumming of Borelva. Pinhas corroborates his investigation into industrial noise here, tweaking its accessible beats. Clocking in at 18-plus minutes is "Moog," a bit of retro-sound. The music is bathed in analog synthesizers and chilled ambience. It builds upon a late night lounge sound that is best suited for those who do not suffer from an attention deficit disorder. The more successful pieces "South" and "Circle" build upon Pinhas' strengths, intensifying drone music and the incorporation of beats. His ability to layer the guitars, electronics and noise of Marhaug, Ambarchi, and Akchoté, keeping each of these strains distinct might be the genius here. After all of his years working with drum machines, the 'live' drummer effect makes this meeting timeless.

Tracks and Personnel

Tres Cabeças Loucuras


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